Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Wants to Make Jackson the Most Radical City on the Planet
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  December 6, 2017

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Wants to Make Jackson the Most Radical City on the Planet


Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Jackson, Mississippi's radical mayor, discusses his vision for a new society.
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biography

Chokwe Antar Lumumba is an American attorney, activist, politician, and the current Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.


transcript

JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor. We are joined today live in studio by Chokwe Antar Lumumba, attorney, activist, and current mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Thank you so much for joining us.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Thank you. Good afternoon to you.

JAISAL NOOR: So you are five months into your mayorship. You've promised to make Jackson, Mississippi the world's most radical city. I wanted to start off with some topical news before we get into your platform and your agenda and your accomplishments and the challenges you've faced thus far. It's been reported Donald Trump will visit Jackson this weekend to visit the opening of the new Civil Rights Museum that is opening in Jackson, in Mississippi, one of the battle grounds of the Civil Rights Movement. What's your response to this? And if he does visit, what do you hope he learns about the history of The Civil Rights Movement?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: So the opening of The Civil Rights Movement ... Civil Rights Museum, I'm sorry, is a long awaited event for many citizens of Jackson and people throughout the state. I think it's an important recognition of struggle. It's an important recognition of such a heinous history and people's resilience to come out of that, right? But I believe any recognition or any celebration of struggle must consider what the next steps forward are. And so though it is important to recognize our history, it is important that we make certain that we are moving forward, not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to continue to progress our society.

So I'm more interested in Donald Trump's commitment to moving away from this erosion of human rights that he seems committed to, right? And less concern about whether he gives a pacifying visit to Mississippi in order to show some appreciation for our Civil Rights Museum. And so that's more important to me.

JAISAL NOOR: And it's said that it might be more tied into wanting to get close to Roy Moore ahead of the election next week, and so that is ultimately what might be his motivation. But I want to start on a national level. Trump's policies have been, his agenda has been an attack on working people, immigrants, dismantling and attacking Obamacare, other policies that are part of the social safety net that provide comfort and support and basic dignity to people of this country. You're trying to implement a radical progressive agenda in Jackson, put forward self-determination, and help build an economy that's not built on exploitation. Talk about what the impacts of federal policy have been, and how they've impacted your work so far. You're just five months into office, but talk about what those impacts have been.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, since we're on a discussion about the federal government, and also it's tied into a discussion about Trump. In answering that question, I'll share what some of the questions that have been posed to me recently. People have asked in Mississippi, "How did you feel after Trump was elected president?" And what I share with people is the Wednesday after Trump became president, I woke up in Mississippi, right? And that means that no matter whether Trump is president, whether it was Obama, Clinton, or Bush, Mississippi has always been at the bottom. And so, it is apparent to me that what it's going to require to change conditions for people in Mississippi, for people in Jackson, Mississippi specifically, is developing a strategy and a plan that we can execute. Looking at how we can create conditions which are more self-determined.

And so that's ultimately what I mean by being the most radical city on the planet, is giving people more access. In fact, confronting our electoral politics system and trying to revolutionize that, right, giving people more voice. And so we think that that is necessary, that it's an important part of how you really change conditions for people. And so we do this through the invent or the movement of people's assemblies that allow people to speak to their conditions, and so that is very important to us.

JAISAL NOOR: And talk more about the people's assemblies. People want to know more about this around the country and here in Baltimore. And these are forums where if not you, other people from your administration, listen directly to their constituents and get to hear of their demands and then break up into working groups and sort of hash out how to possibly implement these plans. Can you go into-

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah. I'll speak to that. So I believe in a process called 'unity, debate, unity.' I believe that we can all come in a room and establish where we see eye to eye. We can debate where we may have differences with the objective of reaching greater unity at the end of the day, than we walked in the room with, right? And in that process you have to open yourself up to critique. You have to open up yourself to varied perspectives of any particular issue that we're looking at. And so these community gatherings, these people's assemblies, are an opportunity for our administration to provide information to the citizens regarding hot ticket or big ticket items that are coming before the city. It is also an opportunity for the leadership to receive information from the community what they see on the grassroots level, what they're experiencing, what they feel is working and not working.

