Tolu Olorunda and Rosa Clemente discuss the tremendous revolutionary legacy of Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, which included internationalism and a model of electoral politics for liberation movements
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Chokwe Lumumba, the revolutionary mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, passed away Tuesday night at the age of 66. Not even into the first year of his first term as mayor of Jackson, he previously served as a councilmember representing the city’s Second Ward. But his tireless dedication to revolutionary change and the defense of civil and human rights span more than four decades. His work was an inspiration to countless across the country and was respected by adversaries. He was a cofounder and member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, from representing the late Tupac Shakur to working to organize Hurricane Katrina survivors on the Gulf Coast, to helping win the release of the Scott sisters in 2011, who had served 16 years of a double-life prison sentence for an $11 robbery which they did not commit. His contributions and achievements are too numerous to list.
Here’s a portion of an interview Chokwe did a few weeks ago with Laura Flanders of GRITtv.
CHOKWE LUMUMBA, MAYOR OF JACKSONVILLE, MISSISSIPPI: Some of the most significant things happened in history when you get the right people in the right place at the right time. And I think that’s where we are. When you talk about a building which is designated as being built by slaves, that’s the right place. When you talk about people who have been under this oppression all of their ancestors’ lives, and under their lives, those are the right people to make the change. And this is the right time. The people make that true, the people make the time, because the election of the leadership is a reflection of the readiness of the people.
NOOR: Now joining us to discuss his life and legacy are two guests.
From Jackson, we’re joined by Tolu Olorunda. He’s a Jackson resident and writer.
We’re also joined by Rosa Clemente. She’s a black Puerto Rican grassroots organizer, hip-hop activist, journalist. She was a vice-presidential candidate for the Green Party in 2008. She’s a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and currently a doctoral student at UMass Amherst W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American studies.
Thank you, both, for joining us.
And Tolu, let’s start with you. You are in Jackson right now. Can you start off by describing the mood? This news came out last night. I know you went to City Hall just to see if it was true, if it wasn’t a rumor, because it came so suddenly. And also talk about why you decided to move to Jackson. It’s an impoverished city. You just moved there recently, in a state that still has the–it’s the last state with the Confederate Flag still part of the state’s flag.
TOLU OLORUNDA, WRITER AND CULTURAL CRITIC: Right. I mean, first of all, my prayers go to the Lumumba family. No one deserves to lose a man like this. And Lumumba was the kind of man who stood so strong on the ground and fought so hard, you know. And the city obviously is reeling. The city is devastated to have lost this man who sacrificed so much.
But more importantly, the work that he was doing–this is the time now, I think, if anything, to work sixteen times as hard, because there were things that Lumumba stood for that were driving a hard wedge against the plans of a lot of developers that have seen Jackson the way they saw Detroit, the way they see these cities, and put a plan that they call gentrification.
And so the most important point at this point, I think, is to ensure that in everything we do that we don’t let up, we don’t give up, that we stand strong in his legacy and carry forward just as much as he would want. I mean, the last thing, one of the last acts that he put together was the property of economics. This is something that the City Hall was actually planning on voting to yesterday at 6:00 p.m. And so when the news came an hour before–I mean, that obviously–you know, that sent a message.
I think it’s important at this point to pay close attention not just to the life, but to the legacy and the work of Lumumba, because we see this as a loss, but we also see it as a subtraction. And I think we’re trying to understand how to go forward, how to move forward and ensure that the loss is not in any way in vain.
NOOR: And Tolu, can you also talk about why you decided to move down to Jackson and take part in the work that is going on there?
OLORUNDA: Well, I mean, it was an unprecedented moment in history, you know, to have the election of Lumumba, someone who–you know, his feet is so steeped in revolutionary politics, but more so in service work. It’s in the kind of commitment to the community, it’s in the kind of understanding that when you’re born into this world, that you look out for those who don’t have much. And his whole life has been dedicated to this, whether it was the Scott sisters, whether it was the founding of MXGM, whether it was the thought of the New Africa, that black people in this land should have something of their own.
