Radical Black Power mayor in Jackson offers self-determination to the people
In being radical, mayor strikes a similar chord with Thomas Jefferson.
Jackson Mississippi has a mayor unlike any other. Chokwe Lumumba is a self-proclaimed black-power revolutionary and mayor of the troubled city that is beset by financial and infrastructure difficulties. However, despite his personal ideology he is above all, pragmatic, even to the point of appointing rivals to get things done.
The Republic of New Afrika, in case you were wondering, was the hoped-for new nation that encompassed Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Under the dreams of late 60's black power radicals, a new country would be carved out for American blacks.
At his public gatherings, Lumumba gives a black power salute, leads gatherings in hymns and chants that are also associated with the movement.
Such behavior is far more befitting a pep rally, but rallies might be just what Jefferson needs. The city is suffering from a dwindling tax base as middle-class residents flee to suburban neighborhoods in neighboring communities, and infrastructure decays.
Decayed sewage and water networks and decayed roads, and poverty all combine to make Jackson a challenging place to live. Residents often find themselves boiling water for drinking and cooking.
So what can a Malcolm X style mayor do to change all this? Quite a bit actually.
Chokwe Lumumba's stated goal is self determination for the people. Generally, by self-determination, Lumumba means self determination for blacks, but as mayor his interest is now self-determination for all people who live in Jackson.
To accomplish this goal, the people must have a voice, and they must have the power to decide how money is spent and what projects are advanced. They must be able to decide what the laws will be.
Lumumba used Detroit as an example of what the city should not become. Detroit is now a city governed by a state, and has lost its self-determination because of decades of financial mismanagement, crime, and blight. Jackson, if he gets his way, will be nothing like Detroit.
Since his election in June, Lumumba has already built a coalition of leaders to help advance projects in the city's interests. In this goal he is very pragmatic, even appointing rivals to key posts to get jobs done.
Lumumba was already regarded for his Ward 2 People's Assembly. As a councilman, he hosted meetings in church halls and community centers to listen to the people, their needs and concerns. He would meet with heads of city departments at these assemblies.
The assemblies serve to give people voice, so as mayor Lumumba plans to implement the assemblies across the city.
His next step is to convince those with money and power in the city, mostly those with successful businesses, to invest in the people and infrastructure of Jackson. He is asking them to hire local laborers for work and to build and improve housing for local residents.
However, his greatest challenge is the city's infrastructure. Roads are cracked and buckled, sewage and water lines regularly bust, and the local Pearl River is badly polluted.
Lumumba proposed a budget to fix these problems -a budget that was almost twice the size of the previous year's. To cover the spending increases, he raised water rates by 29 percent and asked for a one-cent raise in the sales-tax rate for public works.
Quoted in Al Jazeera America he said, "Dealing with infrastructure is a protection against being robbed of one's self-determination. We've seen what's happening in Detroit, where the whole city has been taken over by the state. We don't want that to happen here, so we want to conquer those problems. And we're trying to expand the base of the population and the alliance which is trying to fight for this avenue for self-determination. We aren't trying to create more enemies."
Lumumba objects to state control over local affairs and believes the people must decide what improvements are made, when they are made, and by whom. He has fought back against state attempts to control local decisions. He continues to listen to proposals for new laws, everything from drug legalization to a human rights charter, according to Al Jazeera.
Ultimately, Lumumba represents a curious thing. He represents a form of democracy, almost Jeffersonian in nature. By returning power to individuals and their communities, away from the state, he does much to validate the notion of local government as superior to centralized power. Then again, for intelligent, rational thinkers, there is no better way than self determination and responsibility.
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