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The Potential Power of Peoples’ Assemblies

I find myself wanting to revisit and elaborate on an article I published a few weeks back about Kali Akuno and Cooperation Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is the network of worker-owned businesses that’s had a real impact on developing an equitable economy in the majority-black city of Jackson, Mississippi. One of the aspects of their approach I highlighted was how they’ve made politics an intrinsic piece of what they do. This is spelled out in their Jackson Kush Plan, which was developed in part by the man they helped elect as mayor, Chokwe Lumumba (now deceased).

There is an element to this plan that’s especially interesting; the drive to create and maintain “Peoples’ Assemblies”. This is an idea that’s wound its way through numerous peoples’ brains and several organizations for decades, but most recently by groups that Lumumba and Akuno worked with—the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM).

So, okay, Peoples’ Assemblies. Sounds kind of like a town hall type thing, right? Here’s how the MXGM defines it in their overview from four years ago:

“A People’s Assembly first and foremost is a mass gathering of people organized and assembled to address essential social issues and/or questions pertinent to a community.”

They get more specific about what they mean by Peoples’ Assemblies, defining them as a:

“…a body that engages at least 1/5th of the total population in a defined geographic area (neighborhood, ward or district, city, state, etc.). We have arrived at this 1/5th formula based on our experience of what it takes to have sufficient numbers, social force, and capacity to effectively implement the decisions made by the assembly and ensure that these actions achieve their desired outcomes.”

And, as to the purpose:

“…developing solutions, strategies, action plans, and timelines to change various socio-economic conditions in a desired manner, not just hearing and/or giving voice to the people assembled.”

Take some time to check out the full overview and you’ll see how they outline three different types of structures for Peoples’ Assemblies. There’s room to maneuver and configure these assemblies based on the specifics of your community and what works best for the overall preferences of its members on how to organize, engage and handle power dynamics. The breadth of thinking that underpins even the most theoretical stuff that Cooperation Jackson puts out reveals an immense thoughtfulness and practicality. As a species, we desperately need to cultivate these qualities.

If you’ve spent much time here on the Ghion Journal and have read articles by our prolific co-founder Teodrose, and by other writers like our editor Bree Hood, myself, Jack Perry, Holly Blomberg, Tim Nuell, Rahel Fikre and posts from the inimitable Caitlin Johnstone, you may notice a recurring thread that stresses the need for us to shed the destructive tribalisms that infect and polarize our lives and our politics.

It’s often quite difficult to imagine a way beyond the structures that preexist our arrival on this beautiful, dangerous planet and the yearning, wounded societies that sit on top of it (often without truly inhabiting it). This difficulty is one of the reasons it’s so important to seek out and learn from people who are working on alternate ways of self-organization.

Cooperation Jackson is, in many respects, a highly localized yet internationalist eco-socialist project. But even if you don’t know a lot about the various socialisms being worked on in the U.S. and globally—or even if you don’t subscribe to socialism itself—this idea of Peoples’ Assemblies is really compelling.

Lately, I find myself wondering what could be accomplished in cities and towns if, neighborhood by neighborhood, folks started forming Peoples’ Assemblies to work collectively on issues that would improve their daily lives. Without restrictive ideologies. Without engaging in the false tribalism's of political parties. Without hatred and finger pointing. Who knows what could come of super-localized efforts to find common ground and then work together… Click To Tweet

What I do know, as ignorant and small in this universe as I am, is that we have got to find a way back to one another. And we have got to start governing ourselves again. We have allowed ourselves to be pushed and pulled and managed and manipulated and isolated for so long that we now struggle each in our own individual drowning pool.

It’s time to extend the hand and pull each other out. My hope is to see us standing dripping wet and grinning at one another, catching our breath as we prepare to shock the world and ourselves with extraordinary small acts of imperfect collaboration and comity. Here’s where you can call me naïve. And I will revel in the charge.

One thing I can assure you is that the folks at Cooperation Jackson would welcome communities reaching out to them for ideas, information, and organizational strategies. This past week, they were just in New York at the Fearless Cities summit, where they got together with one of the most thoughtful groups operating in the U.S. right now, Black Socialists of America (on whom I hope to write a post in the near future).

The point is, we have the power to help each other. There’s so much more happening here than any one of us realizes.

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Feature Photo Credit: Thomas Kohler ©2009

Stephen Boni
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Stephen Boni

Stephen Boni is a writer of socio-political missives, children’s books and emails. Lots and lots of emails. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.
Stephen Boni
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