Kali Akuno & Matt Meyer (eds), Jackson Rising Redux: Lessons on Building the Future in the Present

IssueDecember 2023 - January 2024
Review by Cath , Warren Draper

In the poorest state of the US, with the largest Black population and a long, terrifying history of extreme racial violence, there is a truly inspirational movement towards political, cultural and economic democracy.

For the last decade Cooperation Jackson (CJ), based in Jackson, Mississippi, has been accessing land for food and housing, building a network of worker co-operatives, and creating autonomous People’s Assemblies in order to take back power and build grassroots democracy.

This book is a collection of nearly 40 essays and interviews by people who have been involved. These include groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which both catalysed and helped them, and various individuals involved with counter-capitalist organising and the deepening of the solidarity economy. (One radical US group says ‘solidarity economies’ are transformative: ‘they redistribute power and resources to those who have been most harmed by white supremacy, settler colonialism, patriarchy, ableism, and capitalism — and meet an immediate material need for a community.’ – ed)

The essays tell the stories of Cooperation Jackson and the global implications of direct democracy, including contemporary reflections on significant events in CJ’s history.

In his forward, Marxist economist Richard D Wolff describes how the project ‘represents a bold, courageous commitment to not be taken down with capitalism’s decline, to not resign a community’s hopes and dreams to poverty and hopelessness.’

Indeed, CJ is a beacon for communities around the world to embrace the post-capitalist opportunities which co-operatives, direct democracy and ecological sustainability can offer.

CJ’s own roadmap for change is based on ‘four interdependent institutions: an emerging federation of local worker cooperatives, a developing cooperative incubator, a cooperative education and training center, and a cooperative bank or financial institution.’

Understanding the need to hold the political and economic power to facilitate the building of co-ops, housing and other infrastructure, CJ models deepening democracy in existing political structures through People’s Assemblies and participatory budgeting.

CJ also uses the electoral system to place people in positions of power. Not as individual representatives for the people, but as a voice of the people themselves.

Being directly accountable to the People’s Assemblies, they could say: ‘a vote for me, is a vote for yourself’ – a promise that led to Chokwe Lumumba being elected mayor of Jackson with an incredible 93 percent of the vote.

Editor of the Black Agenda Report, Bruce A Dixon is keen to point out that ‘black millionaires won’t lift us up’, but ‘cooperation and the solidarity economy will’: ‘It’s about democracy and the collective ownership of business, collective responsibility, and collective uplift…. It’s coming. Jackson, Mississippi, is already rising, and your community can do the same’.

Emerging solidarity economy projects around the world draw heavily from Cooperation Jackson.

In the UK, this includes our own A Commune in the North in Doncaster, and Cooperation Hull, which is organising People’s Assemblies across Hull and using the information gained from them to create co-operatives for everything from bread-making to educational childcare.

Radical political theorist George Ciccariello-Maher’s essay focuses on communes as key to a non-state reorganisation of society: ‘Have you heard about Venezuela’s communes? Have you heard that there are hundreds of thousands of people in nearly 1,500 communes struggling to take control of their territories, their labor, and their lives? If you haven’t heard, you’re not the only one. As the mainstream media howls about economic crisis and authoritarianism, there is little mention of the grassroots revolutionaries who have always been the backbone of the Bolivarian process.… The time has come to bet it all on communes. The wager may seem a risky one [but] the alternative to the communes is no alternative at all.’

Contributions by both US author Debbie Bookchin and Ercan Ayboga, an environmental engineer living in North Kurdistan, highlight the importance of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (aka Rojava), where co-operatives, communes and councils form the building blocks for a new non-state political system, meeting the needs of five million diverse people.

Rather than ‘smashing the system’, the global emergence of grassroots democracy and the solidarity economy has the potential to make the system more directly accountable to the people and ultimately, if it does not change, obsolete.

Quincy Saul’s chapter beautifully describes the founding of the First EcoSocialist International in 2017 in Venezuela, the coming together of transformative groups from around the world (including CJ), each deeply rooted at home, yet sharing an internationalist agenda and embodying the revolutionary spirit of many ancestors.

The breadth and depth of the subject matter in this collection of essays provides the perfect foundation for anyone who is seeking to change the world starting from where we are right now. The fact that Cooperation Jackson exists also provides some much needed hope that change is possible and that, collectively, we have all that we need to make change happen.

This book is perhaps one of the best introductions so far to an emergent, revolutionary, solidarity economy which may be the only way for humans to survive capitalism’s destructive endgame.