In July 2017, 34-year-old Chokwe Antar Lumumba was sworn in as Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. He soon announced that the city was going to be “the most radical city on the planet.”
This was not an idle boast. Jackson, of all places, is where one of the country’s most radical experiments in social and economic transformation is happening.
For years, people in Jackson have been organizing to build and sustain community power. They created “Cooperation Jackson” to take concrete steps to make human rights a reality for all by changing their democratic process and their economy.
Their goal is self-determination for people of African descent, particularly the Black working class. The long-range plan is to participate in a radical transformation of the entire state of Mississippi and ultimately the radical democratic and economic transformation of the United States itself.
History of organizing
Mississippi, despite arguably the most racist and violent government in the country, has always had its freedom fighters. It has also been the home to outstanding organizing. While no social movement can be captured in one person’s story, one narrative is instructive to highlight important markers along the road to progress in Jackson.
In 1971, Chokwe Lumumba, father of the current mayor, first came to Jackson along with a number of seasoned organizers who were part of the Republic of New Afrika Peoples Organization, a group advocating for Black self-governance and self-determination in the South. Though he left Mississippi to finish law school, he returned and with others co-founded the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a progressive multiracial organizing community, in 1990.
One of their organizing efforts was the creation of a series of Peoples’ Assemblies. The assemblies, often hosted at Black churches, were vehicles for local low-income residents to practice self-determination and local governance. These assemblies have become a building block in the philosophy and practice of the changing of Jackson.
The first Peoples’ Assembly was organized in a city council district that in 2009 elected Chokwe Lumumba as their city council representative. Peoples’ Assemblies began organizing citywide. They focused both on self-determination projects and changing city policies. Citywide organizing by Peoples’ Assemblies ultimately set the foundation for a mayoral run for Chokwe Lumumba.
The 2013 election of Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson signaled the beginning of a new phase of community-driven economic democracy. Unfortunately, he unexpectedly died in February 2014, the day that significant plans were due to be presented to the city council. Those plans were further derailed when his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who was openly dedicated to continuing the work, was defeated in a special election.
Now with Chokwe Antar Lumumba as mayor, the nation’s attention has turned back to Jackson, but it has been organizing for years. And the progress is not just political; it is economic as well.
Cooperation Jackson launched
Despite the death of Chokwe Lumumba in 2014, Cooperation Jackson was launched the same year.
A federation of local cooperatives and mutual aid networks, Cooperation Jackson has an urban farming coop, a food coop, a cooperative credit union, a hardware coop, and a cooperative insurance plan.
They plan to be an incubator for more coop startups, including a school, a training center, a cooperative credit union, a bank, a community land trust, community financial institutions like credit unions, a housing cooperative, achildcare cooperative, a solar and retrofitting cooperative, tool lending and resource libraries, and community energy production. They are also working to build an organizing institute and a workers’ union.
Cooperation Jackson is an economic movement, a human rights movement and a movement insistent on environmentally sustainable progress. They work for clean air and water, zero waste, and against toxic industries.
Whether Jackson can indeed become the most radical city in the world is as yet unknown. But it is off to a concrete start and that itself is both instructive and inspirational.
Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans.