The following quotations are from:
Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya, Cooperation Jackson, Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi
“The People’s Assemblies that MXGM are working to build in Jackson and throughout the state of Mississippi are designed to be vehicles of Black self-determination and autonomous political authority of the oppressed peoples and communities in Jackson. The Assemblies are organized as expressions of participatory or direct democracy, wherein there is guided facilitation and agenda setting provided by the committees that compose the People’s Task Force, but no preordained hierarchy. The People’s Task Force is the working or executing body of the Assembly. The Task Force is composed of committees that are organized around proposals emerging from the Assembly to carry out various tasks and intiatives, such as organizing campaigns and long-term institution building and development work.” 74
“People denied their agency and power and subjected to external authority need vehicles to exercise their self-determination and exert their power. A People’s Assembly is a vehicle of democratic social organization that, when properly organized, allows people to exercise their agency, exert their power, and practice democracy—meaning ‘the rule of the people, for the people, by the people’—in its broadest terms, which entails making direct decisions about the economic, social and cultural operations of a community or society and not just the contractual (‘civil’) or electoral and legislative (the limited realm of what is generally deemed to be ‘political’) aspects of the social order.
WHAT THE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY IS
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.
‘Mass” can be and is defined in numerous ways depending on one’s views and position, but per the experience of the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) in Jackson, Mississippi, we define it as 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.
‘Addressing essential social issues’, means 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.” 87-88
“Within NAPO/MXGM we break Assemblies down into 3 essential types.
- United Front or Alliance based Assembly. This type of Assembly is typically a democratic forum that is populated and driven by formally organized entities (i.e. political parties, unions, churches, civic organizations, etc.) that mobilize their members from other organizations and/or formations. What makes this different then from a typical alliance or coalition is that the organizations and their leaders do not make the decisions on behalf of their members in these spaces; members make decisions as individuals within the general body. The main limitation with this type of Assembly formation is that they tend to remain ‘top heavy’. The various organizational leaders often do not disseminate adequate information about meetings, or inform their members about decisions and activities of the Assembly. And there is the problem that many organizations do not have consolidated members or a base that they can turn out, instead they are legitimated by their history, social position, or charisma of their leadership.
- Constituent Assembly. This type of Assembly is a representative body, not a direct democratic body of the people in their totality. This type of Assembly is dependent on mass outreach, but is structured, intentionally or unintentionally, to accommodate the material (having to work, deal with childcare, etc.) and social limitations (interest, access to information, political and ideological differences, etc.) of the people. The challenge with this type of assembly is that if it doesn’t continue to work to bring in new people (particularly youth) and struggle and strive politically to be mass in its character, then it tends to become overly bureaucratic and stagnant over time.
- Mass Assembly. The Mass Assembly is the broadest example of people’s democracy. It normally emerges during times of acute crisis, when there are profound ruptures in society. These types of Assemblies are typically all-consuming, short-lived entities. Their greatest weakness is that they typically demand those engaged to give all of their time and energy to the engagement of the crisis, which over time is not sustainable, as people eventually have to tend to their daily needs in order to sustain themselves, their families, and communities.” 88-89
“Basic Functions of a People’s Assembly
Regardless of their type, People’s Assemblies have two broad functions and means of exercising power:
- The organize ‘autonomous,’ self-organized and executed social projects. Autonomous in this context means initiatives not supported or organized by the government (state) or some variant of monopoly capital (finance or corporate industrial or mercantile capital). These types of projects range from organizing community gardens to forming people’s self-defense campaigns to housing occupations to forming workers unions to building workers cooperatives. On a basic scale these projects function typically as ‘serve the people’ or ‘survival programs’ that help the people to sustain themselves or acquire a degree of self-reliance. On a larger scale these projects provide enough resources and social leverage (such as flexible time to organize) to allow the people to engage in essential fight back or offensive (typically positional) initiatives.
- They apply various types of pressure on the government and the forces of economic exploitation in society. Pressure is exerted by organizing various types of campaigns against these forces, including mass action (protest) campaigns, direct action campaigns, boycotts, non-compliance campaigns, policy shift campaigns (either advocating for or against existing laws or proposed or pending legislation), and even electoral campaigns (to put someone favorable in an office or to remove someone adversarial from office).” 91
“What follows is a brief breakdown of what People’s Assemblies have and can accomplish, based on the aforementioned and many other historic examples.
- During periods of stability within the capitalist-imperialist nation-state system when the markets and the government (i.e. the state) are able to project and maintain the status quo operations of the system, an Assembly can push for various ‘positional’ reforms and low to mid-level autonomous projects. Positional reforms include things like advancing various policy reform campaigns (offensive or defensive) such as the implementation of local Citizens Review or Police Control Boards. Examples of low to mid-level autonomous projects include things like building ‘self-reliant’ oriented cooperatives, as we are currently working on in Jackson through Cooperation Jackson and initiatives it is pursuing like the Sustainable Communities Initiative.
- During periods of progressive or radical upsurge an Assembly can push for structural reforms and engage in mid-to scalable autonomous projects. One of the best examples of the exercise of this type of power are how the various Assemblies in Venezuela were able to push and enable the progressive administration of President Hugo Chavez, to make radical changes to the nation-sates constitution between 1998 and 2010. Venezuela during this period is also a good example of what scalable autonomous projects look like, such as the numerous cooperatives that were built, the housing developments that were constructed, and the significant land transfers that took place. Argentina during and after the crisis of 2000-2001 offers another critical example, of how the Assemblies there encouraged workers to seize numerous factories and turn them into cooperatives.
- During pre-revolutionary periods an Assembly can function as a genuine ‘dual power’ and assume many of the functions of the government (state). Perhaps the best example of this over the past 10 years comes form the revolutionary movement in Nepal, where the revolutionary forces stimulated and organized Assemblies to act as a direct counterweight to the monarchial government and the military. Ultimately, resulting in the establishment of a constitutional democracy and a more ‘representative’ legislative body. Another recent example comes from Chiapas, Mexico from 1994 until the mid-2000s when the Zapatistas were able to create extensive zones of ‘self-rule’ and ‘autonomous production’ that was governed by Assemblies.
- During revolutionary periods an Assembly can effectively become the government (state) and assume control over the basic processes and mechanisms of production. There have been few experiences or examples of Assemblies commanding this much power since the 1980’s in places like Haiti, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, and Grenada. The recent experiences that come closest are Egypt in winter 2011 and summer 2013, and Nepal during stretches between 2003 and 2006.
- During periods of retreat an Assembly must defend the people and the leadership that has emerged and developed, fight to maintain as many of the gains it won as possible, and prepare for the next upsurge. The experiences of the Lavalas movement in the early 1990’s and mid-2000’s is perhaps the best example of how Assemblies and other people’s organizations can weather the storm of counter-revolutions and defeats.” 95-96