The cooperative business model offers communities a highly effective way to meet their needs for goods and services while prioritizing people over profit. And in 2021, you can find cooperatives in nearly all sectors of the U.S. economy. Increases in consolidation across many industries along with changes in the marketplace in recent decades present competitive and economic challenges for many businesses and consumers. In response to these challenges, economic cooperation is on the rise. According to a 2020 report by the Democracy at Work Institute and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, worker cooperatives have seen 35.7% net growth since 2013. That same report found that a majority (56.8%) of worker-owners are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). BIPOC communities in the United States have a rich history of cooperation, a history often left out of narratives about the cooperative movement. To celebrate Co-op Month, we’re sharing some of that history.
Cooperation is nothing new. Early human societies practiced cooperation as a means to increase the group’s chances of survival. Pooling resources led to more successful hunts and harvests. In fact, early agriculture relied on mutual aid among farmers to defend land, harvest crops, build barns, and share equipment. These early forms of informal cooperation, really of working together, laid the foundation for the cooperative business model which took shape in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Then and now, cooperation is a means to survival, and this especially true for BIPOC communities in the United States.
According to Dr. Jessica Gordon Nemhard in her book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Black folks have utilized cooperation since the first Africans arrived as indentured servants in the early 17th century. By the late 18th century, Black people were pooling their money to pay for land, burials, elderly care, childcare, and even freedom for one another through mutual aid societies. Mutual insurance companies, buying clubs, and collective farming are other examples of early Black corporativism.
Women often founded and ran Black cooperative efforts. As men left to join the Union Army, Black women in South Carolina took to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Islands in the Combahee River region to grow cotton on abandoned farms. These women formed an intentional community which collectively farmed the area throughout the war and several years after. Eventually, hundreds of women farmed the colony, securing food, shelter, and income for themselves and their families.
The 1880s saw a steep increase in formal cooperative efforts among the nation’s Black communities. When the Southern Farmers’ Alliance refused to admit Black farmers except in separate chapters, Black farmers started the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-operative Union which had more than one million members by 1891. The Union stressed mutual aid as well as political participation. Its members also started many new co-ops, often short lived, but vital in training activists and leaders, improving lives, and leading to more new co-ops.
Pictured above: Wedge Community Food Co-op, Minneapolis
These Black co-ops siphoned money away from white-owned businesses, which was met with retaliation, often violent, from white community members. But cooperation has always been about survival. In the face of racism and active sabotage, cooperation offers Black communities a way to improve each other’s lives in very real ways. “Cooperation is a powerful tool against discrimination,” says Gordon Nemhard. It is during the oppressive and violent Jim Crow era that many Black-owned consumer co-ops were established. Grocery stores, gas stations, credit unions, insurance co-ops, housing co-ops and other formal cooperative efforts offered Black U.S. Americans a means to survival, community, and resiliency.
Not surprisingly, North America’s Indigenous communities have been practicing cooperation for thousands of years. Indigenous cooperation efforts include communal hunting and keeping water sources clean and grazing lands accessible for nomadic groups. These informal cooperative efforts led to formal ones including credit unions, rural electric and telephone co-ops, and mutual insurance co-ops. “Cooperatives are a logical fit with tribal communities. There are shared, common values within the memberships of both tribal and cooperative communities,” says Pamela Standing, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance and of the Cherokee Nation. These formal cooperative efforts are valuable in aiding community development among some of the country’s most remote and marginalized communities.
Latinx co-ops have grown significantly in recent years, but have long been influential in the cooperative movement in the US. Prospera in Oakland and Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx have trained generations of activists and strongly influenced models of cooperation throughout the country. Although the Latinx community is made up of folks from many different countries and cultures, examples of cooperation can be found throughout their history. The Zapatistas of Mexico, worker take-overs of businesses in Argentina, and fair trade coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua are just a few examples. According to a report funded by the Cooperative Education Fund, 31 US states have at least one Latinx co-op. Latinx co-ops show significant diversity across industries, membership types, and regions. According to a 2009 report by the International Labour Organization, cooperatives are particularly strong during times of economic crisis. Communities with a wide range of cooperative businesses (worker co-ops, credit unions, consumer food co-ops, housing co-ops, etc.) are therefore better protected from economic shocks.
