How Did Berniecrats Claim the Jackson Mississippi Movement?

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Do They Want To Be Claimed? Should They?

When Jackson’s mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba stepped to the podium at the cynically misnamed “Peoples Summit”, the annual June pilgrimage of Berniecrats, he carried with him the credibility of a half century’s organizing and struggle in Mississippi and around the country. He put this clout behind Our Revolution and the Berniecrats, who are fundamentally allergic to even the mention of global empire, Israeli apartheid, regime change, drone wars and the disastrous impact of the warfare state. Is that what the Jackson movement wanted?

When Chokwe Antar Lumumba stepped to the podium at the Peoples Summit in early June this year it was no small matter. The young mayor-elect of Jackson Mississippi carried with him the moral and political heft of almost half a century’s organizing work in that state and around the country.

His father arrived in Mississippi with the Republic of New Afrika in 1971. The RNA was a target of COINTELPRO, so federal and local authorities promptly provoked an August 1971 shootout at RNA’s headquarters which took the life of a police lieutenant and wounded an FBI agent. 11 RNA members were charged and some served long terms in prison. Chokwe Lumumba assisted in their legal defense and after graduating law school in 1975 he settled permanently in Jackson Mississippi.

In 1990, Lumumba was a founding member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. In the 27 years since its founding MXGM members have been at the forefront of practically every movement upsurge and mass mobilization against police terror. In 2012 MXGM pulled together the initial report documenting the daily toll of police, private security and vigilante killings of black people, providing the research methodology, the initial facts and the inspiration for deeper inquiry and for the ongoing mobilizations against police terror and impunity which have taken place in the last few years and given birth to the Black Lives Matter movement, among much else.

Some time in the mid 1990s, MXGM invited those among its membership who were willing and able to relocate to Mississippi and take part in the collective work of social, economic and political transformation. By then the elder Lumumba had already sunk his roots deep into Mississippi. He was a peoples lawyer, frequently defending not just poor and indigent local clients, but political prisoners including Mutulu Shakur, Fulani Sunni Ali, Geronimo Pratt and Assata Shakur, and other members of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. A tireless advocate of human rights around the world, he also found time to coach basketball and baseball teams, and to organize community cleanups and issues forums. Lumumba helped pull together disaster relief in the wake of Katrina, and took part in the process that eventually drafted the Jackson Kush Plan, a document outlining a process of economic, social and political transformation of Mississippi and surrounding areas by founding and fostering collectively owned enterprises – cooperatives, and relying on quarterly peoples assemblies to solicit popular participation in the movement and in governance.

The collective around the elder Lumumba chose to run its political candidates as Democrats, likely because in Mississippi where Republicans are openly and unmistakably the White Man’s Party black voters don’t need much convincing to vote for Democrats.

Lumumba was elected to Jackson’s city council and became the city’s mayor in 2013. Ambitious plans were laid for a national conference linking a new entity, Cooperation Jackson with global and local movements for economic and social transformation like the Mondragon Cooperative movement in Europe and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a longstanding movement of black farmers in the US South. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died a few months into his first term as mayor. A hastily organized campaign to elect his son Chokwe Antar Lumumba to fill his unexpired term failed in 2014, but the junior Lumumba was elected in primary and general elections this summer.

That’s the weight of historic movement clout and credibility Jackson mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba brought with him to the misleadingly named “Peoples Summit” in Chicago this June. The Peoples Summit is actually the annual invitation-only gathering of Berniecrats, where the faithful gather to be inspired, to hear success stories of local movements inspired by Bernie’s run for president, and to take part in workshops on how to organize and manage local campaigns.

Berniecrat honchos like former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, and allied media spokespeople in The Nation, Mother Jones and elsewhere were only too glad to mine the movement credibility of Jackson Mississippi without mentioning the RNA, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, or Cooperation Jackson. They pretended, and allowed the ignorant among their followers to believe the movement in Jackson Mississippi was somehow part of a wave of organizing efforts inspired by Bernie Sanders, rather than the present phase of organizing efforts stretching back half a century.

The Berniecrats appear to have pocketed the movement cred of Jackson without giving Jackson or its principals a thing. They got to speak at the yearly event, but Jackson doesn’t have a shot callers or even a spectator’s seat on the board of Our Revolution, the Berniecrat political operation, or any other line of visible input on its policies or positions. And those positions are highly questionable.

Paul Jay of The Real News Network was the first to observe that the Berniecrat “Peoples Summit” featured speeches by Van Jones and other luminaries but offered no mention from the podium, no workshops and no presentations on foreign policy, on the military budget or the profound impact of global empire on everyday life in the US, which spends more on arms than the next eight or nine countries combined. Our Revolution president Nina Turner can talk endlessly about the human needs not being met in this country. But when Paul Jay interviewed her on her appointment to the presidency of Our Revolution he made the mistake of asking her a generic foreign policy question.

It was a real softball question, inviting Turner to link the insane amounts spent by the US government on arms and the military –$13 billion aircraft carriers and trillion dollar F-35 aircraft — to the absence of funding for schools, infrastructure, social security, student loans and more. Turner utterly fumbled the question, as though she’d never thought out loud about it, and never wrote or spoke a stump speech line on the subject. We cannot know her thoughts, but she really has NOT spoken on the subject, perhaps because her mentor Bernie Sanders is pretty much mum on it as well, and Turner is committed to aping Bernie’s act as the formula for political success.

