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Kali Akuno and Glen Ford discuss the significance of the upcoming ‘Jackson Rising: The New Economies Conference’

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our discussion about the future of Jackson, Mississippi. We’re joined again by two guests.

We’re joined by Kali Akuno. He’s a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

We’re also joined by Glen Ford, executive director and cofounder of Black Agenda Report.

Now, Kali, you have this conference coming up, Jackson Rising. Lay out what it is. And, you know, this is an international conference. Lay out exactly why you’re telling people to sort of descend on Jackson and what you hope comes out of this as far as contributions to the work you’re doing on the ground in Jackson.

KALI AKUNO, ORGANIZER, MALCOLM X GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT: Mhm. Well, the Jackson Rising New Economies Conference, just to reiterate, it’s May 2 through May 4 at Jackson State University here in Jackson, Mississippi. It is an international conference, but its primary focus is building economic democracy here in the city of Jackson.

We can’t do that alone. We have to do it with allies national and international, which is why we’re calling [incompr.] for the solidarity [incompr.] partnerships to emerge. And what we’re hoping to develop out of this and we’re working diligently to develop out of this is a network and a federation of cooperatives and other worker-owned business entities here in Jackson that will guide and direct the future development of the city of Jackson, to take it out of the hands of the national and multinational corporations, and to have it directly benefit people in the community. So those are the overall long-term kind of aspirations.

The core of the conference is really going to be a lot of kind of one-on-one as to what are cooperatives, how do you start a cooperatives, a solidarity economy. But there’s also a critical piece of giving a current contextualization and framework for understanding the political economy not only of Jackson, but also the United States and international community, so people can clearly situate themselves in kind of the world dynamic and understand where we fit into the struggle on a global level to combat and defeat neoliberalism as the most preferred form of capitalism that’s ravaging the globe right now.

We believe that we are part of this epicenter, as we talked about in the first episode. Jackson is primed, because of its infrastructure crisis, to be a real short-term blip over the course of the next ten years of a infrastructure kind of a repair engine, if you would. And we have to make sure that not only is that captured in the community and not siphoned off by other forces both nationally, internationally, not only is it squandered and played with on financial markets so that we get robbed again, but we need to make sure it’s going to be something that’s going to benefit, again, our children and our grandchildren. The only way we’ll do that is by capturing and concentrating the wealth in the hands of the people and doing that in a democratic fashion. So that’s really what the conference is aimed to do.

And it was scheduled to be in many respects—and still will be—an unveiling of the larger economic framework of transformation that our administration, under the late mayor Chokwe Lumumba, was aiming to push forward here in Jackson. And we’re going to continue with that vision as a social movement, which is where it emerged from to begin with, to keep pushing and making this demand on capital and on the state.

NOOR: And I wanted to bring Glen Ford into this. So, Glen, what are your thoughts about this model? The consensus around the world, from the Obama—and here in the U.S., Obama administration down to the state and city level, the consensus is on economic policies, on development models that are very different, very corporate-centered. And this seems to be, you know, agreed on, Democrats and Republicans alike, that we need a top-down kind of corporate model, we need corporate subsidies to create jobs. What Kali and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are proposing is very different to that. What are your thoughts? Is this the way to achieve sustainability?

GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Well, I think this conference is extremely important. We’re talking about economic development in a 70 percent black city in the blackest state in the country. And, traditionally, if we’re talking about development in largely black areas, the answer that would be provided would be, well, let’s get rid of some of them black people. And, in fact, that’s been the end result of what passes for urban development all over the country for the last two decades, black removal masquerading as a renaissance.

The other thing is that traditionally when we talk about urban development, most people assume that the topic of conversation should be how many contracts black folks get. Now, of course, black businessfolk should get contracts. People hand out contracts in this society, and we deserve far more than we’ve been getting. But that’s not the real purpose of urban development. Urban development is to make a better place for the people who already live there. And any kind of changes that in fact harm the folks who already live there for the benefit of some future population really is not development. It’s an assault. It’s destruction. It’s an attack. And I’m sure that that’s going to be at the center of the discussion that goes on in Jackson in May.

We live in an environment of finance-capital domination, and finance capital’s biggest imperative is to boost the value of assets. And in a society that is steeped in racism, the mere—the very presence of black people brings down the value of assets. And so you have to go up against that basic dynamic of finance capitalism in a racist society. That is a tough order. It requires all of our best minds, and it requires our best organizers. And that’s why it’s so important that it wasn’t just a campaign and a mayorship of Chokwe Lumumba, but of a movement and of an organization that is conscious of its purpose in society.

