Wednesday Oct 04

BOOK REVIEW - Jackson Rising Redux: Lessons on Building the Future in the Present

Keep Your Eyes on the Stars and Your Feet Planted on the Ground.  

A review of Jackson Rising Redux:  Lessons on Building the Future in the Present.  Edited by Kali Akuno & Matt Meyer.  PM Press.  2023.


Jackson Rising Redux is a complicated book.  It includes diverse opinions within the framework of mutual aid as a fundamental organizational tool for transformational politics.  It has elaborate, sometimes contradictory, ideological discussions among its authors—particularly in understandings of democracy, communitarianism, utopianism, democratic centralism, Marxism, anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism and other ideas from the western radical tradition.  

Co-editor and principal author Kali Akuno has mastered and synthesized a vast amount of theory and facts, ranging, for example, from the process of 3-D printing to theoretical debates between Marx and Bakunin.  

In Jackson, Mississippi, the major groups represented in this book were part of successful electoral campaigns, but divided over the meaning and consequences of their results, some feeling successful, others coopted. The Jackson leadership, membership and base are predominantly African-American; however, their vision is a multi-multi-multi one.  Anyone serious about fundamental, bottom-up, small “d” democratic change should read in this book.  

Mutual Aid

Before going further, here’s a brief definition of mutual aid because it is often confused with direct service.  In the former, a group of people get together to cooperatively provide or purchase a service or product.  A buying club in which neighbors pool their dollars and time to buy things they need at wholesale prices is an example.  If they also sold those things more widely in their neighborhood, that would be a direct service. Another example would be a worker-owned cooperative that serves as the source of income and meaningful work for its members who provide a product or service to others who purchase the results of that labor.

The strength of Jackson Rising Redux is its appreciation of the power of mutual aid as a building block toward a general transformational politics.  Mutual aid can begin small and grow large, ranging in participation from a handful to thousands.  Because it does not directly confront incumbent power, it can operate below the radar of repressive regimes.  That is the case today in a number of Central American and African countries.  

There are both consumer and worker-owned cooperatives; in each case, one member has one-vote; the members elect leadership, and rotate or hire people for management roles.  They may ignore what goes on around them, acting as oases in a desert, or, as in the case of internationally-known Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain, act in solidarity with surrounding working class struggles.  

The relationship of workers to the productive process may be traditional or highly participatory.  A study of the post-Argentinian economic crisis (that began in 1998) showed wide variation in how workers occupied, then owned, plants and who they were operated:  some retained their original management structure, and the work process was as it was prior to expropriation; others had created a highly participatory work process and democratized it.  The two are not the same:  highly sophisticated worker participation schemes are adopted in firms that retain capitalist ownership.   

In some cases, mutual aid efforts are part of a larger political project.  The radical kibbutzim were part of Israel’s initial Labor Party program.  The massive housing coop in Vienna emerged from the Social Democratic Party.  The Scandinavian countries are dotted with cooperatives of all kinds.

Mondragon Cooperatives

Mondragon Cooperatives (1), often cited in this book, started with the inspirational Jesuit priest Fr. Jose Maria Arizmendiarreta and a handful of his technical school students who, in the midst of the Francisco Franco dictatorship, jointly bought a stove making company that was going out of business.  They have grown into a powerful complex of worker-owned enterprises based in the Basque region of Spain.  A minimal understanding of their scope and principles is essential to understanding mutual aid’s potential as a tool for self-determination.

Mondragon is composed of 281 companies and entities, and is today the foremost Basque business group and the seventh largest in Spain. Mondragon operates in four areas:  finance, industry, retail and knowledge.  It consists of separate, self-governing cooperatives, and fourteen research and development centers with more than 80,000 owner-members and sales in more than 150 countries.  It is the leading business in the Basque Country, and one of the largest corporations in Spain.

It is worth noting Mondragon’s founding principles both because of their application in Spain as well their general relevance to mutual aid.  As the single most developed cooperative in the world, Mondragon’s strengths and weaknesses are widely studied by those seeking to put an alternative economics on the ground.  The ten beginning core principles were:  open, nondiscriminatory admission, democratic organization, the sovereignty of labor, the subordinate character of capital, participatory management, salary solidarity, intercooperation, social transformation, universality, and education.

Mondragon is a work-in-process.  When “materialist values began to play a larger role in society, the Group foresaw a weakening of its ideological support if it were based on pragmatic values.”  New educational activities sought to offset this.  Some core principles were compromised.  Others were, then were restored.  (In the name of “external solidarity” top managers won an exemption from the 6:1 payment ratio of top-to-bottom owner-members.  They compared themselves to similar managers in the private sector, which was a parody of the concept’s original intention.  They later voted to abandon the exemption—it had separated them too far from the rest of the Mondragon community.) The most serious transgression is Mondragon’s ownership of capitalist firms and the introduction within some of its cooperatives of non-owner workers.  There is an elaborate discussion of these issues available. Space makes exploration of them impossible here.  

