Bernard E. Harcourt | Cooperation Jackson: History, Theory, Praxis

By Bernard E. Harcourt

In Utopia 2/13, we travel to Jackson, Mississippi, the site most recently of a horrendous water crisis that has deprived residents of potable water now for over two months. A confluence of two disasters—river flooding along the Pearl River watershed and gross infrastructural failure—the global climate crisis has hit hardest the historically disadvantaged neighborhood of West Jackson, an African-American neighborhood with high rates of poverty, traditionally underserved and abandoned by Mississippi’s political establishment.

Since 2014, West Jackson has been the home of a remarkable and inspiring project to build a solidarity economy, economic democracy, and Black self-determination called “Cooperation Jackson.” Co-founded and co-directed by the brilliant and charismatic Kali Akuno—who joins us for Utopia 2/13—Cooperation Jackson is a model of an alternative way of life that has already spawned other projects coast to coast, from Cooperation Vermont to Cooperation Humboldt in California.

What makes Cooperation Jackson such an important case study of concrete utopia is that it is so richly three-dimensional—along the axes of history, theory, and practice.


From a historical perspective, Cooperation Jackson builds on a long tradition of Black self-determination in the predominantly African American counties along the Mississippi River. There had been efforts to create self-sufficient, autonomous, African-American zones along the Mississippi going back at least to Reconstruction. These efforts were revived in the 1960s, then again in the early twenty-first century, and now, with Cooperation Jackson.

Jackson State University was the site of the infamous police shootings of Black students on May 14, 1970—resulting in the death of two students and injury of a dozen other students—in the wake, only 10 days earlier, of the Kent State shootings.[1] The next year, Chokwe Lumumba and other activists moved to Jackson to establish the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (PG-RNA) with the mission to begin a new community called El Hajj Malik. (The Republic of New Afrika had been founded a few years earlier in March 1968, with the vision of a separatist Black nation in five Southern states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina). As Lumumba’s daughter Rukia Lumumba explains, of the Provisional Government in 1971:

The idea was pursuant to the PGRNA’s goal of creating a new society built with no color, class, gender and physical ability discrimination. The ultimate goal was to create a new community where everybody would be treated at the highest  standards of human rights.[2]

The PG-RNA bought land west of Jackson, and in March of 1971, 500 women, men and children went to celebrate the launch of their new community. They were confronted by police and Klansmen who told them they could not proceed, but persevered and settled the land.[3] A few months later, in August 1971, the Jackson police and the FBI raided the headquarters of the RNA with heavy arms and teargas, resulting in a shootout and the death of a Jackson police lieutenant; eleven RNA member were tried, eight convicted and sentenced to prison.

Several decades later, in 2008, Jackson was home to another project called the Jackson–Kush Plan, a collaboration between the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and the New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO). The project was to build an autonomous zone along the Mississippi, concentrated in Jackson and the sixteen predominantly Black counties in western Mississippi, eastern Louisiana, and the bordering counties in Arkansas and Tennessee. The plan was to establish people’s assemblies, an independent Black political party, and a solidarity economy. (Kali Akuno describes the Jackson-Kush plan in detail in this publication.[4]) Chokwe Lumumba, who had returned to Jackson in 1989 as a successful civil rights lawyer, was a part of this project. He joined the city council in 2008 and then was elected mayor, serving as mayor of Jackson from 2013 to 2014. (The current mayor of Jackson is his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba). Cooperation Jackson, founded in 2014, builds on this rich history to create a solidarity economy in the Jackson region.


