Communities around the country are meeting and preparing for the continued onslaught of neo-liberalism that has exploded the wealth divide and has undermined education, health care, wages and more and the additional threats of an administration and Congress that are openly hostile towards immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ, women and blacks. We speak with Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Organizing Movement about the new project Ungovernable 2017 and the ongoing work to build economic alternatives to capitalism.
A conversation with Kali Akuno, organizer with Cooperation Jackson and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
“We cannot and should not legitimize the transfer of authority to a right-wing populist who has neo-fascist orientations,” Kali Akuno told AlterNet over the phone. “We shouldn’t legitimize that rule in any form or fashion. We need to build a program of being ungovernable.”
As the co-director of the Mississippi-based group Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the nationwide Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Akuno is one of countless organizers across the country working diligently to build a platform sturdy enough to confront Trump’s America.
Movimiento Cosecha, led by undocumented people and immigrants, is planning to go on the offensive to organize a a migrant boycott and general strike demanding “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.” Groups including Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) are already striking preemptive blows against a potential Muslim registry under Trump by successfully demanding that the Obama administration eliminate the regulatory framework for a Bush-era registry. The New Sanctuary Movement, meanwhile, is getting ready to mobilize large numbers of people to intervene against a potential escalation of raids targeting immigrants.
For Akuno, whose organizations are led by people of African descent and strive for self-determination for people of African descent and the eco-socialist transformation of society as a whole, now is an important time for movements to be talking to each other and strategizing how to unfold a program of noncompliance and noncooperation on both the federal and state levels. “We are not going to legitimize this regime, and we are going to try to draw a deeper level of criticism to the entire system,” he emphasized. “If Trump and Clinton were the best the system could offer, there is something wrong with the system. There always has been. We need to start envisioning what kind of future we want and need.”
A call for civil servants to resist
“A core component of resistance is to get the class of civil servants, particularly on the federal but also the state level, to not comply with arbitrary laws and policies that are going to be created,” said Akuno. “To not recognize the laws we know are coming that will discriminate against Black people, Latinos, immigrants and queer people. There is no need for anyone to comply. Let’s not give it legitimacy just because it’s the law. We need to be prepared to disobey and engage in civil disobedience. We need to get ready for that now.”
Akuno said there are already encouraging signs that such resistance is building among civil servants. Concerned that critical climate data will vanish under a climate-change denying Trump administration, scientists and meteorologists are working to copy and safely store public data using independent servers. Earlier this month, the University of Toronto held a “Guerrilla Archiving” event inviting volunteers to “join in a full day of hackathon activities in preparation for the Trump presidency.” The website “Climate Mirror” was erected as part of an effort to “mirror public climate datasets before the Trump Administration takes office to make sure these datasets remain freely and broadly accessible.”
Meanwhile, media reports are emerging that some Department of Energy officials are refusing to comply with a Trump administration demand to hand over the names of all of the agency’s contractors and employers who have worked on key climate policies under President Barack Obama. The request elicited concerns of a witch hunt and purge orchestrated by the incoming administration. But The Independent reported earlier this month, “The US Department of Energy (DOE) has refused to answer questions issued to them by Donald Trump’s transition team.”
In a letter dated December 28, attorney general offices from 13 states threatened litigation against Trump if he discards the Clean Power Plan, as he has vowed to do.
Such resistance, of course, contrasts with the narrative of a “peaceful transition of power” at times embraced by the Obama administration and much of the Democratic party. But among lower-level workers, opportunities for resistance are manifold. According to Akuno, “it is impressive to see a certain level of resistance that members of civil society are already engaging in. I don’t think this should be taken lightly. A broad alliance can be made, with a clear articulation of a call for resistance.”
Akuno emphasized that such resistance is just one prong of a broader strategy that he says entails “not going to work, not participating in your run-of-the-mill economic activities, with the hope and aim that we can build prolonged acts of civil disobedience that lead to a general strike.” While such plans are not fully fleshed out, he noted organizations across the country are actively discussing such a possibility.
‘Build and fight’
Strategies for large-scale disobedience should be buttressed by local plans that simultaneously prepare us for survival and orient us towards social transformation, he argued. “Cooperation Jackson is in the midst of a pivot that we’re calling, ‘Build and Fight,’” said Akuno, explaining that the initiative is premised on the assumption that “the left’s infrastructure domestically and internationally is profoundly weak. There needs to be a building piece in our view. This has to be a primary focus, and we want to build something that leans in an anti-capitalist orientation, like community production based cooperatively owned digital fabrication.”
For inspiration, Cooperation Jackson looks to black freedom organizers like Fannie Lou Hamer, who, in 1969, helped found the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi, which was aimed at boosting food security and independence for Black community members who faced systematic dispossession. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, meanwhile, has played a critical role in protecting those communities on the frontlines of black freedom and civil rights movements.
