Cooperation Jackson’s Kali Akuno on Solidarity, Economic Democracy, and Organizing for the Long Term

By Alexis Stephens

As grassroots groups and community advocates across the country brace for increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian opposition, organizers in the South bring a wealth of wisdom and experience dealing with such challenges.

America's Tomorrow spoke to Kali Akuno, co-director of Cooperation Jackson, founded in 2013 to promote economic democracy and worker-owned cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. Akuno talked about the organization's work and how it has dealt with a series of setbacks and trials, including the passing of Jackson's mayor — longtime activist and organizer Chokwe Lumumba — in 2014, ongoing state threats to local control of land and infrastructure, and the uncertainty of the new presidential administration. He also shared his analysis of the local context in Jackson and offered some advice to grassroots organizations around the country about how to both survive short-term threats and lay the foundation of long-term sustainability.

In the wake of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba's passing and his legacy of Black organizing, what has the landscape looked like for Cooperation Jackson?

The first six months of the [Yarber] administration were somewhat difficult for us. Cooperation Jackson had been tied to and identified with the legacy of Mayor Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and I think Mayor Yarber was initially very wary about any engagement with us. But over time we found some ways to collaborate on things that we all saw as mutually beneficial for us and the city.

There have been a number of issues this year where there has been a high level of agreement between our organization and the mayoral administration — primarily the threats that have been coming down from the Republican supermajority at the state level and some very targeted threats against the City of Jackson. One example is the state legislation that is allowing a governor-appointed regional board to take over operational control of the airports in Jackson. A broad, united front came together [to fight that], which included the Coalition of Economic Justice, city council, and our county legislative delegation. I would say the overall legacy of the plans that brought Lumumba into office is very much alive.

In which programs and initiatives are you seeing the most success?

We're seeing success in the development of our three co-ops: Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative, Nubia's Place Café and Catering Cooperative, and Mississippi Waste Alternative, a recycling and composting cooperative. The core membership of each is under the age of 25. There's a youthful willingness to try something new and a healthy optimistic attitude when they encounter people or dynamics that tell them that they can't do something. Our own analysis of why these co-ops are moving faster than others has revealed that youth leadership is a factor. To outside observers, the most concrete measure of success is the actual operation of a co-op — if the farm is able to increase its productive yield, for example. And that's grown each quarter. But young people are also acquiring skills and certifications, and putting in hours. Those are all things we're looking at objectively as measures of our success: how many people we're able to train, recruit, and bring into the process.

Cooperation Jackson is still very much a baby as an organization. In a short period of time, we've been able to build several functioning and emerging cooperatives and to acquire a community center and 20 parcels of land in West Jackson. We have three houses that are the core basis of our housing co-op and emerging eco-village. When Chokwe passed away so suddenly, many of us were in doubt in the first couple of months about where we were going and what might be possible. From that dark place to where we are now, I would argue that we've done fairly well.

What advice would you give to other grassroots economic development organizations that might be facing preemption at the state level over the next two to five years?

Your basic organizing principles don't fundamentally change. In fact, they become even more important than ever before. The first thing is you have to build your own base; and, if you are trying to build a transformative business like the co-ops that we're trying to build, you have to work to communicate your own values to your network very clearly. Outside of building your own base, you have to make connections and links and build allies with other folks who share similar interests. I don't think everything has to be in complete alignment, but I think there's a critical synergy where you have to agree on some things. But don't compromise your mission or settle for short-term, expedient gains. That's a critical piece.

Sometimes we become too fixated on immediate victories and results, and this doesn't really lead us to building strategic allies and strategic relationships in the way that is most helpful. There are not really any shortcuts. A lot of people are counting on — or have built a lot of their strategies and programming around — new technology, particularly social media as a way of reaching people. That's good for mobilizing people, but it's not a tool for organizing people. We have to make that distinction. In order to organize people, you have to build relationships. You have to make sure that you're creating the context and bringing people into situations where they can see each other face to face, to engage in dialogue and exchange about their issues, about their concerns, about their aspirations.

