In the State of Mississippi, deep down in the heart of “Dixie,” a critical democratic experiment is taking place that is challenging the order of institutional white supremacy and paternalistic capitalism that form the foundations of the state’s settler-colonial order. This experiment in social transformation is building a radical culture of participatory democratic engagement to gain control over the authoritative functions of governance and to democratize the fundamental means of production, distribution, and financial exchange. It is being led by the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM, n.d.). We are building on nearly two hundred years of struggle for Afrikan liberation in the territories claimed by the European settler-state of Mississippi. This experiment, the Jackson-Kush Plan, is named after the state’s capitol and the name given by members of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PG-RNA) to the eighteen contiguous majority Black counties that border the Mississippi river.
The Jackson-Kush Plan has three fundamental programmatic focuses that intend to build a mass base with political clarity, organizational capacity, and material self-sufficiency:
- Building People’s Assemblies throughout the Kush District to serve as instruments of “dual power” to counter the abusive powers of the state and of capital whether regional, national, or international.
- Building an independent political force throughout the state, but concentrated in the Kush District, which will challenge and replace the authority of the two parties of transnational capital, the Democrats and the Republicans, which dominate the arena of electoral politics in the state of Mississippi.
- Building a solidarity economy in Jackson and throughout the Kush district anchored by a network of cooperatives and supporting institutions to strengthen worker power and economic democracy in the state.
This experiment is anchored in the rich history of the Black Liberation Movement in Mississippi that extends from Reconstruction to our successful 2013 campaign to elect as Mayor of Jackson a human rights attorney and long-time revolutionary organizer, Chokwe Lumumba. It draws on the practices of grassroots struggles to build consensual democracy, such as the autonomous communities led by the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, as well as solidarity economies that subordinate capital to labor, such as Mondragόn in Euskadi, the Basque region of the Spanish nation-state. Our organization extensively studied these and other international movements for years via study groups, international delegations, and international exchanges. We have tried to absorb their best practices and apply them to our particular conditions.
The fundamental aim of this experiment is to attain power for Afrikan, Indigenous, and other oppressed peoples and exploited classes in order to liberate ourselves from the oppressive systems of white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism in the State of Mississippi.
Contextualizing the Initiative: Challenging Poverty, Prisons, and Paternalism
For most people the potential of our democratic experiment runs counter to the common perceptions about Mississippi as a historic standard-bearer for the ruthless enslavement of African people. As the demand for cotton grew worldwide in the 19th century, Mississippi became the center of the expanding domestic slave trade. Over one million enslaved Afrikans were transported to the Deep South between 1790 and 1860. The brutal conditions in the Mississippi and Ohio River regions inspired the phrase “being sold down the river.” The growth of “King Cotton” also resulted in the expulsion of the Indigenous population and the marginalization of poor whites in the face of plantation economies. The failure of radical Reconstruction to dissolve the plantation system after the Civil War, along with the creation of “Black codes” to enforce segregation, created a triple “P” effect that has impacted Mississippi ever since: poverty, prisons, and paternalistic white supremacy.
This paternalist capitalism shifted how Black labor was exploited. Following the collapse of the short-lived Reconstruction government in Mississippi, Black workers were primarily confined to being sharecroppers—farm laborers who worked almost exclusively for the large landowners who were their former owners and their descendants. Wholly dependent on the large landowners for their wages, food, shelter, and medical care, sharecroppers were slaves by another name. This system lasted from the 1870s to the 1960s. It was gradually weakened by the industrialization of large portions of agricultural production, particularly the automation of cotton picking. This displaced nearly a million Black workers between the late 1940s and the early 1970s, forcing them to migrate to urban areas throughout the US.
Industrial manufacturing entered the state on a significant scale in the late 1920s. The key industries included shipbuilding, timber cutting and processing, transport and shipping, canning, and later, industrial farming of catfish, chicken, and pigs. Industrial capital created a system of super-exploitation by manipulating the existing racial order and the fragmentation of the multi-national working class. Black workers were usually relegated to menial positions and those who performed skilled labor in the factories were grossly undercompensated. Capital uses the racial divide to hinder working class consciousness and organization. Beginning in the late 1890s, regional capital, both agricultural and industrial, was able to build a solid alliance with sectors of the white settler working class to resist unionization and to use the passage of Taft-Hartley to defeat the legislative gains of the National Labor Relations Act. Furthermore, the institutionalization of “right to work” laws designed to privilege white workers became a defining feature of paternalist capitalism that governs Mississippi labor relations.
Today, Mississippi is the poorest state in the union with a median household income of $37,095. The City of Jackson is one of the poorest metropolitan cities in the US. Between 2008 and 2012 the median household income was $33,434 and the poverty rate 28.3% (Census Quickfacts, n.d.). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of August 2013, the city’s “official” unemployment rate stood at 8.0%. However, its “real” unemployment rate is estimated to be above 25% (Amadeo, 2017). Mississippi’s wealth equity figures are even worse. It is estimated that people of African descent control less than 10% of the vested capital in the state. Mississippi is also one of the most repressive states in the union. It has the third highest incarceration rate in the US and the overwhelming number of those incarcerated are people of African descent . It is also noted for being at or near the bottom of every major quality of life indicator, including health measures, quality of housing, transportation, worker rights and protections, and educational access and attainment.
Despite Mississippi’s oppressive past and present there is tremendous potential for radical transformation. It is our argument that Mississippi constitutes a “weak link” in the bourgeois-democratic capitalist system that underscores the US’s settler-colonial regime. Although capitalism has thoroughly dominated social relations in Mississippi since its inception as a colonial entity, the local practice can best be described as a “contingent” expression of that system because of its overt dependency on paternalist white supremacy. The local capitalist and elite classes attempt to maintain social and political control over the state, its peoples, and its resources by tempering and distorting the profit-motive that is central to the capitalist mode of production. This severely restricts agricultural and industrial production, trade, and financial flows in and out of the state. Rather than stimulating growth and maximizing profits through increased production and trade, the local white ruling class has prioritized a strategy of containment that deliberately seeks to fetter the Black population by limiting its access to capital and decent wages, both of which constitute a critical source of labor power and strength in a capitalist society. As an old saying goes, “In Mississippi, money doesn’t talk as loud as race.”
This contingent form of paternalist capitalism has produced a number of deep contradictions within the state. Black populations constitute a majority in 16 western counties in Mississippi, resulting in the highest percentage of Black elected officials in the union. Furthermore, thousands of Blacks are migrating back to Mississippi every year, and, despite all of the xenophobic initiatives of the Republican Party, a growing immigrant population promises to make it a majority non-white state over the next twenty years. However, demographics are not the only determining factor. A long memory of white supremacy together with its present manifestations make the majority Black populations in the Kush District acutely aware of their interests and compel them to act upon them on every front of social life. It is this combination of favorable demographics, elevated political consciousness, and strong political mobilization that have created the pre-conditions for our political experiment. This is why we characterize Mississippi as a weak link in the chain. Although we cannot limit our activities to these weak links, it is crucial that we identify and utilize them because they provide more space to demonstrate practical alternatives that can galvanize momentum for similar projects in more difficult circumstances.
