Kali Akuno and Glen Ford discuss the next steps for the grassroots movements in Jackson, Mississippi that propelled late mayor Chokwe Lumumba into office
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Lumumba, was laid to rest over the weekend, after passing away suddenly at the age of 66. Not one year into his first term, Chokwe was known as America’s most revolutionary mayor. His work as an activist and attorney working to defend civil and human rights spanned more than four decades. He was a cofounder and member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. As mayor, he laid out an ambitious plan for a fair development model that was both inclusive and environmentally sustainable.
That’s all in jeopardy now, as a special election to elect a new mayor is to be held on April 8. Chokwe’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, recently announced he’s running to fill his father’s vacant seat.
Now joining us to discuss this are two guests.
We’re joined in Jackson with Kali Akuno, coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late mayor, and he’s–currently holds that position. He’s the author of Let Your Motto Be Resistance and coauthor of Operation Ghetto Storm and a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
We’re also joined by Glen Ford. He’s the cofounder and executive director of the Black Agenda Report. His most recent piece is “How and Why Did Chokwe Lumumba Die?”
Thank you both for joining us.
GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you.
NOOR: So, Kali, let’s start with you. Condolences to the tremendous loss that Jackson has faced, the sudden passing away of a mayor who was just into his first–not even into the first–finished his first year. We just learned before the program that this $15,000 was raised for an independent autopsy. Can you briefly touch upon that? And Chokwe has passed away, but his work and his legacy, it still remains. There’s tremendous amounts of work remaining in Jackson. Can you share your thoughts?
KALI AKUNO, ORGANIZER, MALCOLM X GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT: Well, briefly, the autopsy had been done. We are waiting for the–kind of the toxicology results and a report back from those who did the autopsy. My understanding, it was done by a top-notch team. So, many of us are anxiously awaiting those results, myself included, just so we can have a bit of clarity as to what really happened. We know he did have a few health challenges, but they were manageable. Many folks his age have those same types of challenges. And the circumstances were a bit odd, to say the least. So we’re looking for that information. And as soon as we have it, our organization and the family are going to be spreading that far and wide, just so there’s a little bit more clarity and a little bit more closure as to what actually happened.
Given the circumstances–this is just my own personal interlude–you know, I don’t think we’ll ever fully know what totally happened. You know, there’ll be speculation on that, I think, for years, if not decades, to come, similar to what happened with Harold Washington.
But the important thing is, regardless of whatever the circumstances or whatever the cause of his untimely death, the mission and the work has to continue, and that’s what we’re really trying to focus on. His loss, without question, is a very critical one. The type of leadership that was groomed in him and nurtured in him by his elders before him, that takes time to develop, to nurture, to mature. So that’s sorely going to be missed.
But folks have to understand that the vision that he represented, that of the Jackson-Kush Plan, the People’s Platform, the Jackson Rising pieces, those were all social movement pieces. They weren’t articulated by him alone. They weren’t framed by him alone. They didn’t spring totally from his head. They were part and parcel of a social movement here in Jackson which was pushing to, you know, advance these ideas. And that’s going to go on whether we have a favorable administration post-April 8 or not. The social movement is still committed to executing the Jackson Rising vision, and our organization and our allies are still committed to advancing the Jackson-Kush Plan.
So that’s where we’re at right now. And, you know, the election is very quick. It is going to happen April 8. There may be a runoff. Should that happen, that’ll be April 22.
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But one of the main things that we’re really concentrating on outside of the elections is one of the more critical pieces of the legacy, and that is the Jackson Rising New Economies Conference. And that’s going to be May 2 through May 4.
NOOR: And, Kali–and I want to go more into that and more into the work that’s ongoing in Jackson. But I wanted to bring Glen Ford into this.
Glen–and I wanted to briefly touch upon this, ’cause I know there’s a lot more stuff we want to talk about, but you write in your recent piece, “When a Black radical dies in Mississippi, one should never accept at face value” the official cause of death. Can you just briefly touch upon the context of Mississippi and Chokwe’s work?
FORD: Well, the state of Mississippi and America in general are dangerous to the lives of black people, and every black person’s demise is somehow impacted by this racist society.
