Cooperation Jackson

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= an emerging cooperative network based in Jackson, Mississippi.

URL = http://www.cooperationjackson.org/

Description

1.

"Cooperation Jackson is an emerging cooperative network based in Jackson, Mississippi. The network consists of four interconnected and interdependent institutions: a federation of emerging local worker cooperatives, a cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center, and a cooperative bank.

Individuals deeply moved by the Jackson-Kush Plan who are striving to see its vision of economic democracy realized launched Cooperation Jackson in the fall of 2013. " (http://www.cooperationjackson.org/intro/)


2. Cat Johnson

"A powerhouse organization promoting economic justice, Cooperation Jackson was born of a need to transform the state, in particular its capital and largest city, Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is a network of interconnected yet independent institutions including an incubator and training center, a cooperative bank, and a federation of established cooperatives. Together, they're exploring the potential of cooperatives to transform local communities.

Cooperation Jackson is emerging as a leader in the global cooperative movement and the struggle for economic democracy. Among other things, the organization teaches people about the importance of worker cooperatives and how to create one. It recently hosted the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference, to lay a foundation for the transformation of the city and establish it as a center for economic democracy. The event was a great success, attracting international attention and moving Cooperation Jackson further into the spotlight."


3. Eleanor Finley:

"Perhaps the largest and most promising municipal movement in the US currently is Cooperation Jackson, a civic initiative based in America’s Deep South. In a city where over 85 percent of the population is black while 90 percent of the wealth is held by whites, Cooperation Jackson cultivates popular power through participatory economic development. Over the course of decades, Cooperation Jackson and its predecessors have formed a federation of worker-owned cooperatives and other initiatives for democratic and ecological production. This economic base is then linked to people’s assemblies, which broadly determine the project’s priorities.

Like Seattle’s NAC, Cooperation Jackson engages in local elections and city governance. Jackson, Mississippi’s new mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, comes from a family of famous black radicals and has close ties to the movement. Lumumba has endorsed Cooperation Jackson’s initiative to build Center for Community Production, a public community center that specializes in 3D printing and digital production." (https://roarmag.org/magazine/new-municipal-movements/)


Interview

Interview of Kali Akuno, Coordinator of Cooperation Jackson, conducted by Cat Johnson:

"Shareable: Cooperation Jackson consists of a federation of cooperatives, an incubator, a training center, and a cooperative bank. This pretty much covers the bases for the new economy. Can you talk about the plan for Cooperation Jackson and how it came about?

Kali Akuno: Cooperation Jackson is the realization of a vision that is long in the making. The vision was produced by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan People’s Organization and began to be operationalized in 2005, when these two entities started to develop a long-term strategy to transform the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi. The vision is known as the Jackson-Kush Plan, and was made public in 2011 via a document with that same title. Cooperation Jackson is the manifestation of the solidarity economy aspect of that transformative vision.

Cooperation Jackson has many ambitious plans. It would probably take a book to deal with them all. But, one of our primary objectives is to have a minimum of 10 percent of the jobs in Jackson be drawn directly from the federation of worker cooperatives that we are producing. And we are looking to have an even greater percentage of the city’s GNP being produced by Cooperation Jackson.


* How has Cooperation Jackson been received and what kind of impact has it had on the community?

Cooperation Jackson is being extremely well-received by the vast majority of the residents of Jackson. People are enthused with our vision of job creation and distributing wealth in an equitable manner. However, not everyone is pleased. Unfortunately, many of the campaign contributors to the new mayor of the city are very oppositional to Cooperation Jackson, and the vision of justice, equity and equality that it puts forward.

Without question, the arms that are open to us are far more powerful than the few detractors when they act as a unified front. But, the detractors presently control much of the economy of the city and region, so we have a fight on our hands.

What’s the importance of creating worker-owned cooperatives, especially in Jackson?

The most fundamental piece about creating worker owned cooperatives in Jackson is planting the seed for the development of economic democracy. Economic democracy will produce wealth equity, and in a city that is as impoverished as Jackson is, this is fundamental to the improvement of the living conditions and life chances of the vast majority of its residents.


* What successes has Cooperation Jackson had and what projects is the organization currently focused on?