It is from these cooperative traditions, among others, that the Davis Food Co-op was formed. When 10 Davis households started a buying club in 1972 they sought to bring their community greater access to natural foods without having to support the corporations that dominated the grocery industry. It is with deep gratitude and respect that we look back on our cooperating forebears, many of whom were women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We remain firmly grounded in this truth as we look forward to the growth of the cooperative movement in our community and across the globe.
National Co-op Grocers (https://www.grocery.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops)
Collective Courage: A Short History of Black Co-operatives in America (https://provender.org/a-short-history-of-black-co-operatives-in-america-african-american-cooperation-for-change/)
For Native American communities, a “new” business model builds on a culture of cooperation (https://ncbaclusa.coop/blog/for-native-american-communities-a-new-business-model-builds-on-a-culture-of-cooperation/)
Living in California, it is impossible to ignore the impact that wildfires have had on our state in recent years. As this blog is being written on 8/18/21, more than 6,500 wildfires have destroyed more than 1.3 million acres across the state so far in 2021, which is a pace that is set to exceed any other year in recorded history. While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the most prominent “fire season” (not only in California, but across the entire West coast) is starting earlier and ending later every year. Many point to climate change and drought to be the key driver of this trend. The warmer temperatures lead to reduced snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt which create longer and more intense dry seasons. This pattern leads to a drying out of the state’s vegetation and makes forests more susceptible to massive wildfires. While this is an important driving factor to consider, there are other factors at play as well.
When early explorers (or more accurately named, colonizers) began to arrive in California, they noticed smoke from what appeared to be intentionally set fires. The first records of this date as far back as 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo of Spain found that “Native Americans set fires in the canyons around the Los Angeles basin to prevent too much buildup of undergrowth and to drive out the game.” As more Europeans like Cabrillo came to the region, these practices would continue to be observed, but never respected. Instead, they brought agricultural practices from their home continent and a concerted effort to erase Indigenous culture.
Prior to European intervention, the Indigenous people of the West were experts in keeping the land in balance. The landscape was a perfect blend of meadows, grasslands, forests and brushland and prescribed burns at calculated intervals made it so that the megafires we see now would not be possible. Additionally, burns with plants such as trees and grasses actually helped them improve their yield on essential crops that provided food and materials for basket weaving. Fire was not only a tangible tool for agriculture and the ecosystem, but also served spiritual purposes as well. However, after centuries of European exploitation and terror towards the Indigenous people of California, the practice of prescribed burns was all but eradicated until recently.
By the late 19th century, the US Forest Service at the time cited an oncoming “Timber Famine” as grounds for becoming even more diligent in the suppression of fires. While scientists and Indigenous tribes at the time had made pleas for them to reconsider, the first head of the USFS, Gifford Pinchot, continued for the pushed demonization of fires. In 1910, the USFS was aided in its campaign by a giant fire that burned through Idaho, Washington, and Montana and engulfed entire towns. And while much of this fire burned through dead and down slash left over from over logging and deforestation, the USFS used this incident to push for full suppression of fire, and they eventually succeeded. In 1911 the Weeks Act was passed, which in part allowed for the Federal Government to issue fines and other penalties to local governments who allowed for unauthorized fire suppression tactics. By 1935, The 10 AM Policy was enacted, which deemed that all wildfires must be extinguished by 10 AM following their day of discovery.
Many trees throughout the West have serotinous cones which means that they only seed with fire. Many native grasses in California depend on fire as well. Fire is regenerative and healthy for many ecosystems and suppressing it for so long knocked everything out of balance. Until the 1970s when small prescribed burns began to be issued again, fires in the west were totally suppressed leaving forests to grow unchecked. And while you may see remnants of prescribed burns in parts of the state today, many fire-dependent ecosystems have not been properly tended and we are still in a mentality of suppression being more important than prevention.
