The heartless combination of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the House Republicans flatly shunning the immigration bill and the Trayvon Martin outrage should be a wake up call about the grave dangers posed by the far right and may give rise to a renewed motion among African Americans that could give much needed new impetus and political focus to the progressive movement.
The negative policies and missteps of the Obama administration are often the target of progressive fire, and rightly so. But these take place in the context of (and are sometimes caused by) an extremely perilous development in U.S. politics: an alliance of energized rightwing populists with the most reactionary sector of Big Business has captured the Republican Party with “the unabashed ambition to reverse decades of economic and social policy by any means necessary.” (1)
The GOP is in all-out nullificationist mode, rejecting any federal laws with which they disagree. They are using their power in the judiciary and Congress to block passage or implementation of anything they find distasteful at the federal level. And under the radar the Republicans are rapidly implementing a far flung rightwing program in the 28 states they currently control. They have embarked on an unprecedented overhaul of government on behalf of the one percent and against all sectors of the poor and much of the working and middle classes, undermining the rights of all.
The main precedent in U.S. history for this kind of unbridled reactionary behavior was the states rights, pro-slavery position of the white South leading up to the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called out the attempts at nullification in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” and the movement of the sixties defeated it. As shown in the ultra-conservative playground that is the North Carolina legislature, the new laws and structures of today’s rightwing program are so extreme and in such stark contrast to the rest of the country that I believe both their strategy and their program should be called “Neo-Secession.”
This nullification and neo-secession must be met by a renewed motion for freedom and social justice. The great scholar-activist Manning Marable, the leader of the powerful fightback in North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and others have called for a Third Reconstruction that builds on the post-Civil War first Reconstruction and the Civil Rights/Second Reconstruction. (2)
We are now at a pivotal point in this fight. The battlelines are drawn: Reactionary Nullification and Neo-Secession or Third Reconstruction?
Like the first secession, this second neo-secession is centered in the South even though it is a national movement with unusual strength in the upper Rocky Mountain and plains states in addition to the South. (3) Similarly racism, especially anti-Black racism, lies at its foundation even as the rightwing assaults all democratic, women’s, immigrant and labor rights, social and environmental programs. Progressives in the South are rising to the challenge. But, deplorably, most Democrats, unions, progressives and social justice forces barely have the South on their radar and rarely invest in it. This must change, and change rapidly.
A shift in progressive priorities and intensification of on-the-ground organizing are crucial to defeating the right’s neo-secessionist agenda as well as to forge a sufficiently powerful “Third Reconstructionist” political force to successfully pushback against the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party in the battles that must be waged against them along the way. We can righteously roast Obama all we want, but unless we can build a truly powerful force to his left that can simultaneously unite with moderates to break the political stranglehold of the far right, we will be spitting into the wind.
NEO-SECESSION AND THIRD RECONSTRUCTION
Both the rightwing strategy of Nullification and Neo-Secession and the peoples fight for a Third Reconstruction are deeply rooted in U.S. history.
Nullification was born in the nineteenth century as the slaveholders’ legal theory that states have the right to ignore any federal legislation, judicial decision or executive order that they disagree with. In practice it meant court decisions like Dred Scott, congressional filibusters and reactionary legislation, and the consolidation of the slaveholders’ power in the states. It was the prelude to Secession and Civil War.
Post Civil War, the victorious Union alliance with Blacks in the South then decreed Reconstruction, the most democratic, progressive and racially just program in U.S. history up to that point.
By the 1880s, however, the Southern racists and their allies overthrew Reconstruction and set up another white supremacist regime characterized by legalized racial discrimination in all facets of life, the virtual reenslavement of Black labor and a white monopoly on voting and political power. This regime even survived the New Deal and was not dismantled until the Civil Rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This Second Reconstruction not only finally ended the white dictatorship in the South but also ignited the anti-Vietnam War, Chicano, Asian American, Native American, women’s and gay rights movements. Together they gave rise to the War on Poverty and won unparalleled national rights and programs for workers, women, immigrants, the poor and others.
Today the rightwing is once again spewing out this racist legal theory of nullification and invoking a new civil war, hardly bloodless though not involving clashing armies, in an attempt to overthrow the Second Reconstruction. More important, they are putting it into practice at the federal, state and local levels.
