Chokwe Lumumba maintained a civil rights commitment that was rooted in the moment when his mother showed her 8-year-old son the Jet magazine photograph of a beaten Emmett Till in his open casket. The commitment was nurtured on the streets of Detroit, where Lumumba and his mother collected money to support the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s.
Half a century later, he would be the transformational mayor of a major Southern city, Jackson, Mississippi. But just as his tenure was taking shape, Lumumba died unexpectedly Tuesday at age 66.
The mayor’s death ended an epic journey that challenged conventions, upset the status quo and proved the potential of electoral politics to initiate radical change—even in a conservative Southern state.
As a young man, inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to address “infectious discrimination, racism and apartheid,” and shocked into a deeper activism by King’s assassination, Lumumba changed his name from Edwin Taliaferro—taking his new first name from an African tribe that had resisted slavery and his new last name from the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.
Chokwe Lumumba became a human rights lawyer “defending political prisoners.” His clients would eventually include former Black Panthers and rapper Tupac Shakur. His remarkable list of legal accomplishments included his key role in the 2010 decision of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to suspend the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, Mississippi sisters who were released after serving sixteen years of consecutive life sentences for an $11 robbery—a punishment that came to be understood as a glaring example of the extreme over-sentencing of African-Americans.
When he was not in court, Lumumba was agitating, as a civil rights and anti-apartheid activist, as a leading figure in the Republic of New Afrika, and as a co-founder of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
That’s not the usual résumé for the mayor of a major Southern city.
But Chokwe Lumumba had no intention of becoming a usual mayor when he launched his bid last year for Jackson’s top job. After a campaign in which the city councilman was outspent 4-1 and attacked as a militant, Lumumba defeated an incumbent mayor and a business-backed contender in the Democratic primary and then won more than 85 percent of the vote in the June 2013 general election.
He took office not merely with the intent of managing Jackson but with the goal of transforming it. “People should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history, but we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country,” he told Democracy Now! just days after his election.
For Lumumba, that meant building unprecedented coalitions that crossed lines of race, class, gender, ideology and politics. “Our revolution is for the better idea it’s not just for the change in colors.” he told the Jackson Free Press.
Lumumba wanted Jackson to create a “solidarity economy,” with an emphasis on developing cooperatives and establishing models for local development and worker ownership.
“We have to make sure that economically we’re free, and part of that is the whole idea of economic democracy,” said the mayor, who explained in an interview shortly after his election:
We have to deal with more cooperative thinking and more involvement of people in the control of businesses, as opposed to just the big money changers, or the big CEOs and the big multinational corporations, the big capitalist corporations which generally control here in Mississippi. They are a reality.
And so it’s not that we’re going to throw them out of Mississippi. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I do believe that we can develop ways of working to have Blacks and other—indeed, not just Blacks but other poor people, or people who are less endowed with great wealth—to participate in the economy on an equal basis.
Lumumba was building the coalitions, and gaining a striking level of support for his vision, when he died unxpectedly Tuesday from heart failure.
Lumumba had run for the mayoralty as “a Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat” and promised to renew the small-“d” democracy vision of Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. True to his campaign slogan, “The People Must Decide,” he sought to organize new social and economic networks (with a special emphasis on developing cooperatives) in Mississippi’s capital city, and boldly asked citizens to vote to raise their own taxes in order to repair the city’s crumbling infrastructure. While most politicians avoid association with tax hikes, Lumumba campaigned across the city of 175,000—announcing that “we can fix the problem”—and on January 14, 2014, the mayor won a 9-1 vote of confidence.
Celebrating that victory, Lumumba declared, “I want to just say that it’s been a resounding victory here, and there’s only one way to go—that’s up. We’re going to do exactly what we said. We said at the very beginning that we were going to take infrastructure and revitalize infrastructure and transition infrastructure into economy.”
The mayor’s enthusiasm extended to his efforts to convince Mississippi’s conservative legislature to support aid to Jackson. He created a sense that just about anything was possible in a city that embraced his activist agenda on human rights and economic justice issues.
“I have known Mayor Lumumba since 1974,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi. “One of the reasons I was so public about my support for the mayor, was that I believed once people got to know the real Chokwe Lumumba they would find him to be an extremely bright, caring and humble individual. His election as mayor and very short term in office demonstrated exactly that.”
Lumumba’s death, from heart failure, came as a shock. And a shocking loss for a city that had elected him just months earlier. Crowds gathered at Jackson’s city hall to mourn that loss. “Words cannot do justice to the emotions we all feel right now. Our great captain has fallen. Our hearts are broken,” said Hinds County (Jackson) Democratic Party chair Jacqueline Amos. “The legacy of Chokwe Lumumba must not be buried with the man.”
Amos is so very right.