A good example of this in California is a Sequoia grove, which is largely dependent on fire. Usually, these groves burn regularly with ground fire which is why Sequoias don’t have lower branches. But when fire was suppressed, less fire-resistant trees like Douglas Fir and Incense Cedar started occupying the forest grounds. Those same trees, along with other unchecked brush, not only act as tinder for a fire, but also become “ladder fuel,” carrying fire to the upper branches of Sequoias and creating a totally different ecological system. This is one example of how mismanagement of forest lands has led to the perfect conditions for these large-scale fires.
As mentioned, the past 50 years have seen more prescribed burns and preventative measures but the bulk of our efforts have still gone towards fire suppression. When we look at funding, we can see that fire suppression gets the haul of funding, while fire management, or land management, doesn’t. Most fire personnel do not work in our forests outside of May through October, and off-season burning often gets sidelined for lack of personnel. Unless we begin to focus more energy on preventative measures by utilizing more resources for prevention, and also allow for Indigenous tribes to perform the same fire control practices of their ancestors, it is entirely possible that we will continue to see these devastating fires.
Cool down your body
Focus on cooling your body rather than cooling the house. Wrap an ice pack or frozen water bottle in a clean kitchen towel. You can also wet a washcloth, wring it out, and stick it in the fridge. Applying the ice pack or washcloth to a your pulse points will cool your body down fast! Apply the ice pack or washcloth to your:
- behind the knees
- elbow bends
Eat something spicy
This may not be for everyone, but eating spicy foods will increase your circulation, which will get you extra sweaty. Sweating may be unpleasant, but it is a very efficient way of cooling down!
Be sure to drink plenty of water on hot days. Your body needs moisture to sweat in order to maintain homeostasis. You can boost your hydration by eating foods with a high water content. Try snacking on watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, oranges, cucumber, lettuce, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, grapefruit, and coconut water.
Keep out the sunlight
According to the Department of Energy, about 76% of sunlight that hits standard double-pane windows turns into heat and raises the temperature of your home. Single-pane windows allow even more heat into your home. East and west facing windows allow in the most heat, so focus efforts on these windows.
Close your curtains and blinds. Light or medium colored fabric is ideal for reflecting sunlight. If you have dark curtains, you can line them with light fabric. Old bed sheets or thrifted curtains/fabric would totally do the trick.
Exterior shutters, shades, and awnings are even more effective. If you have those, definitely keep them shut.
Eat a popsicle
According to a researcher in New Zealand, runners were able to extend their endurance by 10 minutes on a hot summer day if they ate a popsicle before exercising. You don’t have to go running any marathons, but eating a popsicle before running errands or doing household chores will make the experience much more pleasant.
Turn off electronics before bed
If you have a house or room full of tech, turn everything off before bed to keep the room cool. All of that soft electric buzzing generates heat. Unplug your TV, computer, wifi, etc.
Hang a wet sheet by an open window
If you don’t have AC or have a room that just gets so much hotter than the house, open up a window (or two to create a cross breeze) and hang a wet bedsheet in front of it. As the breeze rolls in, the wet sheet will cool the air flowing through it.
Put your hair up for bed
If you have long hair, tying it up (with a scrunchie to prevent breakage) will expose your neck and temples, which will help keep you cool.
Close the doors
Keep the doors to unused or little used rooms closed to keep the cool air where the action is.
Open the windows at night
You can pre-cool your house or apartment by opening the windows at night (after 10 pm). It gets pretty cool overnight in Davis, so this is an effective way to cool the house down. When temperatures begin to rise again, close up the house, curtains and all.
We’ve partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Yolo County, our current Round Up recipient, to bring members of our community resources for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Awareness Month. If you belong to the BIPOC/QTBIPOC community, you can find free mental health resources near the end of this blog.