Due to decades of control of the presidency, they occupy most of the federal judiciary where they are systematically stripping away progressive laws, regulations and rights—even public education, the historic bedrock of the middle class. They control Congress through political hardball, gerrymandering and abuse of the rules. With control of two of the three branches of the federal government and the malevolent abuse of the filibuster and mass refusal of executive political appointments, they are strangling the Obama presidency. (4)
Meanwhile the Republicans control 28 states and numerous local jurisdictions in which they are moving to nullify federal legislation with which they disagree, qualitatively cutback on and privatize government and public education, drastically rollback the rights of people of color, women, workers, children and gays and eliminate progressive income taxes in favor of regressive sales taxes. Lara M. Brown recently reminded us in that “the vast majority of the laws under which each of us abide are state laws, not federal laws.”
The recent Supreme Court decision invalidating the most powerful parts of the Voting Rights Act has opened the floodgates to voter suppression laws that heretofore have been ruled unconstitutional. Although there are still numerous Black legislators, David Bostis and Thomas Edsall assess that Republican gerrymandering, voter suppression and Black legislators’ loss of clout and committee chairpersonships means that “At the state level, Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the civil rights era.” (5) Meanwhile the Great Recession has greatly increased already unacceptable levels of racial income and wealth inequality. The Trayvon Martin case traumatically revealed, once again, the grave dangers to Blacks living amidst white racism.
Outright secession would be political suicide since the rightwing led states clearly lack the power to win. But if they have their way the difference between Blue and Red states will soon be so stark as to be the modern analogue to the free and slave states or the legally segregated versus non-legally segregated states of the past. This time the rightwing wants it both ways: to benefit from staying in the Union yet at the same time to re-create numerous states in their own ideological image. This is why I think it is historically justifiable and politically useful to brand today’s rightwingers as nullificationist and neo-secessionist.
Nullification is one of the principal tactics of the rightwing; neo-secession is its strategy and its program.
Since the Nixon and especially the Reagan administrations, the rightwing has sought to rout both the New Deal and the Civil Rights reconstruction, and replace it with an updated version of racism and reaction. The right reached both a new level of power and new level of extremism in reaction to the election of Barack Obama. It is our fight to defeat them and bring forth a new, Third Reconstruction that will make further strides toward ending racism and bringing justice for all.
NOTHING COULD BE MORE NEO-SECESSIONIST: NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina is a true purple state: Obama won the state in 2008 by less than one percent and lost it by two percent in 2012.
But through a combination of good luck and smart strategy, not to speak of state Democratic lethargy, Republican gerrymandering and the largesse of the rightwing retail mogul Art Pope, North Carolina has been the site of the Tea Party’s most dramatic political victories and its most draconian legislative and social agenda. Pope’s foundation finances ninety percent of the income of the state’s leading rightwing groups (6)
Yet, in 2012 the Republicans won the governorship and a majority in both houses of the legislature for the first time since the first Reconstruction. In fact they boast a supermajority in both houses. “Since then,” says the NY Times, “the state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”
In just its first two weeks the new legislature: (1) became the only state to nullify all federally mandated and funded extensions to unemployment, affecting 170,000 people. It also slashed the maximum unemployment benefit for new claims from $522 to $360 per week and the maximum length to 20 weeks. North Carolina has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation; (2) refused the federally funded Medicare benefit that would have provided health care to an additional 500,000 North Carolinians; (3) moved to enshrine existing anti-union, “right to work” laws in the state constitution; (4) passed voter ID laws, cutback early voting by half and eliminated same day registration; (5) legalized and subsidized fracking; (6) passed a bill to purge state commissions and Superior Court judges they don’t like.
Reverend Doctor William Barber II, the North Carolina State President of the NAACP and the main leader of the growing fightback, gives further details about what he calls the “vicious war on the poor”:
“Piling further indignities on the poor, they also want to require people applying for temporary assistance or benefits to submit to criminal background checks, and force applicants to a job training program for low-income workers to take a drug test, for which they have to pay. Now the legislature wants to increase and expand taxes on groceries, haircuts and prescription drugs. They're even taking aim at poor children with a bill to lower the income requirement for North Carolina's prekindergarten program, making it off limits to nearly 30,000 children who would have previously qualified.” (7)
In addition, the legislature is moving to privatize Medicaid; slash public education funding to 2007 levels, end teacher tenure and place charter schools under separate governance; shut down most abortion clinics; and establish outlandish rules for ex-offenders to restore their voting rights.