We have to be very intent on rebuilding social solidarity. I think a lot of the angst that is there now — particularly in light of Trump's victory — is based upon a deepening sense of social isolation. Folks feeling that they're more alone, and more exposed, now and more siloed than ever before. But our counter is not to retreat further into small and local. I think our counter is to go deeper, build more connections, reach out more. I think we're over-emphasizing and stressing too much about what's going to happen this first year. That could lead us into a number of traps, as opposed to us digging deep and building the relationships that are necessary, coming up through that process of organizing people, and then developing a program and a vision that will enable us to build, to push back, and to create a whole different set of policies to complement our vision down the road.

Could you say more about your vision for deepening relationships?

At present, our state politics break down fairly consistently along racial lines. But we know that we can make some inroads, particularly with younger, college-educated White folks — and there are about 250,000 to 500,000 of them in the state. We feel that we can and must do a good job recruiting, organizing, and reorienting them in a more left and progressive direction. And if we can just move the bottom end of that number, we change the politics of this state profoundly and we can end the Republican domination of the state. This is something that's practically doable, but you have to be willing to stand back a little bit, look at the long-term view, assess what's really needed, and then develop the strategy to go out and reach those communities and build a relationship with them. And not see everything as lost or totally out of our reach, when it's really not.

An Overview of Governor Jerry Brown's Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Budget Proposal for California

On January 10, Governor Jerry Brown revealed his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which projects a state budget deficit ($1.6 billion) for the first time since 2012. The $179.5 billion proposal maintains the state’s commitment to implementing the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), preserving the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding healthcare access to vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, the budget proposal also recaptures nearly $1 billion in one-time expenditures provided in the Budget Act of 2016 (Budget Act) and delays spending increases for various programs and services, some of which, like LCFF, are designed to improve outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color.
 
We applaud the Administration’s continued commitment to important issues like healthcare access, LCFF implementation, and transportation, but believe more should be done through the budget to build an equitable California, one where all of the state’s residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We urge the Governor to work with communities, advocates, and the Legislature in the coming months to develop a budget that allows California to address its intensifying housing crisis, maintain health insurance for the newly insured, guarantee immigrants targeted for deportation have effective legal representation, and protect and invest in the state’s most vulnerable populations.
 
Below we highlight areas of the budget that are likely to be of interest to equity advocates, including health and human services, education, housing, transportation, public safety, and climate change.
 
Health and Human Services
The budget maintains current spending levels for programs that ensure California residents have access to quality, affordable health care and services. For example, the proposal provides funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children and individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It also maintains funding for substance abuse programs and the transition of new immigrants from Medi-Cal to Covered California. In addition to continuing financial support for these services, the budget provides new funding to reflect the repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule.
 
While we are encouraged by these aspects of the budget, we urge the state to continue investing in care coordination and integration programs for vulnerable residents, including the Coordinated Care Initiative, health care workforce initiatives, community infrastructure grants, and children’s mental health services grants. 

Education
The education budget provides a small increase of $2.1 billion in Prop. 98 funding for K-14 education and proposes cost-of-living adjustments for LCFF funding targets, as well as for various programs funded outside of LCFF. Unfortunately, due to the projected revenue shortfall, the Governor’s proposal, while providing an additional $744 million for LCFF implementation, “maintains the implementation formula at the current-year level of 96 percent.”[1]  Though we understand the new economic reality the state faces, we urge the Governor to fully implement LCFF as quickly as possible.
 
The budget also boosts investment in California’s Community College system. Notable areas of increased spending include efforts to address student disparities; the Guided Pathways program, an institution-wide approach to improving student completion rates; and school facilities energy efficiency projects financed through the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Job Creation Fund, which, in addition to improving energy efficiency on school campuses, targets training and jobs to individuals with barriers to employment.
 