According to Akuno, now is a time to fortify infrastructure for autonomy and resistance. “That’s where co-ops, land trusts, time banking, mutual exchange, community production and other new social relationships come in,” he said. “We want to build society in a prefigurative way. We want a guaranteed level of food security and energy security. We need bottom-up solutions to sustain ourselves and transform the world.”
Towards this end, Cooperation Jackson is building three green cooperatives, as well as an eco-village aimed, protected by a community land trust. These bottom-up alternatives are coupled with a push for policies aimed at a “just transition” away from policies that worsen climate change and environmental racism.
In materials emailed to AlterNet, the organization explained that its approach is “premised on ending our systemic dependence on the hydro-carbon industry and the capitalist driven need for endless growth on a planet with limited resources, while creating a new, democratic economy that is centered around sustainable methods of production and distribution that are more localized and cooperatively owned and controlled.”
“We need to be building participatory democratic structures from below,” Akuno emphasized. “We should be building people’s assemblies, not as a substitute of the state, but to deal with areas where the neoliberal state is failing to provide basic social services.”
Learning from history
“This moment calls us to really look at our collective history critically,” said Akuno. “In reality, this is not a democratic society, never has been. But, it’s based on democratic myths, not the concrete practice of democracy. We can look at the struggles of indigenous, Black, Xican@, Puerto Rican communities and draw new lessons. We can win genuine multiracial class unity that can benefit us during this time of struggle.”
Akuno emphasized that there are plenty of lessons to be learned from struggles around the world. “In the 1950s through 80s, movements fought the right-wing neo-fascist dictatorships of Argentina and Chile,” he said. “It took decades to turn the tide, people were organizing on an underground basis after most of the left was liquidated. How folks organized and delegitimized the regime—I think there’s a lot to be learned from that.”
From South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement to Spain’s civil war to 1930s-era Germany, Akuno emphasized that we need to “use history as a guide.” But he also underscored that we have to recognize what is unique about this moment, which he says emerges from a uniquely American legacy of “white supremacy in its segregationist apartheid form.”
“The orientation we’re taking is not just about surviving Trump, but drawing attention to the fact that the system was already heading towards more severe types of repression, surveillance and austerity,” he said. “We’re also looking at the global dynamics as to why right-wing populism and fascism is spreading internationally.”
What is clear, says Akuno, is that the right-wing populism of the Trump administration will not be defeated by civil discourse and liberal democracy. He emphasized, “If we are serious and steadfast, we can create a clear and uncomprehensive message around being ungovernable.”
We resist because we refuse to allow Trump and his views on climate change and his deep investment in the oil industry lead us to the brink of human destruction with his “drill baby drill” and “burn baby burn” orientation. We will not allow the 6th great extinction to advance on our watch.
We resist because the United States has always been a problematic project and we refuse to go backwards on the limited political, economic, and social gains that have been won by Indigenous and oppressed peoples, women, religious minorities, LGBTQI communities and individuals, workers, children, and in the protection of our life-giving environment. We refuse to accept the wanton reintroduction of white supremacy, right wing populism and fascism, state sanctioned patriarchy, and the expansion and consolidation of a neo-Confederacy.
We resist because we will not allow US imperialism to go unchallenged. We refuse to allow the Trump regime to allow for the ethnocide of the Palestinian people, to start a war of aggression with Iran, to legitimize a puppet regime in Haiti, to escalate tensions with China, to support a coup d’état in Venezuela, to intensify AFRICOM’s acts of aggression on the African continent, to threaten and sanction the progressive governments of Bolivia and Ecuador, and the list goes on. We cannot and will not sit idly by and allow US imperialist expansion and aggression to advance either within the territories it currently controls or on the peoples, nations, and states outside of its jurisdiction.
We resist because we must. We resist knowing that one day of action will not stop any of the destructive plans of the Trump regime and the neo-Confederates that now control ¾ of the state governments. This day of action is a beginning. A way for us to come together, resist together, and to start the hard work of building a new political force and program that will help us co-construct a liberated future.
“BUILD AND FIGHT; FIGHT AND BUILD” A PROGRAM FOR THE FUTURE
We cannot afford to “wait and see” what the Trump regime is going to do, or “give them a chance”. His cabinet appointments clearly indicate that we have to take him for his word, and that he clearly meant all of the racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, China bashing, queer hating and misogynist rhetoric that he espoused and he fully intends on implementing all of the promises and policies he proposed to target these subjects on the mission to make the United States a white republic once again.