Since 2008, July has been recognized as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (or BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month). Bebe Moore Campbell was a Black American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate. She worked tirelessly to bring attention to the mental health needs of the Black community, including those of her daughter who suffered from mental illness. She witnessed the abandonment of her daughter by institutions meant to help, so she founded NAMI Inglewood to create space for Black folks to talk about mental health concerns.
This year’s theme is Strength in Communities. Like Bebe Moore Campbell and her daughter, many BIPOC folks have to find mental health support outside of traditional institutions. A lack of adequate services and a lack of representation have effectively marginalized many BIPOC folks from these traditional avenues of support. This year’s theme recognizes how BIPOC communities have had to overcome this and in the process have become experts in creating alternative support systems built by BIPOC and QTBIPOC (queer and transgender BIPOC) for BIPOC and QTBIPOC. Some of these alternative support systems include:
- Community care refers to ways in which communities of color have provided support to each other. This can include things such as mutual aid, peer support, and healing circles.
- Self-directed care is an innovative practice that emphasizes that people with mental health and substance use conditions, or their representatives if applicable, have decision-making authority over services they receive.
- Cultural care refers to practices that are embedded in cultures that are passed down through generations that naturally provide resiliency and healing.
Not surprisingly, white supremacy has serious negative effects on BIPOC mental health. Racial trauma refers to “ongoing individual and collective harms from repeated exposure to race-based stress.” The mental health effects of racial trauma are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. However, race-based traumatic stress involves prolonged exposure to the stressor(s), unlike traditional cases of PTSD. According to Mental Health America, while rates of mental illness are slightly lower in BIPOC communities, they often experience a higher burden of disability from mental illness. In fact, Black adults are 20% more likely than white adults to report serious psychological distress and depression is more persistent in BIPOC communities. In the criminal justice system, where BIPOC folks are disproportionately overrepresented, mental health conditions are common. The American Psychiatric Association found that 50-75% of BIPOC youth in the juvenile justice system meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness. Finally, Indigenous adults in the U.S. have the highest reported rate of mental illness of any single race identifying group, according to the APA.
Mental Health Resources for BIPOC folks
Loveland Therapy for Black Women and Girls (financial aid for therapy)
For white folks looking for ways to support BIPOC mental health
Learn about Racial Battle Fatigue and its effects on BIPOC mental health
Read this article about using your words, actions, and power to oppose racism
Read this article about how adults can support the mental health of Black Children
Round up at the Register for NAMI Yolo County during July 2021
It’s Plastic Free July and we’re taking the opportunity to talk about environmental racism and the disproportionate effects of plastic pollution on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities. While environmental racism refers to the disproportionate effects of environmental hazards on people of color in general, this blog will focus on plastic consumption and pollution in relation to communities of color in the United States.
Greenaction, a grassroots environmental justice organization, defines environmental racism as, “the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race.” Environmental racism is caused by intentional neglect, a lack of institutional power, and low land values among low income communities of color.
As we discussed in our blog about the intersection of environmental, social, and economic sustainability, individuals and communities with privilege and power cannot afford to ignore social and economic sustainability in favor of environmental stewardship. It is through environmental, social, and economic justice that our communities will become safe and promote the wellbeing of everyone and especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, folks with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, poor people, incarcerated populations, migrant workers, and individuals experiencing homelessness.
Every part of a plastic’s journey from production to consumption to disposal negatively impacts communities of color. Plastics start underground, approximately 1-2 miles below the surface, as fossil fuels like natural gas and oil. In order to get natural gas to the surface, companies drill into the ground and inject a mix of water and chemicals into the rock. This forces the natural gas upward in a process known as fracking.