Despite these positive investments in the community college system, the budget disappointingly proposes to phase out the Middle Class Scholarship Program, which provides has helped thousands of student to afford enrollment at CSU and UC campuses.
 
Housing
Even though the state faces a growing housing affordability crisis, the budget provides virtually no new funding for affordable housing. The proposal recaptures $400 million for affordable housing development included in the Budget Act,  and conditions continued financial support for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Initiative (AHSC), a major source of state funding for affordable housing in recent years, on the extension of the cap-and-trade program by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
 
In the coming months, we urge the Administration to partner with the Legislature to allocate resources for AHSC without condition, provide meaningful new investments in affordable housing, and establish a permanent source of funding for the construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable units.
 
Transportation Infrastructure
Although much of the transportation budget continues to focus funding on maintaining highways and roads in California, we are pleased to see an annual increase of $100 million for the state’s Active Transportation Program, which aims to improve the mobility, health, and safety of vulnerable residents by targeting walking and bicycling infrastructure in low-income communities.

To ensure our increased transportation spending achieves state equity and climate goals, funding should be targeted to grow investment in transit operations and complete streets, prioritize transportation projects that provide meaningful benefits to low-income people of color, and connect disadvantaged community residents to transportation sector training and jobs.
 
Public Safety and Justice
While the budget’s public safety proposal highlights many of the anticipated positive effects of Proposition 57[2], we hope the revised budget will deepen California’s commitment to investing in our people and communities, divesting from systems that separate families and perpetuate trauma, and eliminating policies that serve as barriers to the success of low-income people and people of color. These values are reflected in the budget’s proposal to end the use of driver’s license suspensions as a debt collection tool, a counterproductive practice that has caused financial insecurity throughout California’s low-income communities of color.
 
We hope the May Revision will build on the proposed repeal, by reducing funding for harmful institutions, including immigration detention centers, prisons, and law enforcement, and investing in reintegration services, quality legal representation for immigrants, and support for other vulnerable groups.
 
Climate Change and Natural Resources
The budget proposes a $2.2 billion dollar Cap-and-Trade Expenditure Plan using revenues generated through the State’s carbon trading program. This plan includes needed investments in transportation, housing, pollution reduction, and other programs that provide benefits to low-income, pollution-burdened communities. Unfortunately, the budget makes allocation of these proposed investments contingent upon the Legislature approving an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program. Accomplishing this will require support of two-thirds of the Legislature and poses a significant hurdle to securing these important investments.
 
The Governor’s environmental and natural resources proposal also acknowledges the severe drinking water challenges faced by disadvantaged communities across California and commits to working with the Legislature and stakeholders to address these challenges. This commitment is very encouraging. However, with over one million Californians being served drinking water from systems that do not meet safe drinking water standards, we urge the Administration to take this commitment further and prioritize developing a sustainable funding source to ensure that all Californians have safe and affordable drinking water.

Conclusion
As we learn more about the incoming presidential administration’s policy goals, the Governor’s budget proposals are likely to change. In the coming months, advocates should engage their legislators and the Governor to ensure that hard fought gains for California’s low-income communities and communities of color are protected and expanded.
 
________________________________________


[1] Governor’s Budget Summary – 2017-18, “K-12 Education,” 20, http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2017-18/pdf/BudgetSummary/K-12Education.pdf.
[2] Proposition 57 allows non-violent offenders who have completed the prison term for their primary offense to be considered for parole and authorizes the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to establish a “credit” system under which individuals can earn an early release from prison. The law also provides that only judges may determine whether juveniles 14 and older can be prosecuted or sentenced as an adult.

Marching Forward: Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap

Written by Elena Chavez Quezada and Heather McCulloch and cross-posted from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Many of us thought it would be the swearing in of the first woman president that would galvanize women to mobilize, organize, and take action to advance women’s rights. Ironically, it is the specter of the impending presidency of Donald Trump that is catalyzing women to come together and speak out.