A Short History of Black Resistance in Mississippi
People of African descent have a long history of resistance against colonization, enslavement, exploitation, and white supremacy in the lands that now comprise the state of Mississippi. One of the earliest acts of resistance was the Natchez rebellion of 1729 when an alliance of enslaved Africans and Indigenous people from the Natchez nation rebelled against French colonists (Boler, 2006). This was followed by countless numbers of enslaved Africans who liberated themselves and became maroons in the backwoods of the territory during its early days as a French, Spanish, English, and American colonial possession. There were also numerous slave rebellions during the antebellum period in Mississippi.
After the Civil War, people of African descent organized several independent communities, purchased considerable portions of farm land, started countless businesses, and won a considerable number of political offices in the Reconstruction government. These efforts continued even after the defeat of Reconstruction and the imposition of the brutal Jim Crow apartheid regime established the threat of constant terror. In the three decades following the Second World War resistance grew to levels unmatched since Reconstruction. The height of this resistance was in the 1960s during the rise of Medgar Evers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the militant campaigns of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and their alliance in the Conference of Federated Organizations (COFO).
In the electoral arena, attempts by Blacks to independently challenge and change our social and political status go back to the 1964 creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) through COFO. The MFDP famously challenged the Democrat’s “Dixiecrat” wing by attempting to seat delegates at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite its recent emergence on the scene as an organized force, the MFDP immediately carried significant weight in the Black community because of the historic struggles waged by Black activists to enter the party in the mid-1960s and then to assume majority control in the early 1970s.
Ever since, building an independent political vehicle through the MFDP or an independent political party have been points of contention. The vast majority of political activists in the Black community have argued that it is better for Black people in Mississippi to be linked with the Democratic Party and the multi-racial alliance that it has represented since the New Deal. In particular, they contend that alliances with the Democrats are necessary for promoting progressive legislation that serves the interests of the Black community and for repelling attacks from conservatives and racists. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Democratic Party’s tepid support for the civil rights movement as well as the policies and programs that emerged therefrom largely incorporated Mississippi’s Black community into its ‘hegemony,’ the social processes utilized by ruling elites to consolidate, justify, and normalize their social domination. Our challenge is how to address the hegemony of “Democratic Tradition” within the Black community, particularly among its “consistent voters” throughout the state and beyond. One reason why Mississippi is a weak link is because its Democratic Party is not particularly strong. The national party leadership takes the Black vote for granted and is reluctant to invest adequate resources because of the Republican Party’s firm grip on the overwhelming majority of white voters in the state.
From these struggles a tradition was born and has been nurtured over forty years. Emerging from this tradition are ongoing efforts both to revitalize the MFDP as well as to build an independent party. The work to revitalize the MFDP is the stronger of the two initiatives in large part due to its pre-existing infrastructure and credibility. More activists also view it as having greater strategic utility because it enables work to be distinct from, yet still a part of, the critical Democratic Party primary system in Jackson. Given that Jackson is over 80% Black, and that nearly 99% of the Black community in the city and the state support the Democrats, the Democratic primary constitutes the “real” election in Jackson, and it has served this purpose since at least 1993, when the split in the Black vote between Henry Kirksey and Harvey Johnson delayed the eventuality of a Black Mayor until 1997. For this reason, many activists don’t want to jettison the MFDP for something wholly new. Despite this, the initiative is still relatively small and will take some time to come to full and complete resolution within the broader movement.
Our efforts to build an independent political force that could elect Chokwe Lumumba to Jackson City Council and then Mayor bridged the history of the MFDP with the radical political objectives that emerged out of the New Afrikan Independence Movement, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika, and the Revolutionary Action Movement/African People’s Party, which collectively gave birth to the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
The Jackson-Kush Plan was key to the rise of Mayor Lumumba, but electoral work is only one aspect. The Plan is a movement for economic, political, and cultural self-determination that emerged out of the Jackson People’s Assembly in 2005 as a response to the crisis of displacement and disenfranchisement in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The idea was to first build a solid base in Jackson, the center of commerce and mass media in Mississippi, which will then enable us to branch out to allies in the Kush.
There are three interlocking components of the Jackson Plan: 1) the People’s Assembly; 2) an independent political vehicle that can win political office; and 3) worker cooperatives and a solidarity economy. Tremendous strides have been made in each of these initiatives, but as we will now see, they have developed unevenly.
Building and Sustaining the People’s Assembly
The key to this experiment in direct democracy is building a social movement that can successfully use the favorable socio-material conditions in Jackson and throughout the Kush District to transform oppressive and exploitative social relations. The vehicle most critical to this transformative process is the People’s Assembly because it allows the people of Jackson to practice democracy, by which we mean “the rule of the people, for the people, by the people,” in its broadest terms. This entails making direct decisions not only in the limited realm of what is generally deemed the “political” (the contractual, electoral, and legislative aspects of the social order), but also the economic, social, and cultural operations of our community. The New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement started organizing assemblies in the late 1980s to allow Black people to exercise self-determination and exert their power.
A People’s Assembly is a mass gathering of people organized and assembled to address essential social issues that are pertinent to a community. We define a body as a “mass” body when it engages at least 1/5 of the total population in a defined geographic area, whether it is a neighborhood, ward, city, or state. We have arrived at this formula after nearly 20 years of experience of what it takes to amass sufficient social forces and capacities to effectively implement the decisions made by the Assembly.
The Jackson People’s Assembly is based on a “one person, one vote” principle. We emphasize that agency must be vested directly in individuals, regardless of whether the Assembly makes decisions through a voting process or some form of consensus. This aspect of direct engagement and individual empowerment distinguishes a People’s Assembly from other types of mass gatherings in which a multitude of social forces are engaged. For example, alliances and united fronts tend to reinforce hierarchal structures because their leaders make the decisions on behalf of the people they claim to “represent,” often without their knowledge and direct consent. On the scale of organizing millions of people, we acknowledge that it is often impossible to avoid at least some representational processes. On the population scale in Jackson, however, we can engage in more direct and participatory forms of democratic decision-making and governance.
At present, the Jackson People’s Assembly operates at an oscillating mid-point between what we describe as a “constituent assembly” and a “mass assembly.” A constituent assembly is a representative body that is dependent on mass outreach but it is structured, intentionally or unintentionally, to accommodate material and social obstacles to participation, such as having to work, caring for children, lacking access to information, and political and ideological differences. The challenge with this type of assembly is that it tends to become overly bureaucratic and stagnant if it doesn’t continue to bring in new people, especially youth, and if it is unable to maintain the struggle on a mass-scale. A mass assembly is the purer example of a people’s democracy. It normally emerges during times of acute crisis when there are profound ruptures in society. These types of assemblies are typically all-consuming, short-lived entities. Their greatest weakness is that they usually demand that participants give all of their time and energy to engaging the crisis, which is unsustainable because people eventually have to tend to their daily needs.