And so when he got elected, I mean, this, the whole thought, to have someone with such caliber elected into office, it’s something that doesn’t happen every day. And so it was a moment to be cherished. But it was also a moment that was a rallying call. It was a message that was being sent to everyone across the country: there are things happening in Jackson that could be a model for other cities that are going through their process of, you know, being undermined and being roughshod, and Jackson was to be the template, a sort of textbook for how you avoid it, how you build your own, how, when they come into your city and they tell you that they want to create a business district at the expense of the neighborhoods, that you stand up and you do for self, that you take over the buildings and you rebuild your own homes. This was Lumumba’s plan. And this is Lumumba’s plan. And if anything, I think Jackson will keep going in that direction and nothing will stop it.
NOOR: And Rosa, I wanted to bring you into this conversation. You knew Chokwe, you’ve known him for a long–you knew him for a long time. You’re part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Talk about what he represents for not only Jackson, but the entire country. We’ve seen outpouring of support and condolences to his family and to Jackson from all over the country, and all over the world, in fact.
ROSA ALICIA CLEMENTE, PUERTO RICAN GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER AND JOURNALIST: Yeah. I mean, first and foremost to the family, because when you have someone like a Chokwe Lumumba, he just is not your father. He’s also a leader, an activist, a mentor to so many people in this country. And, I mean, I think first it’s important to understand that we need to grieve this loss. I’m finding it difficult right now to visualize what is happening tomorrow, because that is the way we think as activists. But I think part of growing and moving, how we even view activism, is how these losses affect us. How do we grieve them? How do we deal with them? How do we reflect and pay tribute to the legacy of this amazing man? But also, yes, how do we move forward? But I think that’s just really important to state, first and foremost.
You know, to me, Chokwe was the epitome of an internationalist, a nationalist, a freedom fighter, a people’s lawyer, the founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He completely understood the power of young people. He never talked down to young people. We might have struggled on some politics and that, but that’s discourse and that’s what makes for, you know, revolution, when you can figure out how to transform certain things in ways that you hadn’t taught before. And I think that’s a lot of what Chokwe taught a lot of us.
But I think what was happening with him, particularly as mayor of Jackson, is–and what I really want people to understand about him too is his internationalist connection, his seeing what’s happening and what was happening in Venezuela, or in Bolivia, or these kind of, you know, revolutions happening worldwide that particularly brings a message that he talked about and his politics were about: how are we uniting as a black diasporic people? And how are we part of this black diasporic fight for liberation, regardless, sometimes, of ethnicity or geographical location? You know. And I think about particularly when I was running for office with Cynthia and how he reached out to me, how he said, you know, he was proud of what I was doing, you know, and moments like that when you run for office, something that he did successfully, right? Like, I joked with him one time. He said, “Sister Rosa, now we have something in common. We ran for office.” I said, “The only difference is you won all your elections.” And he said, “Being part of the struggle, that’s a victory in itself.” You know. And I think about that because not only did Chokwe run an election, successfully win, run another election, successfully win; he was also governing.
But he never put electoral politics as the sole, the only way. Part of this electoral political strategy was to push forward the economic cooperatives, to push forward the Kush Plan, his vision of what he had in the ’60s and early ’70s within the New Afrikan People’s Organization. That’s why he chose Mississippi. He was carrying out his vision in the best way possible in the times that we’re at.
And, you know, I think certain people like him or a Cynthia McKinney, or currently Ras Baraka, we need these people, as Tolu said. We need to take foothold in many spaces in this country where gentrification is literally displacing entire communities. This is happening everywhere. And Jackson would have been, and can be–not would have been–can be the perfect model for people to understand politics and electoral politics outside of this federal election, two-party system, what’s-on-the-media.
And I think those are just the beginning lessons. Like, we could have 25 shows on Chokwe Lumumba and it would never be enough. There could be 15 books. This man was consistent till the moment he passed away. Consistent.
NOOR: We’re out of time for part one of this discussion, but there’s a lot more to talk about, so we’re going to do a part two.
Tolu Olorunda and Rosa Clemente, thank you so much for joining us. And stay with us. We’re going to continue this conversation and we’re going to put it on TheRealNews.com.
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