Jackson, Miss., conference promotes people’s cooperatives


Miss. conference on cooperatives.

Miss. conference on cooperatives.

Jackson, Miss. — Once home to some of the most violent racists in the U.S., Jackson, Miss., is now a key training ground for self-determination and organized “people power” throughout the U.S. South.

From May 2 through May 4, activists, organizers and fellow revolutionaries from all over the world gathered at “The Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference” at Jackson State University. An estimated 500 people participated in some or all of the conference.

The primary objective of the conference was “to educate and mobilize the people of Jackson to meet the economic and sustainability needs of their community,” and to share with others how such strategies can help produce the radical change oppressed communities will need to survive within the current global capitalist crisis. The spirit of resistance and self-reliance filled the air. The event was organized by the Jackson Rising Organizing Committee and was held at the Walter Payton Health and Recreation Center, where students and community members were welcomed alike.

Poet Askia Toure and Lamont Lilly.WW photo: Dante Strobino

Poet Askia Toure and Lamont Lilly.
WW photo: Dante Strobino

As an opening, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives provided a warm welcome and an insightful introduction to the local cooperative movement, outlining how their efforts have been a form of resistance and an assistance in providing the people’s needs.

The Southern Grassroots Economies Project gave an intense overview on why the cooperative movement has begun to blossom and take form throughout the Southern Black Belt and how public policy can actually support and finance such grassroots efforts.

Regional activists and organizers learned firsthand how the SGEP has been working diligently since 2011 to “build a Southern economy rooted in self-reliance, solidarity, community ownership and meeting human needs rather than maximizing profit.”

Black Workers for Justice and other union activists expressed the importance that strategies for workers’ rights coincide with burgeoning worker-owned cooperatives, and how in hindsight, such forces actually strengthen each other.

The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation sponsored a community workshop presenting four case studies inspired by Argentina’s cooperative movement. Omar Sierra, deputy consul general of Venezuela in Boston, highlighted the redesigning of communal territories in Venezuela through participatory planning. Manuel Matos, representative of the Afro-Descendant Community Council of La Toma [Colombia], shared how Afro-Colombians are building ties for land autonomy and participatory governance. Mazibuko Jara, of Amandla! Magazine and the Alternative Information Center, introduced conference participants to how the cooperative movement is resisting the rise of neocolonialism in South Africa.

Black Arts Movement poet and pioneer Askia Toure was in attendance, along with Black Left Unity Network representatives. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement was also there accompanied by world renowned hip-hop emcee Brother Ali.

Guest speaker Saladin Muhammad from Black Workers for Justice outlined how Black workers in the U.S. South are extremely underpaid and unprotected, and how their rights are completely ignored — in a region that claims the “right to work” — until there is broader union solidarity.

A call for independent institutions

What was the main political orientation of this conference? As revolutionaries, we shouldn’t want to depend on capitalism to provide for our basic needs. How can we, if it’s failing us from every angle? Speakers and cultural artists emphasized that freedom fighters have to assist the people in building institutions of liberation and implementing practical strategies that promote autonomy from the capitalist system. Building cooperatives was stressed as an alternative to corporate grocery chains to supply oppressed communities with fresh fruits and vegetables, and to educate our children.

The organizers stressed that the task at hand for now is working to construct the economic and social networks that serve the oppressed rather than cater to the elite. How do the people begin to provide themselves with adequate health care? How do low-income and marginalized communities create sustainable employment with living wages for themselves? How do underserved communities become their own solution to dilapidated housing, food deserts and waste management? How can communities affected by the school-to-prison pipeline combat such practices through participatory planning and self-reliance? The fact is that the capitalist system will not stop until we make it stop! While issuing demands and raising voices are necessary, the harsh reality is that the needs of the people have continued to be ignored.

The oppressed need more than free newspapers, pamphlets and open access to community forums. In order to truly empower those who are marginalized, freedom fighters must be engaged in the work of providing basic survival needs that include food, clothing and shelter. True, mass marches and political protests are very much needed, but it will take another kind of mobilization to toil the soil and feed hungry children. It will take more than film screenings to help provide employment for those who have been incarcerated. It requires the collective application of practical skills, knowledge and community-based planning. Capitalism couldn’t care less about the needs of the oppressed. Hard work, creativity and revolutionary ingenuity can help lay groundwork for the oppressed to begin to meet their own needs, creating their own modes of child care and transportation, manufacturing and apparel.

Within the capitalist structure, self-reliance among marginalized communities is a critical form of resistance. Limiting the power and impact capitalism and its corporatocracy possess over our everyday lives is one of the first steps to building a revolutionary movement. These points were some recurring themes amongst the organizers throughout the conference.

The weekend session concluded with a rousing tribute to revolutionary and former mayor of Jackson, Miss., the late Chokwe Lumumba, as his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, chanted: “Free the Land! Free the land! Free the land by any means necessary!”

The spirit and legacy of former Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who won the mayoral campaign promoting cooperatives as part of building people’s assemblies, resonated throughout the entire conference. What the “Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference” informed and reminded the movement is that oppressed communities must liberate themselves. “Jackson Rising” was a reminder that most communities already possess the skills, labor and resources needed to improve the quality of life for all working people, and that we as revolutionaries must not only believe that; we must also lead the charge.

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press, human rights delegate with Witness for Peace and organizer with the Durham, N.C., branch of Workers World Party. He was a delegate at the “Jackson Rising Conference.”