Due to these circumstances, the Jackson People’s Assembly operates principally as a constituent assembly that engages in a number of strategic campaigns to address the material needs of our social base and to elevate its economic power. Nevertheless, during times of crisis the Assembly tends to adopt more of a mass character. This occurred, for example, amid the untimely death of Mayor Lumumba in late February 2014. This meant that the People’s Assembly had to defend many of the initiatives of the Lumumba administration that were based in the “People’s Platform” devised by the Assembly. Even though the current practice in Jackson tends towards the constituent model, however, the aim is to grow into a permanent mass assembly of a “new type.” This more permanent mass assembly would be built by diffusing the Assembly deeper into the neighborhoods. These neighborhood Assemblies will anchor the program of the People’s Assembly by addressing the specific community-level economic and social needs, such as the program of digital fabrication and ‘computer numerical control manufacturing’ being designed and implemented by Cooperation Jackson. These neighborhood Assemblies will form the basis of overlapping “all city” Task Force structures that would coordinate the productive and social activities of the Assembly while maintaining its coherent municipal character.
More broadly, our Assembly has two broad functions and means of exercising power. The first is to organize “autonomous” social projects not supported by the government or some variant of monopoly capital, whether financial, corporate, industrial, or mercantile. These types of projects include organizing community gardens, people’s self-defense campaigns, housing occupations, as well as forming unions and worker cooperatives. On a basic scale these projects function as serve-the-people survival programs that help our community to sustain itself and acquire a degree of self-reliance. On a larger scale these projects provide enough resources and social leverage (such as flexible time to organize) to allow people to engage in essential resistance and/or offensive (typically positional) initiatives.
The second means of exercising power is to apply pressure on the government and the forces of economic exploitation in society. We exert pressure by organizing various types of campaigns including mass action protests, direct action campaigns, boycotts, non-compliance campaigns, and policy-shift campaigns that either advocate for or against existing, proposed, or pending laws.
In order to carry out these critical functions, an Assembly must produce clear demands, a coherent strategy, realistic action plans, and concrete timelines. It must also organize itself into committees or action groups that can carry them out. Our model makes clear distinctions between the Assembly as an “event,” a “process,” and an “institution.” The Assembly as an event is where we deliberate on general questions and issues and decide what can be done to address them. The Assembly as a process is where the various committees and working groups refine the more detailed questions of goals, strategy, and timelines. The Assembly as an institution is a product of the combined social weight of the Assembly’s events and processes as well as its actions and outcomes. Although the authority of the Assembly is expressed to its highest extent during the mass “events,” the real work of the Assembly that enables it to exercise its power is carried out by its committees and working groups.
The coordinating committee of the Assembly is the People’s Task Force. It is a body directly elected by the Assembly, serves at its will, and is subject to its immediate recall, which means that its members can be replaced, with due process, at any time. Its primary function is to facilitate the work of the committees by ensuring that they meet regularly or as often as is deemed necessary; that each body has as a facilitator, an agenda, and note-takers if these are not provided by the committees; that there is open communication between the committees; that all of the actions of the committees are communicated thoroughly to the rest of the Assembly; and that they coordinate the logistics for the Assembly gatherings.
Committees are regularly constituted bodies of the Assembly whose functions include outreach and mobilization, media and communications, fundraising and finance, intelligence gathering, trainings, and security. Working groups are campaign- or project-oriented bodies that execute the time-limited goals of the Assembly. Our working groups have successfully campaigned for the release of the Scott Sisters; for the federal government to provide more housing aid to internally displaced persons from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina; and for an alliance between the Assembly and public transportation workers which saved Jackson’s public transportation system and won its workers higher wages. All committees and working groups are comprised of volunteers who, for the most part, choose where to focus their energies on a self-selecting basis.
In various social movements throughout the world People’s Assemblies wield different types of power depending on local conditions and the balance of forces. In the last five years, in places like Nepal, Greece, and Spain they have revolutionized people’s daily lives and have even played significant roles in altering public discourse, shifting the balance of power within nation-states, and in a few cases have led to the toppling governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Burkina Faso (Pandey, 2016; Moschonas, 2013; Hagberg, 2016).
What follows is a brief explanation of what People’s Assemblies can accomplish in different historical circumstances and conditions.
- During periods of stability when capitalist governments and markets can maintain the status quo, Assemblies can push for various “positional” reforms like the implementation of police control boards or local citizens’ review boards, such as the Every 28 Hours Campaign (MXGM, 2013; 2014). Assemblies can also engage in projects with low-to-mid-scale autonomy like “self-reliant” worker cooperatives, such as Cooperative Jackson’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, which I will describe below (SCI, n.d.).
- During periods of radical upsurge Assemblies can push for structural reforms and engage in projects for mid-to-large-scale autonomy. For example, between 1998 and 2010, Assemblies in Venezuela were able to push the Chavez administration to make radical changes to the constitution, form numerous cooperatives, construct affordable housing, and engage in significant land transfers to poor people.
- During pre-revolutionary periods Assemblies can become parallel institutions that assume some of the functions of the government. Over the last 10 years the revolutionary movement in Nepal organized Assemblies to act as a direct counterweight to the monarchy and the military, which resulted in the founding of a constitutional democracy and a more “representative” legislative body. In another recent example, from 1994 until the mid-2000s, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico were able create extensive zones of “self-rule” and “autonomous production” that were governed by Assemblies.
- During revolutionary periods, Assemblies, when buttressed by revolutionary political parties, can effectively become the government and assume control over the basic processes and mechanisms of production. In the 1980s, Assemblies commanded this much power in Haiti, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, and Grenada (Roseberry-Polier, 2011; Sison, 2006; Hagberg, 2016; Boodhoo, 1984). The closest example in recent times are: Egypt in the winter of 2011 and the summer of 2013 as well as Nepal during stretches between 2003 and 2006. In the case of Burkina Faso and Grenada the Assemblies were often fostered and organized by the revolutionary political party.
- During periods of retreat Assemblies can defend their people and leaders, fight to maintain their gains, and prepare for the next upsurge. The experiences of the Lavalas movement in Haiti in the early 1990s and mid-2000s is perhaps the best example of how Assemblies and other people’s organizations can weather the storm of counter-revolutions and defeats.
The driving forces of an Assembly, and in particular, its organic intellectuals, organizers, and cultural workers, should be able to clearly distinguish between acting as a “counter-hegemonic” force during stable and pre-revolutionary periods and acting as a “hegemonic” force during revolutionary periods. This means distinguishing between, on the one hand, acts of positioning, such as building allies, assembling resources, and changing the dominant social narratives, and on the other hand, acts of maneuvering, such as open confrontation and conflict with the repressive forces of the state and capital.
