Up South, Down South: A Detroit Delegate’s Recap of Jackson Rising
by Carmen Mason on May 8, 2014
These last few weeks many in national media have been mesmerized by the saga of Donald Sterling and his confessions of personal and systemic racism. Black communities have engaged in a lively discussion of “what they should do,” “what I would do” and “what I have done” when confronting institutional racism in the workplace.
Last weekend, Jackson Rising : New Economies Conference boldly moved the question from “Will my boss be racist?” to “How can I/we own the company that I am working for and the resources generated from my own work?” Shifting the discussion from individual survival to “economic democracy” and the “sustainability needs of our community” was a crucial advance.
In addition to economics and politics, culture played a significant part of my experience at Jackson Rising. I am an MC and cultural organizer. For the last six months I have been part of some innovative conversations about the relationship between culture and political organizing. In fact, our entire Detroit delegation was made up of artist/organizers who balance event planning, youth organizing, community building, and institution building with city-wide and national practices in spoken word, MC’ing, muralism, graffiti, and other visual arts.
Too often in political organizing, culture is viewed as “mere entertainment.” Our delegation proved this to be a lie as we represented a generation of cultural organizers and theorists who recognize that liberation requires a transformation of culture and collective behaviors not just new policies put in place. A powerful moment took place during a closing ceremony when the conference room burst into singing the Freedom Song “Organize”. A comrade from Detroit reflected afterwards, “That moment will live with me forever!”
Around the conference’s formal workshops & plenaries, there were plenty of opportunities to set up strategic meetings and deepen relationships with comrades and fam from around the country. I was blessed to be part of the Un-Official After Party “Revolution Music” featuring Skipp Coon (Jackson), Shamako Noble (Oakland), Honeycomb (Detroit), Truth Universal (New Orleans),and M.U.G.A.B.E.E.. The moment when an elder from Philadelphia leaped to her feet and sang “Take The Houses Back” along with the chorus to my song will stay with me for a long while.
Southern cultural organizer Carlton Turner says “Music was a binding element of the Civil Rights movement. It speaks both to the foundation of spirituals embedded deep into the African American southern cultural history and the physiological effects of group singing that allowed our ancestors to stare death in the face and not flinch…. When we sing together we can move mountains.”
Members of the Detroit delegation shared some powerful moments building with Carlton. We learned about the dynamic work he is leading to bring together artistic workers in Jackson to discuss how to intentionally enliven the region’s culture.
From Jackson to Detroit
The Up South, Down South connections were lifted up during Jackson Rising. Most Black people in Detroit have connections that are less than a century old Down South (especially Alabama and Mississippi,) so we are not just comrades with shared analysis, but at ancestral levels we are Family. Barely appearing in the official program book, cultural and ancestral expressions glimmered throughout the program creating some of the most significant moments.
This reportback just scratches the surface of the innovations taking place throughout Jackson and the South. It is powerful to experience a group of sisters and brothers boldly taking responsibility for local, regional, and national leadership and inviting us all to walk in their deep, dark footprints.
In Jackson, the movement building was successful in electing Baba Chokwe Lumumba to City Council, and then to the Mayor’s office. Mayor Lumumba passed in February 2014 due to causes still yet to be determined. In less than 8 months in office, he set the foundation for the Jackson-Kush Plan and passed an initiative for the public funding of infrastructure repair projects.
Jackson, Mississippi is well on its way towards becoming “a center and example of economic democracy by building strong cooperatives and other forms of worker owned enterprises and financial institutions that will create jobs with dignity, stability, living wages, and quality benefits.” In Detroit we are in a phase where grassroots organizing is synonymous with “marginal to” and “combating against” the power system.
It was inspiring to see sisters and brothers who had been responsible for municipal systems and to hear of their struggles and strategies both inside and outside the political system. I literally mean “inside and outside”, for as soon as Tony Yarber won the special election that followed Mayor Lumumba’s death, most of his staff found themselves locked out of City Hall.
Featuring significant presentations from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Quebec, Switzerland, and Columbia, Jackson Rising demonstrated the international significance of the Black Liberation Movement and Southern movement building. In another example of international solidarity, the Deputy Consul General of Venezuela shared the stage with Mayor Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar, as part of a tribute to the late Mayor.
Even though communities around the world held tributes and memorials to the late Mayor, in Jackson itself a spontaneous mural of his likeness was whitewashed by city workers soon after it hit the wall.
Next Steps: Another World Is Happening
At least two national organizations held planning meetings immediately before or after the conference to encourage their members’ participation and build upon the gathering energy. The US Solidarity Network gathered to build strategically and envision the next 3-5 years of building alternative economic forms which can challenge capitalism. The US Social Forum held a National Planning Committee meeting to advance the planning of the 2015 USSF.
I was a Local Coordinator of the 2010 USSF which brought over 20,000 community change warriors to learn and strategize together. The next USSF will be poly-centric, which means the year will see multiple Forums reaching deep into their regions. Jackson has been confirmed as a site next year and will be joined by Philadelphia.
The 2010 USSF announced itself with the slogan “Another World is Possible; Another US is Necessary; Another Detroit is Happening.” The Detroit Local Organizing Committee added the third clause to lift up the movement building and institution creating taking place in the 21st century Motor City. This May, we were blessed to see that “Another Jackson is Happening.”
Orchestrated Pulse is looking for reflections from the Jackson Rising Conference. If you have a story that you’d like to share, contact us here