Wilson pulled the trigger but the US system killed him

A statement by the Black Left Unity Network (BLUN)

Stop the War on Black America!

Drawing by Malcolm Goff

Drawing by Malcolm Goff

We are all shocked and saddened by the brutal cold blooded murder of a young Black man, Michael Brown, 18 years old in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis.  But it was not an accident or something that was abnormal.  NO!  It is the system, its normal for this society to kill Black people and it’s got to stop.

The system killed Oscar Grant (Oakland, California: January 1, 2009)
The system killed Trayvon Martin (Sanford, Florida: February 26, 2012).
The system killed Eric Garner (New York, New York:  July 17, 2014).
Now it has killed Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri: August 9, 2014)

We say the system killed them! The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has documented that every 28 hours in the US a Black person is gunned down by the state or their vigilantes.  This does not include the countless brutal cop beatings like the attack on Marlene Pinnock in Los Angeles, CA. To fight back we have to understand who the enemy is, and that means understanding the nature of this US system.

The Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) would like you to think about five basic issues:

  1. The town of Ferguson is 67% Black but the politicians and police are almost all white.  In this historically slave state this form of rule continues the tradition of racist rule.  Even the Black police are in place to support the system and not demand Black empowerment for self-determination.  No real change can happen unless the people self-organize to take power.
  2. The US Congress is behind giving the police department’s Military gear from the Pentagon.  The US ruling class knows that the crisis in this country (no jobs, low pay, poor health insurance, home evictions, cutting people off welfare, and prisons) will produce militant resistance and they have prepared a military force to protect their property.  In other words the billionaires are prepared to fight all over the world and in every city in the US to maintain their power to rule.
  3. Local police departments are being trained by the Israeli armed forces.  The US uses Israel to protect its oil needs and has armed it with modern weapons including nuclear bombs.  They are at the cutting edge of a fascist police force in the 21st century and local police forces are being sent to learn from Israel in order to do to the US workers and poor people what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.  Israel learned from the Nazi treatment of the Jews, so they become Nazi.
  4. The US media defends the police and calls for order and not justice.  The TV, Radio, and newspapers are usually full of lies and distortion.  We have to rely on each other to find out the truth.  In fact when one speaks to the press they often pick and choose what to report, and fail to tell it like you might tell it.
  5. Black leadership within the system have focused on reform and not changing the system.  We know that this kind of murder will go on, as stated, somewhere every 28 hours.  This is not time to call for order, but time for change and to prepare the consciousness and organizational capacity to work for real fundamental change.

THE BLACK LEFT UNITY NETWORK: BUILDING A MOVEMENT TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM

The Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) is a network of individuals and organizations focused on rebuilding a nationally coordinated Black Liberation Movement.  We have a long tradition of Black people learning how to unite and fight back against all forms of racist oppression and economic exploitation.  We have a long history of workers, students, women, youth, and people from all aspects of the Black community of being in the struggle.  Many of us older people remember the 1960’s and everybody has heard about it – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, SNCC, the Black Panther Party, and the demand for Black Power.

Now we must rebuild to mobilize the many elements of Black power to challenge and defeat these attacks, joining with others throughout the globe in struggling for revolutionary change.  As we fight for good jobs, living wages, decent housing, good food, affordable healthcare and quality education for everyone, we must connect these struggles to a program and strategy to defeat this oppressive system and to bring into being a system where human life is treasured with dignity.

We urge you to join in the process of rebuilding the National Black liberation Movement:

  1. We have a national discussion list to join in a conversation with people all over the country who are in this fight with you.  Contact us so we can hook you up to get these very important emails.
  2. We have a Facebook page for you to post messages and get documents that can help you understand the many local struggles going on.  You can add your information and help build the linkages we need for our national movement.
  3. We have a journal for serious articles that you can study and raise your consciousness.  To do what we have to do we have to study.  Their schools are so horrible that they teach us to hate study, but to build our movement we have to learn how to love study.  Our journal is called THE BALCK ACTIVIST and is available free online at http://jblun.org/
  4. We have a directory of the leadership of our movement, people on the frontlines of our struggles and people who provide the intellectual power, creativity and areas of specialization we need to do what  some will seem impossible, to make revolutionary change in this country.  We call this the Directory of Black Liberation Theoreticians: http://brothermalcolm.net/SOLDIERS/
  5. We have a BlogSpot that is an anthology of important articles and documents from all over the world that helps to counter the lies and distortions of the main stream press: http://blackleftunity.blogspot.com/
  6. We are forming Regional Organizing Committees for Black organizations and activists to work together to build Black liberation Unity Assemblies in cities throughout their region and to prepare for participating in a National Assembly for Black Liberation to adopt a national program of action to launch a conscious national movement to struggle for Black liberation.