As for the Jackson People’s Assembly, our effort to expand its scale and scope has been consistent. The greatest challenge to the Assembly has been the almost non-stop run of electoral campaigns in which our movement has been engaged since 2009. For considerable periods, significant sections of the Assembly’s base have served as the organizing force driving the electoral campaigns. At times this has challenged the standard operations of the Assembly and in some moments created tensions regarding its role. On more than one occasion the strategic question has been raised, is the Assembly primarily a vehicle to build “dual power” or is it a vehicle to nurture and support progressive political candidates? The affirmative answer from the vast majority of the Assembly’s base is consistently that it must be a vehicle to exercise political power outside of elected office. Nevertheless, as we will now see, the challenge to act in a manner contrary to the hegemonic sway of electoral politics is a constant struggle.
Engaging Power: the Administration of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba
To date, the most critical experience we have accumulated in the realm of engaging power is the brief administration of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, which lasted almost seven months, from July 1, 2013 until his untimely death on February 25, 2014. Chokwe first moved to Mississippi in 1971 to support the project of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika to establish its capitol in the state of Mississippi. This effort was brutally suppressed by the US government in August 1971 when 11 of its leaders and activists became prisoners of war. Chokwe became a lawyer in large part to defend and free these organizers, who became known nationally and internationally as the RNA-11. After spending some years in the late 1970s and early ‘80s in Detroit and New York City, Chokwe returned to Mississippi permanently in the mid-1980s to build the New Afrikan People’s Organization and advance the development of a mass movement through the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which was founded in Jackson in 1990.
The decades of base-building and forging strategic alliances among various forces in the city and state enabled us to start seriously considering Chokwe for political office in the mid-2000s. The catalyst for this consideration was our analysis of the weakening of Black people power, especially in the Gulf Coast region, following the devastation and displacement wrought by Hurricane Katrina. After careful deliberation and planning, our organizations devised the Jackson-Kush Plan and in the spring of 2009 we were able to elect Chokwe to the Jackson City Council representing Ward 2. This was followed by the successful election of Hinds County’s first Black Sherriff, Tyrone Lewis in 2011. In June 2013, we were able to elect Chokwe Mayor. Although we were only able to move a mere fraction of our electoral agenda during his time in office, we did gain a tremendous amount of experience about how to better “engage state power.”
We say “engaging state power” rather than “wielding state power” for two reasons. First, the capitalist and imperialist nature of the American constitutional framework limits the agency of any individual office-holder at every level of government. We often try to drive this point home to the broader movement by saying, “It should be clear that, at best, we won an election, a popularity contest. We did not win the ability to control the government, just the temporary ability to influence its tactical affairs on a municipal level.”
Second, we are an organization that is part of a radical movement for New Afrikan or Black liberation whose strategic aim has historically been and continues to be the decolonization of the southeastern portion of the US. Therefore, pursuing an elected office within the US government has been viewed by many of our historic allies as a means of legitimizing the powers-that-be. In remaining consistent with the pursuit of self-determination and national liberation, our campaigns for any elected office within the US constitutional framework are assessed and conducted on a case-by-case basis according to the potential for that office to either create more democratic space or advance policies that test the limits of structural change.
Given these limitations, our electoral initiatives are “temporal,” meaning short to mid-term engagements that attempt to bring to light various social contradictions by making every critical issue a mass issue. In so doing, we ask the people to demand structural solutions, what many call “transitional demands,” that attempt to address the contradictions at their root. Doing this is easier said than done, but under the leadership of the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, our electoral work has been able to move consistently in this direction by engaging in three key strategies:
- Mass Education. The key to our ability to make transitional demands on a consistent basis is to constantly engage in mass education work that makes direct causal and structural links between local realities and national and international issues. It is much easier to raise transitional demands when there is widespread understanding that our local issues are expressions of systemic issues. The People’s Assembly is the primary vehicle of mass education. We use instruments such as community outreach, forums, radio, newsletters, editorials in local allied newspapers, and social media. It has taken nearly two decades of consistent mass education work to build the level and depth of social consciousness that exists presently in Jackson.
- Preparatory Battles. One of the keys of our electoral success has been transferring victories from social justice struggles to the electoral arena. This requires picking key pre-electoral fights that highlight the essence of our political platform and distinguish us from other candidates and political forces. From our vantage point, these preparatory battles must not only help bring together and build broad sectors of the community. They must also have the ability to educate the masses by raising consciousness and preparing them for future struggles by building the capacity and organizational strength necessary to become transformative agents. There were two key battles in the period between 2009 and 2013 when Chokwe served as a City Councilperson.
The first issue was fighting to save Jackson’s public transportation system, expand its services, and increase the wages of its workers. This was not only a fight against neoliberal austerity, but a battle to address an ongoing structural weakness in Jackson. Like a lot of midsized Southern cities, Jackson has an inadequate public transportation system. Most people must own vehicles to get around. In a city with high concentrations of poverty, transportation costs can be exorbitant for an average worker making minimum wage or less. This struggle also aided the elderly, who constitute a high percentage of the population, as well as people with disabilities. Fighting a proposed cut of a public good with a proposed expansion resonated with broad sectors of the working class and highlighted key material differences in our approach and concerns.
The second issue was putting forth and passing an anti-racial profiling ordinance. This ordinance was intentionally designed to address, on the one hand, policing strategies that would further criminalize and imprison Black people, and on the other hand, proposed xenophobic measures on a municipal and state level to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Proposing our ordinance forced a conversation about the repressive nature of the state and the need for common unity of various communities, especially “Black and Brown Unity,” in fighting the forces of white supremacy. The ordinance passed because of how it was framed. It galvanized working and professional sectors in the Black, Latino, white, and immigrant communities by demonstrating that they had common interests and common enemies.
- Operational Fronts. Since the early 1990s, with the emergence of the Jackson People’s Assembly, the New Afrikan People’s Organization has built coalitions that are as operational as they are political. By “operational” we mean that each organization in the front plays a designated role, not just in the coalition, but in the broader arena of social struggle against white supremacy, economic exploitation, and state violence. Building a coalition in this manner helps to avoid unproductive competition within the movement and advances a division of labor that builds interdependent and vested relationships. It also enables us to develop long-term and deep political commitments to move beyond “least common denominator” platforms that are typical of coalitions. The clearest expression of the depth of these relationships is the People’s Platform, which was developed in 2009 under the leadership of the People’s Assembly and adopted by all of the strategic allies in our various operational fronts.
A key to our Operational Fronts approach has been the construction of three different but fundamentally inter-related bodies: the Popular Front, the United Front, and the National Liberation Front. Although these are often regarded as mutually exclusive strategies, we buck the trend. We conceive of the Popular Front as a big tent in the fight against white supremacy, fascist aggression, and other forms of economic and social reaction. It is intentionally constructed as a multi-class, multi-racial, and multi-national front that seeks to address broad social issues on the basis of the highest level of unity possible. Meanwhile, the purpose of the United Front is to build and maintain strategic fields of engagement with various social forces with bases in the working class. It focuses on working class struggles for jobs, higher wages, better working conditions, and to counter the mass repression and incarceration of the working class. It is critical to note that in Mississippi most of these social forces are not unions or worker centers, although both are represented in the front. Rather, it is comprised primarily of churches and community organizations. Finally, the National Liberation Front is a multi-class front of New Afrikan or Black forces focusing on the broad and multi-facetted struggle for self-determination for people of African descent.