Cities are the places where radical reformers can still break the political mold and make real change, where the politics of concession and compromise can be replaced with the politics of people power and renewal. Chokwe Lumumba proved that, and the best way to honor his accomplishment is to elect more mayors who are as determined as he was to be transformative leaders.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on New York City’s progressive city council rule changes
Even before Chris Christie’s traffic troubles took the shine off his presidential prospects, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was moving to position himself as an acceptable alternative for Republicans who might still be thinking that a governor would make a good 2016 nominee.
Walker has a long history of arguing choosing a state official with little experience in Washington—like, perhaps, Scott Walker—is the Republicans’ best option for retaking the White House. “An ideal candidate to me would be a current or former governor,” Walker said last fall. “Just because I think governors have executive experience and, more importantly, I think there’s a real sense across America that people want an outsider.”
But in January, as attention was turning toward him, Walker got more specific.
“There are similarities between a governor and a president,” he explained.
Asked how voters might judge governors who bid for the presidency, the Wisconsinite replied, “Governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with, making sure to have the smartest person for a particular task or to head a specific agency. They should be judged on that basis and who they take advice from.”
Just as Christie did in January, Walker has responded to the release of controversial e-mails from an "inner circle" of top aides by suggesting that he did not know what was going on around him. But the people both men put in positions of authority and public trust certainly did know.
When he was bidding for the governorship of Wisconsin, Scott Walker selected aides who have since been convicted of engaging in illegal activities, disregarding the trust and the responsibilities that are supposed to go with public positions. At the same time, their communications included slurs on women, people of color, gays, Jews, immigrants and people with disabilities.
The release of 28,000 pages of e-mails and more than 400 legal documents associated with the John Doe investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of aides who served with Walker when, as the Milwaukee county executive, he was seeking the governorship.
In addition to doing campaign work on public time—a theft of taxpayer funds—Walker’s aides circulated e-mails that portrayed poor people and African-Americans as dogs. One top aide referred to the image as “hilarious” and “so true.” Another top aide used his e-mail account to circulate an e-mail that mocked racial and ethnic minorities, as well as gay men and people suffering from AIDS.
An unsettling disregard for the human beings they were supposed to be serving showed up on a frequent basis in the e-mails of the people closest to Scott Walker. And when an aide pondered attacking the use of respectful terms for immigrants, gubernatorial candidate Walker replied, “Don’t hold back!”
Walker’s aides rarely held back. Discussing an incident in which a woman died of complications related to starvation she experienced while committed to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, Walker and his aides communicated with one another about how to keep developments in the tragic story under wraps until after the 2010 gubernatorial election.
The callous conversations were summed up by an e-mail in which one of the aides, Kelly Rindfleisch, announced that “no one cares about crazy people.”
Hubert Humphrey once said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”
There is great truth in that statement, as there is in Scott Walker’s suggestion that “governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with.”
Read Next: Nichols on what Chris Christie and Scott Walker have in common
Missouri is scheduled to put a man to death early Wednesday using a lethal drug procured from an unnamed compounding pharmacy, setting up the fourth execution in the state since November, the Associated Press reports.
Michael Taylor, 47, was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl in 1989. He will be executed at 12:01 am if his attorneys’ last-ditch efforts for a reprieve prove unsuccessful. Per the AP:
Taylor’s attorneys have questioned Missouri’s use of an unnamed compounding pharmacy to provide the pentobarbital for his execution. They have also raised concerns that the state executes men before appeals are complete, and claim Taylor’s original trial attorney was so overworked that she encouraged him to plead guilty to lessen her own workload.
Last week, an Oklahoma-based pharmacy agreed in a settlement to not provide pentobarbital for Taylor’s execution. As a result, the state obtained the drug from another pharmacy, but refused to give its name. Attorneys argue that hiding the supplier’s identity could cause Taylor pain, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment, since we don’t know anything about the pharmacy’s “track record.”
Missouri law protects the identity of suppliers that provide death penalty drugs to the state’s Department of Corrections. The ACLU challenged that law last year, when it was used to hide the supplier of the lethal drug propofol, Missouri’s official execution drug before the state switched to pentobarbital. Reports revealed that the state obtained propofol from an unauthorized dealer.
Tony Rothert, Legal Director for the ACLU of Missouri, said the state is probably hiding the identity of its pentobarbital supplier for the same reason.
“The reason that Missouri is trying to keep it a secret is because the state knows that it’s not being done lawfully,” Rothert told The Nation. “We don’t believe that wanting to carry out an execution is a sufficient justification for the state of Missouri to be abetting the violation of federal drug laws.”
Missouri currently has one more execution scheduled for this year. According to AP, that puts the state on track for a record number in 2014.
Read Next: The maker of Ohio’s lethal injection drugs wants Ohio to stop killing people with them.