Some of Jackson Rising Redux’ Mondragon criticisms strike me as hollow.  “…worker owners became concerned primarily with their own prosperity and neglected participation in the broader anti-Franco struggle.”  Mondragon’s worker-owners support strikes in surrounding private firms; they absorb into associated firms both those workers and member workers who are laid off from a downturn in the economy or, as in the recent shut-down of Fagor—one of their major companies—the entire workforce received early retirement or was absorbed in other Mondragon cooperatives.  What would this critic have had everyday workers do “in the broader anti-Franco struggle”?

Cooperation Jackson Visions and Realities

The overall weakness of Jackson Rising Redux is its use of the future tense:  too many “would”, “should,” “could,” “will be” sentences.  Almost none of what is proposed is actually working on the ground.  At best, and the authors are honest about this, their coops are small scale.  If it is not rooted in present experience, speculation on the future is utopian in its more “head in the clouds” understanding than a “prefigurative” one.  The experiences the book recounts that are most developed are those outside the United States.  

Having noted this overwhelming weakness, I nevertheless think serious organizers should read this book.  For the most part, it is ecumenical in spirit; modest in its claims for what has been achieved; usefully self-critical, especially in its discussion of electoral politics, and; concrete enough in its speculation for others with a firmer base in their communities to adopt some of its ideas.

Core Program

Cooperation Jackson’s envisaged core program is a network of highly participatory financial, educational, innovative high tech and green production cooperatives, accompanied by a land trust and other support groups.  Cooperation Jackson's “four interconnected and interdependent institutions”, developed over five-years of discussion, are outlined early in the book:

  • A federation of emerging local cooperatives and mutual aid networks.
  • A cooperative incubator…start up and training center [including] training in democratic management.
  • A cooperative school and training center to serve as a center of social transformation by continually broadening the social consciousness of all its cooperators…
  • A cooperative financial institution to serve as a means of self-capitalization and democratic investment to expand the initiative.

All of Cooperation Jackson’s programs and strategy are executed through five intentionally interlocked and interdependent focal points…

     * [S]elf managed green worker cooperatives and an extensive network of mutual aid and social            solidarity programs…   

  • [An] eco-village…aimed at making Jackson a sustainable city.
  • [A] network of 3D print factories that anchor community production cooperatives and institutions…aimed at making Jackson a digital fabrication laboratory city.
  • [A] class-oriented union cooperative to build genuine worker power from the ground up…
  • [A] human rights institute aimed at making Jackson a human rights city.…

 …Accordingly, Cooperation Jackson is currently building or aiming to build these complementary solidarity institutions and practices:

  • Community land trust.
  • Community saving, lending and investing.
  • Price-based mutual credit.
  • Time banking [that uses] time as currency instead of money.
  • Posterity budgeting…to design and utilize various value exchange options to replace monetary need.
  • Alternative currency.
  • Tool lending and resource libraries.
  • Participatory budgeting [that] consists of a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making in which ordinary city residents decide how to allocate part of a public budget through a series of local assemblies and meetings.
  • Cooperatively owned and managed energy production and distribution from…renewable sources.


“We make the road by walking,” is a theme throughout the book— a participatory and “bottom up” understanding of education and its relationship to organizing. But so is Mao Zedong (quoted on page 250) “…[B]efore any action is taken, we [emphasis added] must explain the policy to Party members and the masses.  Otherwise, Party members and the masses will depart from the guidance of our policy, act blindly and carry out a wrong policy.”  This Communist Party theorized “democratic centralism” ended up highly centralist and not very democratic.

Experience in action, reflection on its meaning in the light of core values, and evaluation of its results to learn from the experience versus democratic centralism, “scientific socialism” and top-down leadership is a contradiction running throughout Jackson Rising Redux’s pages.  Some of the authors favor the latter.

Operation Jackson would do better to rely on Ella Baker, Paulo Freire and Myles Horton than Mao or Lenin for their understanding of popular education and democracy.  The failures of democratic centralism are now widely understood.  

“Monopolized media” is a problem, but not THE problem.  In the context of democratic organization, when experience contradicts media, people look for alternative sources of information to make sense of their experience.  When people lack that experience, they are victims.  Victims are far more likely to blame “the other” for their problems, and follow strongmen to solve them than to read or watch alternative media.  When people are powerless, they will look for scapegoats and saviors. 

Values versus Ideology

Values—deeply held beliefs about how the world should be, such as equality, community, solidarity, neighborliness, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, freedom and others that can be drawn from the Western small “d” democratic tradition and the teachings of the world’s great religions—can provide a broad base of support for radical ideas that emerge in an organizing context.  These counter-cultural ideas make themselves manifest whenever crises hit—as Rebecca Solnit elaborates in A Paradise Built in Hell—and are paid lip-service by the powers that be because of their deep resonance with everyday people.

