On November 9, people across the left woke up and wondered, “What do I do now? Under total Republican control, how does one fight for progressive change?”
Kali Akuno, the co-founder of Cooperation Jackson, a workers’ cooperative in Jackson, Mississippi, has been grappling with that question for years, and believes his organization provides a good model for progressives who still want to effect change under President Trump. When Donald Trump was elected, Akuno felt like he could tell the rest of the country: “Welcome to Mississippi.”
Jackson is located in one of the most conservative states in the country, with a legislature that seems actively hostile to the poor. Over the past few years, the state has passed some of the largest tax breaks in Mississippi history, leaving agencies that serve the poor, including schools, with even less money to help their constituents. And last year, a Republican state legislator hatched a plan to take over Jackson—either through a Detroit-style emergency management bill that would give the governor’s office near-complete control over the city, or piece by piece, starting with its municipal airport.
Mississippi also has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rate of poverty in the United States, with a median income of just under $40,000 a year per household. The city of Jackson is worse off still: Its median household income is $33,000 per year. And the situation is even more dire for the city’s people of color, who make up the majority of the city’s residents: While the white population has a poverty rate of 14 percent, 34 percent of black Jackson residents are poor.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, Jackson has been a battleground for civil rights for decades. Many of the most famous protests of the civil-rights movements took place here. So did some of the era’s greatest tragedies, including the murder of Medgar Evers. Nonetheless, it’s rarely been a center of black political power—until a few years ago. That’s when longtime black radical activist, Chokwe Lumumba, was elected mayor of the city. He took office in 2013 with a mission to institute an ambitious plan to help elect black, progressive leaders throughout Jackson, and help foster a new, black-centered economy in the city. Unfortunately, he died less than a year into his mayoralty.