It is not meant to be a vehicle or to be an instrument of the administration. It is meant to be its own separate pressure mechanism by itself. And it should operate regardless of who is in office, giving people more voice, giving people an opportunity to weigh in to the process. It's been said that three minutes on a microphone during a city council meeting or what have you, does not make community participation. And so we're moving into other models. We're moving into participatory budgeting. These are the ideas that we want to push forward and become a model for the rest of the world.

I didn't say this earlier when you ask the question about Trump, and you talked about our push to be the most radical city on the planet. I think I need to speak to that, because what that means is not that we're reckless in our pursuits, but rather intentional in the way we engage people, intentional in the way we involve people in the process. We have to challenge the fear of the word "radical," right? A radical is a person who seeks change. A radical is a person who looks at a condition and fights to build better. And so the reality is if we see a need for change within our communities, then we need to be prepared to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be. And so we're implementing ideas and concepts such as people's assemblies in order to do so. As much information, as much involvement, as much engagement as we can get from the people the better. We don't believe that any one person or any one administration has all of the ideas, but we believe in collective genius.

JAISAL NOOR: I want to remind our viewers, we are live. So please send us your questions and your comments, and we will try to get to them all. I wanted to turn to how this mission is to be implemented, because we know in cities like Jackson, revenue has been cut steadily for decades now. Much of it is controlled by the state. And that's the problem we have here in Baltimore. And something that came up in a recent talk you gave is that wealth is being made in cities like Jackson and Baltimore, but it's leaving at 5 o'clock, because so much revenue comes from property taxes, and that's how you fund schools and other services. And the workers might be working in your city, but they're not living there. How do you sort of change that paradigm? How do you get that money to stay in Jackson?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah. So around the country, there are discussions about how do you go about economic development, how do you pursue either businesses or entities that bring the promise or the idea of new opportunities for the citizens of that particular city. I think there's something to be said about a business-friendly environment, an environment that can stimulate the economy of that city. But then there also has to be the consideration of not just how businesses are profitable, but how businesses invest back in your community. And I think that that is a conversation that we often fall in short in terms of having. We in Jackson, we want businesses to come. We want them to be successful. We want them to make a lot of money. But we want them to invest back in our citizens.

And so what we're seeing are opportunities where people are employed in Jackson, but there are very few retail opportunities. There are very few opportunities to retain the dollars that benefit, the tax dollars that benefit the citizens of our city. And so what we believe is that though we want to position ourselves as being business-friendly, we also want to demonstrate an ability to fill the voids of our community for ourselves. An example of that would be, as I have mentioned on several occasions, Jackson, a city of a little less than 180,000 people, does not have a movie theater within its city limits. And they're in the bedroom communities around Jackson. And so what we're looking at is how we can invest into cooperative business models that can fill voids, so that we can build for ourselves, and use that as a mechanism to leverage other investment opportunities.

And then we're trying to maintain a strong stated goal of participation within our city, on contracts from the city where our ultimate goal, and I'm not suggesting that we're there -- or anywhere close to there -- presently. But our stated goal is to have 50% of the subcontracting being minority subcontracting, and 60% of the boots on ground being Jacksonians. And for me, it's not a race issue, right? It's an economics issue. If 85% of your population is left-handed, you need some left-handed jobs.