Therefore, we should expect the Trump regime and the Tea Party dominated neo-Confederate state governments to further demonize any and all opposition, to ramp up surveillance to even greater levels, to unleash massive amounts of repression and terror (from both government and reactionary white supremacist forces) on progressive social movements and non-compliant populations, and use various types of economic threats to subject people to their will. Hoping and praying for things to work themselves out for the better won’t work. Efforts at trying to isolate yourself, your family, and your community and shield it from the repression that is coming won’t work. Trump and the reactionary forces that he embodies and represents must be defeated, politically, socially, and economically. Solidarity and joint struggle are our greatest forms of both offensive and defensive resistance. But, the solidarity must be practical, programmatic, and visionary.
To defeat Trump and the neo-Confederates we have to develop a strategic “Build and Fight; Fight and Build” program. This program must address the imperative need to build economic and political power from the ground up – amongst workers, the underemployed, unemployed and structurally unemployable on the community, county, state and national levels.
Both dimensions of our Build and Fight program we believe must have offensive and defensive dimensions to them. What follows are some preliminary thoughts on what we believe must be built and/or strengthened going forward, to not only survive the Trumpocalype, but to build the world we and our children and great grandchildren need.
Build Community Farms and Food Distribution Centers to address basic subsistence needs of the people in our communities.
Build Production or Supply Chain Networks and Alliances to ensure food security and sovereignty on municipal and larger scales.
Build Community Energy Networks and Centers to address basic energy needs in our communities and municipalities.
Build and Reclaim Common Spaces to ensure that communities have space for various types of production, community engagement, and the practice participatory democracy and community governance.
Build Cooperatives (Worker, Consumer, and Community) to address the basic material and service needs of the people in our community.
Build People’s Assemblies and/or other types Vehicles for the Practice of Participatory Democracy to continue the struggle for equality and equity.
The Fight Back
Build Self-Defense Committee’s and Educational Campaigns to protect our communities from state and reactionary militia repression and terror.
Build Sanctuary Networks to Defend Immigrants, Muslims, Organizers and the Persecuted.
Build Autonomous Communication and Information Sharing Institutions and Networks to ensure safe and direct connection amongst the people in our communities and networks.
Build Broad Civil Action Units to engage in Massive Civil Disobedience, Occupation and General Strike Actions to stop the advance of political and economic reaction.
None of these initiatives can be built overnight and they cannot be done individually. They require organization on various different scales and scopes.
Starting with your endorsement, we propose initiating a process of ongoing engagement and organizing to build a national network that can and will grow into a radical force of political resistance, power, and vision to move us out of the forest of gloom that is presently surrounding us.
We propose the following organizing process after January 20th:
That there be a national evaluation call immediately after the day of resistance on January 20th.
That we host municipal forums and/or assemblies to discuss the program presented above and how it can be applied and/or expanded in our municipalities.
That we host regional organizing and resistance networking gatherings in April or May.
That we host a national networking and resistance coordination meeting in the summer of 2017.
Friends and comrades, the protests that have been mounted against the election of Donald Trump on November 8th have been a beautiful thing. However, we need to do everything in our capacity to make sure that they are not limited in their focus. To the extent that we can stimulate and intervene in the mass motion that these protests represent, we must focus our resistance against the system – the entire settler-colonial, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchal system – and not just against Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the genocidal far right and their ghastly politics. The liberal consensus that systemically enables unsustainable resource extraction and various forms of human exploitation and oppression, and is now calling for “national unity” and “reconciliation” with these forces is what allows these politics to live and thrive, and must be resisted at all costs.
It is critical that progressive and left forces mount as much non-compliant resistance as possible between now and inauguration day to claim as much space as possible, to set the terms of democratic struggle, to create a measure of defense against pending repression (which is where the system was/is headed regardless), and to make the system ungovernable. This is a path on the road to social transformation that must be waged. It should not be confused with the longer term work of organizing, base building, building alternative institutions and systems, developing left political alignment, and strategy development. That work is yet to be done. But, adaptation and accommodation to the worsening terms and conditions is not a path to survival, not when the stakes are so high – and the stakes are high.
Tactically, given the nature of the pending holiday shopping season and building on the motion and tactics of non-violent civil disobedience that have been employed since 2011, we should consider initiatives that disrupt the flow of capital, interrupt its reproduction, and upend the relations that it depends upon from now till the inauguration. We should build on the tactics that have disrupted transportation routes and which target the logistic clusters that are so vital to capitalism in this day and age (particularly before they are further automated). Let’s be imaginative, creative, and bold.
And remember, there is literally next to nothing about this system that is worth saving.
“Navigating the Storm” is dedicated to providing a revolutionary analysis on the current crisis of the capitalist world-system and to facilitating ongoing strategic discussion between revolutionary anti-imperialists forces (i.e. revolutionary nationalists, communists, anarchists, etc.) towards the building of a collective orientation and program to guide our action over the course of the next four years and beyond.
This blog is facilitated by Kali Akuno and will be updated regularly with new installments of the “Navigating the Storm” series, articles and information on the development and resolution of the current crisis, and commentary and analysis by various organizations, individuals, and subscribers to the blog.