Recently the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) supported the candidacy of one of its founders, Chokwe Lumumba, in his bid to win a City Council seat in Jackson, Mississippi. We took on this strategy because over 10 months ago the US electorate, partly due to an economic meltdown, open-ended wars abroad and the changing demographics of the U.S. population, voted in a moderate Black democrat as its President. That President has gone through great pains to appear as race neutral as possible in both content and rhetoric. Which means that although there has been a substantial amount of hope and resources invested in him the possible returns on such an investment remains unclear for the black community. With many constituents to please the new president is guessing that he cannot afford to look as if he is overly responsive to the needs of the black community.
The southern black population is similarly dominated by local moderate black democratic officials who, as the civil rights/black power movements of the 60’s and 70’s retreated from a electoral strategy while under attack, filled the void by becoming beholden to the Democratic Party. The needs of the community took a back seat to their own individual career paths. It is in this context that MXGM saw an opening to support the candidacy of Lumumba, in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson an overwhelming black city, where black elected officials or as they may prefer elected officials who just happen to be black dominate city politics.
This domination has not led however to the Jackson populace participation in true city decision making, to better governmental services, more job’s, better health care or a safer and cleaner environment. With no commitment to anything, beyond getting elected these officials don’t bring any overarching principles to city-government beyond the principle of careerism. This gave us the opportunity to respond with a candidate who could highlight real choices to areas that we have a majority black population. In no other place other than the South, where over 50% of the U.S. black population still lives could we highlight the politics of self-determination versus the politics of careerism and moderation.
If there is any place where a strategy of self-determination should be implemented it’s a place where our people are the clear majority and where issues of race can actually be succumbed to ideas on how to improve the lives of people. The south allows us to argue in an unapologetic way, our case that the way out of this economic, social and cultural mess of our community, in terms of electoral work, is to support candidates that are connected to the concept of self-determination, the use of the government apparatus to serve the needs of the local community and direct resources to those communities. Candidates with the politics of self-determination look to support the creation of institutions and control of institutions through the community. Candidates steeped in the tradition of self-determination come from an established base that can hold them accountable to their politics. There is a practice that is beginning to catch fire amongst left organizers in the states that are involved in electoral politics, that we have borrowed from our comrades in Latin America, that is Peoples’ Assembly’s. Gathering the community into an organized block that begins to set the agenda for what candidates that are elected should be fighting for as opposed to just hearing what candidates are saying they are going to do, we only support people who run on what the community has determined is in their self interest. Making candidates responsive to our community needs must be done in an intentional way, one that involves planning for what the city/community should look like and how should it be governed.
Jackson seems to be an ideal place to start such a campaign. To see if the black public when given the option of politicians who are moderate democrats versus a candidate who believes in black self determination, who would they choose. In a national election the black majority was well rehearsed to say that race did not matter as 95% voted for the Black candidate. In this local election where all the candidates were black, what separated the candidates was their politics and their plans for the future of Jackson. The other seven candidates sounded the same. They were for winning the City Council seat but had no ideas about what to do with it. Only one candidate based on his history in the movement for self-determination was prepared with ideas on what needs to be done in his district and the rest of the city, based on conversations with his soon to be constituents.
On May 19, 2009 the birth date of Malcolm X, the politics of self-determination was the clear winner in Jackson, with little resources but lots of support the electorate in Jackson voted in overwhelming numbers for a out-spoken revolutionary nationalist to represent the interest of the community, they voted for beginning the process to transform the local government apparatus into a vehicle for economic and political change, guided by the principle of self-determination.