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Jackson Rising: Black Millionaires Won't Lift Us Up, But Cooperation & the Solidarity Economy Might
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 05/07/2014 - 06:44
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
"320 activists from all over the country, including 80 or more from Jackson and surrounding parts of Mississippi converged on the campus of Jackson State University for Jackson Rising. "
Has raising up more black millionaires been a successful economic development strategy for our communities? Evidently not. What's the alternative to gentrification, to stadiums, to ruthless exploitation? It's the solidarity economy. It's cooperation. It's democratically owned, worker-run cooperatives for child care, retail, auto repair, factories, health care, you name it. It's already rising in Jackson Mississippi, and soon, near you.
Jackson Rising: Black Millionaires Won't Lift Us Up, But Cooperation & the Solidarity Economy Might
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
"...The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives...."
For a long time now we've been fed and been feeding each other the story that uplifting black communities means electing more faces of color to public office and creating more black millionaires. Those wealthy and powerful African Americans, in the course of their wise governance, their normal business and philanthropic efforts can be counted on to create the jobs and the opportunities to largely alleviate poverty and want among the rest of us. The only problem with this story is that it's not working, and in fact never really did work.
It was a myth, a fable, a grownup fairy tale which told us nothing about how the world and this society actually functioned.
In the real world, we now have more black faces in corporate board rooms, more black elected officials and more black millionaires than ever before, alongside record and near-record levels of black child poverty, black incarceration, black unemployment, black land and wealth loss. The fortunes of some of our most admired black multimillionaires, like Junior Bridgeman and Magic Johnson, rest firmly on the continued starvation wages and relentless abuse of workers in his hundreds of fast food and other restaurants.
Over the first weekend in May about 320 activists from all over the country, including 80 or more from Jackson and surrounding parts of Mississippi converged on the campus of Jackson State University for Jackson Rising. They came to seek and to share examples of how to create not individual success stories, but stories of collective self-help, collective wealth-building, collective success and the power of mutual cooperation.
The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives. They reviewed future plans for and current practices of cooperative auto repair shops, laundries, recycling, construction, and trucking firms. They discussed cooperative restaurants, child and elder care coops, cooperative grocery stores, cooperative factories, farms and more, all collectively owned and democratically managed by the same workers who deliver the service and create the value.
Participants at Jackson Rising learned a little of the story ofMondragon, a multinational cooperative enterprise founded in the Basque country, the poorest and most oppressed part of Spain. That country now has about a 25% unemployment rate, but in the Basque country where Mondragon cooperatives operate factories, mines, retail, transport, and more, the unemployment rate is 5%. When a Mondragon factory or store or other operation has to close because of unprofitability, Mondragon retrains and relocates those workers to another of its enterprises. Mondragon's cooperative ethos makes it so different from other enterprises, one representative explained, that they're about to have to offer their own MBA program, to guarantee they get trained managers without the bloodsucking, predatory mindset taught and valued at most business schools. They heard that Mondragon is now partnering with the UFCW and local forces to establish cooperative grocery stores and enterprises in Cinncinnati.
Those attending Jackson Rising heard about the concept of a solidarity economy, an economy not based on gentrification or exploitation or the enrichment of a few, an economy based on mutual cooperation to satisfy the needs of many, to stabilize neighborhoods and communities, to provide needed jobs and services.
Cooperation, or as it's sometimes called, "the cooperative movement" is a model that is succeeding right now in tens of thousands of places for tens of millions of people around the world. It's a model than can succeed in the United States as well. The dedicated core of activists in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, MXGM, after deeply embedding themselves locally in Jackson Mississippi and briefly electing one of their own as mayor in the overwhelmingly black and poor city of half a million, are determined to show and take part in a different kind of black economic development.
To that end, they've formed what they call "Cooperation Jackson," with four short term objectives
Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.
When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a "cooperative incubator." providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor's office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.
Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We've always said "free the land," observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to "free the labor" as well.
Finally Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.