NOOR: So, Kali, how would you respond to critics that would say by focusing only on Jackson, if this is all they heard of, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to attack by the state? And, for example, they’ve already tried to pass an emergency manager law, which would have disempowered the city government of Jackson. How would you respond?

FORD: Well, I mean, if we were only focusing in on Jackson and trying to create a little progressive bubble, our critics would be right. But that was never our aim and intention. We’ve always focused on—this being the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the People’s Assembly—focused on organizing the 18 contiguous black-dominated counties of Mississippi, which we call the Kush district. That is one way to prevent isolation within the state.

But the larger framework is that we’re going to have to organize throughout the South and we’re going to have to organize throughout this country the type of transformative politics that we’re trying to lay a foundation for. And that’s the best that we can do. Folks need to understand that. Because we live in an integrated world, integrated economy, in a integrated ecosystem, we can play our part, we can try to take the lead in making some advances happen given our circumstances, but it’s going to have to spread, it’s going to have to touch more areas than just Jackson. Otherwise, eventually we will get crushed. Just because this emergency manager bill appears to have been defeated in committees this time, we’re very clear that they’re going to bring it back the next time, because all those forces want to capture all the resources that are coming down from the 1 percent sales tax and what they see leveraging—the city of Jackson having to leverage to cover its infrastructure costs.

NOOR: And so, really quick, that was one of the achievements of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s administration: you were able to pass a 1 percent sales tax to raise revenue to tackle these infrastructure problems.

AKUNO: Just a part of it. I mean, the [incompr.] sales tax folks have to understand in many respects that was a reluctant push.

NOOR: And that was passed in January.

AKUNO: That was passed in January, that 1 percent sales tax. Folks outside of Mississippi need to understand that there was a commission which was very antidemocratic, which was very intentionally created to undermine, if not eliminate, the self-determination and sovereignty, if you will, of the citizens of Jackson being able to determine their own course. As it stood, that commission had three mayoral appointees, four from the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, one from the governor, one from the lieutenant governor, and one from the speaker of the House, which meant that the city of Jackson, represented through the mayor, only had three of ten votes as it stood by structure. And that was thrown in there so that it was passed. So you can see all these very antidemocratic and racist stipulations that have been put on there from the beginning. So our intention always was in adopting it, ’cause initially the administration opposed it, was that we had to fight for the resources. But we definitely had to fight to eliminate that commission.

But that was never going to pay for all of the infrastructure repairs that the city has to do. We’re going to have to come up with some very innovative ways to be able to cover those expenses that doesn’t sell the city out, that doesn’t liquidate its assets or privatize its assets. And that means a radically different course, one that we were looking to pioneer and try to figure out from the ground up, rather than just kind of accepting the okey-doke and saying, well, you know, the finance capital offers the only model, and we’ve got to go with its dictates and what it says.

NOOR: And I wanted to bring Glen into this conversation as well. Glen, is this a model that can spread through the rest of the country?

FORD: Well, I think so. I don’t think that locating this effort in the most underdeveloped state in the country is necessarily a disadvantage. After all, we see what has already happened to Detroit, where the right to vote does not exist. We see in the other great cities of the country that there is nothing resembling economic democracy. And we know, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement clearly knows, that the only way to fight organized capital is with organized people. And Mississippi is a place where proportionately there are more black people than anyplace else.

NOOR: And, Kali, let’s end it with you. What are your final thoughts? And talk about some of the challenges and the work that remains in Jackson.

AKUNO: Well, the challenges were the same with Mayor Lumumba and without. We have a very powerful set of enemies who are very much vehemently opposed to our agenda, capital, international finance capital being one, the state of Mississippi and its repressive and reactionary apparatuses being another.

But as Glen was just alluding to, the thing that we believe firmly that we can do is touch progressive people, black and white and Latino, in the state and organize them to carry forth a people’s agenda. That we know we can do. It’s going to take time, energy, and effort, and we have plenty of that in stock. It’s not going to be an easy road, but nothing worse pursuing [incompr.] So we’ve got some challenges ahead, and we’re looking forward to them. This is a good spot to be in, despite all of the, you know, things that appear to be obstacles. We’d rather be where we are now than where we were three or four years ago.

NOOR: Kali Akuno, Glen Ford, thank you both for joining us.

FORD: Thank you.

NOOR: You can catch both parts of this interview at You can follow us on Twitter @therealnews. Tweet me questions, comments, story ideas @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


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Kali Akuno was the Coordinator of Special Projects and External Funding for the late mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, MS. He is the author of the organizing handbook Let Your Motto Be Resistance and wrote the preface to the report Operation Ghetto Storm. He is an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) (, former co-director of the US Human Rights Network, and served as executive director of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund based in New Orleans, LA. Kali currently resides in Jackson, MS.

Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.