I must admit to a feeling of bewilderment.
As those of you who have been following the Olympia Co-op boycott story on this blog know, I have taken for granted that the Co-op followed its own rules when deciding whether to take part in the latest BDS project to get food co-ops to shun Israeli products.
This is what critics of the boycott were told whenever they brought up the fact that the organization’s membership was excluded from that decision. In fact, I had even urged others to take boycott proponent’s word that procedures were followed properly, asking us all to apply the Principle of Charity in this matter, as well as other matters related to the controversy.
But recent information has come my way which forced me to do something I (possibly naively) chose not to do originally: take a close look at the co-op’s policies on the matter.
If you read through this document (which the co-op itself has posted in order to explain the policies behind its Israel boycott decision) you will see no role for the organization’s board in the decision-making process related to boycotts. Rather, the power to declare a boycott rests solely with the store’s staff and the threshold they must reach to declare an official boycott is consensus. In fact, the only sentence in the policy that specifies where decision-making power rests is the following:
“The department manager will make a written recommendation to the staff who will decide by consensus whether or not to honor a boycott.”
Now in the world most of us live in, consensus is defined as “an opinion or position reached by a group as a whole.” Under this definition, consensus is either/or. Either the group as a whole agrees to something and thus consensus has been reached, or it fails to do so, in which case there is no consensus.
The recent information I have received is that the staff, in fact, DID NOT reach a consensus on whether to boycott Israeli goods. One would think that, by the Co-op’s own published policies, no consensus translates to no boycott. But apparently in this case, no consensus meant that the board intervened to declare one on its own.
A fair-minded commenter on this subject pointed out that the Co-op’s bylaws establish as one of the board’s duties (#16) to “resolve organizational conflicts after all other avenues of resolution have been exhausted” and indicated that this by-law allowed the board to make the boycott decision in light of no consensus being reached by the staff. But this flies in the face of the boycott policy itself which seems to establish “no consensus” as a legitimate position which would translate to a “no go” choice regarding a particular boycott measure.
With all due respect to the person making the case that the conflict-resolution clause of the by-laws gives the board the power to make its own decision in the absence of staff consensus, if we take this proposition to its logical conclusion then anytime the staff cannot reach consensus to go ahead with a controversial matter that is allegedly its choice to make, the board can make that decision for them, a position that essentially makes the staff decision-making power established in the co-op’s boycott policies meaningless.
At this point, I believe everyone deserves a detailed description of what exactly took place within the Olympia Co-op to determine the level of consensus within the staff and (if relevant) what “avenues of resolution” were tried and exhausted before the board set the organization’s boycott policy on its own. Members certainly deserve this information, but so do we outsiders who are now dealing with Olympia’s decision as it is being broadcast around the world as a call for other organizations to also join the BDS program.
Co-op by-laws also include clause #14 which says board members must “maintain free-flowing communication between the Board, Staff, committees, and the membership”.
Let the free-flow of communication begin.