JAISAL NOOR: So what about some alternative streams? What about something like a tax for people that work in the city but don't live there? A toll or a tax on businesses that don't employ? Are you gonna have mandates that force employers to hire local or contractors to hire local? What is the processes involved in that? How much power do you have to establish that?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: So that is the question, is the amount of power that we actually have to enforce those things. Toll roads, commuter taxes, all of those things are initiatives that have to be initiated by the state, the state legislature in Mississippi, at least, has to agree to those measures. And in large extent, the majority of the representation of the state legislature, that is not something that they find favorable. And so though we will push forward those initiatives, because we feel that those are beneficial to the citizens of Jackson, we just spoke about the dynamic which I spoke to in that discussion about money leaving the city at 6 o'clock. So we're gonna push those measures forward. However, I am a firm believer if your strategy is dependent upon someone else to act on your behalf, you don't have a strategy, you have a wishlist.

And so much of what I speak to isn't ignoring those measures. It isn't ignoring those as opportunities, but it's considering: What can we do? What can we begin to do or to implement to rescue ourselves? And so that's what we want, is more self-determination, more control over our destinies. And the more we depend on someone else to act is actually operating in a reverse fashion than truly being self-determined.

JAISAL NOOR: So we're getting some questions in from Facebook and from YouTube. People want to know how this can tie into a green economy. We know that climate change is the greatest threat that humans have inflicted upon themselves in the history of this planet. Something that on a federal level, the Trump administration has climate deniers in power. We're withdrawing from international treaties dealing with reducing emissions. How much of this progress needs and should be made on a local level in cities like Jackson?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, I think that we'll never really have a true green movement until it is implemented on the local level, and we begin to buy into the importance of it on a local level. And also understand the trends, not only around this country, but around the world that see green industry being one of the rising industries that create opportunities for jobs. And so we need to not only invite these industries into our city, we need to be the creators, the developers, of those. And so that, not only, the conversation about how we become more sustainable cities, but that also ties into the economics question that you spoke to.

And no longer just looking at how you develop as a matter of solicitation, as a matter of soliciting these industries or these businesses here, but how you support and nurture the development of them from within. What we're seeking to do is create an incubator fund that looks at creating space and opportunity for new businesses to start up. And we would like for many of those businesses to be green businesses as well.

JAISAL NOOR: Cooperatives, worker-run businesses are something foreign-sounding to a lot of Americans, but they're well-established in Latin America and Europe and much of the rest of the world. You've made that a key point in your platform. There's other organizations doing similar work in Jackson itself. Talk about why you think cooperatives could be the answer to some of these problems and questions as well.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, and I'm glad that you raise that question and that point. First and foremost, if we look at trends, not only in Latin America, but in the United States and other spaces in the world, we see that people are identifying the benefits of them. Land O'Lakes Butter is a cooperative. Florida Orange Growers is a cooperative. Ace Hardware is a cooperative. The largest cooperative business, or one of the largest cooperative businesses that I can consider today is the Green Bay Packers, right? Green Bay Packers, the city of Green Bay, which is actually smaller than the city of Jackson, has found a way to own its own professional football team. And so I always-

JAISAL NOOR: Very successful.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah. Very successful. I'm a Lion's fan, so that's hard for me to admit, but it's true. I joke often that I'm of the mind if Green Bay can figure out how to own its own professional football team, then Jackson can figure out how to own its own movie theater. And so what cooperative businesses -- which are not a new notion, that's something that goes back to the days of Fannie Lou Hamer, who looked at organizing farmers in Mississippi -- what a cooperative business does, its very mission is to serve the community that it's in. And so we can talk about small businesses. We can talk about in predominately black communities, black businesses, and those are important things to support and to raise up. But we have to recognize the limitations even within those models.

A black business, for instance, is like any other business, which looks to exploit its market. It looks to return as much profit as it can. And if it has exhausted the market in which it's in, then it may actually leave the community, which gave birth to it, and go to another community in order to get higher returns. And so it's no loyalty, right, to the community that gave rise to it. A cooperative business, a worker-owned business, a community-owned business by its very nature is built or created to support the community in which it resides. And so we see that as an opportunity by which we can not only fill gaps, fill voids, in terms of economic development opportunities in our city, those businesses, as they do well, as they increase, we don't have to fear that they will pick up their bags and leave.

