Building a Freedom Road to a Just Transition: Acting Locally, Linking Globally

 French Organizers Eros Sana (left) and Fatima Idhammou (right) with Kali Akuno (middle) during a "people to people, community to community" exchange Last Wednesday in the city of Sarcelles, France

French Organizers Eros Sana (left) and Fatima Idhammou (right) with Kali Akuno (middle) during a "people to people, community to community" exchange Last Wednesday in the city of Sarcelles, France

By Kali Akuno

Coming to Paris for the #COP21 is just one stop on the “Freedom Road” Cooperation Jackson is struggling to build in Jackson that will lead us to the realization of economic democracy, ecological sustainability and self-determination.

There have been several stops along this road, and many, many more are yet to come. Although the forces that crafted the Jackson-Kush Plan have been a part of the movement against environmental racism for decades, our forces didn’t make the fight for climate justice a strategic priority in our organizing until 2005 when the Black Nation was forced do deal with its brutal reality in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wrought on our communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Joining the struggle for just, people-centered, human rights based reconstruction of the Gulf Coast was the first concrete step our forces took along the Freedom Road for a Just Transition. 

To the greatest extent possible, we are trying to be as deliberate and intentional about building and engaging every step along this road. In this vein, it should be known that several of the founders of Cooperation Jackson had been planning on coming to Paris for the COP21 since 2013. We were originally planning on attending #COP21 to represent the Mayoral administration of Chokwe Lumumba, which briefly governed Jackson, MS from July 1st, 2013 through February 24th, 2014 when the Mayor died unexpectedly. Our objective in attending #COP21 was to advance the struggle for immediate action and a Just Transition from within the “official” governmental negotiation process and to press our administrations “Jackson Rising” plan to make Jackson “the most sustainable city in the US south” by making it a zero-emissions and zero-waste city as a demonstrable alternative to the false solutions and weak commitments that have been part and parcel of the COP process for two decades.

The launch of Cooperation Jackson in May 2014 was another major step along this road. Cooperation Jackson was founded not just on the ideal of building worker owned and democratically controlled cooperative enterprises to transform our local economy and build economic democracy, but to do so in carbon neutral and ecologically regenerative fashion.  We are struggling to be the change we envision and need, and to build a concrete praxis that harmonizes the fulfillment of our communities material and social needs with the Earths regenerative cycles. This is no small task, as the industrial capitalist system that we are struggling to break out of, but are still situated within, is wholly built on extractive processes.  But, we are up for the challenge and fashioning our long-term development strategy around it.

The connective tissue in our strategy is our Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), which is our primary organizing initiative. This initiative has two components: 1) Building an Eco-Village and 2) Just Transition policy reform.

The Eco-Village component of the initiative focus on building a sustainable live-work community in West Jackson that will enable us to fight the encroachment of gentrification and displacement. The Eco-Village will be situated upon and protected by a Community Land Trust (CLT) created by Cooperation Jackson and controlled by West Jackson residents. The Eco-Village will provide affordable housing through cooperative housing and jobs through a number of integrated and interdependent cooperative enterprises that will situated within the community, including urban farms, composting operations, childcare, solar-thermal installation and maintenance, and a grocery store. The eco or ecological component of the community is centered on creating an integrated solar-thermal, recycling, and composting network in the community that will provide deeply affordable and sustainable energy and green jobs that will help fight ecological degradation and climate change.

The Just Transition component of the initiative focuses on instituting policies that curb ecological destruction and climate change and incentivize the creation of sustainable jobs and cooperative enterprises on a municipal and state level. We are currently focusing on creating a municipal model, which will make Jackson the most “sustainable city” in the South, by committing the city government to institute policies that will enable Jackson to become a zero-emissions and zero-waste city by 2025. To this end, we have drafted a “Jackson Just Transition Plan” (see http://www.cooperationjackson.org/blog/2015/11/10/the-jackson-just-transition-plan) that we are using to educate, agitate and organize around in our community to make sure that we have more than just symbolic policy wins that look good on paper, but lack the sufficient social force to be systematically carried through in practice.