This reactionary avalanche of neo-secession is being met by a burgeoning fightback. The North Carolina NAACP (http://www.naacpnc.org/) and the wide progressive coalition it has built called Historic Thousands on Jones Street (where the state capitol is located,http://hkonj.com/) is fighting for what Rev. Barber enunciates as a Third Reconstruction. This year they launched “Moral Monday”: every Monday a demonstration against the legislature is followed by civil disobedience in the state house. In eleven such events so far, more than 700 people have been arrested, usually supported by thousands at the rallies. HKonJ and its member groups have flanked Moral Monday with a statewide and sectoral organizing campaign. (8)
The neo-secessionist strategy poses a highly complex set of challenges, distinct from a straight up secession. The right must be defeated in public opinion, in the streets, in workplaces and at the polls. And it must be defeated in numerous discrete congressional and legislative districts, as well as county and city races, governorships, legislatures, the Congress and the presidency. This will be protracted guerrilla political struggle. We must prepare ourselves to take advantage of big opportunities to mobilize the public and reshape public opinion when they are presented but also drill down into the electoral fights district by district. Only a gigantic and determined coalition of everyone who opposes the right can do this, not just in presidential elections but all levels of government.
However we also need a massive and well organized progressive force to the left of Obama Democrats with a social justice left that can root this force among people of color, unions and other poor folk that can provide the backbone that the elite Democrats consistently show they lack. This is crucial not only to win all of these battles, but to make sure the rightwing program is eventually buried at every level and forever, and replaced by a Third Reconstruction.
This is not an ideological projection but a historically based reality of today’s politics. I have detailed it, most recently; in “Can We Defeat the Racist Southern Strategy in 2012?” (9) Strikingly, African American voters are dynamically growing and the most progressive voting bloc in the country and the even faster-growing Latino and Asian American populations are increasingly moving in the same direction. In 2012 Black voter participation exceeded that of all other groups. And no other demographic group votes in such a unified liberal-progressive way.
Yet, it often appears that the leadership and often membership of social justice non-profits and progressive organizations, editorial boards and actions are more racially segregated than the Fortune 500.
People of color are the anchor of what is now being called “the new majority” or the “rising American electorate” together with unmarried women, labor and youth. Increased class gaps among seniors, married women and the middle class also provide important organizing opportunities.
Of course the battle for a Third Reconstruction takes place in a vastly different global and national context than Reconstruction I and II. In this era of imperial decline, social austerity and looming environmental catastrophe today’s radical reconstruction would encompass not only the fight for racial justice but also intersect with labor battles and anti-cutback efforts, fights for immigrant, women’s and LGBT rights, peace and climate justice in new ways. Getting there will be complex but the potential exists for a social change movement in the U.S. that is both broader and more radical on a host of issues than previous progressive upsurges.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOUTH
In this war for the heart and soul of the U.S., the battle for the South stands front and center.
Written off as redneck, ignorant Bible Belt country by too many liberals, the South is actually a heated center of battle against the right. Historically the defining feature of the South was the plantation economy and the racially coerced labor that it was founded upon. However, plantations are now a thing of the past. Worldwide capitalist competition, technology, migration and immigration, gentrification/white flight and exurbs are transforming the Southern landscape, at different rates and in different ways. (10) Indeed Maryland and Virginia now rank in the top ten in median household income while Southern states also occupy nine of the bottom twelve.
The South (remember that both Texas and Florida were part of the Confederacy) has more population, more Black people, more poverty, more military installations, more congressional seats and more Electoral votes than any other region of the country, and it is growing. Despite right-to-work laws, it is also the only area besides California where union membership is growing.
The poison that lingers, however, is that Southern whites are far more conservative, Republican and prone to white political solidarity than elsewhere. Nationally, anywhere between 55 percent and 60 percent of whites vote Republican in presidential elections. But Southern whites do so at a 70 percent plus clip, rising to ninety percent in much of the Deep South in opposition to Obama.
