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21st Century New Deal Political Leadership

American Dream Reconsidered Conference

Jackson, Mississippi mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba kicked off the American Dream Reconsidered Conference with an inspiring panel on what communities can do to shape their own government.

In 2017, Lumumba defeated nine other viable candidates in the Democratic mayoral primary. He went on to win the city’s general election by 93%. As mayor, Lumumba promised to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet.”

“Early on, people intended the idea of being radical to be a negative,” said Lumumba. “I embraced it. People haven’t fallen into the conditions that they’re in because someone was too radical, because someone has fought too hard on their behalf.”

During the conference panel, Lumumba discussed what he considers to be his most radical policy goal, to “take over a self-determined economy” that respects the dignity of each worker. To combat economic injustice, Lumumba envisions a community of worker-owned cooperatives throughout Jackson that would shape the city’s direction.

“We need to disrupt the status quo and move from being the governed to the governors of our destiny.”

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Esq., Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi 

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The event was moderated by political science professor David Faris, the author of The Kids Are All Left: How Young Voters Will Unite America. Faris asked the mayor about the city’s “people’s assemblies.” Lumumba considers the community involvement an “exercise of collective genius” that ensures the city government is providing services that people are actually asking for.

Lumumba and Faris broke down the concept of participatory budgeting, where the government works together with the community at a level beyond what the mayor called “three minutes on the microphone.” To help his constituents understand what went into planning a budget, the mayor worked with the People’s Advocacy Institute to help residents understand the city’s budget restrictions, how much is available from different grants, and what the city can do.

Lumumba said that his residents made him realize the importance of a local perspective, building pothole to pothole, community to community, to help people see patterns of inequalities across cities.

“If you don’t love the people,
sooner or later, you’ll betray the people.”

Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Esq., Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi 

The year 2020 brought unprecedented challenges for Jackson residents: the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with a 30-year flood. Faris and Lumumba talked about how Jackson is stepping up at a municipal level in the absence of federal action. 

“If voting rights was the battle of the 20th century, then right to health care is the battle of the 21st,” said Lumumba. 

Lumumba encouraged the young people listening to remain active participants in making the world in which they want to live.  

“This is a generation of disruption, and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” Lumumba said. “We need to disrupt the status quo and move from being the governed to the governors of our destiny.”

The American Dream Reconsidered is a free conference that invites scholars, activists and leaders to explore the modern American dream. Sessions delve into immigration, health care, politics and more in America today. With optimism and hope, our panelists share visions for the future of our democracy.

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