At their best, worker-owned cooperatives serve as a base to strengthen common-good values.  CECOSESOLA (Central Cooperativa de Servicios Sociales Lara) is a major cooperative in Venezuela.  As it grew, its participants increasingly saw hierarchy and traditional forms of workplace organization taking over within the cooperative form of organization.  They took a long time-out for internal discussion that sought to relate their core values to their practice and concluded radical internal change was required.  Hierarchies were eliminated; consensus decision-making replaced traditional forms, resulting in lots of conversations and increased productivity.   

From Cecosesola’s official 2023 statement Building, Here and Now, The World We Yearn For:  [In lower income areas,] “residents meet to face a very real necessity. A neighbor dies and his widow can't cover the costs of the funeral service. One quick solution: a collective fundraising campaign among the neighbors. But then someone asked, ‘What if we find a more permanent solution, like our very own cooperative funeral service?’  This everyday situation marked the beginning of a cooperative movement that has been in existence for more than half a century. With few material resources, together, people from different religions, political ideologies, gender, or age, and a nonprofit orientation with a common cause — wanting to go ahead with their own resources, much audacity and a truck loaded with willingness — started Cecosesola. And that spirit is still present.…We began with the traditional organization structure, with a board of directors, managers, and employees. But in the process, we discovered new ways of getting things done. Day by day we strive to transcend the individualism and egotism we carry within us, by rotating tasks and continuously reflecting on our daily behavior. We progressively move past the emotions and typical structure present in our society, such as hierarchical relationships, fragmentation, discrimination, sectarianism, accumulation of power, know-how, or wealth. This is why we no longer have managers, nor a board of directors, nor any domineering structure.”

Jackson Rising Redux’ focus on ideology leads it to ignore traditions and ideas that could broaden its appeal and base of support, making cooperatives more within the experience of local people:  the Rochdale Cooperatives whose origins include Methodist revivalism in 19th century England, the social and economic justice Encyclicals of the Catholic Church, and; numerous economic justice statements from all the mainline Protestant denominations in the United States.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black church are noted but not amplified.  More broadly, the American small “d” democratic tradition could be lifted up to support Operation Jackson’s work.  

Actually, Akuno comes to a parallel conclusion: “We are nowhere near a place to say or decide that this particular ideology or form is the line, or this is the only way, or this is the vanguard.  Let’s skip all that.  That’s just not real.”


We can talk about it or talk about and build it.  Too much of the book is talk that isn’t grounded in experience.  Power, one of the chapters notes, is the ability to act collectively, not necessarily the ability to impose one’s will upon another. 

Thirty people taking an action might make the local neighborhood newspapers’ inside pages; 300 people taking one might make the evening TV news; 3,000 would make all TV channels and the daily newspapers; 30,000 might dominate the news for a few days and achieve transformative results.  The question, however, is not what the media will say, but how we build organizations that can turn out 30,000 through their own networks and internal means of communication, and then continue as ongoing voices of popular power.  Large scale mobilizations are a dimension of people power, but not its essence—which is a continuing democratic, mass- or broad-based organization.

Acting from power, experiences where “the other” is a comrade in struggle lead to different results.  In Laurel, MS during a bitter mid-1960s woodworker strike, Klansmen and Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party members became allies against Masonite; a joint committee was structured with three white and three black leaders.  They alternatively met in the homes of one of the whites or one of the blacks.  At the end of the struggle, which they lost for reasons that would be a digression here, a white woman said to an interviewer, “I never thought I would shake the hand of a Negro.”

Electoral Participation or Not

In Jackson, their most successful effort has been electoral, despite its minimization in their ideology.  Tragically, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died in office.  Subsequently, his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, won in a crowded list of candidates for mayor. 

Both Lumumbas inherited a desperate situation.  Due to deferred maintenance, Jackson’s water system was unhealthy.  Residents were warned to boil water before drinking.  Gentrification threatened low-income, mostly Black, neighborhoods.  A hostile Hinds County government and state legislature did what they could to prevent Black radicals from delivering.  When politicians are in office, they are expected to deliver by those who elected them, and some of those who didn’t.  Re-election requires it.  Defeat only confirms past experiences of powerlessness. Delivering in Jackson meant adopting some proposals that were hardly what would be called “progressive,” let alone “radical.”  A 1% sales tax increase to restore the water system best illustrates the problem.  A painful internal evaluation followed, and a mutually agreed upon separation took place.  That is an accomplishment to be admired; usually these are bitter splits.  But a different understanding of the relationship between the electoral process and mass organization might have avoided the problem in the first place.  

