by Robert Caldwell
June 5, 2013
For background on the mayoral campaign in Jackson, Mississippi and how it fits into the “Jackson Plan,” see this interview the author conducted with Chokwe Lumumba prior to his electoral victory.
Lumumba and campaign supporters celebrate the primary victory (Photo: “Elect Chokwe Lumumba” Facebook page)
Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral victory on Tuesday, gathering 85% of the general election vote, signals a step forward for the Jackson Plan and for Black Liberation. Lumumba is considered one of the most progressive candidates ever to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. The victory propels the one-term city councilman, co-founder of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and longtime chairman of New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) to the head of Jackson city government. But this forward progress will face obstacles, even before Lumumba’s July 1 inauguration.
As Mayor, Chokwe and his allies will have to make use of “political openings that provide a broader platform for a restoration of the ‘commons,’” to create more public infrastructure and services, and seek opportunities toward a localized “democratic transformation of the economy,” as their Jackson Plan outlines.
During the Democratic Party primary runoff election, local business, Republican Party, and white elites backed his opponent Jackson Lee. Lumumba was outspent by more than 4-1 by his primary opponent as well as the target of vicious attack ads. Despite the challenges, Lumumba stayed focused on issues of economic justice, democracy, and the underlying causes of Jackson’s social problems. At the same time, he ran not as a radical, but as a mainstream candidate. Despite that, he was attacked repeatedly by his opponents in an attempt to sever him from his base, including charges that he is not really a member of the Democratic Party because of his criticism of corporate Democrats and his membership in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
In the general election cycle, which culminated on Tuesday, June 4, ruling elites failed to support any of the no-name independent candidates against Lumumba. Now they will be divided over whether to support the newly elected mayor and/or finding ways to isolate and undermine him. Whether or not they try to play friend or enemy to Lumumba, these same forces will most assuredly work against most of the initiatives of the Jackson Plan. So, while the victorious election signals political openings, it also places Chokwe in the hot seat.
During the course of the campaign, Chokwe brought together a wide range of constituencies that agreed on a progressive vision of a more just and equitable Jackson. The campaign drew upon certain broadly democratic themes: “the people must decide,” “a Jackson that works for all of us, not just the few,” and “One City, One Aim, One Destiny.” No doubt the local forces of capital and white supremacy will attempt to twist these concepts and use these words against him over the course of his term.
An important component of the citywide organizing effort is the “People’s Assemblies”–grassroots leaders from across the city that have been working together with Lumumba to build a people-centered policy agenda. Assuming the People’s Assemblies continue to be built, their capacity to push the political process from below and defend any advances will be critical to posing limits on what the reactionary forces can accomplish in their effort to undermine Lumumba and the Jackson Plan.
This election victory represents important opportunities for the Black Liberation and socialist movements, but it also poses significant challenges. How will the People’s Assemblies be able to give meaningful input to policy decisions but remain autonomous from the new mayor’s short-term political exigencies? Will Chokwe be pressured into adaptation and integration within the Democratic Party power structure? To what extent will he continue to vocally defend political prisoners like Mutulu Shakur and political exile Assata Shakur? And to what extent will he continue to voice concerns about international issues like justice in Palestine and solidarity with Bolivarian movement in Venezuela?
There are many open-ended questions that, in the end, “the people will have to decide.” A strong grassroots movement supportive of Chokwe will be necessary, but insufficient to push the agenda along. An even stronger grassroots movement intent on holding the new mayor (and the rest of city government) accountable and the building and expansion of institutions, like the People’s Assemblies and workers organizations outlined in the Jackson plan, will be necessary to generate significant progress over the next four years. In a press release, Chokwe admits that he and his team face challenges ahead, but believes “[they] are up to the task before [them].”
This weekend, on Saturday, June 8, attendees at the Left Forum in New York are encouraged to attend a discussion of Chokwe Lumumba’s election and MXGM’s the Jackson Plan. This should be one of many upcoming opportunities to learn what has transpired so far and think about how the lessons can be applied to where we live, work, and organize.
As a resident of New Orleans, Robert Caldwell worked with Chokwe Lumumba on People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. He is a member of Solidarity who splits his time between Dallas-Fort Worth and his native Louisiana.