Published On December 12, 2013 | By Eljeer Hawkins | Fighting Racism, US Politics
On July 1, 2013, renowned radical lawyer, black nationalist, and Jackson City Council member Chokwe Lumumba was inaugurated as the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Lumumba ran as a Democrat, gaining 87 percent of the vote in a city of 177,000 with an 80 percent black population.
Lumumba stated several times that his campaign was an extension of the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), of the mid-’60s, that challenged the white segregationist Democratic Party of Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Lumumba’s insurgent grassroots election campaign victory and program made national news. It has opened up an important discussion among the left, socialists, and activists in the South and around the country on how to take the struggle forward in a state and region dominated by the Republican Party, how to implement a radical black agenda in an era of capitalist crisis, and whether the Democratic Party is the vehicle for radical change.
A Withering Magnolia
The state of Mississippi has a bloody, violent history rooted in slavery and the 1861 Southern secession from the union. After the end of the radical Reconstruction Era, it was the site of some of the most horrific events faced by the black working class and poor under Jim Crow: the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955; the assassination of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers in 1963; and the murder of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney in 1964.
The victory of Lumumba reflects the deeper crisis of capitalism and the two-party system of the Democrats and Republicans. The conditions facing the working class and poor of Mississippi are ones of criminal federal and state neglect, the dominance of big business, and the one-party control of the Republican Party. The State of Mississippi ranks last, or second to last, in state expenditures for education and health care, with the second-highest incarceration rate behind Louisiana.
As Ross Eisenbrey correctly states, “In a NY Times article about a drive led by the United Automobile Workers (UAW) to unionize Nissan’s workforce at a factory in Canton, Mississippi, various local businessmen are quoted extolling the value to Mississippi of being a ‘right-to-work state’ and maintaining a ‘non-union environment.’ Given the economic condition of Mississippi, one has to wonder who, exactly, has benefited from Mississippi’s anti-unionism. Mississippi has been a ‘right-to-work’ state for nearly 60 years, plenty of time to benefit from its non-union environment, but its per capita income in 2012 was the lowest in the United States – not just low, but dead last,” (www.epi.org, 10/8/2013).
Who Is Chokwe Lumumba?
The 66-year-old Chokwe Lumumba isn’t a slick corporate politician, but a product of the radical black freedom movement and activism. As a radical lawyer, Lumumba defended the now-deceased Black Panther Party leader Geronimo Pratt, as well as political exile Assata Shakur and hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur. He also played a vital role in securing the release of Mississippi’s Jamie and Gladys Scott. The Scott sisters were given a life sentence in 1996 for armed robbery that totaled 11 dollars. With Jamie Scott suffering from kidney failure, the Scott sisters were released from prison in 2010 due to the work of the legal team headed by Lumumba combined with a local grassroots campaign.
Lumumba is a co-founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and author of The Jackson Plan: A Struggle for Self-Determination, Participatory Democracy, and Economic Justice. Lumumba served as vice-president of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), founded in 1969 to advance the demand of black self-determination, reparations, anti-capitalism, and autonomy in five southeastern states with a black majority – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina – that would constitute a black nation. In 2009, Chokwe Lumumba was elected to the Jackson City Council, serving Ward 2.
Despite right-wing attacks and a contentious Democratic Party primary race with rival businessman Jonathan Lee, Lumumba’s activism and radical history spoke to the interests of the black working class and poor. But what must be highlighted in Lumumba’s victory is the creative grassroots organizing, mobilizing, and campaigning by activists and the working people themselves. This included the creation of the Jackson People’s Assembly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of 2005.
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