Our greatest triumph to date was successfully hosting the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference, which was held at Jackson State University in early May. This conference raised the national and international profile and visibility of Jackson and it enabled us to train more than 100 Jacksonians in the basics of how to start a worker cooperative." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-cooperation-jackson-is-transforming-the-poorest-state-in-the-us)


Discussion

Nathan Schneider:

"In May 2014, just months after Lumumba's death, hundreds of people came to the Jackson State University campus from around the country and the world for a conference called Jackson Rising. They learned the history of black-led cooperatives from Nembhard and took stock of what might have been in Jackson—and what might be. Lumumba's image appeared on the cover of the program, and on the first page, he spoke from the grave with a signed-and-sealed resolution from the mayor's desk. "Our city is enthused about the Jackson Rising Conference and the prospects of cooperative development," it said, as if nothing had changed. In fact, city hall's expected support for the event lasted no longer than Lumumba's tenure.

MXGM was meanwhile hatching a new organization, Cooperation Jackson, to carry on the work that had been started. Akuno enumerated a four-part agenda: a co-op incubator, an education center, a financial institution, and an association of cooperatives. Plans were soon underway to seed, first, three interlocking co-ops: an urban farm, a catering company named in honor of Lumumba's wife, Nubia, who died in 2003, and a composting company to recycle the caterers' waste back into the farm. Akuno raised money from foundations, entertainers, and small donors, and the Southern Reparations Loan Fund would be pitching in as well. Cooperation Jackson started buying up land for its own community land trust. Its members restored and painted what would become the Lumumba Center.

Jackson's hot summer seemed especially apocalyptic last year. In South Carolina, Dylann Roof had murdered nine African American worshipers in a Charleston church; day after day, there was news of black churches across the South burning. Calls were mounting to take down the Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina Capitol, but comparatively few were talking about the stars and bars that still cover a substantial portion of the Mississippi state flag everywhere it appears. The Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage the law of the land, overturning the Mississippi Constitution's marriage amendment, and the preachers who heavily populate the radio spectrum in Jackson declared the United States of America definitively captive in the talons of the devil. In the Lumumba Center's backyard, Cooperation Jackson's Freedom Farm consisted of a few rows of tilled earth, and in the kitchen, Nubia's Cafe was having its first test run. Akuno and others were planning a trip to Paris for the UN climate summit. Down the road at the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson, Nia Umoja and her neighbors had bought 56 properties for their land trust. "We've taken almost all the abandoned property off the speculative market," Umoja said." (http://www.vice.com/read/free-the-land-v23n2)

The importance of the electoral campaign, for wider democracy in the US

John Duda:

"Beneath the surface, however, one can see the glimmers of possibility for a transformative reconstruction of democracy in the United States. Consider the remarkable — and ultimately tragic — story of Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral campaign in Jackson, Mississippi, deep in the American South — a “right-to-work” state with weak unions, little traditional left infrastructure, and deep structural inequality.

Nevertheless, in 2013, Chokwe Lumumba — an unapologetic partisan for Black liberation and anticapitalism — was able to win the popular vote and become the city’s mayor, despite fierce opposition from the local elite. While the promise of Lumumba’s victory more or less vanished with his untimely death by heart failure only eight months into his term of office, it presents a useful lens with which to understand the form that the reconstruction of American democracy might take in the present historical moment.

Jackson, Mississippi is by no means a stranger to radical struggle. As Akinyele Umoja amply chronicles,[10] the area around Jackson was an epicentre for extremely militant attempts to self-organize for the autonomy of black communities, including an effort by the Republic of New Afrika — with which Lumumba was affiliated — to build towards secession from the United States. This militant and more-often-than-not armed resistance to the racist status quo in the deep South was met with violent counter-reactions from the state along with its paramilitary allies. Ultimately, the legacy of these tumultuous years was a situation where local veterans of these struggles — among them the late Chokwe Lumumba — would be both deeply embedded in their community and ready and willing to advance a program of systemic transformation adapted to the local context, in which municipal power and economic development resources were to be redeployed to address the needs of the (largely Black) working class in ways that emphasized self-determination and direct democracy, and unapolegtically derived from a deep engagement with radical politics. As a lawyer, for instance, Lumumba defended Black revolutionary Assata Shakur, who remains in exile in Cuba. Running on this personal history and political agenda, Lumumba would win first a seat in the local city council, then the mayorship, with few financial resources. He managed this with the support of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement[11], a national network founded in Jackson in 1993, whose Jackson chapter provided the organization necessary to knock on every door in the city during the crucial primary election (like most majority Black cities in the United States, the Democratic primary in Jackson is for all intents and purposes the general election).

