Jackson, Miss. Mayor-Elect Chokwe Lumumba: I Plan to Build the 'Most Radical City on the Planet'
We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Lumumba will be sworn is as the city’s next mayor. He has vowed to make Jackson the "most radical city on the planet." He is the son of the city’s former mayor, the late Chokwe Lumumba, who was once dubbed "America’s most revolutionary mayor." We air the mayor-elect’s speech at the People’s Summit and speak to him in Jackson about his plans for the city and his father’s legacy.
AMY GOODMAN: We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba will be sworn in as Jackson’s next mayor. Earlier this month, Lumumba won the general election in a landslide, after handily winning a primary election in May. This is Chokwe Antar Lumumba celebrating his general election victory with supporters.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!
SUPPORTERS: Free the land!
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!
SUPPORTERS: Free the land!
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!
SUPPORTERS: Free the land!
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: By any means necessary. I need you to stand strong as we go forward. There are people who doubt your resolve, doubt that this city can be everything that it will be. And so, you can’t give up now. I say, when I become mayor, you become mayor. So that means y’all got some work to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Chokwe Lumumba is the son of the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, dubbed "America’s most revolutionary mayor" before his death in 2014. The 34-year-old Chokwe Antar Lumumba supports economic democracy, has proposed a civic incubator fund to support cooperative, member-owned businesses in Jackson. Shortly after his election, Lumumba was a featured speaker, just a few weeks ago, at the People’s Summit in Chicago.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I bring greetings from Jackson, Mississippi, where I have recently been named mayor-elect of Jackson, Mississippi. In this process, we defeated a field of 16 people. We were able to secure the general election with 94 percent of the vote. And more important than that, we did so on a people’s platform, on a people’s platform where, from the moment we announced, we did so saying that we were running on an agenda of social justice, of economic democracy and—and working with people, making certain that people had a voice. And that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
As we look at the condition of our country, as we consider the fact that we’re in Trump times, we have all kinds of questions of what that means. And when I’ve been confronted with the question of "How do you feel in Jackson, Mississippi, after the Trump election?" what I had to share with people is, after—the Wednesday after the election, I woke up in Jackson, Mississippi. And what that means is, no matter whether our country has experienced great booms or busts, in Mississippi we’ve always been at the bottom. And so what that means is that we have to decide that we are going to rescue ourselves, that in places like Jackson, Mississippi, we won’t allow it to become havens of oppression which endanger all of us.
So what happens in Jackson, Mississippi, impacts each and every one of us. And so we have to make the decision that we’re going to start controlling the way electoral politics proceeds. And so we’ve made the decision that we’re going to be the most radical city on the planet, that we’re going to make certain—that we’re going to make certain that we change the whole scope of electoral politics. No longer will we allow an individual to step before us and tell us all of the great things that they’re going to accomplish on our behalf, only to find that nothing in their past demonstrates a sincerity, a willingness or an ability to do so. What we must do—what we must do in Jackson, Mississippi, in D.C., in Maryland, in Gary, Indiana, in Chicago, Illinois, is we have to start drafting an agenda for ourselves, creating an agenda, creating what we want to see, and then we draft the leadership which represents our agenda.
And so, we’re excited about this energy which is surfacing, but it is time that we concretize it, that we take it from the mystical, from the mysterious, and put it into action and see what we can demonstrate when progressive people come together and have a plan and decide how we’re going to change the very scope of this world.
And so, we have to come to the same understanding that Martin Luther King came to in his last days. Martin had a conversation with Harry Belafonte not long before he died. And what Martin told Harry, he said, "Listen, Harry, we’re going to win this integration struggle. But I’m beginning to wonder. I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not integrating into a burning house." He said, "I see a system which is abusing labor and abusing working people." And he said, "I’m worried about integrating into a house that looks like that." He said, "If people can’t be fed, if people can’t take care of their families, then it is useless to walk Mississippi roads together."
And so, ultimately, it becomes greater than a question of color and more a question of ideas and what are the best ideas and what are the worst ideas. And what the worst ideas are, is that you can be oppressive to anyone. And so, we now demand—we now demand that our leadership looks at how we include the people’s voice in the process, and that we have a—we have two choices. We have a choice of economics by the people and for the people or economics by a few people for themselves. And so, we’re demanding, right now, right now, that we begin to rescue ourselves. Right now, as my comrade said, we have nothing to lose but our chains. Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaking earlier this month at the People’s Summit in Chicago. Well, he joins us now live from Jackson, Mississippi.
Mayor-elect Lumumba, welcome to Democracy Now!
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Thank you so much, Amy. I’m happy to be on your program with you today.
AMY GOODMAN: So, one week from today, you’re going to be sworn in as the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Talk about your plans, what are your—going to be your first actions in office.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, Amy, we’re putting together—we have a transition team that’s in place right now and looking at the issues which Jackson is facing, making certain that we don’t make plans just off conjecture, but a fact-based analysis of where we find our city, and bringing together not only people who have the acumen and ability and skill to do the job, but people who have a passion, a passion which goes beyond just the way we see electoral politics, but a passion to change people’s lives. And part of that process is putting together a budget. Shortly after we take office, we have to pass a budget. And so, it’s important that we have the right people in place.
One of the symbolic measures that we’re going to take immediately as we take office is a citywide cleanup. It’s more than just, you know, taking care of the aesthetic appeal of our city. It’s about unifying the city. It’s about bringing people from all areas of the city together and taking a collective interest in how our city looks. You know, I hearken back to the words of my mother: "If you don’t care for your house, no one else will." And so, we’re going to take those easy first steps, that is symbolic of where we’re going and the direction we’re headed in collectively.