There are countless businesses over the last decade or so in Jackson that have done very well, that have left not because their profits were declining, but because they simply had no loyalty to the citizens which they served, and they felt that they could still take advantage of that consumer base moving up the road and not ultimately profiting the citizens that shop there on a consistent basis.

JAISAL NOOR: There's been a lot made about this second Amazon headquarters. Cities have been falling over themselves trying to give the best deal, in some cases offering, essentially, control of tax dollars and functions of city government handing it over to Amazon. Did Jackson make an application to Amazon? And what's your view on subsidizing corporations with the promise of jobs and investment coming in return?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: So Amazon put out a very strict criteria of the things that they were looking for from cities. And Jackson, quite honestly, just did not meet that criteria. And so though Jackson, like many other cities, I can't sit here and tell you that I wouldn't be happy about an Amazon coming to Jackson. But I think that our focus must really center more, not on the second home of Amazon, but the first home of the very next Amazon, right? How do we build businesses? How do we create that incubator fund that supports this small tech groups or the marketplace of ideas?

We have Jackson as a college town. We have 40,000 college students. So we need to be supporting the next young person that presents the idea that grows into an Amazon. And I think cities honestly can do more to control or be better positioned if that was the approach that they took as opposed to auctioning off the entire storehouse in order to get what appears to be a great benefit. I think that it can beneficial, but you can place yourself in such a compromised position that it ultimately ... It leads to questions as to whether it is actually in the best interest of the citizens you serve.

JAISAL NOOR: We have a question from Iceland.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Oh, okay.

JAISAL NOOR: A viewer from Iceland. What cities internationally do you look for, for inspiration in your work in Jackson?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, I will say that I've had the opportunity to visit a few spaces. What comes to mind right now, I know that there has been some political strife as of late. But as I talked about these cooperative businesses, I had the opportunity to go to Barcelona and meet with the vice mayor of Barcelona. We looked at the Fab Lab Initiative that is taking place, not only in Barcelona but around the world, the cooperative business models. And I think identifying or recognizing the technological advances that the world is taking today is important. As we look at the Fab Lab Initiative, what we're seeing is that people are able to produce or to manufacture goods at a much more grassroots level.

And so instead of becoming a victim to our advances, like we saw with the auto industry, we need to take advantage of how we return this ability to be a benefit to the communities that have not had these resources available to them historically. And so that's important. When I look at fabrication technology, which is enabling people to create everything from vehicles to homes to furniture, we need to put that type of technology in the hands of our young people and see what they can produce and teach them to control that and to command spaces that use it for their benefit.

JAISAL NOOR: You talk a lot about education in your campaign. That's one of your goals in office is to help improve the education system in Jackson. The state wanted to take over the city of Jackson's public education system, public schools. Talk about where that fight sits now and what your vision for a strong K through 12 public education system. We know that in cities like Jackson and Baltimore, predominately black schools have been historically under-funded, and you're competing against, as far as test scores go, against suburbs that don't have the same challenges and a lack of funding that you face.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: There is a direct connection between resources and the success of school districts. And so we need to look at the appropriate allocation of resources to our public school system. As you spoke to, Jackson was under the threat of a state takeover, and to some extent, that effort is still being waged. What took place is that the state school board issued a state of emergency for the Jackson Public School District, which then led to an order being placed on the governor's desk in order to sign, in order to declare a state of emergency over Jackson Public School District, which would have led to a conservator being placed over the district. What we did was we met with the governor. And to be fair and to be completely frank, it was a positive conversation, right? And what we did was we looked towards operational unity.