If you want the struggle against Black national oppression to be more than the spontaneous responses to the corporate and government attacks on Black people, and want to build a movement to change this racist, exploitive, corrupt and murderous system, join the BLUN.  If you are engaged in a local struggle and would like to get coordinated national support contact us.

NOW IS THE TIME!                                                                          Join The BLUN

     National 252-314-2363

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Black Communities Condemn the Israeli Assault on Gaza and the Occupation of Palestinian Territories

In early July the Israeli government launched an attack on Gaza and its residents called Operation Protective Edge. The militarily superior Israeli Defense Fund has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians including 415 children. The poorly equipped resistance movement has reportedly killed only 64 soldiers and 3 civilian Israelis.

Black activists and organizations have, like millions around the globe, raised their voices in protest and in solidarity with the Palestinian people.  As union members, as human rights activists and people of conscience, African Americans have expressed their horror at the bombings that have killed and maimed so many and led to a humanitarian crisis. The long termed economic blockade maintained by the Israelis has been worsened by the destruction of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals, and water resources. What has been called an “open air prison” of nearly 2 million Palestinians remains under siege in spite of periodic “cease fires.”

Black Progressives have called for others to participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) aimed at Israel. The Black Workers for Justice  (BWFJ) has endorsed the demand of Labor for Palestine10533739_10204127783212940_8330770264269989281_n calling for the UN and governments across the world to take immediate steps to implement a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid. The Global African news program has examined why there has been a deafening silence among some Black  leaders and organizations on this human tragedy.

BWFJ members have participated in rallies in Raleigh and Rocky Mt. The Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble in performances at the Veterans for Peace Convention and the convention of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) raised the issue of the occupation and the right of self-determination for the Palestinian People.

Palestinians, African Americans and others joined to together in Rocky Mt. under the leadership of In the Name of Humanity and Muslims for Social Justice for a protest and solidarity action. BWFJ member Saladin Muhammad gave the following statement:

Free Palestine Now!

We are here to speak out against Israel’s bombings of Gaza. It is a continuation of the genocide against the Palestinian people that began in 1948 with the forcible establishment and expansion of Israel’s Zionist and racist state.

These bombings, killing hundreds of innocent Palestinian women, children and men, destroying their homes, hospitals and crops, and driving them off of their historic homeland is a crime against humanity and should be actively opposed by all regardless of religion, ethnicity or race.

As an African American I am ashamed that the U.S. support for this genocide is continuing under President Obama. He has sided with Zionism, the big banks, the arms manufacturers and oil corporations that want to dominate the Middle East. Obama does not speak for me or the majority of Black people in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The Israeli bombings of Gaza remind me of the 1964 racist bombing of the church in Birmingham, Ala. killing four little girls. The murder of Mohmed Abu Khdeir reminds me of the murder of Emit Till in Mississippi.

Abu Khdeir’s murder and the burning of his body in Deir Yassin, the sight of the 1948 massacre that established the Israeli Zionist state, was carried out to send a message to all Palestinians that they have no rights that Israeli’s are bound to respect. This reminds African Americans of the Dred Scott Act in 1857 that said that Black people had no rights that whites are bound to respect.

There are so many examples that show the similarities of the Palestine and African American experience that we should lock arms and speak out and act together against the human rights violations against the Palestinian people that continue with the financial support of billions yearly from the U.S. government.

Israel seeks to isolate the Palestinian people not only in Palestine, but also in the U.S. and throughout the world. Any criticism against Israel is labelled anti-Semitism as if all of their actions are sanctioned by god. We call on the Black churches not to be fooled by this lie.