In terms of policy, since we assumed that we would occupy the Mayoral office for at least one term, we prioritized transformative policies because we thought that their impact would be the most enduring legacy of our administrative term. These policies include the following:
- Make Jackson a sustainable city centered on the production and use of renewable energy sources and “zero waste” production and consumption methods.
- Support cooperatives and cooperative development in the city, including but not limited to the creation of a cooperative incubator in the city’s department of planning and development, as well as the creation of a cooperative start-up loan fund.
- Mandate strict local hiring policies for city contract awards to ensure greater equity.
- Enforce strong community benefit agreements and reinvestment requirements for corporations, commercial retailers, and developers wanting to do business in Jackson.
- Expand and modernize public transportation systems in the city, including the support for rail projects and renewable energy fleets.
- Expand public health services and guarantee access for residents to join the programs of the Affordable Health Care Act that have largely been rejected by the state government.
- Expand the democratic scope of public education, and in particular, change policy to make school board positions elected rather than appointed by the Mayor.
- Create strong community oversight of the police through a control board with the power to subpoena, indict, and fire officers for misconduct or human rights violations. We also sought to implement policies that de-criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in order to end one aspect of the “war on drugs” which has largely served as a war on the Black working class and produced the largest carceral state on earth.
- Create policies to institutionalize participatory budgeting in order to be fully transparent, better allocate resources, and deepen democracy on a significant scale.
- Institutionalize a Human Rights Charter and Human Rights Commission to require the city to abide by international norms and standards of conduct and policy outcomes.
All of these policies sought to institutionalize certain aspects of the People’s Platform. We believed that we could pass this entire legislative agenda because of the momentum of the People’s Assembly together with the overall balance of power between the Mayor and the City Council. Jackson has seven electoral wards and seven City Councilpersons. During the Lumumba administration there were five Black Councilpersons and two white Councilpersons. Four of the Black Councilpersons were solidly aligned with the administration and the fifth generally fell in line to avoid looking obstructionist. One white Councilperson was a member of the Democratic Party and is viewed as liberal within the Jackson context. She supported and voted for our agenda as long as it didn’t overtly threaten the power of developers who were key to her electoral success. The other white Councilperson was affiliated with the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party and typically voted against anything we proposed on ideological grounds. Despite Chokwe’s untimely death, his short administration accomplished a number of significant things. It passed a 1% Sales Tax to raise revenues to fix the city’s crumbling infrastructure and keep its water system from being regionalized or privatized, which would have diluted Black political control. It published the Jackson Rising Policy Statement, the administration’s most concrete translation of the People’s Platform into public policy recommendations. Finally, it introduced participatory democratic practices into Jackson’s municipal government.
The Lumumba administration attempted to govern the city as an open book by allowing the City Council to engage in all departmental planning sessions, participate directly in budgeting sessions, and by having weekly one-on-one meetings with all seven Council members. These practices had never been done in Jackson and have not been followed by Chokwe’s successor. We also turned all major policy decisions into “mass questions” and “mass engagements.” On two major occasions the Lumumba administration organized processes for the general public to decide on a major issue: the passage of an “infrastructure repair budget” in October 2013 and the 1% Sales Tax referendum in January 2014 which passed with 94%. As part of the political project of democratizing American democracy, this process elicited mass support, built a public culture of participatory engagement, and shifted the balance of political power towards the Black working class. The more the class was engaged and actually exercised decision-making power, the less governance was an elite affair ruled by technocrats and the servants of capital.
Our administration’s main constraint, which ultimately occupied much of our time in office, was a threatening consent decree forced on the city by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 2012 to address its water quality issues. Jackson has some of the worst water quality of any midsize city in the country. The problem is Jackson’s antiquated water delivery system. In the “historic section” of Jackson built before the early 1960s, most of the pipes are made of copper and lead and are over 100 years old. The EPA decree stipulates that, from 2012, the city has 17 years, with strict intermittent timelines of three, five, and ten years, to complete an entire overhaul of the water delivery system or face severe penalties and the possibility of losing control over the ownership and management of the system. It was estimated in 2013 that the overall cost of this overhaul would be at least $1 billion.
The questions this threat posed to our administration were, first, how to generate the revenue to cover this expense and retain control of the water system, and second, how to do it without sacrificing other standard expenditures and critical programs, policies, and our overall agenda. The truth is that we did not have an adequate answer to these questions. The population at large and our social base in particular were adamant about not losing control over the system. But there were divisions within and between the administration and our social base about how to save it and how to generate the resources to do so. These problems were exacerbated by members of the Tea Party in the state legislature who introduced an emergency management bill modeled on a Michigan law that would have allowed the state to take over troubled municipalities.
Our differences of opinion and lack of clarity on these issues, coupled with our general inexperience in governing, resulted in our administration enacting a set of contradictory policies. One set of policies resulted in raised water rates while another led to a 1% sales tax raise. It also compelled a faction of our administration to engage forces outside of our standard theory and framework of practice in alliance-building. On the advice of Frank Biden—brother of Vice-President Joe Biden—and the Blue Green Consultant Group—an engineering and sustainable energy consulting firm tied to Biden and to various transnational corporations—some members of our administration started to appeal to, and entertain advice and offers from, transnational corporate engineering firms to repair and finance our consent decree operations. The reasoning for this deviation was to explore creative ways to finance the water system overhaul in order to retain the city’s control over it.
The end result of this confusion was that our policies and actions alienated a critical portion of our base, particularly the elderly on fixed incomes for whom the increased water rate created a degree of hardship without sufficient explanation or enough relief. This confusion and alienation proved costly for our next attempt to engage with electoral politics.
When Mayor Lumumba suddenly died, City Council followed the protocols of the city’s charter by appointing an interim Mayor and scheduling a special election for the Mayor’s seat in mid-April 2014, barely a month and a half after Chokwe’s death. In order to continue advancing our agenda, the base of our movement compelled Chokwe’s youngest son Chokwe Antar Lumumba to run for Mayor. However, the movement did not have enough time to reflect on the lessons learned from Mayor Lumumba’s term, let alone collectively internalize them to refine its practice. As a result, we did not adequately address all of the contradictions that had developed during the Lumumba Administration. This led to the demobilization of a critical part of our base. Although Chokwe Antar made it to the run-off round of the special election and won a solid majority of Black voters (officially 67%), he lost the election to City Councilman Tony Yarber by nearly 2,500 votes.