On the flip side there is a far greater percentage of African American voters in the Southern states than elsewhere, topping at 35 percent in Mississippi. And like Blacks throughout the country, they consistently vote ninety percent Democratic. Black remigration to the South means that there is a higher percentage of African Americans in that region than in many decades.
In fact the South has been wrongly stereotyped as a Republican monolith since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Actually it was not until 1994 that the Republicans won a majority of the Southern congresspersons. There are way more African American officeholders in the region than in any other part of the country. Democrats are generally stronger at the state and local levels than they are in presidential elections. New Deal and populist politics still exist among some working class whites and small farmers, and Latino and Asian immigration is growing.
NO MORE SOLID SOUTH
Even in Mississippi the Republicans hold only a three-seat majority in the state’s House. A proposed state constitutional amendment defining “personhood” as beginning at conception and prohibiting abortion “from the moment of fertilization” was defeated by 55 percent of voters in Nov. 2011. And the longtime Black and human rights activist Chokwe Lumumba was just elected mayor of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city. (11)
Maryland long ago turned Blue, Virginia and North Carolina are now true battleground states. After North Carolina, Georgia was the most competitive state won by Romney. And Texas and Mississippi are within shouting distance—and a lot of smart, hard work---of becoming battleground states. Progressive political forces and mass rumblings can be heard in every Southern state. This is where a broad coalition centered around African Americans must be unleashed and the rightwing routed in its own backyard.
The South is also the site of some of the most exciting social justice organizing in the country. (12)
The defeat of the Personhood amendment and the election of Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson highlight the growing power of groups like Mississippi One Voice (http://uniteonevoice.org/ovms/), the Mississippi Black Leadership Summit (http://uniteonevoice.org/2013-ms-black-leadership-summit/) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (http://mxgm.org/chokwe-lumumbas-mayoral-victory-speech-tuesday-june-4-2013/) in Mississippi.
Virginia New Majority has burst on the scene with the state’s most dynamic political field operation and as a key organizing force in the Virginia legislature. It may be the first social justice group to embark on an exciting new strategy of identifying, training and fielding progressive candidates in key areas of the state. http://www.virginianewmajority.org/ Florida New Majority (http://www.flnewmajority.org/) has built one of the largest social justice electoral formations in the country as well as a potentially powerful alliance with the Service Employees International Union and other unions in this crucial battleground state. It is now making important new initiatives to develop its capacity to communicate regularly with the hundreds of thousands of people they meet at the doors as well with the organization of Freedom Clubs as a grassroots organization.
The battle for the South together with other purple and Red states is once again likely to determine the future of this country. Next year’s 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Summer provides an opportunity for people around the country to contribute to the battle in Mississippi and throughout the South. (http://www.crmvet.org/anc/1406msfs.pdf)
The 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington will be marked by a landmark rally in Washington, DC on Aug. 28, 2013. Hopefully the anniversary will give breadth and depth to the emerging political motion ignited by the regressive Voting Rights Act decision and the Trayvon Martin travesty. The emergence of a renewed mass African American-led grassroots motion would be a major step for the progressive movement as a whole as we take on the task of fighting to defeat neo-secession and forge a Third Reconstruction for jobs, peace and freedom. http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/
(1) Even the Brookings Institute centrist Thomas Mann and the American Enterprise Institute conservative Norman Ornstein are alarmed by what they call the Republican’s “new nullification” strategy. They have devoted an entire book to this subject: “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism,” (2012).
(2) Manning Marable, “The Third Reconstruction: Black Nationalism and Race in a Revolutionary America,” Social Text, Autumn 1981. Reverend William Barber II:http://www.storyofamerica.org/reconstruction3. Melissa Harris-Perry:http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nathan-roush/2013/07/08/msnbc-harris-perry-claims-we-are-third-reconstruction-after-voting-rig.
(3) Bruce Bartlett does a great job of tracing the origins of today’s struggles to slavery days:http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2012/05/04/Americas-Return-to-Political-Polarization.aspx#page1
(4) In order to promote political stability, the framers of the U.S. Constitution created a unique fragmentation of the government into three branches (plus the Federal Reserve the military) and a distinctively powerful division of power between the federal, state, county and city jurisdictions. Combined with the decision to disperse and stagger elections, this system makes the governmental system of the U.S. uniquely stable. But, in an unintended consequence that Mann and Ornstein detail, it also makes it vulnerable to sabotage and nullification by a powerful political force like today’s Republican Party which rejects the culture of compromise that is absolutely crucial to make tour very divided national governmental system work.
