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Kali Akuno

An Ambiguous Paradise Built in Hell

By Dan Fischer - New Politics, January 7, 2023

Book Review of: Dilar Dirik, The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice (London: Pluto Press, 2022).

On November 20th, Turkey launched Operation Claw-Sword, a large-scale campaign of drone attacks killing civilians and militants in the predominantly Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq.1 Then, in Paris on December 23rd, a shooter murdered three Kurds in a disturbing echo of the city’s 2013 shooting that killed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)’s co-founder Sakine Cansız and two other women.

While the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) suspended military cooperation with Washington, not for the first time, in protest of the assaults that the United States has allowed fellow NATO member Turkey to carry out, Parisian Kurds have also protested en masse against Western complicity in their people’s extermination. Some youths have set cars and garbage bins aflame, echoing the city’s yellow vests insurrections of recent years as well as the ongoing feminist uprisings in Iran where protesters, including non-Kurds, have adopted the Kurdish slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Just as world leaders abandoned Jews during the Holocaust, and have kept Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime in power (as my co-author Javier Sethness and I previously argued in News and Letters, and as Omar Sabbour argued in these pages), they’ve also systematically approached the Kurds, the world’s largest stateless nation,2 from a deeply realpolitik position. For example, after infamously green-lighting Saddam Hussein’s massacre of Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites in 1991, Washington sent weaponry to Turkey throughout the 1990s enabling the deaths of tens of thousands. Although Washington has militarily supported the SDF since 2015 and has provided air cover in their attacks on ISIS strongholds, committing and covering up war crimes in the process, the United States’ leadership has no intention of permanently supporting Kurdish groups’ direct-democratic experiment of Rojava.

Moscow, meanwhile, has boosted its energy ties with Ankara and has entertained talks about Turkish use of Syrian airspace to bomb Kurdish towns, and, even more ominously, orchestrated a Erdoğan-Assad rapprochement that will likely spell catastrophe for Syrian Kurdish autonomy. Communities of various ethnicities have protested across Northern Syria in late December and early January. One of their concerns has been that Turkey will return Syrian refugees into the hands of the Assad regime.

Sadly, some loud and well-funded elements of the global left have for several years aided (what Leila al-Shami and Noam Chomsky among other signatories have criticized as) an “‘anti-imperialism’ of fools” which joins in the multipolar abandonment of the Kurds, Arabs and other Southwest Asian ethnicities and peoples. Such propagandists, along with right-wing allies, have tragically joined in the imperialist powers’ divide-and-conquer techniques, facilitating ethnic war, and have been complicit in the destruction of perhaps the brightest revolutionary hope since 1994’s Zapatista uprising. In this context, I write a bit hastily and imperfectly—but enthusiastically—to recommend Dilar Dirik’s study of Kurdish women’s resistance movements. It does not tell the whole story by any means, but it tells enough of the story to invite readers to take the nuanced and messy stance that Kurdish anarchist Zaher Baher has summarized: “Our attitude towards Rojava must be critical solidarity.”

A Just Transition Primer from Global Climate Justice Leaders

By Molly Rosbach - Sunflower Alliance, October 1, 2022

A new report from leaders of the global climate justice movement argues that “a broad vision of Just Transition with social justice at its core is critical, especially as fossil fuel companies and defenders of ‘business as usual’ are adopting the language of climate action and just transition to thwart real solutions.”

The report, From Crisis to Transformation: A Just Transition Primer, released by Grassroots Global Justice and the Transnational Institute, “explores the root causes of the climate crisis . . . and argues that we need transformative and anti-capitalist visions to bring us “from crisis to transformation.” The report lays out the big picture of those causes, starting from colonialism, capitalism, and the industrial revolution, and traces the development of the current crisis. It outlines key elements of a true just transition:

  • Decolonization and restoration of indigenous sovereignty
  • Reparations and restitution
  • Ancestral and science-based solutions
  • Agroecology, food sovereignty, and agrarian reform
  • Recognition of rights to land, food, ecosystems, and territories
  • Cooperatives, social, and public production
  • Just distribution of reproductive labor
  • Going beyond endless economic growth

And provides case studies of communities putting visions of Just Transition into practice today:
* The Green New Deal
* Cooperation Jackson and the Jackson Just Transition Plan
* Just Transition in North Africa
* Movement of People Affected by Dams

Authors of the report include Jaron Brown of Grassroots Global Justice, Katie Sandwell and Lyda Fernanda Forero of the Transnational Institute, and Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson.