And what that means is, instead of discussing our differences, we talked about our common ends and how they were affected by the decision that was put before him. And in that conversation, what the governor shared is that he wished he had a third option. And so we left that discussion with my team, with a number of community organizers. We consider what a third option look like, and what we created was essentially an advisory commission. Our proposal called it an educational excellence advisory commission, which ultimately is a makeup of 15 individuals. We signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] that kept the school district under local control. The MOU is between the governor, myself, and the Kellogg Foundation.

And this commission does not replace our school board. We still were able to maintain our school board selections. They do not make decisions with regard to contracts. They do not make hiring decisions. But what they do is they evaluate the conditions of JPS and what the needs of JPS are. The Kellogg Foundation agreed to fund intentional community discussions where the community could weigh in terms of their aspirations and goals for our public school system. And then the commission will select. One of the primary goals, the primary goal of the commission, is to select a third party evaluator that could evaluate based on the communities stated goals and aspirations the gap, do a gap analysis of where JPS is today versus where the community would like to see JPS. And Kellogg will fund those changes that we see fit.

JAISAL NOOR: And this is a question from a viewer. "We know it's harder for majority-black school districts to get equitable funding and resources compared to majority-white school districts. Do you think a separate-but-equal K through 12 education system will remain the future if housing and education policies along with the courts continue to allow segregation to prevail?" Efforts to integrate schools in Jackson. There's been a long struggle for that, and they have not led to a better and more equitable allocation of resources.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah. Well, you know, we have to fight back any efforts to rob the public coffers which take away from the needs of public education. We have seen segregation. If you follow and track the history of the preparatory schools in Jackson, Mississippi, they were founded as integration took place, right? As the school system, as the public-school system was integrated, that's when they were founded. And so now-

JAISAL NOOR: So these are alternatives to the public school system.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: These are alternatives. And so I'll tell you, for instance, when I was in high school, I graduated high school in 2001. My high school was 100% African American. It was 100% black. And so when people are looking to disinvest in public education, it's because they don't see, the investment doesn't appear to be ... It doesn't affect them. It doesn't affect their children. They don't see that, and so they'd rather rob the public coffers to provide funding, so that they no longer have to foot the bill for the private education that they choose. In doing so, it may help a handful of children, but it will never make the tremendous impact that is needed within our public school system. There are some things that we honestly have to confront ourselves.

For instance, in Jackson, we have a school district where the number of facilities that we have were built at a time when the population was higher, right? We don't have that population within our city, nor does that population exist within our student enrollment. And so we have to visit the possibility of closing some of these facilities. Now, in doing so, we need to look for alternative uses for these buildings before we close them, so that it continues to serve the community. I've talked about ideas like teen centers, spaces where young people can come, they can pursue their interests -- whether it be athletics, whether it be music, whether it be art -- and it's a safe space that they could utilize while they're not in school.

And that not only helps nurture their development in terms of their academic advancement, but it helps nurture them in terms of steering them towards more positive activities than some of the detrimental things that young people may find themselves confronted with in hours where they're the most vulnerable.

JAISAL NOOR: And those are, it's a similar problem to what Baltimore's facing. It's a school system that was built for far more students than currently are enrolled. So now they're going through that painful process of closing schools. And I documented that same fight in New York where a number of schools were closed in Chicago and Philadelphia. Is there gonna have to be balance between the needs of those communities and the attachment to those schools, those neighborhood schools, and the need to accommodate a different sized school population?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: There will be. But I think that that is why the community involvement piece. I'm only speaking from the frame of Jackson, because that's what I know best. I can't speak to Baltimore. I may have some familiarity with other spaces around the country. But what we see in Jackson, it's important that as we create this MOU, or this agreement, that the community be at the heart of it. And that's why the most important part of that third option that we created is the community involvement piece, where the community can look at the needs of the district, where they can identify that there are critical decisions that have to be made, where they can see the state of the district in terms of funding and how we better allocate our resources to provide the very best to our students.

