‘Too Black’ candidate wins in Jackson, Ms.
8th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By J. Kojo Livingston
He defended Tupac Shakur. He helped free the Scott Sisters and fought many other high profile battles, but they said he could not win this one. He was too militant, too “Black” they said.
But on Monday of this last Chokwe Lumumba was inaugurated as Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, defeating an incumbent in the primaries and a well-resourced opponent in the final election who had the backing of Jackson’s wealthy elite.
In the end, the people did decide—by a landslide.
Lumumba, a longtime activist and recent city councilman spoke with The LA Weekly about the victory. “It was the people’s participation. When we were working on the first primary we were without significant financial help. We were not favored by a lot of people who had a lot of money. Mostly we had people who had limited incomes. We were out-financed, out-advertised. In some places where we paid for ads they weren’t getting played. We were compromised in terms of money. Of the top four candidates, we were fourth. The people brought us through.
That’s the biggest thing.”
The polls had Lumumba running third or fourth going into the primary. “But once we got out of the primary and into the runoff folks rallied to us a broader class spectrum of the community. A lot of the Black contractors and businessmen rallied to us. We had a little more money, which made us better prepared to compete.”
His campaign relied on a ground strategy. “This strategy is unbeatable if you have the kind of program that the people want and if you are willing to listen to what the people are saying. We did start canvassing neighborhoods about nine months before the election. Those door-to-door efforts were very productive. What the people were telling us turned out to be true. The polls projected Harvey Johnson, the incumbent, as being in the runoff but the people in the streets were saying that it was time for a change and that they were with us. Other people told us that they said that they wanted a change and they were not sure who they were going to vote for but that it would not be Johnson. The door-to-door conversations were the best poll. Everybody was surprised that the incumbent did not make the runoff. But the people had spoken.”
A lot of influential people backed Lumumba after the primary including Congressman Bennie Thompson. But it was still no easy road. “A lot of people, mostly middle-class folks, who were political activists and people who had known my work were secretly being persuaded that I was too radical or ‘too Black’ and could not win. But the people wouldn’t go for that. So we didn’t have the kind of middle leadership that worked with us when we were fighting other struggles such as freeing the Scott sisters.”
Once he came in second in the primary, Lumumba still didn’t have as much as the front runner, who had $500,000 or more, much of which was used to put out a lot of attack ads. “Those ads fell flat on their face as we saw a growing people’s sentiment and support along with an increase in the solidarity in the Black community.”
It was clear that his opponent was the choice of Jackson’s white and wealthy north side. But according to Lumumba, the south side of Jackson had a decent number of white people, but they were not as affluent so they were more receptive to our message. The result of the coalition that had come together made me come from behind and beat Mr. Lee. The polls had him ahead of me by 16 percentage points. What was remarkable what that more people voted in the primary. People responded to the challenge of making sure that they had a candidate that would give them control of their own community. In the final election we had a few more votes than in the primary. Normally you have fewer votes.”
The campaign’s winning message was, “The people must decide.” Lumumba says he practiced in the last four years on the city council. We created opportunity for people voice to be heard People’s Assembly which allows people to come out at least four times and express what they are feeling about local government or any level of government. It’s also a good time for them to come out and get educated about what’s going on because we always have good information. Also allows them to organize. “It was clear that we were fighting for self determination, economic and political. We were fighting for the majority of people of Jackson to have the majority of control of Jackson and their rightful share of the city jobs and contracts of Jackson. That resonated with the people.”
What can people expect from his administration in the first year? “A more aggressive posture to repair the streets and clean up the city. This is important because we have to do material efforts that will bring people together psychologically and give us a boost moving ahead. Once we do those things, literally pick the paper off the street that’s something that will show that we are moving forward.”
After initial activities to rally and motivate the people, the new Mayor says the city’s infrastructure will be the first target. “We’re going to do something about our roads, which are in terrible shape. We have to start accumulating and reorganizing the budget so that we can get more services on the roads. Beyond that, the big things are create economy in Jackson. We are preparing ways to get’“trigger’ money for revitalization for roads, sewerage and water system. This is going to create a lot of jobs that will be in-sourced not out-sourced. This will give a chance for Jackson to build a better income for the people in the city, giving them an opportunity to contribute more in sales tax dollars and property tax dollars, to become property owners in many instances, where they are. Those will create a healthy economy and go a long way to help solve crime because it will give people jobs who don’t have them and could be engaging in criminal behavior. This will help us put more money into our education system which is critical. What we have found in organizing for self-determination is that the control of the material conditions creates ability to make decisions that stick.”
But Lumumba realizes that last week’s celebrations must be followed with some labor, “The real work begins now and we’re moving ahead. This is a movement for everybody in Jackson. I have been for years and still am associated with the struggles for the liberation of African people in America. That’s not going to stop and this is part of that process. Now that we are in governmental power as opposed to protesting or doing things from the outside, we have an added responsibility. Now we have an additional responsibility once we hold one of these seats in this contested territory to provide everybody that lives within these borders their human rights, their access to jobs, medical care and their right to everything a human being is entitled to.”
According to Lumumba, those who expected a Black iron fist to back the white and wealthy will be disappointed. “We’re not a flip side of any bad scene in the past. What we are is a better idea and that idea is that everybody has to be treated fairly when we are the dominant group in political control. Even the people that voted against me in North Jackson have noting to fear in terms of mistreatment. They really have something to look forward to because the things we are doing to lift people on the bottom of the economic ladder can’t do anything but help everybody on the economic ladder.”
This article originally published in the July 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.