Fracking sites pose a serious health risk to neighboring communities. In addition to drilling through or near groundwater reserves and improper wastewater disposal, fracking releases dangerous chemicals into the air. A 2016 study from the American Journal of Public Health found a correlation between the proximity of fracking wastewater disposal sites and the proportion of people of color living in that area of Texas. A study from 2018 found that Pennsylvania power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) are disproportionately located near marginalized communities with lower incomes, lower education levels, higher economic stress, and/or more people of color. In Pennsylvania, the asthma hospitalization rate for Black children is 5 times higher than white children. Latinx children were hospitalized at rates 3 times higher than white children. In fact, Black people across the country are exposed to more air pollution than white folks. According to research from 2019, Black people bear a “pollution burden” of 56% (excess exposure compared to consumption).
Formosa Plastics is currently lobbying to build a refining center on the banks of the Mississippi in St. James Parish in Louisiana where 87% of residents are Black. You can donate to RISE St. James to help the community protect itself.
Oil and natural gas pipelines similarly impact BIPOC communities. Indigenous activists are calling for an end to pipeline projects which threaten water safety and sovereignty. Pipelines can leak slowly over time or rupture, polluting land, air, and water with highly volatile compounds. While the number of these kinds of incidents has decreased since 1996, the number of major incidents has increased. Major incidents involve serious injury, death, fires, and explosions. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and childhood leukemia are serious health concerns for communities near pipelines. You can read more about pipelines here.
Once raw materials are turned into plastics, they are aggressively marketed to low income communities of color and sold at disproportionately low prices. This is possible because plastic refining corporations receive billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies (in fact, plastic production is subsidized every step of the way). Low prices keep demand for plastics high. Non-BIPOC consumption of plastic harms communities of color as well. In addition to endangering communities living near production facilities, buying plastics gives more political power to the fossil fuel industries and does nothing to combat how the industry treats its BIPOC workers or communities that host production facilities.
An April 2021 survey of energy sector employees from across the country found that Latinx and Black folks are underrepresented in the fossil fuels and that 8 out of 10 white employees surveyed described themselves as supervisors or having leadership roles. White energy sector workers also reported higher overall career satisfaction than any other racial or ethnic group. Black employees noted prejudice and racial bias as the biggest challenge in the workplace.
BIPOC communities are also chosen as landfill and incineration sites for plastic disposal, both of which endanger the health of those living nearby. According to Denise Patel, U.S. Program Director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 79% of municipal solid waste incinerator facilities are located near BIPOC communities. These sites release heavy metals like lead and mercury directly into the air. Water contaminated by landfills leaches into groundwater and runoff can harm local waterways, water sources, and recreation spaces. The Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown, AL accepts waste from 33 states including toxic coal ash. The neighboring town is 90% Black and residents have reported increases in cancer, respiratory diseases, and mental health issues. Residents filed a Title VI Civil Rights complaint with the EPA, which was dismissed in 2018. State courts, federal agencies, and the company that owns the landfill have repeatedly failed the residents of Uniontown, whose median household income is about $15,000.
When asked how we can improve our waste management systems to mitigate the disproportionate burden BIPOC communities bear, Denise Patel answered, “From a solutions perspective, I think there is an incredible opportunity to allow EJ (environmental justice) and BIPOC communities to lead and inform policy.” Supporting the work of environmental justice organizations with monetary donations is one way to ensure BIPOC voices are leading this conversation. You can also use less plastic! Small changes make a big difference. Thanks to our community’s participation in Plastic Free July, the Co-op sold 7,000 more plastic-free products in July 2020 than July 2019. Here are tips about going plastic free on a budget, plastic free recipes, and tips on shopping plastic free at the Co-op.
Find the full list of organization you can donate to here.
Fiery Ginger Farm
West Sacramento Urban Farm
Fiery Ginger Farm is a West Sacramento Urban Farm. Shayne, from Stockton, and Hope, from Michigan, both worked in farms or gardens and teaching in grade schools. They are both graduates of the California Farm Academy with the Center for Land-Based Learning.
Currently, at the Co-op, we carry their Loose Spring Salad Mix, Sunflower Sprouts, Gypsy Pepper, and Heirloom Tomatoes. Keep an eye on our signs in store to see what new things we bring in from Fiery Ginger.