On January 21st, women from across the country will converge on the nation’s capitol and in cities across the country. This mass mobilization is partially defensive, sparked by looming threats to women’s reproductive, political, and economic rights. But it would be a mistake to view this groundswell as defensive alone.

This Saturday’s women’s marches are laying the groundwork for a new women’s movement with multiple focal points and priorities, both defensive and aspirational. While some observers have criticized the absence of a unified agenda, others understand the importance of engaging in multi-faceted conversations about the issues and barriers to women’s personal, political, and economic security. These conversations mirror the complexity of women’s lives and the intersecting elements of their identities. They’re about race, ethnicity, legal status, sexual identity, discrimination and privilege. They’re often uncomfortable, messy, and complicated—as they should be.

READ MORE>>>

1/30 - Upcoming Webinar on Sanctuary Spaces

In today’s political climate, immigrant families, Muslim residents, and other communities of color face increased surveillance and growing threats to their safety and well-being.

 
Join PolicyLink and our partners on January 30, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET) for a discussion on how state and local leaders across the country can create safer environments for vulnerable members of their communities.
 
This webinar will provide an overview of what sanctuary cities and sanctuary spaces are; how such spaces can make all people safer; and how leaders can create – or safeguard – sanctuary spaces in their own communities.
 
This is the first installment of several webinars the All-In Cities Initiative will be hosting throughout the year on local policies to build equitable cities.

Featured Speakers:

  • Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink (moderator) 
  • Linda Sarsour, MPower Change
  • Angie Junck, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Jorge Gutierrez, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement

        *Additional Speakers to be confirmed*

REGISTER HERE
 

All-In Cities Update: December 12, 2016

In the aftermath of November 8, it is clearer than ever that cities and the counties and metropolitan regions in which they are situated are the crucibles where an inclusive American economy and democracy can and must be forged. From Atlanta to Indianapolis, cities across the country passed ballot measures designed to expand opportunity and dismantle barriers to inclusion. In our hometown of Oakland, the anti-displacement and equitable infrastructure measures we supported won handily. As the All-In Cities team plans for the year ahead, we are look forward to continuing to help local leaders ensure that the cities they love are places where all can thrive and participate in building the next economy. 
 
Building Community Power in the Age of Trump
Following the election, associate director Tracey Ross wrote a piece for Rooflines, the Shelterforce blog, critiquing post-election narratives. She explains, “As the media and national figures continue to tell a story that overlooks how the concerns of people of color may have impacted the election, local leaders must be working to ensure workers of color are empowered to tell their own story.” Check out the full piece here.  
 
Buffalo: Health Equity and Inclusive Growth Profile Launched
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PolicyLink has partnered with Open Buffalo, a community coalition focused on justice and equity in the city of Buffalo, to produce a comprehensive equity profile that can inform policy solutions for health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health in the “Queen City.” We kicked off the engagement with a site visit on December 1 that included tours of West Buffalo and the historic Fruit Belt neighborhoods, interviews with community and city leaders, and a review of the initial data. We will be releasing the report and policy agenda in March 2017. 
 
Pittsburgh: Next City Highlights Equitable Development Momentum
Next City covered the progress that has been made since the release of Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh in September. Senior director Sarah Treuhaft discusses the growing momentum among community leaders. “When we started working there, there was definitely not that sense that change was possible,” she explained. “By next year we want to see more of that, and create a sense that change is happening — that it’s not just possible but it’s actually happening and progress is being gained.” You can read the whole article here.
 
New Equitable Growth Data for Cities
The National Equity Atlas, produced in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), continues to expand to meet the data needs of those working to advance equitable growth in cities and metros. In October we added new neighborhood-level maps for four indicators, including unemployment and disconnected youth. And in November we updated 17 of our 32 indicators to 2014 five-year pooled data (it was previously the 2012 five-year pooled data).

Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at www.allincities.org.

buildings-houses

Pages