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Tolu Olorunda and Rosa Clemente continue their discussion on Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who recently passed at age 66

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

We’re continuing remembering the life and legacy of Chokwe Lumumba, the revolutionary mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, who passed away Tuesday night at the age of 66.

We’re joined by two guests.

From Jackson, Mississippi, we’re joined by Tolu Olorunda. He’s a Jackson resident, and he’s a writer, age 24.

We’re also joined by Rosa Clemente, black Puerto Rican grassroots organizer, hip-hop activist, journalist, vice presidential candidate for the Green Party in 2008, member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that Chokwe cofounded, currently a doctoral student at UMass Amherst W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies.

Thank you so much for joining us again for part two.


NOOR: So, Tolu, let’s go back to you. So you went to Jackson, Mississippi, and a lot of what Chokwe was trying to do was empower, economically empower this very impoverished city. Talk about the work that has been unfolding. He’s been in office for about seven or eight months now. Talk about some of the accomplishments. I know they just passed a sales tax and that resulted in an attack from the state. So talk about what’s been happening.

TOLU OLORUNDA, WRITER AND CULTURAL CRITIC: Imagine that a politician in the modern era could pass a raise on a tax, 1 percent, with 90 percent of approval in support. I mean, that’s unheard of. So we’ve seen Chokwe sort of beyond, you know, an activist. We see a skilled political operative, a man who was as revolutionary as anybody else but also understood that you have to, you know, be imaginative in governance, as Rosa was saying, that there’s an importance in doing things in a strategic manner.

And so, you know, this goes against the backlash of a lot of movement people now wanting to get into governance, into any kind of form of the political arena, because they call it tainted and they say it’s a space for the powerful. Well, I think what our people need is power at this point, right? I think our people are suffering from so much.

And there’s a lot of communities around the country being destabilized at a point in time where we just experienced a global meltdown. So we know that there’s a system that its engine is–there’s a system that’s beginning. And right at the cusp of this change that’s happened across the world, with all the protests and all of the other forms of action, you see an interception, an interruption.

And so a lot of the displacement of communities in places like Detroit, in places like Jackson, has a lot to do with knowing that people at this point have to come to full consciousness to know that they have to start owning things, owning things like homes. If in your country there are six homes available for every homeless person, you know that there are things that have to be done. You know that you have to fix the moral compass of your society.

And Chokwe understood that in a way that–I mean, we believe he’s still alive in the spirit, in the struggle. But we know in the direction that he was moving. And I think that there’s a certainty amongst certain people that his belief that everyone should own a home, everyone should have a piece of the good life, should secure in themselves, and should have the right to exist without the termination of their humanity, whether it’s police brutality or whether it’s the other forms of oppression, that people should have a right to exist. We believe this plan will continue. And I think that the sentiment among a lot of people that I’ve talked to has more to do with ensuring that this movement remains a movement.

NOOR: And, Rosa, so Chokwe, he got elected on a pretty broad mandate. He won by–he won, like, about 70 or 80 percent of the vote when he ran for mayor last year. And, you know, some of his last comments we played–it was an interview with Laura Flanders we played in the first part of this interview. He was saying that people are ready, this is the time that people understand that it’s time to act and take action, and not just through electoral politics, but as we talked about, this grassroots movement that’s working to not only change the relationships but change society as well.

CLEMENTE: Yeah. See, Chokwe was an interruption of politics as usual, the politics of Bill de Blasio to the politics of Ted Cruz, which–none of them are working for our people, right? So Chokwe is not only interruption into that system, in one which there was so much money already and tricks played to keep him off the ballot, to keep him out of office–the minute he gets there, they want to start talking about bringing in an emergency manager because of a 1 percent tax increase that 90 percent of the people, as Tolu said, wanted. And these are working-class people, right, like, that are willing to say, we’ll give up 1 percent or pay a little bit more in water for the greater good. So not only is Chokwe an interruption which makes people–.