What made the victory in Jackson possible? Why is it significant for understanding the possibilities for the reconstruction of democracy in America? And what does its undoing suggest about the obstacles facing this project?

First and foremost, Jackson shows that the reconstruction of democracy in America is ultimately inseparable from the question of racial justice. In a nation which is still structured along the fault lines carved by its settler and slaveholding past, no matter how populist the economic program, no real progress is possible without specific remedies addressing the persistent effects of this legacy.[12] At the same time, racial justice cannot be mere inclusion, but requires for its realization systemic transformation, a recognition, as Martin Luther King put in his final years, that racial “justice” that leaves capitalism intact is “integrating into a burning house.” If majority Black communities in America are to become truly democratic in their mode of governance, it’s important to note that the content of this self-governance — or to use a better word — autonomy — is not simply demographic representation in the halls of power. The trajectory of Baltimore, for instance, shows this quite clearly — it was an African-American woman in the mayor’s office and a majority black city council that presided over the firm commitment to neoliberal austerity and repressive policing that led to the murder of Freddie Gray and the subsequent uprising in 2015.[13] Moreover, focusing on the connections between the project of racial justice and the need for systemic economic transformation (or at least a challenge to deeply entrenched neoliberal tendencies) is not just a correct analysis of the situation, it’s also strategic.

While much has been made of the political consequences of the projected demographic transition of the United States to a “majority-minority” country around 2040,[14] it has also been pointed out that a movement capable of combining progressive economic policy with a racial justice agenda in effect already has an electoral majority in 2016.[15] In the long period between the exit from the Great Depression via tentative steps toward social democracy and the ascendancy of neoliberal policy, the white working class was, to a large extent, incorporated and invested in the project of American capitalism — the so called “middle class.” As the conditions of possibility for the existence of this middle class continue to disintegrate, new allegiances are becoming possible: the electoral victory in Jackson showed the radical possibilities emerging beneath the shifting tectonic plates of a system in slow, grinding crisis.

When, as in Jackson, these faultlines are troubled, a kind of radical interruption becomes possible, in which the supposedly inviolable limits to what can be claimed in the name of democracy crumble. Most dramatically in the US, this kind of interruption has been supplied by Occupy Wall Street (2011–2012) and Black Lives Matter (2014 — present). While the possibility of spontaneously organized reclamation of public space to express popular dissent is no doubt a properly global one, the specific effects of these manifestations in the US have been to desediment an incredibly ossified and narrowly constrained discursive and political situation, opening up possibilities to recognize and name economic and racial inequality that were simply not effectively present beforehand. Chokwe Lumumba’s victory in Jackson — along with the surprisingly successful presidential primary campaign of “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders within the Democratic party, and the election of Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant to the city council of Seattle — demonstrates that this kind of radical interruption is also possible at the level of electoral politics in the United States, where, for the first time in decades, the idea of “socialism” is no longer prohibited from the public sphere. These ideological breakthroughs can have lasting effects — Sawant played a key role in the groundbreaking success of the union-led campaign for a $15/hr minimum wage in Seattle, which is now being replicated across the country, and Sanders’ mass rallies during the primary no doubt pushed Hillary Clinton farther to the left than she would otherwise have positioned her campaign. But these ruptures in the street and on the ballot, driven by charisma or contingency, function in part because of, rather than despite, their extraordinariness — as if their implausibility itself inoculates them against the return of the real. The death of Chokwe Lumumba eight months into his mayoral term shows how fragile these democratic exceptions can be — despite a wave of enthusiasm for his victory that continued to grow during the course of his administration, even from business interests in Jackson, who were apparently surprised that a candidate running on a radical left platform could also be capable of effective governance, his supporters (including his son Chokwe Antar Lumumba) were unable to hold onto the mayor’s seat in the special election called after his passing, and the momentum that propelled his campaign into city hall more or less dissipated, although there have remained encouraging, if smaller-scale efforts at the grassroots to continue to enact the radical economic vision of cooperative self-determination advanced by Lumumba while in office. [It’s possible I was too pessimistic here—it took just one electoral cycle for Chokwe Antar Lumumba to win a decisive mayoral victory!] Other attempts to “catch lightning in a bottle” have also demonstrated the clear limits facing the democratic project. Democracy may be capable of surprise interruptions of the continuum of normal politics, but these moments of promise remain fleeting and singular.

