Co-op battles, ballots and boycotts

This weekend, members of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op will learn who will lead a grocery store bogged down in internecine squabbles over member voting rights and Middle East politics.

Five co-op members are competing for two available seats on the co-op board of directors, in a race that has included testy candidate forums, anonymous graffiti attacks and lots of name-calling.

“This whole election has kind of spun out of control,” said Cody Potter, a 31-year-old labor organizer running on a “pro-democracy” platform. He supports a boycott of Israeli products at the organic grocer as an appeal for Palestinian human rights.

“Ending Israeli occupation of Israel—that’s the goal,” says co-op member Barry Broad who has labeled that effort anti-Semitism.

The boycott brouhaha brought unwanted attention for a store more comfortable discussing environmental sustainability and preserving small farms than doling out blame in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign has zeroed in on co-ops in California and elsewhere in the nation as the venue to bring their cause, precisely because co-ops are known for their progressive principles.

“The co-op board has virtually all the power,” said Maggie Coulter, a co-op member and a chief architect of the boycott initiative. “The thing goes on the ballot and loses, OK. I’m about democracy.”

Boycott supporters suffered a recent setback when they asked a Sacramento Superior Court judge to require their initiative be placed before roughly 7,000 voting members of the co-op—and were turned down, according to Steve Maviglio, a board member and an opponent of the boycott initiative.

Meanwhile, the current board placed its own controversial initiative on the ballot. Measure 2 would add a clause to the co-op’s bylaws prohibiting the store from discriminating “in its employment, purchasing, or any other practices on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, political opinion, or national origin.”

The board rebuffed previous attempts to introduce the boycott initiative by citing similar bylaws already on the books, begging the question of Measure 2’s necessity. Maviglio said the measure would expand the co-op’s nondiscrimination policies to all practices, rather than just membership issues.

“So, no, it’s not a duplication of what’s there already; what’s there already simply applies to membership,” he added.

“I think the board put it on there because they want to make it very clear that we don’t make policy or hiring decisions based on political opinion,” said co-op general manager Paul Cultrera. “Is it necessary? I don’t know,” he added.

Coulter called the ballot argument for that measure “shameful.” She says Measure 2 is just intended to make it harder for members like her to introduce initiatives like the boycott proposal.

“It’s a statement they won’t even let members think for themselves. I think it’s appalling,” she said.

The results of the election are scheduled to be verified and posted Saturday in the store and on its website.

“Someday, we’ll get to run a grocery store,” Cultrera lamented.