Cooperation Jackson is embedded in a rich critical theoretic framework that allows us to explore questions of self-determination, democratic governance, and the creation of a solidarity economy. Since its inception, Cooperation Jackson has been deeply theorized by critical thinkers, activists, and organizers such as Kali Akuno, Ajamu Nangwaya, and others. Kali Akuno’s chapter “Build and Fight” articulates the program and strategy of the project. As Akuno writes, Cooperation Jackson has four fundamental ends:

  1. To place the ownership and control over the primary means of production directly in the hands of the Black working class of Jackson;

  2. To build and advance the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production in Jackson Mississippi;

  3. To democratically transform the political economy of the city of Jackson, the state of Mississippi, and the southeastern region; and

  4. To advance the aims and objectives of the Jackson-Kush plan, which are to attain self-determination for people of African descent and the radical, democratic transformation of the state of Mississippi (which we see as a prelude to the radical decolonization and transformation the United States itself).[5]

The theoretical ambition of Cooperation Jackson, then, includes controlling the means of production, using participatory democratic processes to transform the economy, and integrating various practical initiatives like a Community Land Trust, worker cooperatives, and a People’s Assembly into one coherent economic whole. The idea is to integrate different forms of cooperatives and mutualist enterprises into a solidarity economy that includes housing cooperatives, recycling cooperatives, childcare cooperatives, credit unions, and mutual aid networks—placing them all into one integrated whole.

Cooperation Jackson includes a program to recreate and reimagine the city of Jackson along four vectors, creating a “sustainable city” that supports clean energy and zero waste, a “solidarity city” that supports cooperative development, a “fabrication city” that supports community production, and a “human rights city” that promotes human rights and democracy.[6] Cooperation Jackson is part of an effort to transform Jackson into a sustainable city with zero waste and zero emissions.[7] The goals are sustainability, self-determination, equality, and solidarity.


From a practical perspective, Cooperation Jackson consists of a growing and thriving network of cooperatives that include now an agricultural cooperative and food services cooperative. At the heart of Cooperation Jackson are four interconnected and interdependent sets of institutions: first, local cooperatives and mutual aid networks; second, an incubator to train and develop people in democratic management; third, a cooperative school and training center; and fourth, a credit union to serve as a means of self-capitalization.[8]

The ambition of Cooperation Jackson is pretty extraordinary and the cooperatives on the ground now include Freedom Farms, which is a worker-owned urban farming cooperative on two acres of land; the Nubia’s Place café and catering cooperative which is a worker-owned cooperative that serves food and does catering; and the Green Team, which is a yard care and composting worker-owned cooperative. In addition, there is a community center. There is a maker’s space with a 3-D printer. And there is the Jackson Human Rights Institute, which serves as a human rights training and organizing space, with the goal of turning Jackson into a human rights city.

Global Warming and the Water Crisis

All of the efforts and building of Cooperation Jackson has been deeply challenged by the recent water crises in Jackson—the product of systemic racism against the predominantly Black city of Jackson, abandoned by the establishment during the white flight of the late twentieth century.

Climate change is now pushing Cooperation Jackson to form alliances with Cooperation Vermont and other initiatives, in order to create refuge for climate-, and now water-refugees from Jackson and surrounding areas.

Please join us and our guest, Kali Akuno, to discuss the crises and the brilliant efforts of Cooperation Jackson.

Welcome to Utopia 2/13!


[1] See generally Tim Spofford, “Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College,” Vietnam Generation 2, no. 2, Article 15 (1995) available at

[2] Rukia Lumumba, “Foreword: All Roads Lead to Jackson,” xi-xv, in Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya, eds., Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi (Wakefield, QC: Daraja Press, 2017), at xi.

[3] Rukia Lumumba, “Foreword,” at xii.

[4] Kali Akuno, The Jackson-Kush Plan: The Struggle for Black Self-Determination and Economic Democracy. Undated PDF available online at

[5] Kali Akuno, “Build and Fight: The Program and Strategy of Cooperation Jackson,” 3-41, in Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya, eds., Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi (Wakefield, QC: Daraja Press, 2017), 3-4.

[6] Akuno, “Build and Fight,” 14.

[7] Akuno, “Build and Fight,” 26.

[8] Akuno, “Build and Fight,” 15.