The report was released in Arabic, Spanish, and English, with plans to add translations in Bahasa, French, and Portuguese.

Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) “is an alliance of over 60 US-based grassroots organizing (GRO) groups of working and poor people and communities of color,” including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Jobs with Justice, Cooperation Jackson and many more.

The Transnational Institute “is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic, and sustainable planet.”

They “offer this primer as a contribution to the broader ecosystem of Just Transition frameworks and articulations. In particular, we honor the work of the Just Transition Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, among many others.”

Justice 4 Jackson. Help us Fix Jackson’s Water System and Build More Autonomy and People Power in the City

By Kali Akuno - Cooperation Jackson, September 5, 2022

Jackson, Mississippi is currently suffering through an unprecedented water crisis. After decades of systematic and intentional neglect due to environmental racism, capital flight and deindustrialization, the city's water system has collapsed. 

This collapse didn’t have to happen. As a result of the city’s declining tax base over the decade, it cannot pay for the repairs by itself. Nor should it have to. Jackson is the Capitol of the state of Mississippi, which means it is the base of state government and resources. In addition, it is also where the Federal government’s administrative resources in the state are concentrated. These entities use the water system, just like the cities over 160,000, predominantly Black residents do. They must pay their fair share in overhauling and modernizing the system. 

Jackson’s elected officials have been asking the state government to make a substantive contribution to the system for decades. However, the Republican, predominantly white, party leadership that has dominated state government for generations now, fundamentally refuses. They would rather the city collapse than structurally enable and support its Black political leadership and Black life in general.

Enough is enough! The State and Federal governments must provide the City of Jackson the resources it needs to completely overhaul and modernize the city's water filtration and delivery systems. The new system must be designed with ecological sustainability in mind, and it must be built by the working people of Jackson. Money must not be an issue. If the government can generate billions of dollars to provide immediate and long term aid to the governments of Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel so readily, then it can generate them for the people of Jackson. 

Justice for Jackson Entails the implementation of a Just Transition that adheres to the following principles and demands: 

  1. That the State and Federal government immediately fund the complete overhaul of the Jackson water treatment and delivery systems. 
  2. That the new system fully remains within the democratic control of the city of Jackson. 
  3. That the new system be built by the people of Jackson and that over 50% of the contracts awarded be granted to either contractors from Jackson and/or Black and other minority contractors to ensure equity and the development of intergenerational wealth in our communities. 
  4. That the new system be ecologically designed and built with as many locally and or regionally sourced resources as possible. 

Beyond the Green New Deal: A Discussion with Monica Atkins of the Climate Justice Alliance

The Green New Deal: Realistic Proposal or Fantasy?

By Peter Hudis - New Politics, May 26, 2019

The Green New Deal (GND), drawn up by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, is the most ambitious and comprehensive program to deal with climate change ever made by political representatives to Congress and the U.S. public. It calls for making dramatic changes within the next ten years to end our reliance on fossil fuels that are warming the planet at an alarming rate. But it is not only about curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: it is most of all a proposal to set us on a path of creating an ecologically sustainable society.

The GND lays out seven major proposals for ending U.S. society’s addiction to fossil fuels—the most destructive form of addiction known on this planet:

  • Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources.
  • Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid.
  • Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, agricultural and other industries.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water.
  • Funding massive investment in the draw-down of greenhouse gases.
  • Making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries bringing about a global Green New Deal.[1]

These seven policy prescriptions are ambitious enough. Yet the GND goes further, by stipulating it “Shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” It spells this out with eight specific proposals:

  • Provide all members of society the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one.
  • Diversify local and regional economies to ensure workers have the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to succeed during the energy transition.
  • Require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, and wage standards that recognize the rights of workers to organize and unionize free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, and creation of meaningful, quality, career employment.
  • Ensure a “just transition” for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level.
  • Protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations.
  • Mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, de-industrialized or other marginalized communities).
  • Include measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurship.
  • Deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment.

These eight proposals regarding full employment, universal health care, support for unions and marginalized communities, opposition to racial and gender-based discrimination, etc. may seem, on the surface, to have little to do with the GND’s central aim of radically reducing greenhouse has emissions within the next ten years. But in fact these eight proposals have a great deal to do with the seven that address ending reliance on fossil fuels. They are not some throw away meant to sneak a radical political agenda into an otherwise technical discussion of how to lower CO2 emissions. They are needed to wean U.S. society away from its addiction on fossil fuels.