“to grow the highest quality food using sustainable practices, deliver hands-on, ag-based educational experiences, and develop community where we farm. We believe that urban farms are powerful agents of change for the environment, the food system and the cities we service.”
Good news: Plastic Free July isn’t about being perfect, it’s about trying your best to make small changes that will benefit all of us! Whether you’ve decided to go plastic free for the rest of the month, or just for tomorrow, take the Plastic Free July pledge and join millions of people trying their best too.
Between social media and targeted ads it can feel like going plastic free requires purchasing a bunch of fancy glass jars and reusable silicone kitchen gear. Good news again: this is definitely not the case! This blog will spell out how to go plastic free on a budget.
Many companies are making the switch to sustainable packaging, including using glass or compostable material. While this is important and necessary, these items can come at a higher price. Avoid packaging altogether and shop the Bulk Department! Because these items come free from packaging (and for a few other reasons), bulk food is cheaper than packaged food. You can find our current Bulk Department offerings here.
Use Glass Jars (but not new ones!)
You definitely do not need to go spend $100 on brand new mason jars. If you look in your fridge, you probably have glass jars of all shapes and sizes (I’m looking at you, jar full of olives from 5 months ago). These just need a quick rinse before they’re ready to use. Soak in hot water with soap and distilled vinegar for 5-20 minutes to get any labels and residual adhesive off. And then they’re ready to use! Glass jars are great for stocking up on bulk items, taking leftovers to work, taking leftovers home from restaurants, and using at cafes.
You can also buy glass jars secondhand, sometimes for cents! Head to your favorite thrift store to see what’s in stock and feel free to experiment with sizes and shapes. A huge mason jar for $.50 is totally worth it if you buy 4 pounds of lentils at a time.
Use Cutlery You Already Have
Those travel cutlery kits are cute, but not necessary if you have forks, spoons, and knives at home already! Wrapping them in a cloth napkin or kitchen towel from home means you have something to store them in after you’ve used them. You can even make your own kitchen towels, napkins, and rags from material you already have.
Put Your Plastic To Use
A plastic zip-top bag can be used multiple times before heading to the landfill. If you already have single-use plastic bags at home, it’s silly to toss them before using. Zip-top bags can be rinsed, washed, and dried by hand many times before they no longer function (e.g. they’ve torn). Use these to shop the bulk department or as food storage at home before buying something new.
DIY Cleaning Products
Along with the assumption that “going zero waste” is expensive, many folks think it’s more time consuming too. While this is somewhat true (e.g. you need to spend more time sorting your waste properly), you’re probably here because you care about the health of our community and planet and understand that we all need to create new habits to be more sustainable. DIYing can take more time, but in this case, you’ll also save some money! Read our Natural Home Cleaning blog with 15+ DIY cleaning recipes.
Buy Second Hand, Then New
A lot of this blog focuses on using what you already have, which is a good mindset to have when considering how you can reduce your waste. Always use what you have first. Whether it’s cheap, fast fashion, a case of plastic water bottles in the garage, or glass tomato sauce jars, use these items before buying something new. If you are looking to buy something, look for it second hand at the thrift store or online. When it is time to buy something new, invest in quality items that will last a long time and put people and planet before profit.
In honor of Pride Month and in solidarity with our LGBTQIA+ and QTPOC community members, the Davis Food Co-op has donated $500 to the Sacramento Gender Health Center, a QTPOC-led nonprofit working to end systematic oppression and pathologization of transgender people and racism while centering the wellness of queer and transgender people of color. The SGHC is currently asking for donations to help cover the cost of their facilities upgrade, which includes moving to a more accessible space and upgrading furniture. We invite our community to join us in supporting the SGHC and our QTPOC family, friends, and community members.
Pride Month wouldn’t exist without queer and transgender people of color (QTPOC). More specifically, it wouldn’t exist without queer and trans people of color fighting back against police brutality. If this is news to you, read about the history of Pride below!