And so I think that we find ourselves at odds when we fail. This returns to my initial point of giving people more access to their governance. We find ourselves at odds when we feel that we are making decisions in the best interest of people as opposed to having people a part of the decisions that are so impactful on their lives. I'm a recovering attorney, right? I still hold my bar license, but I've put my practice aside. But as an attorney, what I and other attorneys do is we listen to expert advice. We listen to doctors, architects, and lawyers, other lawyers, in order to direct the course, we go in any case. Well, being a mayor is much the same where we have to listen to many of these experts.

And I believe that the citizens of our city, the people may or may not be experts in things like education, infrastructure, crime, and economic development. But what they all are experts in are the conditions in which they live. They know what makes things difficult for them. They know where they've seen trouble. They know what makes their life more difficult and what makes the quality of their life more difficult. And so we look for opportunities to engage and get feedback, understanding that there's always an opportunity to learn.

JAISAL NOOR: So we have questions flowing in from our viewers. I wanted to ask you about the state of Mississippi. It has the largest proportion of African Americans in the entire country. Some 40%, 37-

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Estimated.

JAISAL NOOR: 40% or so.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah.

JAISAL NOOR: It's solidly red right now, but I was looking at the numbers from the 2016 election. Just over half of voters, of the voters that could have voted -- the voters of age, over 18 population of citizens -- voted in that election. So about a million people didn't vote, and I don't know the numbers, how many of those were disenfranchised because of convictions, but Trump beat Hilary Clinton by just over 200,000 votes. So that million is still within that margin, well within that margin of victory. Do you think it's possible to have a progressive takeover of the state? And you talked about how many of policies are ... Your hands are tied when talking about revenue and perhaps the school system and many other aspects of your governance. Do you think that's in the works, and it's possible even in a deep, deep red state like Mississippi?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: I think that it's more attainable than we give it credit for being. As I started our discussion early on in saying that the Wednesday after Trump became president, I woke up in Mississippi. Instead of being tied into our partisan loyalties, I think that we have to get to a place where we put people over politics. And whether or not you're a strong Democrat or a strong Republican, in a place like Mississippi, how well has it served you? When Obama was president, if you were poor in Mississippi before Obama, the likelihood you were poor after Obama, right?

And that's not to say anything against him, right? If you were poor in Mississippi before Reagan, then you were poor after Reagan, right? And so we need to ... I think that Mississippi is a space where there's opportunity to develop, and when Mississippi can be supported, and it's no longer the last in everything, right? And I think that the parties have taken that for granted. You have Republican-

JAISAL NOOR: And you're talking about poverty rates, health indicators, there's a whole slew of-

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: All those things. HIV rate. Almost ... It's been a space where people have dealt with a system of humiliation, right? And so we're trying to move away from this systemic humiliation to a dignity economy that supports people, that gives them more of that access that I'm speaking to. But the party or the individual or the political organization which demonstrates a way up for people out of Mississippi is who I believe ultimately could obtain the loyalty of the people of Mississippi. Because neither party, if you take Republican leadership, Republican leadership has taken for granted that Mississippi will always Republican, and so there's no need to do anything to support or to benefit Mississippi in any special way.

If you take Democratic leadership, they've looked at Mississippi as a strong red state where there's no opportunity to progress, and I think we have to abandon that idea just by the demographics alone. It suggests that if the proper interest or the proper consideration of Mississippi was laid that there's opportunity developed, there's opportunity to see a different trajectory for the national politics, political scene.

JAISAL NOOR: We know Attorney General Jeff Sessions has doubled down on the war on drugs, so-called war on drugs. We also know the impact it's had, especially on African Americans, fueling mass incarceration, the problems with recidivism, voter disenfranchisement, which I mentioned earlier, is a huge problem, including in the South. What's your position on the war on drugs? We know the opioid epidemic has become a national ... In the national headlines now, and it's affecting all types of populations. But do you think those policies need to be addressed as well? And what's happening on the local level in Jackson?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: I really don't believe that anyone can make the argument that we have sound drug policy in our country. So it's obvious that it has to be addressed. The opioid epidemic is real. We're seeing things in our communities that we hadn't seen before, just a complete erosion of a moral compass in things that these drugs are bringing out of people. And so it's problematic. People are literally killing themselves. But we also have to confront the obvious contradictions within our society about what we criminalize and what we decide to give a slap on the wrist and how imbalanced it is. And what the drug epidemic demonstrates is a criminal justice system which is out of hand. We have a criminal justice system, which is all about the criminal industry.