The MXGM activists are serious thinkers and organizers. They conducted door to door surveys of entire neighborhoods in Jackson, complete with skills assessments to discover how many plumbers, plasterers, farmers, carpenters, construction workers, truck mechanics, nurses and people with other health care experience live there, and how many are unemployed. You'd imagine any local government that claimed it wanted to provide jobs and uplift people might do this, but you'd be imagining another world. In Jackson Mississippi, local activists are figuring out how to build that new and better world. The US Census Bureau gathers tons of information useful to real estate, credit, banking and similar business interests, but little or nothing of value to those who'd want to preserve neighborhood integrity and productively use the skills people already have.
In the short run, new and existing cooperatives in Jackson or anyplace else won't get much help from government. Mike Beall, president and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association pointed out that the federal budget contains a mere $7 million in assistance for agricultural cooperatives, and that the Obama administration has tried to remove that the last two years in a row. There was, he said, no federal funding whatsoever to assist non-agricultural business cooperative startups or operations
By contrast, Wal-Mart alone receives $7.8 billion in tax breaks, loophole funds and public subsidies from state, federal and local governments every year, and according to one estimate, about$2.1 million more with each new store it opens. Another single company, Georgia Power is about to receive $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees and outright gifts for the construction of two nuclear plants alongside its leaky old nukes in the mostly black and poor town of Shell Bluff. When it comes to oil companies, military contractors, transportation infrastructure outfits, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals and so on there are hundreds more companies that get billions in federal subsidies. Cooperatives get nothing. In the state of Mississippi, according to one Jackson Rising workshop presenter, non-agricultural cooperatives are technically illegal.
All these traditional corporations have one thing in common. Unlike democratically run cooperatives which share their profits and power, traditional corporations are dictatorships. Their workers don't, in most cases, have the freedom of speech at work or the opportunity to form unions, and certainly don't get to share in the wealth their labor creates for their bosses. To normal capitalist corporations, those workers, their families and communities are completely disposable. Detroit used to be a company town for the auto industry. When that industry grew and consolidated enough to disperse production in lower wage areas around the world it quickly abandoned Detroit and its people leaving a shattered, impoverished polluted ruin behind.
The new mayor of Jackson, who ran with developers' money against the son of the late Chokwe Lumumba and narrowly defeated him, locked a number of city employees affiliated with the old administration out of their offices immediately after the election, before even being sworn in. The city removed all sponsorship and assistance to the Jackson Rising conference. There was a campaign in local press branding its organizers, communists, terrorists, unpatriotic and unfit to discuss the serious matters of job creation and building local economies. But the conference ran smoothly anyway, with invaluable assistance from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, an organization that has help save the land and land rights of more black farmers over the last forty years than any other, and the Praxis Project, the Fund for Democratic Communities, the Highlander Research and Education Center, and several others.
"At Jackson Rising, hundreds of movement activists from around the country discovered, rediscovered, began to visualize and explore cooperation and the solidarity economy..."
"This new mayor of ours made a big mistake. What would it cost him, even if he imagines cooperatives cannot succeed, to give his blessing to this gathering?" asked Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson. "As an organizer I can now ask why he's against job creation? He's got no answer to that.... It's hindsight of course, but maybe we should have paid attention to this piece first, and the electoral effort only afterward. Who's to say that if we'd done it that way we would not have been more successful in retaining the mayor's seat."
This past weekend was the 50th anniversary of the first freedom rides which kicked off the youth-led phase of the southern Freedom Movement. Something of similar importance happened in Jackson Mississippi last weekend.
At Jackson Rising, hundreds of movement activists from around the country discovered, rediscovered, began to visualize and explore cooperation and the solidarity economy. They met with their peers from North Carolina, Ohio, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and of course Mississippi already engaged in pulling it together. It's an economy not based on gentrification as black urban regimes in Atlanta, New Orleans and other cities have and still are doing. It's not based on big ticket stadiums or shopping malls or professional sports teams, none of which create many permanent well paying jobs anyway. It's not based on fast food and restaurant empires that follow the McDonalds and Wal-Mart model of low wages and ruthless exploitation. It's about democracy and collective ownership of business, collective responsibility and collective uplift.
