"The Seed" ("O Sporos" in greek) started in October of 2004, by a small group of politically active people in Athens, Greece, who were interested (but with limited knowledge) in the idea of “fair trade” and felt solidarity with the Zapatista movement. Some people from the initial group already participated in an active solidarity effort (the School for Chiapas campaign).
For more than a year, we distributed Zapatista coffee (provided by the Café Libertad cooperative in Hamburg), hand-to-hand to friends, political and social collectives, social centers etc. More people joined our collective and we started laying the groundwork for a more organized structure. In December 2005 we acquired the legal status of a cooperative, and in March 2007 we opened a space in downtown Athens, which functions as a shop, meeting place and warehouse at the same time. Besides Zapatista coffee, we also started distributing products from other cooperatives in Latin America and Asia, in the context of “alternative and solidarity trade”.
While The Seed’s main activity, both economically and politically, remains the distribution of Zapatista coffee, it is not only a Zapatista solidarity project. Taking our strong solidarity with the Zapatista movement for granted, our general aim is to experiment with the practice of “alternative and solidarity trade” as an active agent for broader social change. In this sense, we are searching for more producers and products to distribute, not only from other countries but Greece as well.
Moreover, we are more generally interested in the concept of the “solidarity economy”. This spring we started a second-hand pay nothing market in our space (without money, people bring what they don’t need and get what they like for free) and we have more ideas that we would like to implement.
Our vision of “alternative and solidarity trade” is much broader and, one could say, much more radical than the practices of mainstream “fair trade”. We do not see it as a method to “help the poor” in the developing countries, but rather as a possible social movement, comprised of horizontal networks of organized producers, distribution groups and active consumers. We see this possible movement as part of the broader global struggle for social change, not as a thematic action unconnected to the general social and political issues.
In that sense we try to:
- Develop an alternative distribution network throughout Greece, outside the dominant commercial circuits. We have rejected proposals to wholesale the products to commercial middlemen and chains of retail stores.
- Establish a relationship with the people that buy the products. We do not treat them as customers, but social individuals who we view as active participants in our project. We give emphasis in informing them about the process (through a series of texts we give together with the coffee), discussing with them and organizing/participating in public events.
- Participate and motivate people to act in other issues as well. La Semilla is cooperating with other collectives and organizations in a series of social issues (GMO’s, critique of consumerism, activism against multinational companies). On the other hand we use our space and website to inform people about upcoming political and social actions.
The Seed is a massive cooperative, with about 50 members. In every-day function, about 20-25 people are involved. We have a totally horizontal structure, discussing the issues and making decisions by consensus in a weekly assembly. There are some “responsibility” positions, involving economic, communication and distribution issues, which we try to rotate and up to now we are all volunteers. Our space is kept open with shifts, each one of us has a steady 4-hour shift per week.
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