Local Chapter Highlight: Birmingham, AL

by Zac Henson

I landed in Birmingham in 2009.  Recovering from a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I began working at a community garden in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham. In 2011, a queer graduate student, Anna McCown and a community leader in the Grasselli Community, Virginia Ward, started Magic City Agriculture Project, an anti-racist and community development organization.  Over the next four years, we helped a community-based organization, Project Hopewell, create a community garden - Southwest Birmingham Community Farm.  We also did antiracist trainings.

In 2015, our organization, which at that point was majority black, created the Magic City Agriculture Project Strategic and Organizational Plan. It was written in two months and workshopped with community leaders over the next 7.  
The plan has six parts:

  1. Antiracism

  2. Cooperatives

  3. Community Land Trusts

  4. Community Enterprise Zones (a new policy combining micro-lending and tax breaks that favor cooperative enterprises)

  5. Policy Organization

  6. Magic City Grown (a regional sustainability brand)

The three core pieces of the plan, community land trusts, cooperatives, and CEZs represent the three things you need for an economy, land, labor, and capital respectively.  Thus far, we have created four cooperatives, a land trust, a policy organization, and an antiracist organization. Because of the geographic center of Birmingham, Alabama, the organizations are at least 50% black and focused on developing cooperative enterprises among the black working class.

The antiracist organization that is part of this decentralized, non-hierarchical networked institution is The Young Patriots Organization, which we see as operating in a two step process. The first step is antiracism among rednecks, or white working class Southerners. However, this antiracism is different in that it uses a true popular education and cultural organizing methodology to attempt to bend existing redneck culture away from neo-Confederacy and toward class consciousness and antiracism.  We argue that antiracism is in the self-interest of rednecks and we eschew many privilege arguments because they are ineffective.

The second step is to pass antiracist, organized rednecks to the Cooperative Business Development Center, a new organization that is 50% black, to get them organized into cooperative enterprises that can act in solidarity with black cooperative enterprises establishing diverse, antiracist, decentralized, and non-hierarchical networks of cooperative enterprises and supporting organizations that will act as a South regional economic institution.

This networked institution has thus far been focused on economic independence in Birmingham. YPO serves the purpose of both developing an anti-racist working class and extending this network regionally to build a broader base of power.