Background & Context

Mississippi is the poorest state in the United States with a median household income of $37,095 in 2013. The City of Jackson is one of the poorest metropolitan cities in the United States, with a median household income of $33,434 and a poverty rate of 28.3% between 2008 and 2012. Jackson’s “official” unemployment rate stood at 8.0% as of August 2013 according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, its “real” unemployment rate, is estimated to be above 25% (see http://useconomy.about.com/od/suppl1/f/real_unemployment_rate.htm for means of calculation).

Beneath its income and impoverishment, Jackson, like many urban centers, is struggling to overcome decades of economic divestment, deindustrialization, suburban flight, a declining tax base, chronic under and un-employment, poorly performing schools, and an antiquated and decaying infrastructure.

The question arises, how can we address these systemic and structural problems? How do we end them to improve the lives of Jacksonians? A common belief amongst the initiators of the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference – which include Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Fund for Democratic Communities – is that a long-term strategy of coordinated social action to produce economic democracy and a solidarity economy via the development of cooperative and worker owned enterprises are a central part of the solution. Two determining factors necessary for the success of this strategy are: committed and determined political leadership and policy change.

To advance this strategy, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the Jackson People’s Assembly, made a strategic decision in 2008 to run Chokwe Lumumba, a noted community organizer, human rights lawyer, and co-founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, for Mayor of Jackson, MS. With Chokwe Lumumba as Mayor, this strategy has an effective champion accountable to the social movements. Through the Lumumba administration the social movement forces that elected it, like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the People’s Assembly, can help to craft and draft the policies necessary to shift the structural environment of economic development within the municipality. These shifts can have a profound impact on the development of cooperative enterprises in the community.

Building on the vision of the People’s Assembly and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba took the inaugural oath of office of Jackson, Mississippi with a bold agenda to create wealth and wealth equity via cooperative development. This agenda is focused on upending decades of structural inequalites and inequities that continue to plague the City and the State. Cooperatives and other forms of worker owned and democratically controlled enterprises are a major component of the Lumumba administrations strategy for the economic revitalization and refoundation of Jackson. The fullest expression of the Administrations vision and strategy is articulated in the Jackson Rising: Building the City of the Future Today statement that was issued on Wednesday, November 20th, 2013.

The section of the statement entitled, “Building a dynamic ‘New Economy’”, best outlines the overall strategy and vision of the Lumumba administration reads:

A central component to the economic development vision and strategy of my administration is the promotion and development of various cooperative enterprises. In alignment with our vision of sustainability and to address our employment and economic equity issues, we are particularly looking to stimulate and incubate green manufacturing industries. We are also looking to encourage the growth of cooperatives in the health services, recycling, waste management, hauling, warehousing, retail, hospitality, and housing industries.  My administration is developing the institutional capacity to promote, incubate and develop cooperatives by committing a division of our Department of Planning and Development to this task. We are also creating a strategic cooperative fund and developing technical assistance partnerships with organizations and institutions like the Fund for Democratic Communities, the Democracy Collaborative, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Mondragon – USA amongst others. 

The Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference represents the first major public initiative sponsored and in part initiated by the Lumumba administration to realize and fulfill this vision.

As mentioned above, the source of this vision is not that of Mayor Lumumba and his administration alone. Nor is it solely the vision of organizations like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, or social movement vehicles like the People’s Assembly. Cooperatives and other forms of worker owned enterprises have a long history in Mississippi, particularly within the Black community as an institutional part of the struggle for self-determination and economic justice. The Jackson Rising Conference draws deeply from this history of struggle and the well of inspiration and knowledge it has produced. We draw on the inspiration provided by democratic leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer and her work to build the Freedom Farm Cooperative (see http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/51/fannie-lou-hamer-civil-rights-activist for more background). We are also deeply inspired by the history and work of one of our sponsors, the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and that of one of our endorsers, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund. The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance, amongst others, laid the foundations upon which the overall initiative to build a dynamic cooperative and democratic economy in Jackson, MS stands upon.

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