(5) Bostis is quoted in Thomas Edsall, “The Decline of Black Power in the South,”http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/10/the-decline-of-black-power-in-the-south/?emc=eta1
(6) Much more on Pope at: http://www.southernstudies.org/person/art-pope
(8) A big question is how this increased street motion can not only be greatly increased but also translated into the electoral power necessary to strip away the Republican supermajorities and governorship in that state.
(9) Bob Wing, “Can We Defeat the Racist Southern Strategy in 2012?”http://www.organizingupgrade.com/index.php/modules-menu/community-organizing/item/728-can-we-defeat-the-racist-southern-strategy-in-2012
(10) Bob Moser, now the executive editor of American Prospect magazine, advances an interesting and optimistic analysis of the political potential of the South in his 2008 book, “Blue Dixie” and in a recent special feature of American Prospect magazine entitled “The End of the Solid South” (http://prospect.org/article/end-solid-south).
(11) Bob Wing, “From Mississippi Goddam to Jackson Hell Yes’: Chokwe Lumumba is the New Mayor of Jackson”: http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/06/voices-from-mississippi-goddam-to-jackson-hell-yes.html
(12) There are many more important groups but the following are the social justice organizations with major civic engagement operations I am currently most knowledgeable about. Each of the groups I highlight is grounded in racial justice, new majority and/or rising American electoral politics and strategies.
Organziing Upgrade wants to provide a platform for an open discussion about the poltiical and strategic implications of teh recent Supreme Court decision to strike down the Voting Rights Act and the disturbing amendment to the immigration legislation in the Senate. To join the conversation, you can commetn below or send us your comments and reflections to us at upgrade @organizingupgrade.com.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.: Supreme Court guts Voting Rights: not surprised, but sickened
Reposted from Bill's website.
I cannot say that i was surprised. I think that all of the signs were there that the majority of the Supreme Court would move against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That said, i kept hoping that the Court would leave the Voting Rights Act alone. It did not work out that way.
It is critical that we understand that the attack on the Voting Rights Act is a conservative assault on the 'future.' This larger attack is not so much an undertaking by those who have always hated the Voting Rights Act, though that is, of course, one component. Rather it is an offensive against the changing demographics of the USA and the implications that this raises regarding the potential for a progressive political realignment. The political Right is very aware that the demographics are against them, therefore, gerrymandering plus gutting the Voting Rights Act is an effective approach if one wants to undermine the emergence of a new electoral majority.
Various liberal and progressive commentators have been suggesting that we must demand that Congress takes action. While that sounds reasonable, in some respects, given the balance in Congress it is unlikely that anything will change. What is, perhaps, more interesting is to consider a different side to strategy, that which was raised years ago by the former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., and has subsequently been raised by the on-line group "Color of Change": a Constitutional amendment on voting rights. In other words, there must be a political movement built around expanding democracy–including but not limited to voting rights–rather than simply patching up the current system. This is not to say that liberals and progressives in Congress should not act to reform the Voting Rights Act and deep-six the Supreme Court's ruling. I am hoping that something will be moved immediately. But what we really need to look at is the larger question of democracy and, specifically, the manner in which it continues to be threatened by NSA surveillance, drones, and, yes, the attacks on voting rights. These various issues need to be linked rather than treated separately.
We must keep in mind that since the 1970s there has been a concerted effort in the USA and most other advanced capitalist states, to turn back the clock on civil liberties and democratic rights. The Supreme Court's decision against the Voting Rights Act is only one act in a much longer and mean-spirited drama. The moves towards authoritarianism must be resisted now, not some time in the future.
Harmony Goldberg: The Past and Future Poltiics of Race in the United States
Chokwe Lumumba--a founder and leader of the Republic of New Afrika, the New Afrikan People’s Organization and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, defense attorney for Tupac Shakur and others, and a first term city councilman--is the new Mayor of Jackson, Miss.
His June 4 victory is a stirring tribute to the courageous Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers who fifty years ago on June 12, 1963 was gunned down at his Jackson home.