Fancy a side of irony with your corporate hypocrisy? Last night on MSNBC, Nation Editor-at-Large Chris Hayes profiled ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a vocal proponent of hydraulic fracking, who is suing to prevent the construction of a water tower near his eighty-three-acre, $5 million horse ranch in Bartonville, Texas. The purpose of the tower? Storing water for fracking. Tillerson and his super-wealthy neighbors are concerned, the lawsuit states, that the fracking tower might “devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.” As Hayes put it, “Rex Tillerson is leading the fracking revolution, just not in his backyard.”
Speaking on PBS NewsHour following President Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev, Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen urged the US to promote “a stable and united Ukraine, at peace with itself and not trapped in an either or proposition between Russia and Europe.” There’s a serious threat, Cohen warned, that Ukraine will split between two governments, one led by the EU-leaning protesters in Kiev and another headed by a Russia-leaning Yanukovych government in the country’s east. What’s more, the upheaval could stoke Putin’s fears that Western-allied forces might try to destabilize Russia, prompting the Russian president to crack down harder on dissenters within his own country.
When Obama first came to office, he signed an executive order that was intended to curtail the power of lobbyists in his administration. But the order didn’t actually make lobbying go away, it only sent it underground. Now, a deregistered, shadow lobby industry is booming, and money spent on lobbying in DC enjoys a 22,000% return on investment. The Nation’s Lee Fang joined The New York Times’s Nicholas Confessore on MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner to discuss these trends and the revelations from Fang’s Nation feature Where Have All the Lobbyists Gone?
The fight for LGBT equality has experienced some stark highs and lows recently. Attorney General Eric Holder called LGBT rights one of the central civil rights fights of our time, even as Arizon's legislature passed a bill that allows businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community, using religious convictions as justification. Nation contributing writer Ari Berman appeared on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry show to discuss how LGBT rights fit in to the larger civil rights struggle. According to Berman, the success of movements like North Carolina's Moral Mondays depends upon strong coalition-building. Berman attributed the strong turnout of a recent Moral Mondays rally to the fact that "so many different causes were represented." The groups behind those causes, which include LGBT, immigrant and traditional civil rights organizations, are "all fighting in a shared struggle."
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an archaic Senate policy is being used by a shameless Republican minority to obstruct the will of the president—and the people he was elected to represent.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I was referring to the filibuster, which has been the Republicans’ most effective and least democratic method of thwarting the will of the majority.
But no, this is another, more obscure and arguably more ridiculous procedural weapon called a “blue slip.” First instituted in 1917, the blue slip process has allowed individual senators to effectively veto a nominee for a circuit court judgeship who hails from their own state. This privilege has been used sparingly by some Judiciary Committee chairmen and more regularly by others. But in recent months, it has been taken to the extreme.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
The Sochi Olympics, which began with the hashtag #sochiproblems, ended with Russia winning the medal count and enjoying a dose of national pride and international prestige. But now the authorities will be left to figure out what to do with 206 stadiums and assorted buildings, and residents will have to deal with the “Olympic legacy,” whether that’s a highway built through their yard, bulldozed homes or environmental damage in the 8,700 acres of the Sochi National Park that have been affected.
The Russian government’s promise of a “Zero Waste Games” has already been discredited, and now its compensation efforts are also proving to “have only a minor effect compared to the environmental damage,” as the United Nations Environmental Programme predicted after reviewing the Sochi Olympic project in 2008. In one tragicomic example, after Russian Railways planted 55,000 compensatory trees and rare plants, more than half of them died from improper planting techniques and a complete lack of care, Russia’s state environmental watchdog found.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak’s recent claim that Sochi’s air and water have become cleaner doesn’t seem to apply to the Mzymta River, which has been polluted by chemicals and debris to the point that endangered Atlantic salmon no longer spawn here, WWF Russia head Igor Chestin wrote in a recent article. These salmon are just one among many animals suffering from habitat destruction, including red deer, wild boar, bears and ibex.
But the epitome of miscarried compensation has to be the Ornithological Park that Russia promised in its Olympic application to ameliorate damage to the Imeretinskaya lowland. Once designated one of the world’s “Important Bird Areas” by BirdLife International, the lowland was filled in with gravel to create space for the coastal cluster of Olympic venues.
The park was originally planned as a contiguous 740-acre territory (scientists had recommended 2,000 acres) to preserve the lowland’s lakes as a wintering place for up to sixty-five species of birds—peregrine falcons, Dalmation pelicans and pygmy cormorants among them—and a habitat for protected plants. But it was eventually spread out over fourteen chunks of swampland, drainage ponds and abandoned farmland. The Russian Bird Preservation Union opposed the park as far back as 2009 on the grounds that it would “not meet the biological needs of birds” and would include “only an insignificant part of the territory that has been important so far for preserving birds.”