Israel’s false claim of defending its right to exist is a mask using religion to try and justify its colonization of Palestine and Zionist expansion throughout the region. The world is now realizing the truth, including the role of the U.S. in arming and financing this murderous lie.

After millions of Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany and were forced to flee their lands in Eastern Europe, how can Israel claim to be the state of a holy land when it is committing the worst form of genocide in the 21st century?

The problems facing working-class and poor people in the U.S., Social programs being cut, funding for education being cut, high unemployment, people evicted from their homes and millions of homeless living on the streets cannot be addressed when trillions are spent financing the Israeli military attacks on Gaza and the invasions throughout African and other parts of the world.

We call on the Rocky Mount City Council to divest from any stocks, bonds and financing of the Israeli state and corporations until they end the occupation and attacks on Palestine and recognize the Palestinian people’s right to an independent state free from attacks and domination.

We call on people in Rocky Mount and throughout the state of NC to wear red ribbons demanding the end to the Bloody attacks on the Palestinian people in Palestine, throughout the region and throughout the world!

We call on all students to memorialize the death of Mohamed Abu Khdeir by wearing his photo with the slogan End the Occupation: Free Palestine.

We demand that the U.S. end it’s funding of Israel’s military!

We demand that the United Nations take immediate action against Israel!

In the words of Dr. King – If not now, when? If not us, who?

Join in the Name of Humanity and help to build the movement to end the occupation of Palestine and fight for human rights for all of the oppressed.

 

 

General Baker-Presenté

This is a tribute to General Baker written for BWFJ members by his long time friend Saladin Muhammad.

General Baker: A Working-class Fighter Who Challenged and Gave Capitalism Hell!
 General Baker
General Gordon Baker, known as “Gen” and “Iceberg” by some, a Black working-class revolutionary, founding member and rank-and-file leader of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, leader of the League of Struggle for a New America and friend and comrade to many throughout the U.S. and internationally has transitioned.

Gen will be remembered for his humor, honesty, uncomplicated political clarity, courage of struggle and love for his family. I last spoke to Gen on Wednesday May 14, and in his usual way he tried to deflect the critical nature of his health struggle, saying “I’m trying to hold on brother” with a hint of laughter. We didn’t talk long. I told him that I will check in later and he said “spread the love to all of the comrades.” As long as I have known Gen, he always left me with something that reflected the importance of struggle and comrades.

We will miss this field General, who for so many of us was an example of leadership and humility that we want and need to follow.

To Sister Marian, the kids and grand kids who Gen and Marian care for even with their busy movement schedules, we know that this is a GREAT loss that can never be replaced.

For many of us, we know that – We will see Gen in the Revolutionary Whirlwind!

Saladin Muhammad

Moral Monday and Malcolm X

Malcolm-X

“We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” Malcolm X, 1965

May 19 is the first Moral Monday of the legislative short session in N.C. It is also the birthday of Malcolm X a courageous and gifted leader in the fight for Black freedom and human rights. Almost fifty (50) years after he uttered those famous words North Carolinians find themselves in the street once again in the quest for full humanity.

The assault on our voting rights, health insurance, unemployment benefits, public education, Women’s reproductive rights and workers rights calls for the response that is expressed in the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement.

When we spoke out and challenged them they criminalized our actions and arrested us. Now they want to silence us with even more drastic restrictions. But we will not be silenced and we are determined to speak out and resist those who seek to trample on our democratic and human rights.

And so we are called to build and strengthen Moral Mondays.  And we take the spirit and morality of the movement to our local communities and workplaces.  We are compelled to run and elect People’s candidates and to fight for democracy in our workplaces. Contact us to talk about this work.

Stop Criminalizing the Right to Protest!

Drop the Charges Against All MM Arrestees!

Forward Together, Not One Step Back!

 

Jackson Rising: An Electoral Battle Unleashes a Merger of Black Power, the Solidarity Economy and Wider Democracy

We are reprinting the following article by Carl Davidson because it captures the Jackson Rising Bannerexcitement and importance of the recently held Jackson Rising Conference. We offer two clarifications with asterisks at the end of the article. See the SolidarityEconomy.net website for further reading about what activists are referring to as the New Economy or a Solidarity Economy.

