by Adofo Minka
El-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) once said that travel helps to broaden one’s scope. I never exactly understood what he meant by that and this is likely attributable to the fact that until now, I had never traveled outside of the United States. Being a part of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance’s (GGJ) delegation to the World Social Forum has changed that reality and has helped me to understand, more than I did before, the importance of international travel and engaging with other people throughout the globe to grasp a better understanding of where the work you do fit into the world picture. Being a part of this delegation has shown me the difference in reading about various struggles globally and having the opportunity to actually meet, talk to, and strategize with various people who are engaged in these struggles. The difference is that you actually get to learn about the nuances, complexities, and challenges that people face in their struggles against various forms of oppression in a way that in many instances reading will not reveal to you.
This experience has helped me to better understand how Cooperation Jackson’s work is situated within the global struggle to eradicate capitalism, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and the effect that these systems are having on our planet. Cooperation Jackson is an emerging network of worker-owned cooperatives and other democratically run enterprises based in Jackson, MS. Jackson’s long history of political struggles against white supremacy and capitalist exploitation, along with its’ current demographics and Mississippi’s long standing place at the bottom of the white settler colonial project of the United States make it a pivotal testing ground in the struggle to establish economic democracy. The work being done in Jackson, once it is fully realized, will serve as an important example of how a new economic paradigm premised on the principles of sharing, collective work, and self-determination can be a reality for working class peoples. Also, the fact that 85% of Jackson’s population is made up of people of African descent makes it a critical testing ground for economic strategies that may be applicable in other places throughout the African diaspora and help to challenge the misleadership of the neocolonial servants of capital and white supremacy. For all of the aforementioned reasons, Jackson, MS is a key pilot site for GGJ’s Our Power Campaign and the move toward a just transition.
GGJ’s Our Power Campaign focuses on the move away from capitalist exploitation and the extractive economy that is currently threatening our ecological stability, the very existence of various species on the Earth, and the desire of human beings to have basic necessities with out being exploited. One of the key components in making the move toward a just transition is to establish economic democracy where people make decisions around their economic destinies and controlling their labor. This is the central and primary focus of Cooperation Jackson’s work. Three major components of Cooperation Jackson’s work that is directly connected to GGJ’s Our Power Campaign and a just transition are (1) Establishing a network of interconnected and interrelated worker-owned cooperatives that will be an anchor in establishing a solidarity economy in Jackson, MS, (2) Building our Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) that provides affordable, environmentally friendly housing and (3) Making a Jackson a zero waste city by 2025.
Economic Democracy and Cooperatives
A part of Cooperation Jackson’s economic strategy is the development of various worker-owned and other democratic run enterprises. We understand the cooperative economic model is not the complete answer to addressing capitalist exploitation that the masses of working class people face in Jackson and in the state of Mississippi. However, we do believe that cooperatives are a key implement in helping to move away from the extractive capitalist economic model that is at the root of exploitation and underdevelopment of communities. This model is a viable alternative to offer to people in a context where most people have yet to begin to think outside of the capitalist box. Currently, Cooperation Jackson is developing three cooperatives: Urban Farming, Recycling and Waste, and Arts and Culture.
Sustainable Communities Initiative
The area that Cooperation Jackson has its base is West Jackson. This is an area that has suffered from urban decay, property crime, and governmental neglect since white flight took hold in the 1980’s. However, the area is strategically located near downtown Jackson and highways 220 and I-20 and has recently been eyed by developers as a place for development and ultimately gentrification. Along with providing affordable, ecologically friendly, and stable housing, the SCI will also play a major role in challenging gentrification and displacement of working class black families that have weathered the storms of living around dilapidated properties, crime, and economic neglect. To establish the SCI, Cooperation Jackson has developed a Community Land Trust (CLT) and begun purchasing vacant houses and lots from the city of Jackson and State of Mississippi. The properties purchased by Cooperation Jackson will be developed into an affordable housing cooperative. This strategy prevent speculators from purchasing the property, developing it, driving the prices up, and therefore making it impossible for black people that have lived in the area for the past 30 years to continue to do so. This strategy is essential in fighting against gentrification and ensuring that a critical mass of black people can remain in West Jackson.
Starting a recycling and waste co-op is a part of the strategic plan in making Jackson a zero waste city by 2025. The recycling and waste co-op will look to recycle the paper, aluminum, and plastics of businesses and residents in the Jackson Metropolitan Area as well as collecting organic food waste and yard waste to use for composting for the Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative. An important part of the strategy to make Jackson a zero waste city is broad education around the importance of recycling and composting and the type of benefits doing so provides for the environment.
The ongoing work of Cooperation Jackson makes it a strategic pilot site in GGJ’s Our Power Campaign and the move toward a just transition to challenge the violence and hegemony of capitalism, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and the climate crisis.