Review: Jackson Rising

3 stars
Snapshots of a remarkable liberation movement in the Deep South

Among the 50 U.S. states, Mississippi has the lowest per-capita GDP and the highest poverty rate when not adjusted for cost-of-living. The state capital, Jackson, is about 80% Black or African-American; the city was named after slave-owner president Andrew Jackson who once placed an ad for the capture of a runaway slave promising “ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, up to the amount of three hundred”.

Given the present and historical context, the election of Chokwe Lumumba as Jackson’s mayor, followed soon after his death in 2014 by that of his son Chokwe Antar Lumumba, upon a radical platform of political and economic liberation may defy stereotypes about the Deep South. But it is from the history of enslavement, terror and oppression that liberation movements emerged.

Cooperation Jackson is the movement that helped elect the Lumumbas, and which is seeking to build a bottom-up, co-operative economy not just in Jackson, but in the entire black-majority cross-state area referred to as the Kush (after an ancient African kingdom). Beyond its co-op elements, the movement seeks to mobilize the local community through assemblies to enact changes on the ground and to push for social and economic liberation.

In the early 1970s, the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika planned for the Kush District to serve as power center for a new black-led nation in the South. (Credit: Republic of New Africa. Fair use.)

In practice, this vast ambition translates into much more tangible projects—urban farming and efforts to co-operatively run restaurants, grocery stores, and a fabrication center, for example.

Jackson Rising is a collection of essays dating to different points over the last few years, describing practical progress and laying out the movement’s vision for the future. The tension between what the movement seeks to achieve and what it can realistically accomplish with limited resources is palpable, and Cooperation Jackson’s recently published 2018 in Review describes the challenges of maintaining a coherent movement in light of these fundamental obstacles and ideological tensions within the movement.

The book can only be understood at offering snapshot insights into this ongoing experiment. The assortment of essays unfortunately suffers from a fair bit of repetition (the story of the elder Lumumba’s death in office, and the movement’s efforts to pick up from this this setback, is re-told multiple times, for example), and not all essays add much to the reader’s understanding.

One definite highlight of the book is the essay by Jessica Gordon Nembhard about the history of African American co-operative economic efforts, which were often a form of mutual aid in the face of terror, segregation and oppression. In her book Collective Courage, Nembhard offers a more detailed account of this history.

If you don’t end up picking up a copy of Jackson Rising but want to learn more about Cooperation Jackson, I recommend reading the online version of another article that’s included in the book: “The Socialist Experiment” by Katie Gilbert (Oxford American, September 5, 2017). It encapsulates the movement’s work up to the time it was published very well, without glossing over the enormous challenges of transforming a city’s economy from the bottom up.