Hence, the necessity for a kind of radical pragmatism. The reality of the party structure and the prevalence of non-parliamentary governance in the United States severely mitigates against the development of third parties. Exceptions can be found — like Gayle McLaughlin, who successfully ran in 2006 on the Green Party ticket for the mayor’s office in Richmond, California, a small city of 100,000 on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area. McLaughlin, backed by a strong community organizing effort that built a bridge between Greens, left-leaning Democrats, and community-based organizations, was able to use the mayor’s office to challenge both the multinational Chevron, whose Richmond refinery presents severe health risks to the local Richmond community, as well as the mortgage industry — McLaughlin’s government was the first of just a few municipalities in the US to attempt to force write-downs on the mortgages of “underwater” homes by using the legal authority of the city to take these home in the name of the public interest. But the experience of Richmond is very much an exception, and the path to reconstructed and reinforced democratic governance, in the current American historical moment, lies largely in and through the Democratic party, despite all the contradictions this entails. Had Chokwe Lumumba run as a Green, or as an independent socialist, his campaign would have likely been an irrelevant rhetorical exercise. Instead, popular mobilization within and through the organ of establishment politics was capable of delivering control — albeit brief — over the municipal government, to an anti-capitalist and revolutionary.


...


The vision that Chokwe Lumumba was able to win on in Jackson was one in which these kinds of anti-capitalist economic formations are connected to a grassroots mobilization for racial equity, and knitted together into a truly systemic alternative. His movement observed that efforts to restore and build democracy in the political sphere will founder without transforming the economic basis in the direction of democracy as well. The wager is that by institutionalizing left gains in autonomous institutions controlled directly by the community, these gains can be insulated from inevitable political reversals, and can slowly shift the terrain by displacing corporate power from the economy, while building the capacities of communities for effective self-governance.[21] Piecemeal changes to the economic basis on which politics rests and the institutional framework in which it unfolds can slowly work to accelerate the pace of the long construction of democracy. National People’s Action (now a part of People’s Action, an even larger network of left organizing projects across the US) articulated this strategy as follows: Structural reforms are the stepping-stones on our pathways of Structural Transformation that will ultimately change our economy. They are changes to laws, policies, and rules that change power relations, structurally, by giving power to people, and/or taking power away from corporations and the 1 %. Thinking in this way is a breakthrough, because, in addition to winning campaigns that improve people’s lives and build our organizations, we are now focused on changing the landscape upon which the next set of fights take place.

Chokwe Lumumba’s unpredictable and tragic death, and the disarray it threw the community forces supporting him into, forestalled the plan for democratic self-determination his election was supposed to inaugurate. But the strategy was sound — build popular power to win elections, and use those electoral victories to shift the economic terrain in favor of the communities in which that power was grounded. Wherever possible, use public resources — policy, investment, and spending — to drive the community economy, not to amplify the power of the corporate one. Govern as if capitalism did not have a real future, and in so doing, undermine the vestigial ideologies that cling to its unconditional preservation in the face of overwhelming evidence of its dysfunction.

Whether the MXGM cadre and their allies in Jackson will be able to effectively regroup to fully realize Lumumba’s dream is an open question. [Again, I should have been more optimistic!] Nevertheless, the brief opening towards historical hope in this small city in Mississippi illuminated for the future the fundamental strategies for a movement for the construction of real democracy in the United States. Such a movement must take hold where it can, burrowing for the long haul in and through the husks of civil institutions hollowed out by neoliberalism and seizing upon the moments of systemic interruption in which new ideological possibilities emerge, however briefly. Above all, it must dare to take its dreams of a world beyond capitalism and white supremacy seriously." (https://medium.com/@JohnDuda/the-reconstruction-of-democracy-in-america-lessons-from-jackson-mississippi-c5b1057c48e4)

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