By Bill Quigley, Common Dreams
“If we do not save the environment, then whatever we do in civil rights, or in a war against poverty, then whatever we do will be of no meaning because then we will have the equality of extinction.”
In July 2017, 34 year old Chokwe Antar Lumumba was sworn in as Mayor of Jackson Mississippi. He soon announced that the city was going to be “the most radical city on the planet.” This was not an idle boast because Jackson Mississippi, of all places, is where one of the country’s most radical experiments in social and economic transformation is happening.
For years, people in Jackson have been organizing to build and sustain community power. They created Cooperation Jackson to take concrete steps to make human rights a reality for all by changing their democratic process and their economy.
Their goal is self-determination for people of African descent, particularly the Black working class. The vehicle is the building of a solidarity economy in Jackson Mississippi on a democratic economic base. The long range plan is to participate in a radical transformation of the entire state of Mississippi and ultimately the radical democratic and economic transformation of the United States itself.
The story of how Jackson Mississippi is being transformed and its plans for the future are set out in the new book JACKSON RISING: The Struggle for Economic Democracy, Socialism and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi, edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya.
This book details the history of how Jackson became the center of an epic campaign of organizing for Black self-determination politically and economically. It explains the philosophy undergirding this work, how cooperative economics works, and the community’s concrete plans for present and future building.
Mississippi, despite arguably the most racist and violent government in the country, has always had its freedom fighters. It has also been the home to outstanding organizing. While no social movement can be captured in one person’s story, one narrative is instructive to highlight important markers along the road to progress in Jackson Mississippi.
In 1971, Chokwe Lumumba, father of the current mayor, first came to Jackson along with a number of seasoned organizers who were part of the Republic of New Afrika Peoples Organization, a group advocating for Black self-governance and self-determination in the U.S. South. Though he left Mississippi to finish law school he returned and with others co-founded the Malcom X Grassroots Movement, a progressive multiracial organizing community, in 1990.
One of their organizing efforts was the creation of a series of Peoples’ Assemblies. The assemblies, often hosted at Black churches, were vehicles for local low income residents to practice self-determination and local governance. These assemblies have become a building block in the philosophy and practice of the changing of Jackson.
The first Peoples’ Assembly was organized in a city council district that in 2009 elected Chokwe Lumumba as their city council representative. Peoples’ Assemblies began organizing citywide. They focused both on self-determination projects and changing city policies. Citywide organizing by Peoples’ Assemblies ultimately set the foundation for a mayoral run for Chokwe Lumumba.
The 2013 election of Chokwe Lumumba as Mayor of Jackson signaled the beginning of a new phase of community driven economic democracy.
Unfortunately, he unexpectedly died in February 2014 on the exact day that significant plans were due to be presented to the city council. Those plans were further derailed when his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who was openly dedicated to continuing the work, was defeated in a special election.
Now with Chokwe Antar Lumumba as Mayor, the nation’s attention has turned back to Jackson, but it has been organizing for years. And the progress is not just political, it is economic as well.
Despite the death of Chokwe Lumumba in 2014, Cooperation Jackson was launched in 2014.
Cooperation Jackson is an initiative to help address the material needs of Jackson’s low income and working class communities through cooperative economic efforts. Without government support it rose autonomously and created a network of worker cooperatives, a community land trust and a network of urban farms.
The book explains the basics of cooperative economics and documents a long tradition of cooperative economic models in the African American community. Ella Baker, Marcus Garvey, Fannie Lou Hamer, A. Philip Randolph and many others pressed for coops seeing them as pathways for economic liberation. Dr. W.E. DuBois wrote in 1933 “We can by consumers and producers cooperation establish a progressively self-supporting economy that will weld the majority of our people into an impregnable, economic phalanx.”
A federation of local cooperatives and mutual aid networks, Cooperation Jackson, has many concrete forms including an urban farming coop, a food coop, a cooperative credit union, a hardware coop, and a cooperative insurance plan. They plan to be an incubator for more coop startups, a school, a training center, a cooperative credit union, a bank, a community land trust, community financial institutions like credit unions, housing cooperative, childcare cooperative, solar and retrofitting cooperative, tool lending and resource libraries, community energy production. They are also working to build an organizing institute and a workers union.
Cooperation Jackson is an economic movement, a human rights movement and a movement insistent on environmentally sustainable progress. They work for clean air and water, zero waste, and against toxic industries. They explicitly recognize the wisdom of James Farmer, “If we do not save the environment, then whatever we do in civil rights, or in a war against poverty, then whatever we do will be of no meaning because then we will have the equality of extinction.”
The book includes essays on Jackson by a beautiful mix of radical voices including Hakima Abbas, Kali Akuno, Kate Aronoff, Ajamu Baraka, Sara Bernard, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Carl Davidson, Bruce Dixon, Laura Flanders, Kamau Franklin, Katie Gilbert, Sacajawea “Saki” Hall, Rukia Lumumba, Ajamu Nangwaya, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Max Rameau, Michael Siegel, Bhaskar Sunkara, Makani Themba-Nixon, Jazmine Walker and Elandria Williams.
Whether Jackson Mississippi can indeed become the most radical city in the world is as yet unknown. But it is definitely off to a concrete start and that itself is both instructive and inspirational.