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 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, 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. 

Letting the Spirit Guide Me, Part 1.

Faseye Gonzalez Freedom Road from Jackson to Paris contingent member of the It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm Delegation

Faseye Gonzalez Freedom Road from Jackson to Paris contingent member of the It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm Delegation

Faseye Gonzalez

I was sitting at a table in the Lumumba Center with my colleagues at Cooperation Jackson one day going over plans for Nubia’s Place Café and Catering Cooperative when a discussion started about #COP21 and how some of us were needing to attend.  In the midst of the conversation the question came up of who wanted to go. I immediately stated that I was interested. I was interested because I wanted the experience and to help advance the demand for system change that I’m helping to achieve in my work with Cooperation Jackson.

It finally turned into a reality, WHEN MY FLIGHT CONFIRMATION WAS SENT TO MY EMAIL. ALTHOUGH WE HAD NOT STARTED PREPARATION YET... I WAS NERVOUS.  minus the preparation for the trip (i.e. fundraising, reading countless articles and orientation meetings, etc.) when my flight confirmation was sent to my email. I was nervous for multiple reasons, the main one being traveling out of the country for the first time. While organizing the trip I came to the realization that the work I was doing with my political family made me feel back in my element, and that international travel, exchange and solidarity action is a core part of the work. I have been apart of several organizations in my life, but this work has been an added joy because I have seen progress in the work and it feels good. I always knew that because of my family’s political background that not only was it in my blood but I would find my way back doing the work that I absolutely love and always stood up for.

It wasn’t until Friday the 13th that something tragic happened in a country that I was soon to be traveling to that I had to personally rethink what I wanted to do. I didn’t think anything of it at first. I knew that I felt terrible that the country was attacked and that so many lives were lost, but as far as it was for my emotion towards the situation…. I can’t really say I had any. Let me explain before there are any misunderstandings. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I later commuted, hung out and lived on the east side of Chicago for several years before I moved to Jackson. I have seen EVERYTHING from losing close friends to being in the middle of situations that one would probably wet themselves because of the man they called death was knocking at the front door. I am saying this to say that if I could get through the majority of my life loving my city and never having fear in my body walking it then I sure wasn’t going to let the media and anyone else’s opinion detour me from #JacksonToParis. Of course I had a part of me that was egging me to rethink but then I had another part of me that said I walked in the middle of a war and am living it today. 

I had several family and friends tell me that it was a bad idea, that I wasn’t thinking properly and that they understood what I was going for but asked was it worth risking my life for. After hearing all of the negativity I started to feel unsure. I then realized that I never fully took anyone’s advice and had I started I would be thrown in that percent that follows. Of course I wouldn't walk in front of a bus going 100 mph but I look to my spirit to guide me in the right direction.  I know spirit wouldn’t allow me to head in harm's way. I have always been reliant on spirit and my gut. These experiences make me who I am as I continue to grow and prosper.  This trip actually allows me to find my voice and be consistent and successful in achieving the goals and life's given rights I believe in. I had to ask those who were concerned for me how many people accomplished anything they never took a risk for. Being born into this society where we as a people are not considered equal and are still in the same position (if not worse) than our ancestors were centuries ago... now that is a risk. 

the struggle for climate justice is a struggle for racial justice

By brandon king

yesterday while at the Eiffel Tower, i saw two Roma womyn hustling a homeless, handicap petition. i thought nothing of it and gave them some euros. as my comrade went to give this sister change, a self-proclaimed "vigilante" cursed the womyn, told them to scram, and ripped up their petition, telling us that what they're doing was fake, a scam.

this is our fourth day in Paris, France and i have not even begun to catch my bearings. just yesterday i was pick-pocketed by other Africans for my iphone 6 and gloves, after visiting Alternatiba's commons/convergence space along the outskirts of Paris. they are building an alternative to climate change and the energy crisis in concrete ways to lower emissions of greenhouse gases in all sectors. it was really cool to see their space and to hear about their work. for them to be at the scale they're at with over 10,000 members, i find very impressive. 

but yeah. i thought about those two incidents as i reflect on why we're even here in the first place. to demand climate justice and to say no to the false solutions that the COP21 delegates are retorting.

brandon king at the Human Chain action with over 10,000 people who defied the protest ban in order to stand up for peace and climate justice.

brandon king at the Human Chain action with over 10,000 people who defied the protest ban in order to stand up for peace and climate justice.

even though i was super upset that my phone was stolen, i couldn't help but think about the conditions that contribute to people's decisions and what choices everyday people actually truly have. especially migrants.

i think about the COP, and these corporations and governments who make decisions that have global implications. these world "leaders" who have no regard for life, and actually have had the audacity to enslave mother nature, and in some cases, other humyn beings. this COP meeting is the 21st of it's kind, and they still haven't been able to come to an agreement, let alone put a break on carbon emissions. in fact, over the previous 20 COPs, carbon emissions from fossil fuels have risen 50%, as the nations of the world have put global trade and profits over life itself. 

frontline communities prey on each other because we never actually see our true enemies. these corporations and world "leaders" manage an economy that's based on a non-logic of perpetual growth even though there's clear limitations on how much resources can actually be extracted. 

the recent terrorist attacks in Paris coupled with the heightened repression that Arab, African and Muslim communities have experienced is a direct byproduct of these imperialist wars for control over fossil fuels. the capitalist system and the states that protect and enforce it, creates the conditions that make the oppressed and exploited turn against each other. my oppressed and exploited sisters and brothers, systemic survivors, were the people that swindled me and my comrade out of a couple of euros and stole my phone.