In a city that is nearly 80% Black, facts generally dictate that the person who wins the Black majority vote wins the elections. The 2014 Special Election was an exceptional case in that now-Mayor Tony Yarber only won 32% of the Black vote but secured an overwhelming 90% of the city’s white minority vote which turned out at a record-breaking rate of 75%. Although the historic white voter turnout was crucial, the decisive factor was actually the low Black voter turnout. Plain and simple, the base did not turn out. They sent us a clear message and we are now in the process of internalizing these lessons so that we can continue to advance our critical experiment. The key takeaways are as follows:
- The process of mass education and instructional struggle is more important than holding office. During our brief period in office we believed that the act of governing was just as important as mass education. We now believe decisively that mass education and instructional struggle must be primary. We have to constantly engage the base on all critical questions throughout the entire process of any decision so that they understand all of the choices and their implications and can make sound collective decisions.
- Our practice has to be as sound as our theory. Our practice of governance did not always equate to our previous work of building an independent base of political power rooted in a democratic mass movement. Capacity was our most critical challenge in this regard. Key members in the administration who had been crucial to building the mass base of our democratic experiment often did not have the capacity to fully participate in the People’s Assembly or in other areas of the mass work because they were preoccupied with learning their new positions and the limits they entailed.
Since 2009, our broad efforts have developed scores of new organizers, both young and old, but our plans to systematically train and develop these new organizers have not been as intentional as we desired. Securing adequate resources to develop a school and training program we call the Amandla Project has been a challenge. Many of the organizers who have the experience, training, and skill to serve as dynamic educators and trainers have had to bottom-line other critical areas of work on our agenda that, more often than not, have taken priority. After the passing of Mayor Lumumba, the Jackson People’s Assembly and the organic leadership of the Jackson-Kush Plan initiative determined that being intentional about the development of new cadres should be made a top priority. Since Chokwe’s experience and skill as a leader could not be replicated and replaced, we would have to “raise hundreds of new Chokwes” to not only sustain but advance the initiative. Along with the Jackson Human Rights Institute, we are now conducting ongoing trainings at the Chokwe Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development.
- The United Front and the National Liberation Front must take precedence over the Popular Front. To pass legislative initiatives like the 1% sales tax we over-emphasized appeals to the Popular Front to the detriment of the other Fronts. The small-business faction of our base cringed at the notion of taxing corporations and the wealthy to pay for the system’s redevelopment, primarily out of fear of “scaring away” the few industrial and commercial employers that remain in the city. This produced friction within the United Front because many workers felt that we were privileging middle-class interests and concerns over the concrete needs of the working class. This contributed to the demobilization experienced during the April 2014 Special Election. Even a relatively well-organized and mobilized mass movement is seriously constrained by the structural limits of capitalism, particularly in its neoliberal form. This taught us the extent to which we have to avoid the many pitfalls of neo-colonialism that are centered in unprincipled alliances among oppressed peoples as well as between the leaders of the oppressed and the forces of the oppressor.
- We have learned the extent to which governing in the neoliberal era is a ruling class project of “accumulation by dispossession” that generates private wealth by plundering public goods on all levels of government. Under present dynamics there is intense economic compulsion to govern the city as if it were a business, especially midsize cities like ours with a declining tax base and diminishing job opportunities. Rather than providing essential services, politicians ravenously search for savings like capitalists seek profits. This encourages everything from privatizing and outsourcing services, consolidating and downsizing government departments, depressing wages, and breaking unions and other forms of worker solidarity. Since there are fewer profitable ventures in the real economy, various forces of capital view the municipal state as a depository bank that they must politically capture in order to survive. This is true especially of small-business owners who are the only real faction of capital in the Black community in Jackson. The Black elite is a driving dynamic in Jackson’s politics. This poses deep challenges for a radical project ultimately trying to transform the capitalist social order on a local level, but which remains dependent in part on alliances with “petite bourgeois” or small-capital social forces in order to win elections and govern effectively. We, along with left forces engaging in similar initiatives elsewhere, have to figure out how to win elections and govern without relying on the resources and skills of these vacillating social forces.
We are now recalculating and rebuilding our Operational Fronts in the wake of the new conditions and regional alliances that have been created by the forces of capital in response to our success in 2013. The main issue is how to build a new and more reliable Popular Front in light of capital’s clear aim to split our previously existing alliances over questions of economic development. In light of our mixed experiences engaging state power we are now focusing our work on revitalizing the People’s Assembly and initiating economic transformation through cooperative development in the form of Cooperation Jackson. This is to better prepare us for the next round of Mayoral and City Council elections in 2017 when we intend to again run Chokwe Antar Lumumba for Mayor together with several other candidates for City Council as determined by the People’s Assembly.
We have prioritized building Cooperation Jackson during this next period to strengthen the organization of the working class, expand production in our city and region, and to build a more coherent movement for economic democracy.
Cooperation Jackson and the Struggle to Create Economic Democracy
Cooperation Jackson is an emerging vehicle for sustainable community development, economic democracy, community ownership, and resistance to gentrification. It will consist of four interdependent institutions: an emerging federation of local worker cooperatives, a developing cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center, and a cooperative bank or financial institution (Cooperation Jackson, n.d.). The broad mission of Cooperation Jackson is to advance economic democracy by promoting universal access to common resources. In defiance of the culture of cutthroat competition, this network of worker-owned and self-managed cooperatives will create a “solidarity economy” based in shared values of social responsibility and equity.
Cooperative businesses are unique from other types of commercial enterprises in that they exist to meet the needs of people, not to maximize profits. They are often formed as a way to expand economic opportunity, promote sustainability, and build community-wealth by creating jobs with dignity, stability, living wages, and quality benefits. Rather than making working people subservient to capital, cooperatives put capital in the service of working people by:
- Democratizing the processes of production, distribution, and consumption
- Equitably distributing the surpluses produced or exchanged
- Creating economies of scale
- Increasing bargaining power
- Sharing costs of new technology
- Gaining access to new markets
- Reducing individual market risks
- Creating and obtaining new services
- Purchasing in bulk to achieve lower prices
- Providing credit under reasonable terms
Cooperatives and community collectives have a long history in Mississippi, particularly within the Afrikan community. In particular, Cooperation Jackson draws from Fannie Lou Hamer and her work to build the Freedom Farm Cooperative, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund which helped lay the foundations for the broader initiative to build a dynamic democratic economy in Jackson (Mills, 2007).
We want to accomplish a major breakthrough for the cooperative movement in the South by becoming the first major network of predominately worker cooperatives to be established in an urban area. While it will undoubtedly take years, if not decades, we believe we possess the potential to transform the lives of working class Jacksonians by becoming the Mondragόn or Emilia-Romagna of the United States (Mondragόn, n.d.; People’s Food Co-op, n.d.). We hope to create a model that will encourage and enable workers throughout the US to implement their own initiatives to promote economic democracy, solidarity economics, and cooperative development.
Cooperation Jackson’s primary focus is the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI). It is a place-based strategy to transform a neighborhood in West Jackson, the working class gateway to Downtown Jackson. For more than 30 years West Jackson has suffered from rapid capital flight and divestment that are driven in large part by white flight. Since the late 1970s West Jackson has become a Black working class community with high concentrations of poverty. Since the late 1980s large parts of West Jackson have become dilapidated and abandoned. It is now estimated that there are over 1,832 vacant lots and 832 abandoned structures out of a total of 6,748 lots in the community with approximately 41% of total parcels in the community unused. The community has an estimated 13,890 people of which 92% are Black.