By Carl Davidson

SolidarityEconomy.net

Nearly 500 people turned out over the May 2-4, 2014 weekend for the ‘Jackson Rising’ conference in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a highly successful and intensive exploration of Black power, the solidarity economy and the possibilities unleashed for democratic change when radicals win urban elections.

The gathering drew urban workers and rural farmers, youth and the elderly, students and teachers, men and women. At least half were people of color. About 50 were from the city of Jackson itself, and most were from other Southern states. But a good deal came from across the country, from New York to the Bay area, and a few from other countries—Quebec, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The major sponsors included Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Praxis Project, Southern Grassroots Economies Project, US Solidarity Economy Network, and the US Social Forum. Funding came from Community Aid and Development, Inc., Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi, Fund for Democratic Communities, Ford Foundation, Wallace Action Fund, Surdna Foundation, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

But to grasp the meaning and significance of this meeting, a step back to see how it began—and why it almost didn’t happen—is required.

The conference was the brainchild of Jackson’s late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and one group of his close supporters, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) soon after he was elected on June 4, 2013 and had placed his people in a few key city positions. They had initiated the conference, which was then endorsed by the city council, to help shape and economic development plan for the city and the outlying Black majority rural areas, known as the ‘Kush.’–hence the name of the overall project, the ‘Jackson-Kush Plan.’

Chokwe Lumumba was rooted in the Black revolutionary organization, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA)*, which claimed the Black majority areas of several states in the Deep South. He was one of its leading members, and a widely respected civil rights attorney. The RNA also had an economic outlook, a form of cooperative economics through the building of ‘New Communities’—named after the concept of ‘Ujamaa’, a Swahili word for ‘extended family,’ promoted by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. The new mayor connected this core idea with the long-standing role of cooperatives in African American history, the experience of the Mondragon coops in Spain, and the solidarity economy movement that had emerged and spread from the Third World in recent decades. Together, all these ideas merged in the mayor’s project, ‘Cooperation Jackson.’

Lumumba’s election had taken Jackson’s political elite off guard. Making use of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to run as an independent in the Democratic primary, he defeated the incumbent and forced a runoff. Given that Jackson is an 80% Black city, he then won overwhelmingly. So when he died suddenly of heart failure Feb 25, 2014, with his supporters in a state of shock, his opposition moved quickly to counterattack. The MXGM, the Peoples Assembly and other pro-Chokwe groups now had two tasks, trying to get Chokwe’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, elected mayor while continuing to plan the conference, but with city support on hold.

Lumumba, 31 years old, lost to Tony Yarber, 46% to 54%. Chokwe Antar received over 65% of the Black vote, but the turnout had dropped. The Yarber team immediately moved to fire all the Choke sympathizers from city government, and tried to sabotage the conference. Local rightwing web publications attacked it as “thinly veiled communism.”

A Tale of Two Cities

What is behind this antagonism? Jackson is indeed a tale of two cities, on the cusp of two competing visions. Given its demographics, any mayor is likely to be Black, but what that can mean is another matter. Just driving around the city gives you a quick glimpse of the problem. While the largest city in the state and the Capitol, replete with major government buildings, the city is eerily quiet and empty. There are a few upscale areas, but also large areas of older, wood-framed housing of the unemployed and the working poor. There are huge fairgrounds, but little in the way of basic industry.

So two paths emerged. One was neoliberal, and aimed at exporting as much of the Black poor as possible, in order to open up wider areas from gentrification attracting the better-paid servants of the businesses that served government. The other was progressive, the Jackson Cooperation plan, which aimed at growing new worker-owned businesses and new housing coops that worked in tandem with the Black farmers of the ‘Kush.’ It also stressed democratized city services, while creating new alternative energy and recycling startups and also taking advantage of the city’s position as a major regional transport hub. It’s a conflict not unique to Jackson and shared by many cities around the country. Here’s the four points summing up ‘Cooperation Jackson’:

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

Omar Freilla, Green Worker Cooperatives

Omar Freilla, Green Worker Cooperatives

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 conference project thus found itself in the eye of a storm. But with luck and some judicious tactics, one key figure, Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers, decided to stick with MXGM and allowed the conference to continue its plans on her campus, using the huge Walter Payton Center and two classroom buildings. A last minute fundraising blitz pulled in enough resources to squeeze through and make it happen.