Two basic points are essential.  First, electoral politics will not build the base of your organization.  Independent mass-based direct action against a variety of targets beginning with small, winnable issues as the first step.  Second, a minimum and maximum program that democratically emerges “from below” is based on the assumption—widely understood by the membership whose skepticism about “politics” is strong—that “the state” is a very difficult institution to conquer.  The strong emphasis on mutual aid offers the Jackson movement opportunities to deliver that are ignored by most “grassroots organizing”.

Money From The Bottom Up

Unfortunately, the idea of dues or other funding from the membership, beneficiaries and base is rarely discussed; it is clear that bottom-up money as the way to fund project core budgets or seed new ones is not part of the imagination of the assembled authors in these pages.  That is a serious problem.  While ample references to the “nonprofit industry complex” are made, no one discusses how Cesar Chavez insisted on dues to fund the pre-union National Farm Workers Association and its tire, battery and other cooperatively purchased auto products program.  Nor does anyone note the insistence on dues by such organizations as ACORN and many “broadly-based community organizations” in the Alinsky tradition.  Without core budget member-based funding, independence is impossible.  

Relying on the sacrifice of dedicated, young radicals is not enough to provide institutional stability for a growing movement.  In 1962, when Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary Bob Moses first went to Mississippi’s Pike and Amite Counties, he was introduced to local leaders by Webb Owens, a retired Sleeping Car Porters member and leader and NAACP activist.  Owens asked for, and got, initial contributions that in today’s dollars were from $100-$200.  Part of the decline of SNCC can be attributed to the dependence on and erosion of northern financial support.

Saul Alinsky

Not until page 426 is there a reference to Saul Alinsky.  I have written or co-edited articles and books that define, elaborate, support and critically observe the Alinsky tradition. (2)  That Alinsky gets a somewhat favorable nod in these pages is a surprise.  But the summing up definition of what he and others in his tradition did and do is far from adequate:

"Institution-based organizing relies on two premises that we question.  One is that community institutions already exist, ripe for organizing.  The other is that representative democracy can still be made to work for the people if only they are engaged enough and apply enough pressure…” 

Why isn’t that the case?  We aren’t told.  

And, “[T]he issues taken up must be concrete, immediate, and winnable.”  Contrast that with, “The model proposed here does focus on the concrete practices of meeting community interests and does involve taking immediate winnable steps—but the focus is always on a larger vision of systemic transformation.”  

What were these authors thinking? They should know better with the benefit of 50 years of large-scale victories against urban renewal, for tax and utility rate reform, in the electoral arena, and more, that are now clearly part of the Alinsky tradition’s on-the-ground work.

To set the record straight:  with a handful of exceptions, existing community institutions need to be agitated and educated before they participate; in many cases, new organizations of the unorganized are formed (public school parents, tenants, etc.). How far we can make progress in the present social order remains to be tested.  Cooptation has absorbed many of these organizations.  Those that remain alive and independent are still testing the limits of “the possible.”  The entire assumption of this book is that the space for organizing “above ground” exists in our present “representative democracy.”  

An International Journey

Jackson Rising Redux takes us on an international journey of radical communal development.  Rojava, Kurdistan where Kurds have implemented many of the ideas that inspire the people in Jackson; communes in Venezuela that have to fight the Chavista state to continue their radical democratic development—“a tense dual power situation…[where] a popular government in the bourgeois state structure” conflicts with an “expanding network of communal territories ‘building a new state’ from below”; dual authority created by the first Palestinian intifada; references to the aforementioned Mondragon; and more.  There are self-contained chapters that stand as independent articles and are worth reading for themselves. 


The prophet Isaiah was a voice in the wilderness.  Jesus started a mass movement.  Paul put Christianity on the ground.  The roles are all important.  I think it was from Wade Rathke that I first heard “keep your eyes on the stars and your feet firmly planted on the ground.” Jackson Rising Redux often takes us on useful extraterritorial expeditions.  I do not want to minimize the importance of ideas.  But we need to see what they do on terra firma, or someone else will have to respond to Jackson Rising Redux’ challenge, if we are to survive as a species and leave the earth in any shape decent for our heirs.


(1) Mondragon Report:  Visit OTC’s website at for information on ordering Mike Miller’s 1994 paper on the Basque cooperatives.

(2) See “Alinsky for the Left: The Politics of Community Organizing;” Mike Miller; DISSENT; 2010, and; People Power:  The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky; Aaron Schutz and Mike Miller, co-editors; Vanderbilt University Press 2015.

Thanks to Aaron Schutz for helpful comments on early drafts.

Mike Miller’s work is at <>.  He was a “Snick” field secretary for four years, and directed a Saul Alinsky organizing project.  He has been doing organizing, consulting with organizers and organizations, teaching in universities or leading workshops on organizing, or writing about union and community organizing, and politics for the past 60+ years.