Note that while there are Pride celebrations all over the world, this blog will focus on the history of queer activism in the United States.
Pride is, and always has been, political. If you’re somewhat familiar with the history of Pride, you might know that the riots at the Stonewall Inn, which occurred from June 28th to July 3rd, 1969, are the impetus for the Pride events we know today. But Stonewall was not the first modern queer political action. The Society for Human Rights received its charter on December 24th, 1924 in Chicago, making it the oldest documented gay organization in the country. The organization was led by German activist Henry Gerber and African American clergyman John T. Graves. One of the Society’s goals was to advocate for shorter prison sentences for gay men arrested and convicted under obscenity laws. The Society collapsed just a year later when Gerber was unjustly arrested for “strange doings”. Although the charges were eventually dropped, the Society dismantled as Gerber was unable to support it financially after exhausting his savings to legal fees. Queer organizations like the Society for Human Rights remained a part of public life, but with varying visibility. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were active throughout the 1950s.
The 1960s were marked by calls to end violence and injustice suffered by marginalized communities throughout the United States. The civil rights movement in combination with fervent efforts to overturn Jim Crow laws are most commonly associated with the decade of reform, but communities fought for women’s rights, the abolishment of police brutality, and an end to the Vietnam War as well. Queer folks were regularly arrested for having consensual sex, kissing in public, gathering at bars, or for simply existing if they looked queer. Moreover, queerness was classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. “Homosexuality” would remain a diagnosable disorder until 1973 (this history of using the term “homosexual” in conjuction with pathologizing queerness is one of the reasons why we don’t use “homosexual” to describe gays and lesbians anymore). This is the context out of which several key queer political actions were born.
The Cooper Donuts Uprising took place at Cooper Donuts in Los Angeles in 1959, ten years before Stonewall. At the time, it was illegal for a person’s gender expression to differ from the sex listed on their ID, which meant that trans folks were often the target of police harrassment. For this reason many gay bars banned or discouraged trans folks from entering. Cooper Donuts was open to many members of the queer community and was often a target for police raids. Two police officers arrested two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man after asking to see IDs. As they were being arrested, patrons took to throwing whatever they could including coffee, donuts, and trash, to push back against the unjust police harassment. Police fled before making any arrests and returned with backup and a blockade to arrest the folks who were now calling for an end to police harassment in the streets.
In 1966, patrons of Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin rioted after a police officer attempted to arrest a drag queen for cross dressing. She threw a cup of coffee in his face which sparked the uprising. Leading up to the rebellion, police used any excuse (e.g. obstructing the sidewalk) to arrest Compton’s queer customer base which was largely made up of drag queens, sex workers, and trans women of color. After the riot, Comtpon’s banned trans women from entering, but not without resistance in the form of a pickett line and smashed windows from the Tenderloin’s queer community.
LA’s Black Cat Tavern was a popular bar for Southern California’s queer community and often the target of police raids. On New Year’s in 1967 several undercover officers began beating and arresting patrons celebrating the New Year with kisses. Police arrested fourteen people for assault and public lewdness. On February 11th, 200 people protested the arrests with civil demonstrations in public. The Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE) group and the Southern California Council on Religion and Homophile organized the effort. No rioting took place, despite armed squadrons of police officers meeting protestors. These instances of queer political action and liberation, largely at the hands of QTPOC, would pave the way for Stonewall and the larger queer liberation movement.