In a stunning turn of events Chokwe defeated Jackson’s three-term incumbent and first African American mayor Harvey Johnson, the white Republican-financed young Black businessman Jonathan Lee, and others to win leadership of the city with the second highest percentage of Black people in the United States.
I was privileged to briefly participate in the victory of one of the most radical mayors in U.S. history, right in the heart of Dixie, and to glimpse a new Black-led progressive coalition that intends to fight for the state.
Nina Simone famously cussed Mississippi white supremacy in her 1964 civil rights anthem “Mississippi Goddam.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkcuNX4vrS8) The election of Chokwe Lumumba is now an occasion to say “Jackson Hell Yes!”
‘Impressed with the People’
Jackson has a partisan mayoral electoral system that allows all voters regardless of party affiliation to cast ballots in any party’s primary election. With their deep pockets and high turnout bloc voting, this so-called “crossover primary” often enables Mississippi’s ultra-conservative white voters and businessmen to influence the candidates of both parties.
Not this time. In a reversal the near unanimous financial and political support that whites gave Jonathan Lee backfired.
By depriving incumbent Johnson of their support, whites inadvertently helped Lumumba upset Johnson in the primary. And in the Lee/Lumumba runoff the full throated white backing of Lee helped most Black voters come crystal clear who he really represented in stark contrast to the powerful progressive grassroots candidacy of Chokwe Lumumba.
Lee flaunted his deep pockets by filling the airwaves with dire warnings of Lumumba’s “militancy,” “divisiveness” and “anti-Christianity,” but a large Black majority went for Lumumba in huge percentages.
Lumumba told the Clarion Ledger, “I was even more impressed with the people and...their ability to, I think, take on the issues and to see through what I think in many instances was misdirection. They [voters] had a lot of distractions, and they saw through them.”
21st Century ‘Mississippi Goddam’
“Mississippi Goddam” persists: about ninety percent of the state’s whites regularly cast their ballots for Republicans thereby continuing the historic dominance of white supremacy in the state. Blacks became the majority in Jackson in the 1980s, but were unable to elect the first African American mayor until 1997.
Jackson is the capital of the poorest state in the union. Eighty percent of its 188,000 residents are African American, a percentage surpassed only by Detroit. Despite the growing “reverse Black migration” from the North to the South in recent decades that has lifted the percentage of Blacks living in that region to its highest rate since the 1950s, Jackson is losing population and resources.
The city lost 19,485 white residents from 2000 to 2010, even as it added 7,976 black residents. While most U.S. cities are experiencing gentrification, Jackson is still dealing with white flight—and resources are fleeing with them.
But it would be a big mistake to write off Mississippi as redneck Tea Party territory. Mississippi is also the state with the highest percentage of Black voters in the nation, about 35 percent. Black Mississippians have one of the proudest and most courageous histories of freedom struggle in the country.
Mississippi also has a growing Latino population. Members of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Coalition, acting as individuals, played a strong role in Lumumba’s election.
In fact the Republicans have a mere three seat majority in the Mississippi House of Representatives. And, shocking all “common sense” about Mississippi politics, a proposed state constitutional amendment defining “personhood” as beginning at conception and prohibiting abortion “from the moment of fertilization” was defeated by 55 percent of voters in Nov. 2011.
Derrick Johnson, State President of the Mississippi NAACP and Executive Director of One Voice which played a key role in defeating the amendment, told me, “Politics in the state are often defined by race or religion. But many people, especially white women, felt that the personhood ballot initiative went too far, and voted against it based on their personal interests. This is promising for the future of Mississippi politics.”
The Stars Align in the Primary
Jackson is 80 percent Black, so the Democratic primary is where the main electoral action takes place. However, the wild card is Jackson’s crossover primary system that allows any voter to participate in any party primary or runoff. In fact Mississippi does not require political party registration.
There were numerous candidates on the May 7 Democratic primary ballot for mayor, but four Blacks led the way. Going in, the favorites were incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson and 35-year-old businessman Jonathan Lee who billed himself as representing a new generation of Black leadership.
Councilperson Chokwe Lumumba and attorney Regina Quinn were considered long shots.