People have said, and I think I mentioned this in my discussion yesterday, people have said that crime doesn't pay. The reality is crime pays very well, right? If we look at all of the people who are employed by crime each and every day in our society, we have to acknowledge that if crime stopped tomorrow, our economy would crash. And so you have the police, you have more police today than you've ever had. You have your city police, your county police, your state police, your federal police, your secret police. Your secret police who watch the secret police, right? You have your judges. You have your lawyers. You have people who contract with the prisons.

So all of these people whose occupation, whose livelihood, is dependent on crime, means that a necessary part of that is the over-criminalization of our society. And if there was a connection between over incarceration or over-policing and the reduction of crime, we would have the lowest crime numbers on the planet. But yet we have more police than any other place on earth. We have more people incarcerated than any other place one earth, and we have more crime than any other place on earth. And so we have to look at holistic solutions to crime. We have to attack the conditions which lead to crime, because you can't out-police it.

JAISAL NOOR: I wanted to ask you about wages, which ties into all this. I saw a recent article in The Clarion-Ledger that says a starting Walmart or Sam's Club employee earns a higher salary than a host of employees in Jackson city government, and you're taking some actions around that.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Absolutely.

JAISAL NOOR: Can you talk about what you're doing?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: So when we took office, not only do we see people within the city who have received egregiously low wages, there actually was a furlough taking place. You have people who hadn't received pay raises in 11 years. And so in our budget, though it's not where we want it to be, we took immediate action under the advice of many of our directors to raise the hourly wage of people within our public works and parks and rec department, and we're looking to increase that even more. And we felt that we had to eliminate that furlough immediately, which we did. Not only was it not demonstrating dignity and respect for our city employees, it was not good fiscal management for the city.

As we had cut government, our revenue as a city had begun to decline. And so it wasn't even beneficial. And what we see is that when you put more money in the hands of the people who live and work in the city, then the city stands a greater chance of receiving more of that money back. And that's more than just a theory. That's something that was tested out under my father's work as a city council person. My father argued for pay raises for the city employees each and every year that he was on council. The final year that my father was on council, the mayor relented and put away a million dollars in a bonus for city employees just for that year. The next year we saw a boost of $3 million in the city revenue, and we knew it was directly correlated to that decision, because we had declining revenue each year previous.

And so it makes sense in terms of demonstrating appreciation for labor, and it makes sense for our economy. We're talking about soliciting businesses. We're talking about the tax cuts and the benefits that we provide to businesses, right? What goes further towards stimulating your economy is putting money in the hands of the people who shop in your cities each and every day, who buy gas, who buy groceries, and all of the things that they need. That stimulates the economy much quicker than providing something to companies who are looking to shave off of the dollars that they spend each and every day and hoard more.

JAISAL NOOR: We've had a lot of economists on that have studied the numbers, and they would agree with you that that is the best and direct way to stimulate the economy, to increase revenue, things like spending on education, not to mention that the cost of incarcerating someone is, in some places, twice as high as putting them through a year of college. So that money could be better spent, some would say.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Absolutely. We should invest more in attacking the causes that lead to incarceration and really identifying that there's something amiss in our society. If it has not succeeded for us, then we can't continue to walk through this wall and continue to fund the things that have not demonstrated better success rates in terms of the reduction in crime, have not demonstrated as we talk about what we fund and what we incentivize that has not demonstrated greater returns for wealth within our communities.