And I want people to understand that when Chokwe won, you’re talking about a black mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, a radical black mayor. That should be nationwide news. That should be the politics. He should have been on any channel and every channel, right? But because we have mostly a mainstream media that the minute a Chokwe Lumumba’s given a platform–.

You know how many cities could transform within one election and how many people would get voted out of office and how many more people that have radical politics? And I don’t really consider wanting, as Tolu said, humans to live in a decent house and go to a decent school and have a good job and having food a radical idea, but, you know, in this capitalist society, that is a radical thing. Chokwe interrupted that whole narrative.

And, you know, so I think it’s important to–again, as Tolu said, his astuteness and strategy is something that we could all employ. As we employ it, we need to have the vision that Chokwe had to understand the forces that will come against that. And I think one of the things as well that Chokwe was doing in Mississippi before he even won either election was strengthening ties to the undocumented community, seeing the solidarity between, again, these black and brown indigenous diaspora people, understanding the changing nature of the South and what kind of struggles could be united for the people.

NOOR: And, Rosa–and I wanted to–. Sorry. I wanted to follow up, Rosa. You know, a critique that’s been levied on even the progressive media is that Chokwe’s administration, after it was elected, hardly elicited any attention. And, you know, you could say that about The Real News. Like, we weren’t able to get his story out. And we actually had plans to go last weekend, we had plans to get the mayor on in the last few days. You know, unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition. But now is there an opportunity to kind of give more attention to what’s happening in Jackson and to find ways to build solidarity with the movement there and in many other places around the country?

CLEMENTE: Well, I mean, I think the analysis on that is that unless it’s coming through grassroots media or true progressive media, not MSNBC or even The Nation or the Huffington Post, that of course these ideas are not going to be fomented by this fourth estate structure that benefits the wealthy and the two-party system.

I think it’s going to go back to what Chokwe taught us from the beginning. How do we do grassroots mobilization? How do we create media? How do we support existing media, whether it’s The Real News or Black Agenda Report or Davey D or I Mix What I Like or the many podcasts and shows that are out there? How do maybe we come together to have a network that is truly going to be this radical space?

But in understanding that idea of grassroots, we have to always keep in mind that the powers that be are ready to checkmate us, right? So it, again, goes around that vision. And I don’t really see most of the media having these type of discussions, because I think that would be too much of a radical idea to get to millions of people. And, again, it could change the entire notion of how cities are run. The whole notion of that will change immediately if these ideas were to be more in the mainstream.

NOOR: And, Tolu, I wanted to end with you. I know there’s a conference, a very important conference coming up in May, the Jackson Rising conference. It’s an international conference of building solidarity economics and learning from what’s already happening with cooperatives around the world and how to implement that and expand on that in Jackson. So can you talk about that?

And also, you know, we’ve talked about the attacks the state has levied against what Chokwe was trying to do in Jackson. So how much of the potential of what he was trying to do is limited by the state’s power over cities like Jackson? And how much of the promise was really dependent on how much mass mobilization, how much statewide mobilization could have been created to defend this space that’s been created in Jackson?

OLORUNDA: But I think the first point would be to understand what the movement was about as defined by everything that Chokwe said, the things that he wrote. The conference that’s happening, the Jackson Rising conference, is called cooperative economics because we know it’s one of the principles of Kwanzaa. So it’s an African principle. And it relies upon the foundation that if an individual is to acquire wealth for himself, then the individual should acquire wealth for the community that he came from. And so a lot of the philosophies have, you know, the template of the African beliefs, the African values, that of community against individualism. And so the conference being focused in economics is just one side of the puzzle, because the entire puzzle is truly about helping people remember who they are, remember before Walmart, remember before Target, like, remember before the minimum wage, remember [incompr.], like, to remember that there’s another way of doing things, there’s another pattern that could be created. And the most important, I think, value that we could take at this moment is to understand that when we come together, we really can destroy plans that were created a long time ago.