As mentioned white business interests shunned Johnson and white voters came in big behind Lee by about ninety percent. The Jackson Free Press reported that Lee contributors had previously given more than $1.25 million to Republicans such as Mitt Romney.
Lumumba and Johnson each took about 30 percent of the Black vote with Lee and Quinn garnering about 15 percent of African Americans.
In an upset, Lumumba managed to narrowly edge out Johnson to make the runoff due to the white racial block vote for Lee, the splintering of African American middle class voters among all four main candidates, and a big turnout for Lumumba by Black voters, especially in his City Council district, the largely affluent and Second Ward.
Upon his election as city councilman four years ago, Lumumba had organized a People’s Assembly in the Second Ward to educate and activate his constituents. Four years later that People’s Assembly urged Lumumba to run for Mayor and helped draft his program, the Jackson Plan. The big turnout was the fruit of that bottom up nomination process.
Overall, 30.7 percent (34,652) of Jackson’s 110,000 voters cast ballots, slightly higher than the previous mayoral race. Lee took 34.2% (11,929); Lumumba won 24.7% (8,290); Johnson 21%; and Quinn 11 percent.
Lumumba defeated Lee in 56 of Jackson’s 89 precincts, but white voter turnout was more than twice that of Blacks. In the four highest-percentage voting precincts in the predominantly white Wards 1 and 7, Lee crushed Lumumba 2,087 votes to 20.
Jackson voters signaled that they wanted new leadership, but the question was, who would turnout to vote and what kind of new leadership did they want: the activist veteran Lumumba or the business candidate Lee?
Down and Dirty Runoff
The challenge facing Lumumba in the runoff was daunting. Overall he was outspent by Lee $410,109 to $100,710. And to win he had to turnout and carry virtually all of the Black voters who had supported incumbent Johnson and attorney Quinn in the primary.
Surprisingly he accomplished both, winning the Democratic runoff by 54 to 46 percent (3,000 votes) despite an enormous white turnout for Lee.
The runoff campaign quickly got nasty, as Lee choked the airwaves with claims that Lumumba was an “un-Christian” (read Muslim) “militant,” non-Democrat who would “divide the city.” Lumumba regularly introduced himself as “the Christian brother with an African name” and claimed a track record of fighting for change in the “militant” tradition of Dr. King and Medgar Evers. He called himself a Freedom Democrat in honor of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Why didn’t Lee’s charges resonate with more Black voters?
Lumumba was a brilliant candidate whose personality and record undercut Lee’s charges. He is remarkably articulate, cool and inspirational. At 6 feet 4 inches and a salt-and-pepper 65 years of age he cuts a distinguished, athletic figure.
Lumumba has a documented and well known lifetime record of achievement as an attorney and activist as well as city councilman. His high energy, all-volunteer campaign was untraditional, but it did the most important thing: it connected with Black voters.
Barack Obama long ago disabused African Americans (though not white Republicans) of the notion that an African name means that a person is a Muslim. Soft spoken and elegant, Lumumba belied the scary militant Muslim label that Lee broadcast and inspired confidence among Black voters.
With only two weeks separating the primary from the runoff, the media news drumbeat helped Lumumba offset Lee’s huge advertising advantage.
Lumumba coolly suggested to the Clarion Ledger that race had been “used as a weapon to muster up troops” against his candidacy, because he wants to promote prosperity for all, instead of protecting the business interests of a privileged few. “The real issue shouldn’t be defined that way (in racial terms),” he said. “It should be defined as trying to improve the overall economic health of the entire community.
Lumumba and the People’s Assembly had crafted a program called the Jackson Plan to do just that, but Lee studiously ignored it in favor of slander.
Chickens Come Home to Roost
Indeed Chokwe and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Jackson put the lie to the stereotype of the divisive revolutionary Black militant that is too often shared by progressives, even progressive people of color, as well as conservatives.
At the same time Lumumba’s charge that Lee was primarily backed and paid for by white business and white Republican voters struck a chord with Black voters of all classes as well as politicians. Although it endorsed incumbent Johnson in the primary and was neutral in the runoff, the Jackson Free Press meticulously documented Lee’s Republican business ties, his white voter support and the numerous lawsuits against his business.