JAISAL NOOR: So you're a Democrat. I'll give you a chance to talk about that. But you are a registered Democrat.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Yeah. I am a registered member of the Freedom Democratic Party. I actually got my card from, actually Holmes County where the Freedom Democratic Party was organized at that time.

JAISAL NOOR: And nationally, The Democratic Party is experiencing what some would call a civil war between different factions, fighting over their future, the lessons of the 2016 election. Democrats have faced a number of defeats on a statewide and national level in recent years. Where do you see your brand of politics fitting into the left? Into the Democrats nationally?

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: I'm left of the left. I'm revolutionary. Where I see it, I think that people, whether you look at the election of Trump or if you consider the election of the youngest mayor in Jackson's history who excepts the term or the label that has been placed on me of "radical." What that indicates is people want something different, right? There's an energy surfacing, and what we have to do is concretize it. We have to take it from that mystical, that mysterious place and bring forth policies which are real to people, that they can see a true shift from what they've been seeing historically. We have to recognize the failures of our leadership on both ends of the spectrum.

Mississippi is the best test case scenario of that, that what has been happening to date has not worked to the benefit of people in my state. And I would imagine it hasn't worked to the benefit of people throughout the country. And so we have to hear. We have to be aware, or we have to make certain that we don't miss what is being said amongst people throughout the country. And that's why they're making these radical choices. It's okay, like I said, to have a radical idea, but being radical doesn't necessarily mean reckless, all right? And what we're seeing is recklessness from our national office.

We need to still take pragmatic approaches to the things that we want to see changes where we want to see change. But we have to dare to address our inherent contradictions. We have to dare to say, "Look, our criminal justice system is out of hand." We have to dare to say, "Our economic policy isn't working to change conditions for the everyday person." And we're seeing the same generational poverty. We have to dare to move to more green industry. We have to dare to address things that if we follow the numbers or we follow the data, it demonstrates what will have a greater impact on things such as poverty. There's a greater correlation between commute time and transportation to generational poverty than even crime and education, right? And so we have to make certain that we listen and take heed and make the necessarily changes.

JAISAL NOOR: And finally the role and importance of women leading in your administration and the impact that's had.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Absolutely. So my chief of staff, Dr. Safiya Omari, often we have conversations about gender equity and the importance. Just as I call out spaces or people who demonstrate implicit bias or explicit bias in terms of race, I have to recognize that I as a man am sexist, right? Now, that's not what I intend to be, right? But I have to recognize that in my space I cannot tell a woman what is and what is not sexist, right? And so I have to be willing to hear and to adjust my behavior so that I lead out of my sexist behavior. And that's important. That's important so that we can serve ourselves better, that we truly create a society beyond contradiction that gives or acknowledges that women have not had the same opportunity historically that men have.

One of my favorite authors, and it's because my wife actually pointed me to her is Dr. Chimamanda Adichie who wrote a book, We Should All Be Feminists. And she spoke to how our decision not to uplift and by limiting the women in our lives how it drastically impacts and limits us all, and so I think that's an important thing, and I would encourage everybody to read Chimamanda Adichie's book. Though I am a sexist man that chooses and wants not to be that way, I am proud to say that I am a feminist.

JAISAL NOOR: All right. Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, thank you so much for joining us.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Thank you. Thank you.

JAISAL NOOR: And we'll be following up with you in the coming weeks and months. We'll be traveling down to Jackson and seeing firsthand the work you're implementing and what you hope to achieve.

CHOKWE LUMUMBA: We look forward to having you. We hope that you enjoy your stay, look forward to fruitful discussion, and we're excited about the direction that our city is going in.

JAISAL NOOR: I want to thank our viewers for watching us on Facebook, YouTube, and our website. And a reminder, we're in the midst of our winter fundraising drive, so please go to the website and donate today, so we can keep these conversations going. Thank you so much for joining us.



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