In Municipal Ward 3, the primary focus of the SCI, there is an estimated eight thousand people, the overwhelming majority of whom are Black working class people. The community is almost exclusively a bedroom community with few employment opportunities at present. The largest employers in the community are Jackson State University and Jackson Public Schools. Vast tracts of this community are either vacant or dilapidated and abandoned. The community is also in a food desert. Residents typically have to travel 2-3 miles to access quality food.
Four major real estate and economic initiatives developing adjacent to West Jackson are driving speculative pressures on the community and confronting it with the threat of gentrification through race- and class-based displacement. The four development initiatives are the Medical Corridor being driven by the University of Mississippi and funded by the state government, the One Lake Redevelopment initiative being pushed by the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce and proposed in “Plan 2022,” the development of a new sports stadium for Jackson State University athletics through the destruction of the old stadium in the Medical Corridor development area, and downtown real estate speculation fueled by various petrochemical companies seeking to expand their lobbying and business operations in the state capitol. Each initiative is in a different stage of development, but all have dedicated and committed funding streams and widespread support among local elites.
The primary force compelling this speculation is the Medical Corridor. Its expansion provides the economic conditions that enable the other developments. Over the course of the next decade the corridor’s expansion will provide hundreds of short-term construction jobs and thousands of long-term jobs in the medical and medical support fields. All of these new doctors, nurses, technicians and other support and spin-off workers will need places to live. Many will want to avoid long suburban commutes and to have easy access to various living amenities and opportunities for entertainment. Knowing these needs and anticipating the long-term profits that can be drawn from them, speculators and developers are rapidly moving in on West Jackson due to its strategic location, accessibility, and cheap real estate values.
None of these elite-driven developments are designed to incorporate the existing population living in West Jackson. This is where Cooperation Jackson and the SCI come into the picture. Cooperation Jackson is not averse to economic development, of which West Jackson and many other Black working class communities throughout the city are in desperate need. However, we are committed to sustainable community driven and controlled development without displacement. We firmly believe that the existing community must equitably benefit from the new developments and should be able to determine and execute its own community revitalization and wealth-building initiatives. The SCI is one of the few bottom-up development initiatives in Jackson. It is being driven by the membership of Cooperation Jackson through extensive community outreach, but its foundations were laid by the long-standing organizing efforts of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the Jackson People’s Assembly. The SCI’s success will mitigate the displacement of the Black community of West Jackson and create an array of eco-friendly and community-owned cooperative businesses and institutions that will be accessible to both the longstanding and new residents of West Jackson.
We will accomplish this by establishing the following institutions:
- Community Land Trust (CLT). Cooperation Jackson will create a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces, and other community assets. We will purchase a number of vacant lots, abandoned homes, and commercial facilities primarily in West Jackson that are currently owned by the State of Mississippi, the City of Jackson, and private owners. We will organize them into a community land trust to ensure that they are removed from the speculative market and dedicated to sustainable communal endeavors.
- Community Development Corporation (CDC). Cooperation Jackson will create a community development corporation to help create new low-income housing to sustain working class communities and affordable commercial facilities to support the development of cooperative enterprises in Jackson.
- Housing Co-operative. Cooperation Jackson will turn a significant portion of the land and properties acquired and held by the CLT into an “Eco-Village” housing cooperative. This will provide quality affordable housing and stable rents to help sustain and build vibrant working class communities in Jackson. It will also create a significant degree of its own energy and waste management infrastructure to ensure that it can more effectively utilize alternative sources of energy and eliminate waste by creating a comprehensive “zero-waste” recycling program.
- Cooperative Education and Training Center. The Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development will promote broad public understanding of economic democracy, the foundations of solidarity economics, and the principles of cooperatives, and how worker-owned and self-managed enterprises benefit workers, their families, and their communities. It will also educate and train working people to successfully start, finance, own, democratically operate, and self-manage a sustainable cooperative enterprise.
The Eco-Village seeks to radically alter the quality of life in West Jackson over the course of the next decade by increasing and improving housing that is green and permanently affordable, creating high quality living wage jobs, and servicing essential needs for energy, food, and entertainment. With the support of some of the other cooperatives in Cooperation Jackson, our housing cooperative will start by ensuring that each house in the cooperative is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) approved and draws 50% or more of its energy from solar energy. Each house will also have water catchment and efficiency systems and will be integrated into a zero waste resource recycling and regeneration program. We are also in the process of creating a “clean energy” division of our Construction Cooperative that will specialize in building and installing solar panels for affordable community use. The Eco-Village will also provide affordable operational space for several cooperative enterprises, which will create a mutually reinforcing and self-sustaining market ecosystem, supply chain, and network of associated worker-owners. In its broadest dimensions the Eco-Village will also be an integrated “living-systems” community based on principles of “cooperative living” whereby all of the residents of the housing cooperative will participate in the village’s recycling and composting programs which will create a stable protected market for recycling and urban farming cooperatives.
Our Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative plans to build a network of farming plots throughout Jackson, but primarily concentrated in West Jackson, to create a comprehensive urban farming operation that will provide and sustain dozens of living wage jobs over time. The farming operation will start with hoop house and raised bed production and hydro, aquaponic, and aeroponic farming in some of the commercial facilities held in the CLT in West Jackson. The urban farming cooperative will establish several neighborhood-based farmers’ markets that supply transportation-challenged residents in low-income communities with affordable and high quality foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, and poultry). This will end our food deserts and address the chronic health issues that particularly plague Black people, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic heart disease. We will also become a primary supplier of quality organic produce to the Jackson public school system as well as to the grocery and convenience stores that serve low-income communities. Freedom Farms will also house our child-care cooperative and a worker and consumer grocery cooperative.
These efforts are combined with a number of campaigns that will make Jackson one of the most sustainable cities in the world and a localized attempt to transition the city away from the extractive economy. We are currently engaged in a public education campaign to get the municipal energy company, Entergy, to follow through on preliminary agreements it made with the Lumumba administration to institute a broad program of solar conversion. We are also engaged in a campaign to have the City of Jackson take the lead on the creation of clean energy by dedicating its buildings and vacant lands towards the production and distribution of solar energy. We are working with the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC) and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) on a campaign to get the numerous utility cooperatives in Mississippi to institute a broad program of solar energy conversion and production in the rural portions of the state. Furthermore, a joint study group of Cooperation Jackson and the People’s Assembly are developing a strategy and campaign to challenge and end fracking in the state of Mississippi, which is being aggressively pursued by Governor Phil Bryant and a host of state-based and transnational petrochemical companies (Source Watch, n.d.). Finally, we are also engaging in joint ecosystem stewardship initiatives. In particular, we are supporting work to protect the wetlands in and around Jackson by launching a citywide campaign to end the presence of organic refuse in the city’s antiquated storm drain system. Eliminating this type of dumping will help the city better clean the sledge that currently clogs and contaminates the drainage system. The leaves, grass, and organic waste that are currently dumped into the system by numerous inhabitants can be recycled and reused as organic compost to support local farmers and restore the depleted topsoil of the Mississippi Delta region.
