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Self-determination in Mississippi, with Chokwe Antar Lumumba

n 2013, radical attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on a platform of economic self-determination for the people of Jackson, a plan that as Kali Akuno explained (in Interviews for Resistance #1) aims at Ȑtransforming the economy, creating a democratic economy leading towards the creation and construction of a socialist economy, but through a democratic bottom-up process. Lumumba’s untimely death less than a year into his term put some of those plans on hold, though the movement continued its work outside of political power, founding the organization Cooperation Jackson to create a network of worker cooperatives in the city. Now, Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, is running for mayor of the city, to expand on the work that began years ago.

[W]hen people ask, “How did you feel the Wednesday after the election?” I said, “Well, I woke up in Mississippi.” What that means to me is that no matter whether Trump is president or whether Obama was president, in Mississippi if you were poor before Obama, you were most likely poor after Obama. Mississippi has not had the opportunity to feel great booms or big busts in the financial market of our country, because no matter whether the country was excelling or on a decline, we still were at the bottom. We have always been at the bottom. Mississippi has been largely neglected by everyone.

The real opportunity to win Mississippi or to organize in Mississippi is to address the needs of the people in this space. I think it is a real opportunity to develop, because if you take a place like Mississippi, which has been the haven of oppression in many regards, whether we are talking about racially, culturally, socially, or even economically. It is a haven for bad employment practices. If you can change the conditions in Mississippi, right here in the belly of the beast, then it speaks to what we can achieve across the globe. We no longer want Mississippi to be the refuge for companies that want to pay low wages and create conditions in which employees are treated in a devastating fashion. If we can change that dynamic here, then it makes it unsafe for them to go to any place to do that. We start creating an agenda and creating the model for what we can achieve as a people and what principled leadership can achieve, so there is no safe space for that type of oppression.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Running the movement for office, with khalid kamau


In the wake of the massive political shake-up that was the 2016 election, khalid kamau, a Bernie Sanders supporter and local movement activist, makes the argument that change has to come from below, not from the election of one leader to the top office. Accordingly, he’s running for local office, in the newly-incorporated city of South Fulton, Georgia, part of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. A member of Democratic Socialists of America, a union activist, and an early part of BlackLivesMatter Atlanta, kamau argues for bringing the message of democratic socialism to a Southern, majority-African-American city.

I think the thing that is most powerful about this race, or even my campaign, is that I love Bernie, but I think where his campaign failed – I don’t think this is a personal failure of Bernie, but perhaps of the people that were around him and advising that campaign – is that there wasn’t enough attention paid to people of color. I am not sure that people of color who were in that campaign were listened to the way they should have been. Bernie didn’t make—he made a very excellent class argument. I think it is implied that people of color are more disproportionately affected by class disparities than whites. I think there was an assumption that people of color would understand that and would understand that the arguments that he was making about class and equality were implicitly also arguments about racial inequality.

I think that, frankly, because Bernie was an old white man, black folks, people of color, did not implicitly get that he was speaking to them. I did think he was speaking to them, but I am not sure everyone else did. One of the things that the progressive movement is going to have to do is find leaders of color and candidates of color to carry this message. When I speak about it, rightly or wrongly, when I am talking about income equality and when I am talking about working class families, the black and brown audiences that I speak to do implicitly get that I am speaking to them and that I am speaking for them and that I am speaking about them. I don’t necessarily go around making a lot of racial arguments. I think that my bona fides of BlackLivesMatter speak volumes about my own racial politics and that I can make these arguments of class and people of color get, because this city is 89% African-American and because I am African-American, people know that I am talking about them.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.