Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

SUDDEN DEATH IN MISSISSIPPI



Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, long-time radical, prominent lawyer and human rights activist died suddenly and unexpectedly Tuesday in Jackson, Mississippi. He was 66.

Lumumba had only been in office as mayor since last summer.  

Born in Detroit, Edwin Taliaferro changed his name in 1969, saying the first name, Chokwe, came from an African tribe that resisted slavery centuries ago, and the last name from the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

Lumumba was labeled a Black terrorist by many for his leadership of the radical group, the Republic of New Afrika, in the 1970s and ’80s. The group advocated a separate Black government and reparations for slavery and was closely monitored by the FBI.

 But while many members of such separatist groups were harassed and prosecuted by law enforcement, Lumumba managed to take a different route. After finishing first in his law school class at Wayne State University, Lumumba became a staff attorney in the Detroit Public Defenders Office. He formed a law firm in Detroit in 1978 and became a renowned human rights lawyer and activist. He moved to Jackson in 1988 and continued his legal work on behalf of the indigent and powerless, helping to found organizations like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and eventually being elected to the City Council in 2009.
 
Lumumba's victory as mayor of Mississippi’s capital surprised even some of his strongest supporters. It sparked worries in the city’s establishment. He was considered potentially too radical to build coalitions and too outspoken for the wheeling and dealing necessary to govern a city.

It did not take him long to prove them wrong. Lumumba quickly forged good working ties across Jackson’s civic spectrum, earning the respect of his election opponents and the business community. He passed a budget that raised spending by 43 percent to address the city’s urgent infrastructure needs. And he funded it with a sharp rise in water and sewer rates. He won approval by referendum of a sales tax increase for public works.

Lumumba proved that a dedicated and determined leftist could run a major city and still maintain his grassroots base and his personal integrity.  

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