On a cloudy afternoon last week, about a dozen geese could be spotted in one section of the park that has been covered with lawn and criss-crossed with walking paths, benches and palm trees (several parts of the reserve are now planned to double as public parks). Another section of the park located right next to the Olympic Village, though, was full of trash, wimpy trees and power boxes, and there wasn’t a bird in sight.
According to park employee Sergei, who declined to give his last name, shrubs have been planted so birds can feed. He said “a lot of nature has been preserved,” but also admitted that “nature and the Olympics can’t be compatible.” The Ornithological Park can restore some bird life in the Imeretinskaya lowland, he said, although “not in the same amount” as in years past.
“It’s hard to say how much it will compensate, but hope dies last,” he said, using a common Russian expression.
But the president of the Russian Bird Union recently called the park a “profanation.” It doesn’t look like it will even come close to restoring this migration spot, since two-thirds of the park territory is located outside the lowland, where “there aren’t reservoirs suitable for water fowl to winter,” the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus concluded in a recent sweeping report on environmental destruction related to the Games.
Meanwhile, the environmentalists who have reported on travesties like the Ornithological Park continue to face pressure from law enforcement after Yevgeny Vitishko was imprisoned in what human rights advocates called retribution for his Olympics-related activism. Environmental Watch member Olga Noskovets and activist David Khakim, who attempted to picket for Vitishko outside Sochi city hall last week, were detained on the last day of the Olympics as they each arrived at a transport stop where they had agreed to meet. Environmental Watch has long feared that activists will face an even tougher crack down when the international media leave Sochi.
Previously, Noskovets was detained for three hours at the Russian-Abkhazian border, she said. “You understand you’re in some database, a blacklist,” she told The Nation in December.
The two activists face fifteen days in jail for allegedly resisting police, charges they deny.
Read Next: Alec Luhn on the crackdowns against activists in Sochi.
Today marks one of the most momentous nights in 1960s history. No, not another Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan but young Cassius Clay (already one of my boyhood heroes) whipping aging bad man Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight crown in a huge upset—paving the way for his decades at the forefront of American sports and culture and politics.
Yes, the Beatles visited him earlier in his training camp in Miami Beach for a much-publicized photo op. But the most amazing meeting was the coming together, in a modest hotel in a black neighborhood back in Miami after the fight—starring new heavyweight champ Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown (the greatest football player ever and Sam Cooke (possibly the finest singer of our time). Now that’s a line-up that tops even the Fab Four. Also in attendance: a certain undercover FBI agent.
Clay was about to announce his membership in the “black Muslims” and get a name change. Malcolm was about to get kicked out of that faith, despite (or partly because of) his friendship with Clay, and then make his epic trip to Mecca. Brown was getting more and more outspoken on race. And Sam Cooke was about to record a single with Ali—and write “A Change Gonna Come.” Within a little more than a year, Cooke and Malcolm would be dead.
But on that night, as Peter Guralnick writes:
They sat in Malcolm’s room with Osman Karriem and various Muslim ministers and supporters, eating vanilla ice cream and offering up thanks to Allah for Cassius’ victory, as an undercover FBI informant took note of this apparent nexus between the Nation of Islam and prominent members of the sports and entertainment industries. Sam was uncharacteristically quiet, taking in the magnificent multiplicity of the moment. To him, Cassius was not just a great entertainer but a kindred soul. He had made beating Liston look easy, and Sam was convinced he would beat him again. Because, armed with an analytic intelligence, he had made him afraid.
Jim Brown, an outspoken militant himself, though not a member of the Nation, appeared to veteran black sports reporter Brad Pye Jr. to be more elated over Clay’s achievement than any of his own. “Well, Brown,” said Malcolm with a mixture of seriousness and jocularity, “don’t you think it’s time for this young man to stop spouting off and get serious?”
That is exactly what Cassius did at a pair of press conferences he held in the two days following the fight. He was a Muslim, he said. “There are seven hundred fifty million people all over the world who believe in it, and I’m one of them.” He wasn’t a Christian. How could he be, “when I see all the colored people fighting for forced integration get blowed up… . I’m the heavyweight champion, but right now, there are some neighborhoods I can’t move into….
I’m going to add to this story over the next hour. For now, let me direct you to this lengthy excerpt from Guralnick’s excellent biography of Cooke, which covers that night and the aftermath.
And here’s a clip from the opening of the Hollywood film Ali, with Will Smith in the starring role and a Sam Cooke character singing in a Miami nightclub that week—which actually happened and was immortalized on one of the great live albums ever, Live at the Harlem Club. Below that, the scene in the ring that night as Ali welcomes Cooke to his celebration. Finally, a clip of Malcolm talking with and about Ali in the aftermath.
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