Image caption: ten Cooperation Jackson organizers pose in front of a clear blue sky. Photo courtesy of Cooperation Jackson.
By James Yeun
Mississippi stands at the symbolic heart of white supremacy. From the enslavement of African peoples, to Jim Crow, to the bloody suppression of the Civil Rights Movement, to today’s economic apartheid against Black people, Mississippi remains one of the most brutally racist states in the country. It also remains one of the poorest states in this country. According to US Census data, the per capita income within Jackson stands at $19,768.
Against this bleak backdrop, one of the most radical projects in political and economic self-determination has emerged—Cooperation Jackson.
Founded in 2013, Cooperation Jackson emerged from the Jackson-Kush Plan, an organizing strategy built by the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Its name pulls from its focus on the city of Jackson and the surrounding eighteen majority Black counties (i.e., Kush Counties) that border the Mississippi River.
The Jackson-Kush Plan has three programmatic goals:
- Establishing People’s Assemblies to create a mass democratic counter-power to the local and state government
- Creating an Independent Political Force that can challenge the two corporate parties, i.e. the Democrats and the Republicans
- Building a Solidarity Economy that would support worker power and a degree of economic independence
This has led to not only to the development of Cooperation Jackson, but also to the election of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (2013 – 2014) and his son Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (2017 to present) to the city of Jackson. Under Chokwe Lumumba, the city experimented with co-governance between the Mayor and the Jackson People’s Assembly (a mass democratic institution where citizens could directly and democratically assist in determining the city’s budgetary matters).
While the electoral gains made through the Jackson-Kush Plan have received the greatest attention, Kali Akuno (co-founder of Cooperation Jackson) told the Atlanta Black Star that without an economic base, the political program cannot maintain its independent and revolutionary character:
“Cooperation Jackson is the vehicle we have collectively created to insure that we do more than just espouse good rhetoric, but engage in a concrete struggle to create a democratic economy that will enable Black and other colonized, oppressed and exploited people to exercise self-determination in Mississippi (and beyond).”
Establishing a firm foundation for economic self-determination and political independence is daunting. Cooperation Jackson seeks to accomplish four concrete goals:
- A Federation of local cooperatives and mutual aid networks
- A Cooperative Incubator that can assist the development and support of new cooperatives
- A Cooperative School and Training Center where students can receive political and technical training
- A Cooperative Credit Union that will financially undergird the activities of Cooperation Jackson
On nearly every front, Cooperation Jackson has made strides. Already, Cooperation Jackson operates Freedom Farms, an urban-farming cooperative, and owns 25 vacant lots as part of their Community Land Trust project. With the Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development, they have begun the process of developing a cooperative school where they can further develop their strategic platform and offer members political and technical educations. And, amazingly, Cooperation Jackson have managed to gain technician certifications for three of their members in digital fabrication (e.g., 3-D printing, electronics design) to begin classes and workshops for students and future cooperatives.
Fulfilling the ambition of Cooperation Jackson is absolutely possible and necessary. Possible because it has happened before. Cooperatives like Mondragon, in 2017, employed more than 73,000 workers and made nearly $300 million in profits. However, Cooperation Jackson’s aim is not to be the most profitable business, but to provide the economic independence that can support the political self-determination of Black working-class people in the Jackson-Kush area.
We can learn much from Cooperation Jackson. Without an economic base, we cannot secure our liberation. This is not about building our own personal utopias within the wasteland of white supremacist capitalism. We are sowing the fields with our economic vision, so that once we seize the political means, we may harvest our future.
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