The sketchy foreign policy section of Our Revolution’s web site reflects the same ignorant or deliberate myopia as well, eschewing the mention of drone wars, the thousand plus military US military bases, US campaigns for regime change in Iran, Venezuela, Syria and elsewhere or Israeli apartheid. Let’s give Turner and the Berniecrats some credit. These are not stupid people. They know exactly what they’re saying and what they’re leaving out and they know exactly why they want to do this. They know their constituency is antiwar and they’re not. They aspire, like good leading Democrats everywhere to get the antiwar vote by default. Bernie Sanders, Nina Turner and Our Revolution want to play it like Barack Obama, who as a candidate got credit for being antiwar when he actually said he only opposed “dumb wars,” whatever that meant.

For whatever reason, this is the crew to which Chokwe Antar Lumumba has attached himself. This is the cause to which he has delivered the credibility of half a century’s struggle in Jackson Mississippi. What does this mean?

Will the forces that elected Chokwe Antar Lumumba, including MXGM and participants in the Jackson movement be required to mute themselves on regime change in Venezuela, Iran, Syria and elsewhere? Will they have to toe the Berniecrat line and silence themselves on drone wars in Africa or the fact that the US arms and trains every military except two or three on the African continent? Is silence on these issues part of the political DNA of the junior Lumumba’s circle, as it is of Nina Turner and the Berniecrats? What IS the real price of Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s affiliation with the Berniecrats, and what if anything can the Jackson movement expect to receive in return?

Should the Jackson movement even want to be claimed by these people?

  • Steve1027

    This piece is pretty overstated and seems to lack a commitment to working within a larger left coalition. Why would Lumumba give credibility to Berniecrats? I think Lumumba isn’t interested in this kind of politics and probably wants to make friends far and wide to fight back against the inevitable pushback he’ll get as a leader of that movement. You know, fostering solidarity and cultivating allies. Just because you work with Berniecrats/progressive democrats doesn’t mean that you’re not sufficiently left. The Greens and socialists spread this crap online all the time. Do not buy this lie. If I were equally as cynical as Mr. Dixon, I might say that he’s trying to divide the left so his own politics has a greater impact within a more fragmented left ecosystem (which is a nonsense claim to make). Noam Chomsky has plenty of good things to say about Bernie, usually qualifying it with an acknowledgement that he’s a New Deal Democrat, which is not exactly something Chomsky strongly identifies with as an anarcho-syndicalist. Is Chomsky a sell out? Is he insufficiently revolutionary? Is a lifetime of fighting for justice rendered null and void because he doesn’t treat progressive democrats like the plague? The Green Party is part of a progressive alliance with progressive democrats in Richmond, California, the only place where they consistently win city-wide elections. Does that make that local party a sell out in anyway? Absolutely not, that would be ridiculous. The tact this article takes is one that seeks to win arguments at the expense of losing hearts. Personally, I think it’s more important to stand with the people than following our impulses toward besting others in political argumentation all the time. There’s work to do.

  • rgaura

    Berniecrats need to look at some of these issues, this is a necessary discussion. Still, we should work on particular issues with anyone who agrees on that issue. This will foster dialogs among groups and individuals; then all of our thinking will evolve.

  • Aquifer

    It is the age old question – how much compromise with principle is too much – and who are the ones who need to compromise

  • DHFabian

    Imagine a discussion about American apartheid! It’s not going to happen, but just imagine it. What liberals claim Israel does to Israeli Arabs (Palestinians) is what American do to our poor.The difference is that every Arab in Israel lives within traveling distance of an Arab country where they would surely be welcomed. There is nowhere for the US poor to go. We have segregated and isolated them, and imposed and economic embargo. We stripped our poor of the most basic human rights of food and shelter. Since the 1980s, the homeless have been beaten, brutalized, even killed, to the flat indifference of the broader public. The great majority of US poor are white, and even black people in poverty consider them the equivalent of stray dogs — not equal human beings.
    There has never been a shortage of hypocrisy in the US.

  • DHFabian

    How would you describe the current general ideology of what we call “the left?” Above all, the political left and right are defined by core socioeconomic issues. A political left, by definition, would have shone a spotlight on the results of our deregulated capitalism — our poverty crisis. To my knowledge, the Green Party is the only sector that actually addresses this issue.

    Sen. Sanders is no longer a New Deal Democrat. Until fairly recently, Sanders not only advocated for the protection of the New Deal agenda, but had embraced democratic socialism. I think many today don’t know that what came to be our former welfare system was actually first included in FDR’s Social Security Act, later separated to focus on the specific needs of impoverished families. This doesn’t sell to today’s Democrats and liberals, so he pragmatically abandoned the issue

  • Jon

    “. Is Chomsky a sell out?” That may be overstating it,but he is terrible and frankly dishonest when ti comes to the events of 9/11, not even acknowledging the scientific proof that the government’s fable of how the THREE buildings came down that day cannot possibly be true without abandoning the laws of physics.

  • Steve1027

    The American left is composed of many ideologies. I was hoping many of the “Berniecrats” would fall under the leadership of extant movements, boosting numbers and resources. But there are elements that are hostile to Berniecrats, who conflate his terrible record on war and peace with the records of rank-and-file Berniecrats as if they are all ignorant on the matter. Generalize much? But that’s just loud people on the internet. Locally, people here are working together for common goals. We have a People’s Assembly with many different leftist groups.