But despite the tremendous loss of Mayor Lumumba, his team, and specifically the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, is really in a very unique position. And I think they’re in a very unique position even if, heaven forbid, Antar Lumumba does not win this upcoming election. And that’s because for that brief duration of Mayor Lumumba’s term, his team was able to immerse themselves in the infrastructure and all the assets of Jackson, Mississippi. And that prepares them to go into the May Jackson Rising conference in a very different kind of situation. They can address the principle, in terms of economic and political development, that principle being that we can only call development that which benefits the people who already live in an arena.
My colleague, our managing editor at Black Agenda Report, Bruce Dixon, likes to say that for generations the only urban development program in the United States has been gentrification. And that’s been under black mayors and under white mayors. There’s been very little difference. And that’s because corporations have planned the cities.
I know that Chokwe Lumumba’s team, that Kali Akuno and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement are looking to develop Jackson, Mississippi, with the active participation of the people of Mississippi and not according to any corporate plan. And that makes them dynamic candidates as well as if they become, once again, incumbents.
NOOR: And, Kali, you were just talking about the Jackson Rising conference coming up. And I want you to go into that, ’cause I know that’s an international, kind of historic conference. You’re going to invite people from all over the country. So I do want to talk about that and give you a chance to really get into that.
But pick up what Glen was talking about, ’cause I just hosted a debate about privatizing public housing in Baltimore. In Baltimore, they’re giving $600 million to developers, to corporate developers for, you know, a corporate development by the water. And this is happening all over the country. And like what Glen was saying, talk about what the vision–how the vision is so different in Jackson and talk about the concrete examples of the work you’re trying to do and you will continue to do in Jackson.
AKUNO: Mhm. Well, folks should know that all the neoliberal plans are here, and we’ve been contending with them and we will continue to contend with them. Jackson is not immune from that. And, in fact, as a result of the infrastructure that’s been mandated by the EPA and other agencies of the federal government that the City of Jackson approved, you know, there’s been a whole host of–let’s just call them vultures, who’ve been flying around knowing that the city’s going to have to spend, over the course of probably about the next ten years, anywhere between $2 billion to $3 billion in infrastructure repair, and that’s not money to sneeze at. And so they’ve been contending for that and trying to find their ways to get in and nestle themselves in, corporations large and small, since before we got into office. And they’re, you know, picking their candidates wisely right now as we speak, trying to recast the mayor in a different light to appropriate his short time and legacy in office, to say that it was part of their vision and part of their process, so that they can then negate it by executing a neoliberal program.
But in terms of what we were looking at and in terms of what we’re focusing on, on execution, executing, it definitely starts from the ground up. And the cooperative model is a part of trying to elicit and create economic democracy on the ground up, on the ground floor, getting workers and people in the community to make concrete decisions about how they labor, when they labor, or what are the fruits of their labor. And we’re trying to extend that to every single facet of how the city operates and how the economy in this city operates. So it’s not just a–we weren’t just envisioning just your kind of small mom and pop cooperatives or just a food cooperative here and there. Those are all important part of the vital kind of ecosystem of an economy that you have to have, but we’re [incompr.] doing some things on a scale to deal with our public works, to deal with our waste management and transportation issues and to have the community direct where and how that gets developed. So those are some vital pieces that we are pushing and we’re going to continue to push.
NOOR: And I understand environmental sustainability is also a key part in this as well.
AKUNO: It’s a very key, central aspect of it. You know. The Mississippi region that we are in, to just give you sense, by some estimates, people believe that it may be underwater within the next hundred years. And having spent some time in southern Louisiana working for the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, I can tell you, with the amount of land lost particularly some of the indigenous communities are facing down there right now, that we don’t take that threat lightly. And so we have to be very proactive, here in the south in particular, in some of these low-laying areas like Jackson resides in, to be, you know, as proactive as we can, to make sure that the economy is built on a sustainable principle, sustainable model, so that it can sustain not only our children but our grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. So if we don’t start that now–that was the premise–if we don’t start that now and take the lead on it, we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s the critical premise that we have, and it’s still going to be a core part of what we’re aiming to build.
NOOR: So we’re out of time for part one, but we’re going to reset and continue this discussion in part two, and we’ll post it at TheRealNews.com.
Glen Ford, Kali Akuno, thank you so much for joining us.
FORD: Thank you.
NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor. Again, go to TheRealNews.com for both parts of this interview.
Thank you so much for joining us.
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