Kali Akuno discusses developments in the race to replace late Jackson mayor Chokwe Lumumba and the upcoming Jackson Rising conference
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
The late son of Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, came in second place in the election to replace his father and is now set for a runoff on April 22.
Now joining us to discuss this is Kali Akuno. He is the coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s the author of Let Your Motto Be Resistance, coauthor of Operation Ghetto Storm. He’s an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, former codirector of the U.S. Human Rights Network, and served as the former executive director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, based in New Orleans. He currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi.
Thanks so much for joining us again, Kali.
KALI AKUNO, ORGANIZER, MALCOLM X GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: So, Kali, give us an update on what’s been happening in Jackson.
AKUNO: Well, one thing, just to note that some of the tallies are still coming in. But as of the close of the polls on Tuesday, April 8, Chokwe Antar was actually in the lead, but by a mere ten votes. So that gives you a sense of how tight this race was with all of the candidates that were in it. There were a total–roughly 15, most of whom barely registered, but there were two other significant folks who placed fairly well. And just to note who they are for the audience to get some context, there was Councilman Melvin Priester and Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon. They placed 15 percent, respective, for Melvin and 11 for Margaret Barrett-Simon. And Antar Lumumba and Councilman Yarber, who placed one and two, respectively, got 31 percent of the vote.
So when we’re going into April 2 for the final election, the runoff election, we’re expecting a very tight race. We expect it to be very hard-fought. We expect it to be a real highlight and a contrast of the various issues and the various political agendas that are in play here in Jackson, Mississippi. But ultimately we just wanted the audience to note, just in our opinion, and this being that of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the People’s Assembly and related forces here in Jackson, we do expect Antar to win. But what I think this really highlights is, with the special election, that the competing versions, if you would, of the future of Jackson are becoming more clear, more distinct, and more concrete, and that is really what we’re going to push.
And this election really is, I think, a very important one for the City of Jackson. It’s going to really determine what the future looks like in this city for the next 20 years. And I say that because the mandate that we’ve talked about on the show previously, the mandate around some of the infrastructure repairs that are being forced on the city, in many respects, by the federal government, the EPA in particular, and the state government, around some of the water treatment, the sewage, the water rates, and some of the other infrastructure repair work, means that however this is carried out and financed by this administration going forward is really going to determine a lot of the long-term–in this case I mean the next 20- to 50-year economic trajectory of the city. So there’s really–you know, is it going to go and going to follow the kind of normal script of a neoliberal orientation of the privatization–more privatization of government services, more bringing in international corporations, and more gentrification into the city?
There’s one version that you can look at that I think is clearly articulated, and it represented the case of Councilman Tony Yarber in his campaign in this focus. And then you have the vision of transformation that the late mayor Lumumba was pushing for, as expressed in the “Jackson Rising” statement, and which is being upheld and continuing to be advanced by Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the People’s Assembly and the People’s Campaign. So that’s really kind of a quick snapshot of what’s happening.
But, you know, we’ve got, at this point, a week and a half of some real hard campaigning, trying to get out the vote, trying to do more work in educating folks, and really trying to dig in deep, particularly in the working-class neighborhoods in the City of Jackson for a greater and stronger turnout and just making sure that folks done understand that, you know, it’s more than a popularity contest. I think if it was just that, Antar would have won outright, but in the form of democracy that’s–quote-unquote democracy that’s practiced here in Jackson. You know, you’ve really got to make sure that the voters turn out. And so that’s a critical piece of what we’re going to be working on.
NOOR: And, Kali–. Sorry. Go ahead.
AKUNO: And one last thing, just if I may,–
NOOR: Go ahead.
AKUNO: –you know, that we’re really going to be watching, in light of some of the recent Supreme Court rulings around campaign finance, is paying some real close attention on the resources that come in to finance this election. Even though it’s a very short period, we’re going to be studying that real closely, ’cause I think it’s going to be a clear indication to what extent forces on kind of a regional level and a national level are willing to tolerate, if you would, an experiment of this nature.
NOOR: And, Kali, as we discussed in your last appearance on The Real News, regardless of who is the next mayor of Jackson, the hard work on the grassroots that was being done before Chokwe was the previous mayor, before his passing, that’s still going to be going on, and, you know, we know this Jackson Rising Conference is coming up in just a few weeks as well, in early May. So talk about, a little bit about an update on that, what people can expect, and the other organizing work that’s going on in Jackson, Mississippi.
AKUNO: Yeah. Well, I mean, that part is moving hard and fast. The Jackson Rising Conference is coming together fairly well, despite all these challenges that we face with the mayor’s death, with this campaign and how much time and energy and effort so many forces have to put into that to have a favorable outcome. But it’s moving forward.
To reiterate, it’s May 2 through 4 here in Jackson, Mississippi. And what folks can really expect is some detailed training and a sharing of experience around how to build cooperatives, how to build democratic work spaces, how to build an equitable economy, how to transform the economy through the solidarity-economy related practices. That’s going to be really at the heart. And we’re starting to give more of a focus on the after, the next steps, what are the next steps going to be to continue this work, to continue this vision. So we’ve been re-gearing the conference, even since we last spoke, to really give that more focus and attention.
And so, out of that, there is already some extensive discussions that are taking place on the ground around building a network of cooperatives, or at least started to float those ideas, so that work can be carried forward whether Antar wins or whether he doesn’t. So that’s the critical piece that’s going to be on the horizon. And there’s a network that’s been coming together called Cooperation Jackson to really push that vision forward. And so that’s a critical and exciting piece of the work that’s taking place that we’re going to be looking forward to asking everyone out in, you know, the national community to support us on.
We’re also going to have a good number of national and international guests coming through to really share their experiences and to really help us build the type of national and international support networks we’re going to need to kind of weather the storm, regardless of, again, whether Anton wins or whether he loses. If he wins, you know, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, still, to go in a different direction, if you would, from the same multinational corporations that are supporting some of the other candidates, for instance, but they’re still going to want a piece of all of this pie that’s about to be sliced up in one way or another with the infrastructure repair work. So that’s not going to go away just because Antar wins. But should he lose, we know we’re going to have a major uphill battle. But I believe the community is getting prepared and getting organized to sustain that. So the international support and the national support is going to be critical.
And we’ve got folks coming in from–you know, on the international level, we’ve got folks coming in from Greece, from Italy, from Spain, from Canada. We’re going to have some folks telemonitoring in or Skyping in from Venezuela and Brazil. We have some folks coming in from Haiti and some other places, South Africa. And on a national level, you know, just a plethora of organizations are coming through their supporters and to share their experience, and also to try to figure out how to create some new models themselves. So I’m speaking of folks from the national AFL-CIO are coming through. We’ve got some representatives from the United Steelworkers and Mondragon U.S.A., the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Cooperation Texas. You name it. There’s a number of different organizations that are already pledging to coming through.
So we’re looking forward to a very transformative event, something that I think will not only have a major impact in Jackson going forward past May, but I think in the South in general, and potentially the nation, as folks really, I think, begin to understand this model that we’ve been trying to develop and advance here. How can we replicate it in whole or in part in different places? And then from that, you know, how do we link up to really build the type of deep progressive movement struggling on many fronts of the economy, in terms of greater wages, you know, workers’ rights, which are critical issues here in Mississippi, as they are everywhere, but also collective and cooperative ownership and how that’s necessary to transform the economy?
NOOR: Kali Akuno, thank you so much for joining us.
AKUNO: Thank you.
NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.
Thank you so much for joining us.
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