Chokwe won with 80 percent of support. And that had a lot to do because of an investment, you would imagine, the people had in the promise and the vision that he had for the city. And so the state could have its policies, the state can have its beliefs, but if the people are united in Jackson, just as in anywhere else, the people would get what they want. Right? And so that’s my takeaway from it.

You raised the other point of the EM law that was passed in Jackson or that was passed in Detroit, and now they’re trying to bring it to Jackson, specifically because of the movements that have been taken across the city to ensure that certain services that are provided for people. One of the most important lessons that we learned in Detroit was when they come for your city, they come for the schools first, right? They come, they take the schools, they privatize them to make the charter schools, they create a failure district so they can ship as many, you know, local [incompr.] young students of color into it, and that way they make [inaud.] money as possible.

And then there’s another thing that happened in Europe with austerity. It’s when the [inaud.] because of certain [inaud.]

So in Detroit the plan was to create a business district in midtown and in downtown. And then, once that [inaud.] you can cut off service from certain neighborhoods that don’t have much value in them. So you cut off the transportation. You cut off their lights. And then you cut off the emergency services. This is what happens when the emergency manager comes to your city, because everything is about balancing the budget. And, you know, you balance the budget with a scale that says, once I [incompr.] the other side has to be down. And this is the way they make investments in destabilized cities populated predominantly by people of color.

So this is the plan for Jackson. There’s a Jackson ’22 Plan, just like Detroit has its Detroit future plan. And the same faces, the same monikers, the same ideas are embedded in both, which is that you take these cities that are undergoing so much stress, and because of the lesson that was learned in Katrina in New Orleans, that in times of high and incredibly overwhelming stress, that you can do so much in a city to destabilize the native population and capitalize on their destabilization by creating a business climate that sort of forgets what happened. And so this is a plan that’s been laid for Jackson.

And I think Chokwe’s idea was not to necessarily, you know, [incompr.] any fashion go against it, but create the imaginative community that we deserve and believe in. And we can do all of that by being intelligent activists, we can do all of that by mastering what it means to be a city planner, so then, when they come up with a plan, you have a plan. And we have high school kids that can do this. They’re just as brilliant. And if they’re going to be living in this city ten, 20 years from now, they’re going to have to have a stake in their own city.

NOOR: Tolu, so we’re just about out of time. And Rosa, I’ll give you the last word. Right.

CLEMENTE: We’ll definitely have to support the Jackson Rising cooperative economics conference taking place down in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 2-4. This is how we carry on that legacy.

And, you know, on behalf of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, you know, the outpouring for Chokwe and his family and the organizations that he has been part of has been enormous. And as I said before, we all have to have the moment to grieve.

But we do have to push forward, right? And the best way to always represent and maintain the legacy of Chokwe Lumumba is to continue to push forward. And our first step is to support that conference. Folks can go to the website. And just let’s see thousands of people hit Jackson in May, and also for Freedom Summer this summer that’s also taking place in Jackson, Mississippi, and remember the legacy of Chokwe Lumumba.

NOOR: We want to thank you both for joining us, Tolu and Rosa.

And you can catch both parts of this interview at Follow us on Twitter @therealnews. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Tolu Olorunda is a writer and cultural critic currently living in Jackson, Mississippi. He is also author of The Substance of Truth (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2011), a collection of essays on education, culture, and society. His writing has appeared widely online and in print, including Alternet, Black Commentator, ColorLines, The Nation, Truthout, PowerPlay: A Journal of Educational Justice, and the Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies.

Rosa Clemente is the president and founder of Know Thy Self Productions, which has produced four major community activism tours and consults on issues such as Hip-Hop activism, media justice, voter engagement among youth of color, third party politics, intercultural relations between Black and Latinx, immigrants’ rights as an extension of human rights, and universal healthcare. She is also the co-founder and coordinator of the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention and co-founder of R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop Coalition, a Hip-Hop generation based media justice organization. She is currently a doctoral student in the W.E.B. Dubois department of UMASS-Amherst.