AMY GOODMAN: You referred your mother. Can you talk about the origins of your name, Chokwe, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Amy, I couldn’t hear you. My earpiece slipped out for a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Can you talk about the—
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Can you please repeat that question?
AMY GOODMAN: —the origins of your name, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: So, my father changed his name when he was in law school, and accepted a name that he believed to be more culturally identifiable. Chokwe is the name of a tribe in the Angola region, a tribe that was resistant to the slave trade. The name Chokwe means "hunter." Antar is the name of a historic poet and warrior who died while saving a woman from drowning. And Antar means "poet" and "warrior." Lumumba, given that name from our namesake, Patrice Lumumba, the former prime minister of the Congo. And Lumumba means "gifted."
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about—I mean, your rise to the—to becoming mayor of Jackson is very interesting, because the incumbent mayor, Tony Yarber, won the special election against you in 2014, the race that determined who would finish your father’s term after he died in office. Your thoughts about losing to him then but defeating him in this race? What changed?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, you know, as I’ve shared with many people, hindsight is 20/20. And I’m actually grateful that we lost the election in 2014, not because the sincerity was not there, not because we don’t believe we could have done a good job, but we’ve been able to, you know, appreciate far more that’s going on with the city of Jackson, and I’ve been able to appreciate more within myself. You know, people have to remember, in 2014, not only did I bury my father in a two-month time span and then enter into an election, my wife was pregnant with our first child. And so there was a world of change. You had a first-time candidate, who had not run for junior class president, much less mayor of a city. And so, we’ve been able to, you know, gather more information and position ourselves better. And so everything happens in a perfect timing. And so, we’re happy where we find ourselves at this time, to move forward the agenda that my father embarked on, an agenda of a people’s platform, one that was not only, you know, symbolic of his work in his short term as mayor, but symbolic of his work, a lifetime of work, that he subscribed to and also ultimately dedicated his family toward.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to your father, Chokwe Lumumba. In June 2013, I interviewed him just after he was elected mayor.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE LUMUMBA: There are some people historically who have always tried to separate the populations and to have a certain portion of the population oppress the rest of the population. We’re not going to tolerate that. We’re going to move ahead. We’re going to let everyone participate in this movement forward. We’re going to invite everyone to participate in this movement forward. And we have formed like a people’s assembly, that’s key to what we’ve done here, where we have—every three months, the population can come out and participate in an open forum to say what’s on their mind.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Chokwe Lumumba in 2013, when he was mayor-elect, in the very same studio that you, Mayor-elect Lumumba, are sitting in right now. In that speech we just played that you gave at the People’s Summit, where I first met you just a few weeks ago, in Chicago, you said, "We’re going to be the most radical city on the planet." What does that look like?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: It looks like a plan where we, you know, change the way we view electoral politics. You know, in that speech, I spoke about not accepting someone’s agenda for our lives, but creating one ourselves. So, giving people more control of their governance is what that looks like. It’s an inclusive process. Sometimes when we use the word "radical," people find themselves in fear and question whether they’re a part of that radical agenda. And that’s exactly our plan, is to incorporate more people, giving people voice who have not had it. That is a shift from what we’ve seen in traditional politics. It’s usually the lay of the land is given to those who are most privileged. And so, we’re trying to incorporate more people in the process, give voice to the voiceless.
And it starts with identifying, you know, the areas of greatest need. We need to show our workers, our city workers, and, you know, even the unionized work that we need—we need to show people dignity and respect in their jobs and also see the economic benefit of it. You know, Jackson is like many cities: It does not have a problem producing wealth; it has a problem maintaining wealth. And so, if you put more money in the people’s hands that live and work here, you stand a greater chance of receiving it back. And so we’re also going to look at practical solutions to our problems. It is about forming relationships. It is about operational unity and making certain that you can work with people who may historically find themselves on the opposite end of a struggle that you may be engaged in, such as the state, such as, you know, a Trump administration. And so you want to identify your common ends and see how you exploit those common goals in order to arrive at the solutions that benefit us all. But it’s also about how you take—make better use of the resources you have. What we look at as—
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor-elect, I’m going to interrupt just because we only have a minute—
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —and I want to ask, Jackson drew a lot of attention earlier this year, when Daniela Vargas, who is a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant, was arrested by ICE after she had just held a news conference. Her pending application for renewal of DACA status, it was pending. Is Jackson going to be a sanctuary city?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Jackson is going to be a city which protects human rights for human beings. I don’t care whether your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or whether you joined us more recently, you deserve the same protections and respect in this city. And so, I find—we find ourselves in interesting times, where the word "sanctuary" becomes a negative phrase. I’m proud of the work my father did in order to secure an anti-racial-profiling ordinance in the city, and we will continue to protect everyone who lives within our city, and make sure that they’re not harassed.
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of police accountability? In the last weeks, we have seen two police officers acquitted or cases with mistrials around the killing of African-American motorists. Your thoughts?
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I think we have a criminal justice system in our country which is entirely out of hand. You know, it’s the largest business going. And the fact that we’ve made the criminal justice system into more of an industry, it provides or creates a culture that allows for people to be harassed, killed and shuffled in like cattle.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: And so, that encourages an environment of police brutality. And so, what we want to do is be ahead of the curve in the city of Jackson. We want to see programs which—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.
MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: —which deal with community sensitivity.
AMY GOODMAN: I thank you so much, and we’ll cover your—the day you become mayor.