Opening plenary: John Zippert, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ed Whitfield, Kali Akuno

When the hundreds of registered participants poured into the huge hall Friday evening and saw it filling up, one could sense the excitement and rising spirit of solidarity amidst diversity. The opening plenary keynote speakers included Jessica Gordon Nembhard of the US Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), Wendell Paris of the Federation of Southern Coops (FSC) Land Assistance fund, Cornelius Blanding, Special Projects Director of the FSC, Ed Whitfield of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project based in North Carolina, and Kali Akuno of Jackson’s MXGM.

Gordon-Nembhard started off. A professor at John Jay College in New York, she recently published Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, a groundbreaking study on the topic.

“Courage is a word I had to use,’ she explained. ‘Everywhere I turned, from the early efforts of free Blacks to buy others in their family out of slavery, to the Underground Railroad, to burial societies and other clandestine forms of mutual aid; it took courage to motivate all these cooperative forms of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, from the beginning down to our own times.”

She gave the example of Fannie Lou Hamer in the battles in Mississippi in the 1960s, well known as a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. “But do we know her as a coop member, a group that sustained her when she was denied an income. As Ms. Hamer put it, ‘Until we control our own food, land, and housing, we can’t be truly empowered.’”

Wendell Paris who, as a young SNCC worker mentored by Ms. Hamer, continued the theme: “Land is the basis for revolution and it is important for us to hold on to our land base.” He described the workings of the Panola Land Buyers Association in Sumpter County Alabama. “Freedom isn’t free. In the training to run coops successfully, you learn more than growing cucumbers. You learn organizing and administration, the training ground for taking political offices.”

At different times during introductions, or even in the remarks of speakers, the chant, ‘Free the Land!’ would rise from the participants, accompanied by raised fists. This came from the RNA tradition, referring to an older battle cry of self-determination for the Black areas of the Deep South. It clearly still had resonance, and was often followed with ‘By Any Means Necessary!’

The opening session was closed out by comments from Ed Whitfield and Kali Akuno. “All successful enterprises produce a surplus,” said Whitfield, “and our empowerment runs through retaking the surplus we have created, and putting it to uses that best serve us. We’re not here making excuses. We’re here making history. As long as we accept the current economic structures and approaches to development that flow from those structures and paradigms, we can’t get out of bondage.”
“It’s an uphill climb here in Mississippi,” added Akuno. “The Republican Tea Party government we have on a state level is not in favor at all of what we’re trying to push through cooperative development. There was a bill supporting cooperatives that they killed earlier this year. On a municipal level, we are looking to transform all of the procurement policies of the city, all of the environmental regulations and standard policies within the city, and particularly all of the land-use policies in the city, that will support cooperatives. On the more practical side, we are launching a new organization from this conference called Cooperation Jackson, and it is going to be the vehicle by which all of the follow-through is going to be carried out.”

But the municipal battle, Akuno concluded, would be difficult, given the neoliberal, repressive and pro-gentrification policies of the new team in charge.

All the items presented by the opening speakers expressed the common theme of the conference organizers—Political power in the hands of the Black masses and their allies, then anchoring and using that power to shape and grow a cooperative economic democracy that would serve the vast majority. It was both a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba and an expression of his vision. Winning it, however, would not come easy.

The next day, Saturday, was a different story. Here space was opened up for more than 30 diverse workshops, spread out over three time slots, with two more plenary sessions. Topics included the influence of Mondragon, community land trusts, Black workers and the AFL-CIO, the communes in Venezuela, mapping the solidarity economy, coops on a global scale, waste management and recycling, working with legislatures, and many more. No one report can cover them all, but here’s the flavor of a few.

Mondragon and the Union Coop Model.