The Stonewall Uprising in New York City is perhaps the most salient example of civil rights era activism and revolutionary tactics influencing the gay liberation movement. There are so many contradictory and inconsistent accounts of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969, but we do know that police launched a violent raid on the Christohper Street bar targeting drag queens, trans folks, and gay men, the majority of whom were Black or brown. The arrests were met with resistance from Stonewall’s patrons and sparked 6 days of protests against police brutality. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black activist and performer who described herself as “gay,” “transvestite,” and a “drag queen,” is often associated with the uprising. Sylvia Rivera, a brown trans woman, also led protests on Christopher Street. She participated in anti-war and Black liberation marches throughout the latter half of the 60s. Miss Major Griffin Gracy, another Black trans activist, also led actions throughout the riots. Storme DeLarverie, a biracial, lesbian drag performer is believed to have “thrown the first punch” when police first started making arrests. Countless QTPOC were involved in the protests, fighting for their autonomy, personhood, and freedom. Pushing back against unjust systems is the core of all of these uprisings and would remain the core of Pride.
One year after the Stonewall riots, Christopher Street Liberation Day attracted thousands of marchers calling for gay liberation with chants of “gay power!”. That march is considered the first New York City Pride Parade taking place on June 28th, 1970. Queer activism continued, with the Gay Activist’s Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, and Street Transvestive Action Revolutionaries (STAR) forming in the wake of Stonewall. The contributions of QTPOC continue to be minimized in favor of acknowledging the contributions of white activists. We’d like to specifically call attention to a few queer Black folks who pushed the movement forward during this time: Bayard Rustin, a key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; writer, poet, and activist Audre Lorde; Ernestine Eckstein, a leader of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian and civil rights organization in the U.S.; Barbara Jordan, the first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate; writer and scholar Angela Davis; and author James Baldwin.
Changes in recent years
With these deep roots in political action, Pride has grown and spread all over the globe. Unfortunately, so has the influence of capitalism at Pride. The presence of corporate logos at Pride is particularly troublesome since some companies that pour money into Pride events don’t back up that support with any tangible action. For example, Google sponsored a 2020 Pride event in San Francisco, but refused to take action against LGBTQIA+ harassment on its YouTube platform (Google is now banned from that Pride event). As Pride moves away from a political agenda, some communities, like Black trans women, will be particularly vulnerable to violence by the state and the public. Be cautious of brands that adopt a rainbow logo, but don’t walk the walk when it comes to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. “Rainbow-washing” is ultimately harmful and dangerous, especially for queer and trans communities of color.
It is for similar reasons that the author of this blog, a straight white cisgender woman, asks other straight white cisgender folks to be mindful of queer spaces, especially at Pride. While I absolutely affirm that none of us can afford to not be allies, Pride isn’t a space for us to take center stage. Pride isn’t for us.
How we can support the QTPOC community
Despite diverse leadership and ground-level contributions by QTPOC, it is white cisgender gay men who have benefitted the most from achievements made in recent decades. This is because white supremacy pervades all levels of society and because our identities are inextricably tied to one another (i.e. race and queerness intersect). According to Mapping Violence, Black folks are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, even though Black folks are 1.3 times less likely to be armed. Moreover, Black transgender women are at an even higher risk of fatal violence. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one-fifth of transgender people who have interacted with the police reported harassment, and the rates are much higher for Black transgender individuals: 38% reported harassment, and 15% reported assault by officers. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found “that 57% of transgender people are afraid to go to the police for help largely due to the threat of being harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or misgendered—which is why the deaths of transgender people often go severely unreported.”
Giving to the Sacramento Gender Health Center is one way white folks and allies can serve the QTPOC community. Knowing that our institutions will not protect this community means we must support queer and transgender people of color through collective, community action. Being actively anti-racist by calling out racism when you see and hear it is essential. Supporting the work of the SGHC is something real you can do right now. Volunteering with the Sacramento LGBT Center is something else you can do. You can also read this article about Black queer love and (in)visibility. Patronizing LGBTQIA+ and QTPOC businesses and artists is another way to provide tangible support to the community.
In addition to donating to the SGHC, sponsoring Davis Pride, and collecting Round Up funds for the Davis Phoenix Coalition, the Co-op will continue to work to make our community more accessible and safe for the LGBTQIA+ and QTPOC community. We’re excited to announce the addition of pronouns on staff name tags coming this summer. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog all about why we’re making this change.