The Cooperative Difference: United We Stand


The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays because it signifies the birth of our great nation. It serves as an annual reminder that our forefathers all came together and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Our magazine is normally delivered early in the month, so odds are, as you are reading this article, you are preparing to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and friends. I would imagine that your plans include food and fireworks.

The tradition of shooting fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July dates all the way back to July 4, 1777, the first celebration of our Independence Day. It is easy to assume that fireworks were used to signify the “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.” But according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the real answer is in a letter that John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, informing her that the Continental Congress had declared independence. He wrote, “This day ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward and forever more.” I think it is cool that, 246 years later, we are still celebrating this great day in the spirit that Adams described.

Have I mentioned that I love fireworks? Everywhere I live, I seem to make good friends with local fireworks dealers. When I lived in Missouri, my good friend Jon Dwiggins from Macon, Missouri, had a fireworks tent that his family operated for decades. He provided me everything I needed to light the sky to put on a show for our neighborhood. At times, the sky would be so full of color, cars would pull over on the highway to watch the show.

Here in Little Rock, I have visited Torpedo Joe’s Fireworks the last two years and kept the tradition alive. I always walk in with a budget in mind, but something happens while I am in the fireworks tent/store, and I walk out wondering how I am going to explain this to my wife when I get home. However, all is forgiven once the sun goes down and the show begins. Last year, I was in awe of all the fireworks that were going off in my neighborhood. The sky was full as far as the eye could see, and it was a motivating sight. While I am sure that the inflation we are seeing this year will take a bite out of fireworks budgets, I hope that everyone still has a wonderful Fourth of July and celebrates our freedom.

I chose the headline on this column to be “United We Stand” because I hope that this Fourth of July we all take time to remember the things that unite us, and we take a day to forget about the things that divide us. The Declaration of Independence wisely states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As I tour our great state, I meet all kinds of wonderful people, and I generally find that I have a lot more in common with them than I have differences. However, today the airwaves and social media are full of things that highlight the differences and attempt to drive us apart. It seems odd to me that we focus on the 10% to the detriment of friendships, family relationships and peace in our communities when we could focus on the 90% that we have in common.

Almost every book you read extols the virtues of forming a business where teamwork and collaboration lead to true innovation and better outcomes. Why, then, would we not find ways to do the same thing in our daily lives for the advancement of our communities, our state and our nation?

This column is called The Cooperative Difference, and I am always impressed by the cooperative business model, the teamwork that it inspires and the commonsense answers that this form of governance generates. Our 17 distribution cooperatives all have different perspectives and economic drivers. However, as I watch our board members discuss issues, they work together to find common ground, negotiate and ultimately make decisions that are best for the cooperative family. Many times, these decisions represent compromise; they may not be exactly everything they wanted for their individual cooperatives, but they are best for the cooperative family. Our board members not only work across the aisle, they work across county lines, state lines, political parties and diverse demographics to serve the greater good. They truly focus on the 90% and on our mission of providing Reliable, Affordable and Responsible electric service to our members.

The result is an outstanding electric generation, transmission and distribution system that serves all of our member-owners with affordable and reliable energy. Our cooperative system is routinely benchmarked as one of the best in the cooperative arena and often better than the investor-owned and municipal systems in our service area.

I am honored to be a part of the cooperative family and proud to work for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. I hope, in this next political cycle, our elected leaders can act more like our board and serve America the cooperative way.

The Gospel of Matthew states, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Abraham Lincoln used these very words in his address to the Illinois Republican State Convention in Springfield in 1858. I leave you with this last quote from Ronald Reagan, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place on earth to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.” Given the state of world events, I can’t imagine a more powerful reason for us to remember the words, “United We Stand.”

Vernon “Buddy” Hasten is President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.