Attending #COP21 is therefore a part of a continuum for our organization. We dubbed ourselves the "Freedom Road from Jackson to Paris" contingent to highlight the fact that we “build the road by walking”, but that its not a journey without foundations or direction. In additional to our response to Hurricane Katrina, laying a foundation for scalable implementation with the Chokwe Lumumba administration, and the establishment of Cooperation Jackson, the next major step on our journey was becoming a "pilot site" of the Climate Justice Alliances (CJA) "Our Power Campaign" in late 2014. The next major step was hosting a "Southern People's Just Transition Assembly" in June 2014, to continue the process of envisioning what climate justice needs to look and feel like in the US south. This was followed by the construction and public dissemination of the "Jackson Just Transition Plan" in October to open up a broader citywide discussion about the vision and how to implement it.

We did not come to #COP21 with any illusions that the governments of the world are going to come to a beneficial agreement for the planet and the worlds peoples. We know this because we are clear about the aims and objectives of the government we are subject to, the United States government. The United States government, which is the world’s largest carbon emitter, primary interest is in preserving the capitalist world-system and its place as the dominant force within it. If the United States government was halfway serious about addressing climate change it could start by “greening” all of its operations, which in itself would significantly boost the market for sustainable technologies and energy.

We have to realize that in the final analysis sustainable production is going to be non-extractive and non-exploitative production, which is counter to imperatives of capitalism and imperialism that sustain the Unites States government as a hegemonic force. The United States government only entertains the climate negotiations to ensure that there no viable solutions are legitimately put forth, and to contain the demands and proposed solutions that lead in the right direction. This is why it United States government is pushing for voluntary pledges, not a negotiated agreement. And why it is doing everything it can to reduce the notion of “carbon debt” and the “historic responsibilities” of the developed nations to address the crisis, as well as making outrageous demands that the developing countries contribute equally to the green climate fund. And this is just the beginning.

Being clear about the reactionary position of the United States government and how that hinders the COP process, we are clear about what our role is, and that is to help strengthen and build the international climate justice movement, and to make sure that this movement is centered around the interests and demands of the worlds Indigenous and historically colonized, subjugated and exploited peoples and nations. We are also here to learn more about the alternatives being implemented by communities of struggle around the world in the hopes of being able to assimilate some of their best practices and ideas into our own work and struggle.

This does not mean that we do not have demands for US government and for the #COP21, we do. We unite with the demands of the “It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm” delegation (see http://ittakesroots.org/), which we are a contingent of, which consists of a alliance between Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and we also have a few specific demands of our own, which include:

1.     Reparations for the climate crimes being perpetrated against Indigenous peoples and people of African descent.

2.     Technology transfers to the nations of the Global South and frontline, oppressed and historically discriminated communities in the developed countries of North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

3.     Firm, legally binding agreements from the governments, transnational institutions (UN, IMF, WB, WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.), financial institutions, and multinational corporations of the world for science-based emission reduction targets and timelines.

4.     That the aforementioned institutions finance and support the Just Transition by turning over their enormous capital reserves and purchasing power.

#COP21 and Paris is not the end of the Freedom Road. The next stop on the road is back home in Jackson.  We are tasked with bringing our experiences back to share them with our membership and the broader community so everyone can gain from the knowledge we have collectively acquired. Following this, we have to implement the next phase of execution of the Jackson Just Transition Plan an action plan, which entails building a broader base and stronger alliance for the plan to ensure that can and will carry the day in the 2017 city elections by having all of the mayoral and council candidates commit to fully implement the transitional plan. No small order, but by no means impossible in Jackson.

Unlike many who have come to #COP21 to sugar-coat the disastrous outcome that awaits, we look forward to seizing the space the failure will create in 2016 and beyond. It is only by being forthright about what we are confronting that we will move humanity to meet the challenge, which must start with the defeat of the false solutions and the forces that are driving and implementing them. Only then will we advance the struggle for economic democracy, a just transition, and climate justice.