[News] Black Power Takes Root in the Heart of Dixie
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 7 12:41:13 EDT 2017
Black Power Takes Root in the Heart of Dixie
Marisa Anne Day <https://indypendent.org/authors/marisa-anne-day/> Jun
/One small correction, Cooperation Jackson
<https://www.facebook.com/CooperationJackson/?fref=mentions> has only
been around 3 years. May 1st, 2017 was our 3rd birthday. I've been doing
work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
<https://www.facebook.com/MXGMnational/?fref=mentions> for 20 years. -
Jackson is the largest city in Mississippi. Surrounded by prosperous
white suburbs, it is more than 80 percent Black and overwhelmingly
working-class. “If you are making $10 an hour here you are doing damn
good,” says Kali Akuno, who for 20 years has been a driving force in
Cooperation Jackson <http://www.cooperationjackson.org/>, a community
organizing hub intent on radically changing business as usual in
Mississippi’s capital city and creating a model for local movements in
the United States and around the world.
The movement for Black self-determination that Akuno helps to lead has
roots in Mississippi that date back to the 1970s. After decades of base
building work by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and others,
radical lawyer Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson in 2013 only
to die less than eight months into his first term in office. In May, his
son Chokwe Antar Lumumba
won the Democratic primary on a platform of food sovereignty, zero waste
and creating a solidarity economy. He is all but certain to be the next
mayor of Jackson.
When Antar takes office, he will face a hostile white business elite and
a Republican-controlled state legislature that will try to stymie him at
every turn. Akuno is one of Antar’s closest advisors. He recently spoke
with /The Indypendent/ about the challenges that lie ahead and the
Jackson movement’s enduring source of strength.
*/Marisa Anne Day: What do you hope to achieve?/*
Kali Akuno: The construction of economic democracy from the ground up,
the transformation of the economy and the social relationships that
frame what makes us human. That is not something we can do alone.
We hope to inspire and offer a model to others who want to pick this up.
We want to continue drawing from eclectic sources of inspiration — the
Mondragon worker cooperatives in Spain, the Zapatistas, cooperatives in
the South going back 200 years in the Black community, [cooperative]
projects in the early days of Tanzania, Algeria, Guyana. The first step
for Cooperation Jackson is to build a vibrant social and solidarity
economy in Jackson that can form a stepping-stone to economic democracy.
*/What is the significance of this victory for organizing in the United
It demonstrates that the left can win in the United States, win
electoral victories, make gains in a struggle to control the means of
production. It has a broader significance with the election of Donald
Trump. Our victory in Jackson points to a way forward. Take some heart
from it, all is not doom and gloom. We can organize ourselves to fight
back and counter the moves of these reactionary forces. If we do our
work right we can start dictating the social momentum and rearticulate
some of the fundamental norms of society.
What the country is facing with this neo-Confederate neo-fascist regime
on a federal level, we have been living with here in Mississippi for
quite some time. Black, Indigenous, Latino communities have been
figuring out ways to not only survive but to push back. Our electoral
victory highlights what is possible when you resist these forces — and
what type of work it takes: long term, patient, strategic base-building
work, which we have been concentrating on here for about 40 years.
*/A lot of movements talk about empowering “the people” but after they
win elections fail to come through. How will you resist that?/*
Our beliefs alone are not enough to safeguard us against right drift and
institutionalization. An effective counterweight is having political
organization with multiple ideologies within it. Having that diversity
was a saving grace [with Chokwe Lumumba] because you had folks,
especially from anarchist tendencies, who were suspicious about going
into government. A lively debate and struggle was one safeguard.
The Jackson People’s Assembly is the dominant accountability mechanism.
Direct engagement is where the assembly has its strength and can apply
pressure on Chokwe Antar or anybody else in that position. The People’s
Assembly was built to be a dual power institution, with the ability to
shape society on its own without the assistance of government.
*/How do you maintain buy-in beyond ideological divides?/*
We don’t recruit or engage with folks on the basis of “you have to
believe what I believe in order to struggle and work with me.” That
takes a backseat to “I’m here because an injury has been inflicted upon
you or upon our community and let’s figure out a collective way that we
can address this issue.” People find out what you believe through your
practice first and foremost, and then your statement of why you are
engaged in the struggle afterward.
In Mississippi, the out-and-out nature of white supremacy helps to keep
a focus in the community. I might have differences with you about this
belief or that strategy but in the face of having to confront people who
are visibly in the Klan, it gives people a clear orientation: We are in
a struggle and my contributions to it are critical to my own survival.
This context is why the radical message of a Chokwe Lumumba or a Chokwe
Antar has resonance in a place that is deeply conservative and
religious, and why so many people who don’t share their ideological
views have trust in them. The perception in the Black community is:
“They have been consistent fighters against the forces of white
supremacy and exploitation. I know what sacrifices they and the members
of MXGM have made by standing up to the Klan.”
We work on that common ground and over time we have won a lot of people
over who wouldn’t necessarily use that rhetoric but would say, I am for
democracy in the workplace. You see a gradual movement and a broader
adoption of these ideas and principles.
*/What is the situation in Jackson you are stepping into? What forces in
Mississippi are aligned against you? /*
The primary force of opposition against us is the Greater Jackson
Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is dominated by white businessmen,
almost none of whom live in Jackson proper. They live in the white
suburbs that were constructed to accommodate white flight. Jackson is
still a city where a large portion of its businesses remain in the hands
of a small white minority elite.
Jackson is over 80 percent Black. Most of that, overwhelmingly, is Black
working class. That includes sectors where the real unemployment rate is
closer to 50 percent of the adult population. Wages are extremely low;
if you are making $10 an hour here you are doing damn good. That would
be damn near a Black middle-class wage here in Jackson.
The Black community, by its numbers, can put people in office but their
ability to govern can be constrained because the economic base of the
city is controlled elsewhere. One of the threats is if you elect Chokwe
Antar, all these white-owned businesses are going to leave town. What
that does is shrink the tax base, the revenues to operate. That is
pointing a gun at the city and saying you have to go this way for the
economy not to collapse. For the community to consistently vote in a way
that says “Yeah, I know that gun is to my head and I’m going to vote
this way anyway” says a lot.
The Chamber is not making idle threats. They have concrete plans to
gentrify the city, to displace the Black working class, because if they
can change the population dynamics they can eliminate the possibility of
a radical like Chokwe Antar from being elected.
*/How do cooperative networks provide counterweight against those forces?/*
The bedrock for us is food sovereignty. Hunger will no longer be a
weapon against the working class. We will utilize all the vacant land
around the city. We can create supply chains based on our own principles
rather than being totally reliant on “market forces.”
We will construct cooperative enterprises, from food processing to
non-carbon based distribution, bikes and electric vehicles, to lessen
the carbon footprint of the city. Going to zero emissions and zero waste
will accomplish several goals at once: sustainability, creating jobs, a
better quality of life and ultimately more self-determination and
self-reliance within the community.
We are creating an integrated system, bottom-up efforts, the support of
an administration we control and a policy framework to give what’s
getting done below more teeth.The base is starting with what is
available to us, land, addressing a concrete need, food, and from there
building out the solidarity economy.
*/How can people engage with what you are doing from outside of Jackson?/*
Doing this work takes resources. Our sustainer network annually covers
one-fourth of the cost. Friends of Cooperation Jackson chapters build
relationships of solidarity. The most concrete way that folks can help
is to build Cooperation New Yorks, like-minded organizations. Organizing
in your own community will help us more than anything else.
/For more, see cooperationjackson.org <http://cooperationjackson.org>./
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