Our anchor point for all of this is the Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development, located at 939 W. Capitol Street, Jackson, MS 39203, the heart of the West Jackson community. It will serve as the organizing base for the SCI and the overall administrative operations of Cooperation Jackson. The Lumumba Center is close to 6,000 square feet, possesses a restaurant-grade kitchen, and is accompanied by a back-lot of over ¾ of an acre of land for the urban farming and recycling cooperatives. As part of our commitment to developing “new and sustainable” forms of economic activity and social living that will enable and support a Just Transition from the extractive economy, the Lumumba Center will be one of the greenest buildings and business operations in Jackson. In line with our vision of sustainability, we will utilize as much of the surface area of the building as possible for the production of solar energy and will also weatherize and retrofit it to reduce energy and water consumption.
The Lumumba Center will also serve as the base of operations and production for the Nubia Lumumba Arts and Culture Cooperative, which grounds the cultural work of Cooperation Jackson, including the mass communications, issue-framing, and popular education that are key to social movements creating transformative counter-hegemonic narratives. The Arts and Cultural Cooperative conducts regular programming out of the Lumumba Center, including cultural events (public lectures, hip hop, spoken word, and art exhibits), production sessions (films, music, and visual arts), and art and wellness trainings (production classes, art trainings, physical fitness, martial arts, and yoga).
Cooperation Jackson has made some significant advances in its relatively brief history because of the foundations laid by the People’s Assembly and the Lumumba Administration. Next to the People’s Assembly, it is now the tip of the spear in our offensive engagements to advance the Jackson-Kush Plan.
By Way of Conclusion
We started this essay by noting that the fundamental aim of this experiment is to attain power. We have had and continue to experience small “tastes of power.” In our movement’s most recent victory, in early December 2014, a critical resolution was passed by the City Council to make Jackson a Human Rights City with a Human Rights Charter and Commission. Nevertheless, the road to social liberation is long and often treacherous. Following the electoral defeat of Chokwe Antar Lumumba in April 2014, we shifted towards building Cooperation Jackson and a network of cooperatives. Our major foreseeable challenge is securing enough resources, grants, and capital to build the organization and to finance our initial start-ups. Although this is a challenge for all cooperatives, it is a special one for us because our movement does not have the backing of any of the local or regional sources of finance capital. Virtually all of these sources are opposed to major aspects of our platform and avidly supported our opponent. By all indications, the harder we push and the more we advance, the more determined they become to hinder if not arrest our development.
A lot is currently riding on the success of Cooperation Jackson. Even if it only launches two or three viable cooperatives within the next two years, it will prove that our vision is attainable and worth fighting for. Should it seriously struggle or fall short it will likely reinforce the capitalist narrative that “there is no alternative.” After decades of combating self-hate, individualism, consumerism, and the ethos of “get rich or die trying,” we cannot afford to go one step backwards. So, the pressure is on. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place because our base doesn’t have the financial resources to support multiple cooperative start-ups on its own. And we do not yet have any extensive contacts with progressive financers and investors, either nationally or internationally, willing to support cooperative enterprises and green alternatives. So, we must be extremely innovative to survive, not to say thrive. We are looking for allies and we are encouraged by how much national and international attention our work has received.
The Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference that we organized and hosted in May 2014 has been noted as one of the most influential and inspirational conferences about solidarity economics and economic democracy in the US in decades. Our People’s Assembly model, our people-centered human rights agenda, and our demand for a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice and Self-Determination have been adopted by many of the forces involved in the growing Ferguson Resistance and Black Lives Matter movements. Our challenge is to transform all of this interest and enthusiasm into a national and international network of support that will help us advance the Jackson-Kush Plan and continue to build the transformative movements of our age from Occupy to the Movement for Black Lives.
Unfortunately, we do not possess a crystal ball to indicate where we will ultimately land. Nevertheless, our collective confidence has grown through this experience as we have witnessed time and time again something that Chokwe Lumumba often stressed: “A movement that secures the love and confidence of the people has no bounds.” We are still very much “making the road by walking,” but we are certain that we are still headed down the right path. We believe that our experiences and contributions are worth learning from and we hope that others engaged in the struggle to liberate humanity will welcome them in the spirit of “unity and struggle” in which they are shared.
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- This is a substantially revised and updated version of a study that was originally published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office (www.rosalux-nyc.org), and is republished here with their permission. ↵
- 1645 blacks compared with only 399 whites per 100,000 population https://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/MS_incrates2001.html ↵
- This notion of the “weakest link in the chain” is borrowed from Lenin, 1963. ↵
- Jamie and Gladys Scott were convicted of armed robbery in 1994 in Scott County, Mississippi. They allegedly stole from two men in Forrest, Mississippi. The Scott Sisters were given double-life sentences. After three failed appeals over a 16-year period, the Scott Sisters were granted clemency by Governor Haley Barbour on December 29, 2010. The actual perpetrators of the robbery served no more than three years in jail. The Campaign to Free the Scott Sisters was led by the People’s Assembly and adjudicated by Attorney Chokwe Lumumba. For more information on the Scott Sisters see Smith, 2015; Schaerer, 2010. ↵
- The concepts of the “war of position,” the “war of maneuver,” and “hegemony” are drawn from the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. The term “hegemony” describes the social processes utilized by ruling elites to consolidate, justify, and normalize their social domination. For more background on these concepts see Gramsci, 1971, 229-39. See also Ramos, 1982. A free version can be accessed here: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/theoretical-review/1982301.htm. ↵
- The notion of “transitional demands” or a “transitional program” is largely adopted from the works of Leon Trotsky (1964, 254-59). For a free version, see: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/transprogram.pdf. ↵
- The notion of “accumulation by dispossession” is drawn from the work of David Harvey (2003). It describes the ongoing process of primitive accumulation or accumulation through wholesale plunder and theft. For a free version, see: http://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/5811/2707#.WIYculNrjIU. ↵
- Chokwe Antar Lumumba was elected Mayor of the City of Jackson and sworn into office on July 3, 2017 ↵
- For more information on these statistics see Duvall Decker Architects (n.d.). Please note that the section of West Jackson on which we are concentrating does not reflect the entire region analyzed in this document. ↵
- The concept of a “just transition” emerged out of the labor left in the 1980s to demand that workers in the coal and petro-chemical energy be given job-training to prepare them for newer, more climate-friendly occupations in the wake of the downsizing of jobs in the industry. Cooperation Jackson uses an expanded definition of this concept drawn from the Climate Justice Alliance and the Our Power Campaign (n.d.), which it also helped to construct. According to the expanded definition, a just transition is a worker- and community-driven process of transitioning from a petro-chemical dependent economy to a restorative, carbon-neutral economy. ↵