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The Cooperator
An Unofficial History of the Greenbelt News Review

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by Heather Elizabeth Peterson

In their book New Towns, Martha E. Munzer and John Vogel, Jr., recount a possibly apocryphal story about a real estate and rental agency that had been asked to supply a reference for a person living in Greenbelt. The agency wrote back, "It is not the policy of this office to furnish information for these government projects which it is felt are unAmerican and tend to Communism."

The reference was to Greenbelters' custom of forming cooperatives, businesses owned by their consumers. The United States government, in making the decision in 1937 to run the stores in its model community on a cooperative basis, explained mildly to the press that it had been unable to find regular stores that would be interested in operating in the small community. This explanation was disingenuous. The truth was that President Franklin Roosevelt's administration actively encouraged the use of cooperatives in all of the planned communities that it built during the Great Depression. The idea behind the cooperatives citizens joining together to run businesses for themselves very much appealed to the Roosevelt administration.

From all accounts, the idea appealed to Greenbelt's early residents as well. Greenbelt and her sister towns were among the most cooperative-minded communities that ever existed in a nation that has always been fundamentally suspicious of any form of socialism. The Greenbelters embraced the town's cooperative stores and credit union, they flocked to lectures explaining the principles of cooperative businesses, and they watched with interest as the children in their elementary school and high school began their own cooperatives.

The organization that was to become the community's most famous cooperative was organized in November 1937 under the modest name of the Journalistic Club. On November 24, two months after Greenbelt had opened, the club issued a 16-page typewritten newspaper on green sheets. The name of the newspaper, appropriately enough, was The Cooperator.


Cooperator Masthead - July 6, 1938

In its first issue, The Cooperator described how its staff members believed that cooperatives, democracy, and freedom of the press are intertwined.

Greenbelt is a new town geared to the Twentieth Century. Quite appropriately it is called the "Town of the Future". Greenbelt citizens inspire all with their friendliness and faith, their vision and community spirit.

Life in Greenbelt is no accident. It is the result of foresight, careful planning, and engineering skill. If it isn't a community for financial gain, it is a town for the enrichment of life, and for the encouragement of better housing in America.

This is no little opportunity and no little responsibility for an intelligent self- governing people. Democracy is at work and its influence is felt in Greenbelt. Here economic resources have served the general welfare beautifully.

While all this is obvious to any Greenbelt tenant, there could not long remain either security or responsibility for community affairs without a center of dependable information. That center, quite naturally, is a town weekly.

A good newspaper is an adjunct of self-government; it is the keystone in the arch of American liberty. The town meeting and, the town weekly, are joint community.

It is therefore natural to ask what policy the Greenbelt Cooperator has in view; what its relation is toward the community. The sphere of the Cooperator and its policies may be summarized within an eight-point outline as follows:

  1. To serve as a non-profit enterprise.

  2. To remain non-partisan in politics.

  3. To remain neutral in religious matters.

  4. To print news accurately and regularly.

  5. To make its pages an open forum for civic affairs.

  6. To develop a staff of volunteer writers.

  7. To create a "Good Neighbor" spirit, promote friendship, advance the common good, and develop a "Greenbelt philosophy" of life.

["Greenbelt! We Make Our Bow," The Cooperator (November 2, 1937), 3.]



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