Significantly, the legendary grassroots organizer Hollis Watkins worked for Chokwe from the beginning and Congressman Bennie Thompson, the most powerful Black politician in the state, rallied to Lumumba’s support in the runoff. Thompson, the only Democratic congressperson from Mississippi, and Watkins, who has earned tremendous moral authority for his non-stop, courageous organizing from the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee in the early sixties up to today, gave Lumumba a crucial imprimatur of approval and confidence, and mobilized substantial resources to his side.
In short Lumumba was able to build a powerful campaign that united the City’s multi-class Black voters.
It is important to note, however, that the small percentage of white voters Lumumba won were also crucial to his slim 3,000 vote margin of victory. A determined band of white campaigners flanked Lumumba and fought hard to achieve this important result.
Having put all its eggs in the Lee basket, the Republicans did not muster a candidate of their own in the general election of June 4. And they were too demoralized to re-mobilize behind one of the three unknown independents. Lumumba was officially elected mayor in a landslide.
Here is his victory speech: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151668360718738
His election is a lightning bolt: Has anyone with Lumumba’s deep radical political history and who still leads a radical black organization ever been elected mayor of a significant U.S. city?
Chokwe Lumumba and his allies now face the formidable task of governing a very poor city in the heart of Dixie. They will need all the support we can give them. Lumumba’s victory should give impetus for progressives throughout the country to rededicate to the crucial importance of the battle for the South.
Indeed the fight for peace, racial and economic justice is vacuous without a commitment to fight for the South. The South is the historic home of racism, poverty and militarism and the base of the reactionary rightwing. But it is also home to a growing majority of African Americans and rapid demographic and social change that, despite outward appearances, is undermining white solidarity state by state at different paces.
The rightwing’s Southern strategy can only be defeated by a progressive Southern strategy.
Mississippi’s progressives are determined to enhance the power of Blacks, win back the House and transform Mississippi into a battleground state in the years to come. The defeat of the personhood amendment and the election of Chokwe Lumumba are hallmarks of this process, and give renewed impulse and energy to recent motion of social justice forces throughout the country to make electoral work a key part of our struggle for freedom.
Bob Wing has been an organizer and writer since 1968, and was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. He travelled from his home in Durham to spend eight days working to elect Chokwe Lumumba during the runoff election. The author thanks Ajamu Dillahunt, Makani Themba and Derrick Johnson for their editorial suggestions.
This piece is reposted from Carl Davidson's blog, Keep On Keeping On.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Heaven). It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.
Since Sheryl Sandberg has taken it upon herself to jump-start the stalled feminist revolution it’s worth taking a look at the brand of feminism she espouses.
Sandberg’s book, Lean In, together with her plan to re-launch the feminist movement on the scaffolding of Lean In Circles, has drawn an enormous amount of media attention. This flows from both Sandberg’s prominence as the COO of Facebook and the media’s ongoing enchantment with a specific gender story: whether or not women at the top of their professions or careers can “have it all.”
This piece was originally published on Waging Non-Violence.
On Saturday, March 9, New York City police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Kimani Gray in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. After those seven bullets hit him, he lay on the ground and cried out, "Please don't let me die."
Please don't let me die.
It may be one of the most human things I've ever heard, and it makes me want to cry. When I read it I felt like I had said it myself a thousand times before, and had heard the same vulnerability in the words and actions of other people in my life time and time again. It was also the most obvious thing for him to say. The officers shot him seven times — three times in the back. And then, yes, they let him die.
Rest in Power, Hugo Chavez!
In Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, David Harvey explains that the right to the city is far more than access. Harvey writes, "It is a right to change and reinvent the city more after our hearts' desire. It is, moreover, a collective rather than an individual right, since reinventing the city inevitably depends on the exercise of a collective power over the process of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is... one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. How best then to exercise that right?"
First day back at school, and I couldn't help but think of, and thank, the Black Panthers, when my 8 year old daughter went to go and collect the free breakfast for her class from the cafeteria. She handed out, Whole Grain Banana Bread, Low Fat Milk, and Gala Apples, pretty simple stuff really. What I love even more than the healthy food they serve, is that all the kids are offered some; not just the kids from families that qualify for free or subsidized meals, because singling out and stigmatizing kids for needing support just isn't cool. But like the 8 hour work day, weekends, and free education, things like free breakfast in schools don't just happen.