Building a Solidarity Economy in Jackson, Mississippi

Building a Solidarity Economy in Jackson, MississippiBlack Agenda Report

A project for cooperative economic democracy in the Deep South seeks to break free from big capital’s “value chains.”

Black Agenda Report - October 9, 2019

“By mid-2020, they plan to build their first model hemp house, using the 3-D printer in their collectively-owned Center for Community Production.”

“We want people to use our model in other cities to create a whole different type of solidarity and exchange economy.”

The sun beats down on a mostly unoccupied shopping complex, surrounded by food banks and homeless shelters. On a Saturday afternoon in mid-August, temperatures in Jackson, Mississippi near 38° C. The complex has a Dollar General full of packaged snacks, which is the closest thing to a grocery in this food desert of a neighborhood. Next to it, a large empty space was, until recently, an actual grocery. Jackson Cash & Carry was one of the last black-owned groceries in the United States until its owner couldn’t come up with the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for building repairs. (Historically, Mississippi banks hesitate to loan to black business owners.)

But on this day, the recently renamed Ida B. Wells Plaza is more active than usual. A local nonprofit, Cooperation Jackson, purchased the complex, commissioned a mural of Wells — a prominent 19th-century black feminist and journalist — and is hosting a Black August celebration in the parking lot. Black August is a liberation movement, started in California prisons in the 1970s, to commemorate martyrs and imprisoned African-American revolutionaries.

Kids tumble around an inflatable bounce house, while young men cook batches of chicken and burgers on backyard grills. Vendors sell jewelry and artists stir paint, which turns watery in the heat. In a few weeks, an entire wall will be covered in fresh murals.

Inside the cavernous former grocery, which still bears vintage signs denoting “Smoked Meats” and “Bakery,” workers from Freedom Farms sell greens, melons and herbs.

Freedom Farms is one of the cooperatives formed under the umbrella of Cooperation Jackson. The organization’s ultimate goal is to create a federation of worker-owned cooperatives, in addition to a cooperative incubator, a cooperative financial institution, and an eco-village built on a community land trust. Inspired by the black-collectivism and self-deterministic vision of NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Dubois, the survival programs of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the Zapatista movement for indigenous rights, Cooperation Jackson’s goal is to form a solidarity economy that values all contributions equally, regardless of race, gender and class.

Cooperation Jackson is only five years old, but the vision behind it is older. The original founders met through another organization focused on Black Liberation, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. They began to strategize to build a community of cooperatives in 2001, while many still lived in disparate parts of the country. Eventually, they chose to launch their participatory democracy project in Jackson, Mississippi. With a population of 165,000, eighty-one percent of which is black, Jackson is the capital city of the blackest and poorest state in the U.S. 

“Cooperation Jackson’s goal is to form a solidarity economy that values all contributions equally.”

Prior to the Civil War, Mississippi was one of the wealthiest states. That wealth was rooted in agriculture and built on slavery. Over the past century and a half, Mississippi has become famous for its musical, literary, and Civil Rights contributions and infamous for its racist politicians, lynchings and poverty.

“Jackson is a place that, with our limited energy and resources, we felt we could have an impact,” says a Cooperation Jackson founder, Kali Akuno. “There’s a rich history of struggle that’s already here and a high level of Black autonomous infrastructure.” ...
Read full report at Black Agenda Report

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