Plan, Mood, Battlefield - Reflections on the Green New Deal

By Thea Riofrancos - Viewpoint Magazine, May 16, 2019

Climate scientists are beginning to sound like radicals.

The 2018 IPCC report concluded that “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” would be needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In its devastating report on the dire state of the planet’s ecosystems, the UN’s panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services likewise called for, in the words of its chairperson, “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The first, and thus far only, U.S. policy initiative that addresses the severity of the crisis before us is the Green New Deal, introduced as a congressional joint resolution this past February. The resolution proposes, among other goals, decarbonizing the economy, investing in infrastructure, and creating dignified jobs for millions. And while this resolution is, from a planetary perspective, obviously limited by its domestic scale, transforming the U.S. along these lines would surely have global reverberations, for at least two reasons: the U.S. is a major impediment to global coöperation on climate, and political parties elsewhere in the world (e.g., the UK’s Labour Party and Spain’s Socialist Party) have already begun to adopt the Green New Deal as the frame for their own domestic policies.

After a few months of swirling discourse, we can begin to identify an emergent set of positions in the debate around the Green New Deal. The right-wing has resorted to classic red-baiting, decrying the nonbinding resolution as a “socialist monster,” a road to the serfdom of state planning, rationing, and compulsory veganism. The vanishing center is clinging tightly to its cozy attachment to a politics of triangulation: the Green New Deal is a childlike dream; serious adults know that the only option is to hew to the path of bipartisanship and incrementalism. The left, of course, knows that in the context of already-unfolding climate crisis, resurgent xenophobia, and the weakening hold on legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus, the real delusions are “market-driven” solutions and nostalgic paeans to American “norms and institutions.”

But on the left, too, there are criticisms, and outright rejections, of the Green New Deal (see here, here, here, and here). There is the charge that the Green New Deal, like the old New Deal, amounts to the state, qua executive committee of the bourgeoisie, rescuing capitalism from the planetary crisis it has created. In this rendering, rather than empowering “frontline and vulnerable” communities, as the resolution claims, the policy framework will amount to a corporate welfare windfall of investment opportunities lubricated with tax breaks and subsidies; public-private partnerships; infrastructure outlays that will stimulate real estate development; and, a jobs guarantee that will stimulate consumption—a win-win for the state and capital, but, by leaving the underlying, growth-addicted, model of accumulation untouched, a loss for the planet and the communities most vulnerable to climate crisis and eco-apartheid. There’s another twist. As sometimes the same analyses point out, this win-win-lose-lose scenario is itself based on a false understanding of contemporary capitalism. In a world of secular stagnation—declining profit rates, speculative bubbles, financialization, rentier-like behavior, and accumulation-by-upward-redistribution—the vampire-like quality of capital has never been more apparent. The notion that capital might, with a little inducement, suddenly overcome these tendencies and invest in productive activities is its own nostalgic fantasy.

It's EcoSocialism or Death

An interview with Kali Akuno - Black Agenda Report, February 20, 2019

Cooperation Jackson leader Kali Akuno on the Green New Deal, the need for mass civil disobedience, and the necessity of building an internationalist movement for eco-socialism.

We have to articulate a program that concretely addresses the class’s immediate and medium-term need for jobs and stable income around the expansion of existing “green” industries and the development of new ones.”

The Green New Deal (GND) is now part of the national conversation. But for decades, social movements have been doing the on-the-ground work to resist fossil capitalism and envision a different future. Such grassroots social mobilization — but at a massive scale — is vital to ensuring the GND catalyzes transformative social change.

Cooperation Jackson is at the forefront of eco-socialist organizing to create a new society and economy from the bottom up. Cooperation Jackson encompasses a network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions fighting to build a solidarity economy in Mississippi and beyond. Jacobin’s Green New Deal editorial team spoke with Kali Akuno, the cofounder and executive director of Cooperation Jackson, and coeditor of Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, MS .

In this wide-ranging interview, we discussed the links between local eco-socialist action, national movement-building, and an internationalist orientation; tactics and strategies for interacting with electoral politics to radicalize the GND — and much more. Throughout, Akuno draws on a long history of environmental justice activism in the United States and around the world, providing key lessons about how to move forward — and quickly — to generate a militant, mass movement for a just planet.

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