You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
— Nina Simone
Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S. with the highest percentage of Black people, a history of vicious racial terror and concurrent Black resistance is the backdrop and context for the drama captured in the collection of essays that is Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson Mississippi.
Undeterred by the uncertainty, anxiety and fear brought about by the steady deterioration of the neoliberal order over the last few years, the response from Black activists of Jackson, Mississippi has been to organize. Inspired by the rich history of struggle and resistance in Mississippi and committed to the vision of the Jackson-Kush Plan, these activists are building institutions rooted in community power that combine politics and economic development into an alternative model for change, while addressing real, immediate needs of the people.
The experiences and analyses in this compelling collection reflect the creative power that is unleashed when political struggle is grounded by a worldview freed from the inherent contradictions and limitations of reform liberalism.
As such, Jackson Rising is ultimately a story about a process that is organized and controlled by Black people who are openly declaring that their political project is committed to decolonization and socialism. And within those broad strategic and ethical objectives, Jackson Rising is also a project unapologetically committed to self-determination for people of African descent in Mississippi and the South.
And while the end of this story is not yet written, the documentation of the social, political, and economic context and players involved in this ambitious drama is required as part of our collective learning. It is a form of bearing witness to a process of collective self-empowerment and reversing the silencing imposed on our communities by oppressors who want us to believe that “there is no alternative” to the existing order.
What we see in Jackson Rising is the historic task of building the new within the context of the already existing. Instead of abstract theorizing, or worse yet, despondent passivity and even collaboration that we have witnessed from some progressives and radicals in the West over the last few decades, Black activists in Mississippi are exercising agency as historical subjects.
But what is this Jackson-Kush Plan that guides Jackson Rising?
I will not attempt to comment on all the plan’s intricacies here because that will be done elsewhere in the book. But also, because for me what is valuable about the plan is not its intimate details but what it represents broadly as the very embodiment of a de-colonial project.
This audacious plan for Black empowerment and self-determination was written by Kali Akuno one of our leading intellectuals and revolutionary theorists. But brother Kali is not just an intellectual and theoretician, as important as that is for a broad-based, mature movement, he is also a long-time practitioner whose work reflects the dialectic of theory and practice that informs praxis. So while the plan is imprinted by Kali’s unique contributions, its essence was collectively formed by the broader context and congealed experiences of the Black liberation movement in general and specifically by the work of the Malcom X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and its “parent” organization the New African People’s Organization in the South.
These activists defined what they refer to as the Kush district as the areas that link Jackson within and as part of contiguous Black majority counties along the Mississippi River in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
It is therefore, a project to build Black political, social, and economic power within the heart of the Black-Belt South, re-centering the issue of land, Black culture and Black “peoplehood.” It says without any equivocation that it is a project committed to building socialism unrestrained by the fear of Trumpism and in the most bourgeois society on the planet.
The plan and work represent an ethical, de-colonial break with the constraints of “Northern” radical theory and practice and its myopia related to colonialism and U.S. “domestic colonialism.”
The work is informed by the base-line position that the struggle for self-determination and the liberation of Black people in the U.S. has been undermined, not just as a result of the repression from the state, but the reluctance of many Black activists to come to terms with the fact that for there to be authentic liberation there has to be a “critical break with capitalism and the dismantling of the American settler colonial project.”
However, the value of Jackson-Kush Plan is not just in its material/structural analysis, but the alternative ethical framework that it asserts as being fundamental to revolutionary practice and a consistent world-view that links their work to the work/struggles of people globally against neoliberal capitalism.
For me, the plan reflects an alternative ethical framework that rejects capitalist market fundamentalism in which everything, including nature itself, becomes a commodity to be bought and sold for profit.
It even rejects the left “economism” that sees production and productive relations in ways that mirror capitalist production with its emphasis on mass production and notions of “growth.”
Building on that idea the ideas of economic development is rooted in the needs of the people, the Jackson-Kush Plan for economic development is rooted in its commitment to people and not objects. It is committed to community power and community based economics that closes gap between spaces of production and consumption
The economy should serve the people, not the reverse. And the notion that economic activity is legitimate that rationalizes production in which a small group of private individuals are allowed to own and thus steal the value of what is produced by the majority for their own private use, is rejected as absurd and irrational.
Politically, the Jackson-Kush plan and the work it informs represents an unalterable commitment to the principles of democracy. Not bourgeois democracy that is reflected in five minutes of voting but democratic participation and accountability in every aspect of social life.
The Jackson-Kush Plan reflects an understanding that Authentic liberation cannot be achieved without creating independent structures but it does not automatically reject engagement with bourgeois electoral processes and state structures. However, it recognizes the absolute necessity of relating to those structures from an organized and independent base.
The popular base that grounds their relationship to those structures are the Peoples Assemblies. From that base the Jackson organizers believe that “engaging electoral politics on a limited scale with the express intent of building radical voting blocs and electing candidates drawn from the ranks of the Assemblies themselves is important. As we have learned through our own experiences and a summation of the experiences of others, we ignore the power of the state at our own peril.”
Understanding the complex and delicate line that must be walked when participating in bourgeois processes from a radical base with the intention of exploiting these spaces to alter power relations, the analysis represented in the plan demonstrates that the activists are aware of how easily these kinds of engagements can be co-opted by the state and used to prop-up the hegemony of the state and system. The plan states that:
“… it should be clear that we do not engage the electoral system of the settler colony that is the state of Mississippi because we aim to legitimize its existence or its claims to being a democratic institution … we struggle to engage it as a means to create political openings that provide a broader platform for the struggles to restore the “commons”, create more public utilities (i.e. universal health care and comprehensive public transportation), and the democratic transformation of the economy to be waged. As we are struggling against a state apparatus that is an edifice of white colonial supremacy and neo-liberal in its orientation of governance, we are clear that this combination of defensive and offensive struggles must be given equal attention. If this perspective of critical struggle against the state is not maintained, our initiatives could easily turn opportunist and fall victim to becoming the latest Black-faced trend in the neo-liberal administration of austerity.”
What these activists are engaged in is important not only to the people of Jackson, Mississippi or the territory that is at the foundation of the Jackson-Kush Plan for self-determination, but also for peoples throughout the world still caught in the rapacious grip of the 524 year-long racialized, predatory colonial capitalist experience.
By situating its struggle for self-determination and socialism within the context of the dynamics of global struggle against neoliberal capitalism but informed by the specificities of Mississippi, it is a project that has a transnational relevance for Black people in the U.S. and across the “Americas.”
Like the innovative work of the “Black Community Process” in Colombia that integrates culture, territoriality, people-centered development that they refer to as “Buen Vivir” (the good life), mass direct democracy, and the right to be recognized as a people, Jackson Rising de-centers U.S./Eurocentric assumptions as the foundation and source of knowledge production and revolutionary praxis.
Jackson IS rising and emerging as a model for resistance and visioning beyond the challenges of the present. It stands as the dynamic counter to economic redundancy, political marginalization, and systematic state violence.