What were the nuts and bolts of Spain’s Mondragon Coops (MCC), and how could unions serve as allies in creating similar enterprises in the U.S.? This was the question posed at an excellent workshop with three presenters: Michael Peck, the U.S. representative of Mondragon; Kristen Barker of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative; and Dennis Olson, of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Peck began with a brief overview of MCC and its 120 coops and their accomplishments. The key point: In MCC, workers own their labor, but rent their capital, rather than the other way around. “But sometimes,” he noted, “you can tell more about something by looking at one of its failures than all its successes.”

He was referring to the fact that a major MCC coop, FAGOR, which made kitchen appliances, recently closed down. “The housing market in Spain and Europe collapsed, and without new homes, new appliance sales sink Plus there was tough price competition from Asia.” MCC had carried FAGOR for several years, but could no longer justify it. Despite anger, “the vote of the workers to close it was unanimous.” In the regular world, the workers would get their pink slips, and be on the street.

But Mondragon was different. “MCC first set up a solidarity fund with every worker donating 1.5% of their salary, adding up to some 15 million Euros,” he explained. “This was to cushion the transition. Then it worked to reassign all the FAGOR workers to other coops, which it has now accomplished for the large majority.” Peck added that Mondragon would continued creating new coops both in Spain and around the world, and the true test was not that some would eventually close, which was natural, but what happened when they did.

Kristen Barker, right, at Our Harvest Coop

Kristen Barker then gave the workshop an enthusiastic account of how a small group in Cincinnati, armed with only a few good ideas, had over four years moved to a point where three substantial coops were opening in the city and several more were in the works.

“We were really inspired when we heard of the agreement between Mondragon and the United Steelworkers,” said Barker. “Our effort also stands on the shoulders of the Evergreen Coops in Cleveland. To date, Evergreen has launched three co-ops, Evergreen Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar that offers energy retrofits and solar panel installation, and Green City Growers that grows high end lettuce for hotels and restaurants in Cleveland. They have dozens of potential cooperatives in the pipeline. We are partnering with the major players of this initiative including the Ohio Employee Ownership Center for our unique project.”

The first three coops in Cincinnati, Barker added, were Sustainergy, a building trades coop to retrofit buildings to better environmental standards; the Cincinnati Railway Manufacturing Cooperative, which will make undercarriages for rail cars, and partnered with both the United Steel Workers and the local NAACP; and Our Harvest, a food hub coop which starts with local farms and takes their produce to a central site for packaging and marketing. It’s partnered with the UFCW union and other agricultural groups. Dennis Olson explained how the UFCW was particular helpful in connecting growers through the distribution centers to the unionized grocery chains, as opposed to Wal-Mart.

“We only had a small study group to start—some community organizers, some Catholic nuns, a few union people,” concluded Barker. “But we did a lot of research, made partners and got the word out in the media. Soon we had more people calling with more ideas, like coop grocery stores in ‘food desert’ areas, jewelry makers’ coops and so on. We started getting some interest from the city, and now things are taking off.”

Starting Coops in Jackson and the ‘Kush’

This session was chaired by John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. He

Popular Education for Popular Economics workshop

Popular Education for Popular Economics workshop

started with an excellent short summary of ‘Cooperatives 101,’ but quickly turned to drawing out the workshop participants on their concerns. Most were Black women from Jackson—one was interested in whether an African hair care products and services coop was possible; another wanted to start a coop of home health care workers. One man from Memphis said he had a small business distributing African products to small Black stores in the surrounding states, but he was getting on in years. How could he turn it into a coop that would live after him? Everyone shared ideas and legal options

As the session ended, I ran into Ben Burkett, a Black farmer locally active the Indian Springs Farmers Association, part of the ‘Kush.’ I knew he was also president of the National Family Farm Coalition, but asked him more about his local operation.

“Well, I don’t do cotton anymore, not much cotton in Mississippi these days,” he explained. ‘I do many vegetables, and sweet potatoes are a good crop. But it’s one thing for a farmer to grow and dig sweet potatoes. It’s quite another to have the equipment to scrub them, cut them into French fires, and then bag and store them, while getting them quickly to your markets. That’s where the value of the coop comes in. We can pool our resources for these things, and it makes a big difference. We’d be in bad shape without the coop.”