It's coming. Jackson Mississippi is already rising, and your community can do the same. Black Agenda Report intends to stay on top of this story in the coming weeks and months.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He served seven years on the board of a 480 unit housing cooperative in Chicago, and now lives and works near Marietta GA. He can be reached via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Tue, 05/13/2014 - 21:04
It's a fight we fight because it's right. I mean left. And we fight it, like the Old Testament character Job, whether we expect the cavalry to show up on our side or not.
As for how few of us there appear to be, increasing those numbers is an organizing job. Some of us are organizers. We can do this. C'mon in.
Submitted by charly47 on Thu, 05/08/2014 - 21:28
This sounds like a great way forward.
One other thing I feel needs to be done in the US, the working class MUST finally put aside all the artificial "divides" that keep us from uniting. We are told to not hang out with those who have different skin color, or different religious beliefs, or different politics, or some other false division that are generated to insure the working class is never really united. Once the working people see that these supposed divisions are false, our lives will improve.
Oh dear, this makes me sound like some radical socialist no doubt. Well, too bad. I have wondered for decades why the working class keeps falling for these false divisons and not see that they are put there by the ruling gangs of Wall Street, international finance, and various religious groups among others who need to keep the workers from uniting. Oh, Karl Marx didn't go far enough, so there. Maybe I am a socialist, but I do believe in people being judged by the content of their character NOT some fake division set up by the ruling gangs.
Submitted by Dramond on Fri, 05/09/2014 - 11:54
One of the reasons plans end up not succeeding for us is because people see us coming a mile away. Why? Because sites like this one get excited about such movements, start advertising it, banging their gong. Whatever happened to us quietly doing our necessary work and as others bear witness, they adopt similar practices? This post put a bull's eye on these organizations. Stop being so vocal about what you're doing. Stop announcing every damn thing. Take a note from the Chinese. They plan well in advance and work QUIETLY. They advertise NOTHING. You need to remove this post and stop making these organziations and their plans targets. Learn from history, damn.
Submitted by Kamau Ajamu on Mon, 05/12/2014 - 11:07
This is kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. I like knowing that this is happening, and I'm certain others enjoy reading about what's happening in Jackson. I think it's worth the risk of exposure. How many enemies to this movement in Jackson already know about this anyway? How many know about BAR? I don't know. This is not being announced on NBC, CNN or other large media outlets as far as I know. Exposure is relative in this case and may not be enough to hurt their cause. Let's hope they can maintain and grow into something great...quietly!
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Tue, 05/13/2014 - 21:00
Political organizing depends on popularixing notions while you can, convincing people, changing their hearts and minds, arguing and discussing and meeting and hashing and rehashing and committeefying. Except in some very special circumstances, it cannot be done in secret. It's work that has to be done in the open.
And really as loudly as possible, because after all, to oppose this is to oppose the creation of jobs and opportunities, which would only make our opponents look foolish.
We were charged also to help build open support for the advanced efforts of Jackson in nearby cities... I hope to do a bit of that in Atlanta and perhaps Dallas as well, both 400 miles in opposite directions up and down I-20.
Submitted by Dramond on Tue, 05/27/2014 - 08:34
Building support does not mean recounting everything they're planning, including meeting dates, etc. It also does not mean putting a bull's eye squarely on the backs of these people/organizations who haven't even had a chance yet to try without BAR making them a mark.
It means discussing ideas and providing successful examples - as in the case of the Mondragon organzation whose documentary I watched online.
Again, it doesn't mean showing a hostile government your hand. Let's lose the naivete and let's learn from our own history!
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Tue, 05/13/2014 - 21:57
and nobody's looking for you yet. This is the time for open and above ground organizing, politicizing, advertising, discussing, time to educate all those you can reach. If you wanna hide, go hide. Nobody is stopping you.
Submitted by freedom23 on Sun, 08/31/2014 - 08:34
Submitted by Priff1974 on Thu, 10/09/2014 - 08:22