Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Mayor looking for radical change in the Deep South

New mayor: Chokwe Lumamba

The US Supreme Court last week struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raising concerns that decades of advancements in battling discrimination and racism in America's deep South might be undermined.

Meanwhile, deep in the heart of Dixie, one of the most radical black politicians ever to hold office in America was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi in early June – a victory achieved 50 years on from the of slaying of a black civil rights activist who'd championed black voting rights in the same city.

On June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson home. The killing sparked national outrage and helped spur many across America into involvement in the struggle for black civil rights. The passage of the Voting Rights Act two years after his assassination was one of the crowning achievement of the civil rights era.

The Supreme Court's decision to invalidate a provision of the law that required states with past histories of discriminatory voting practices to seek the permission of the federal government before altering their voting laws is seen as a huge blow by minority voting rights advocates.

In Jackson, Chokwe Lumumba's election wasn't a shocker, because of the fact that he was black. It's had a black mayor since 1997.

Jackson is 80% African-American.

Lumumba's election is stunning, because he is openly and avowedly radical on social and economic issues in a way seldom seen in American politics.

During the 1970s and early-1980s, he joined others in espousing the creation of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), an independent and predominantly black country in the southeastern US.

The RNA movement also called for the US government to pay several billions of dollars in reparations for slavery.

In his campaign literature and in news media interviews, Mayor Lumumba stressed that his economic program will incorporate principles of the "solidarity economy". Solidarity economy is a umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of alternative economic activities, including worker-owned co-operatives, co-operative banks, peer lending, community land trusts, participatory budgeting and fair trade.

Chokwe Lumumba defeated his opponent Jonathan Lee, an African-American and fellow Democrat, by winning a whopping 87% of the votes and he'll get a chance to start implementing some of his economic plans this month.

In these uncertain times, there are no guarantees that Lumumba's tapping of "solidarity economy" ideas will work. But, in these days when Washington seems bereft of any new ideas about how to revive the country from its economic doldrums, at least Chokwe Lumumba is willing to think and act creatively.

And, judging by the margin of his victory, it seems clear that he's not the only one hoping for radical change in Jackson, Mississippi.

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