Waste Management, Recycling and City Politics

The politicss of garbage was the main topic here. Chaired by Kali Akuno, this workshop gave the most insight into what was going on in Jackson as a new and backward regime was replacing that of Chokwe Lumumba. “Waste Management serves the city poorly,” said Akuno. “It often ignores our neighborhoods. It does no recycling; it dumps the waste in a landfill in a small city to the North of here, gives them a payment, and that’s the end of it.”

Akuno explained they had a different plan. Since a large part of the city budgets deal with services like these, they wanted to break them into smaller pieces so local contractors or coops could bid on them, then recycle the waste into a revenue stream. In addition to helping the environment and employment, it would keep the money circulating locally.

“Another piece was setting up an incubator to foster the development of cooperatives,” Akuno added. “The government can’t run the co-ops. It won’t build them, but it can set the table. For most of the past 20 years, even though there has been a succession of black mayors, 90-95 percent of contracts to people who don’t live in Jackson. It was all about hiring people in Jackson.”

“Now everything is going to be a fight,’ he added. “Even if your plan is reasonable and sustainable, it won’t matter if it’s stepping on the wrong toes.”

Saturday also included two mealtime plenary sessions, one, at lunch, featuring the diverse organizations taking part, and the other, at dinner, giving everything an international dimension.

The lunch plenary included Omar Freilla of Green Workers Cooperatives, Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative, Michael Peck of Mondragon USA, Ricky Maclin of New Era Windows, and Saladin Muhhamad of Black Workers for Justice and MaryBe McMillian, Secretary Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

“Community cooperatives,” said Steve Dubb, “can be considered part of a long civil rights movement that fights for both racial and economic justice. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King in the last year of his life helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign for an Economic Bill of Rights. The return of cooperatives to the movement, as illustrated by what’s happening here, is a welcome development.”

MaryBe McMillian stressed the importance both of labor and the concentration of forces Sala & MaryBein the South. “Why organize in the South? Because what happens in the South affects the entire nation.” Speaking for Black workers, Saladin Mummamad added, ‘We need poSala & MaryBewer not just democracy; we need power that shapes what democracy looks like. When plants shut down workers, should seize control and turn them into cooperatives.”

The evening session started with a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba by his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “We are victorious because we struggle. I’m not afraid of the term revolutionary. We need to be as revolutionary as the times require. Free the land! The struggle my father started is not over, but only beginning. It continues, by any means necessary.”

Also featured were Francoise Vermetter of Chantier in Quebec, Pierre LaLiberte on the International Labor Organization in Switzerland, Mazibuko Jara of AMandela! Magazine in south Africa, Elbart Vingwe, Organization of Collective Cooperative in Zimbabwe, Omar Sierra, Deputy Counsel General of Venezuela-Boston, and Janvieve Williams-Comrie, Green Worker Coops in the U.S.

“Freeing the land has given our people a new sense of belonging,” said Omar Sierra, of Venezuela. “Chokwe Lumumba extended his solidarity to us in a time of need. Our people are saddened by his passing, and will not forget him.”

William Copeland, a cultural organizer from Detroit, summed up the spirit of the crowd: “These presentations demonstrate the international significance of the Black Liberation Movement and Southern movement building.”

On Sunday morning, those who hadn’t had to leave early for the airport, gathered in a large session of the whole that closed out the weekend. One after another, people stood up and testified to how their consciousness had been altered by their discussions and new experiences over the weekend. Emily Kawano of the Solidarity Economy Network made the point of understanding that the projects ahead, while including coops also reached beyond them to other forms, such as participatory budgeting, public banks and alternative currencies. Finally, at an auspicious moment, an African American women rose and in a strong church choir voice, began singing an old civil rights anthem** “Organize, organize, organize!” Everyone was on their feet, hands clapping, fists raised, and interspersing ‘Free the Land! with the chorus. It couldn’t have had a better closing moment. #

*Although Chokwe Lumumba was a founding member of the RNA his political work during the last two decades was as a part of the New Afrikan Peoples Organization(NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Organization (MXGM).

**”Organize” was written by the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble, a cultural arm of the Black Workers for Justice, during the mid 1980′s and is increasingly becoming an anthem of the rank and file workers and grassroots peoples movements in the South.