Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Coalition

Last night in Jackson, Mississippi, the results of an election were made known to the public. For most casual observers, it appeared to be a municipal party run-off primary between a former mayor and a current city councilman for the party's nomination. For those of us who see the bigger picture, this was a rebirth of a coalition.

Twenty years ago, many of us were a part of a coalition that wanted to advance Jackson, especially in the area of human rights. Incidents of police brutality were high, as well as the city's murder rate. People of color felt disenfranchised although they had gained a major victory four years earlier by electing the first African-Americans to municipal government since 1912.

As those new council members were basically the ones chosen to test out this new council-mayor form of government, they were not in a position of strength to make wholesale changes. Thus the idea of a coalition of many organizations and progressive-minded individuals started taking shape. The result was the formation of the Jackson Human Rights Coalition.

This loose coalition was effective in bringing many issues to the forefront during its four year tenure. However, it faded away in 1992, after the nucleus of the coalition convened a citywide grassroots convention to choose an African-American to run for mayor of Jackson. Many in the coalition left during the planning sessions of the convention as control of the convention became a major issue. Nevertheless the convention was convened, a candidate was chosen, and then that candidate was soundly defeated in the 1993 Democratic Primary.

The friction that divided the coalition was too strong to overcome and everyone went their separate ways. During this time after the disbanding of the coalition, an African-American mayor was elected and five of the seven city council seats had Black members. The issues of crime and economic opportunities never went away though and the feeling of disenfranchisement turned into apathetic acceptance. Apathetic acceptance is basically the realization that the more things change, the more they stayed the same.

As many looked at our city government in frustration and believed it had become chaotic, sixty people decided to run for municipal office, 55 of them African-American. Despite whom you chose as your particular candidate for a particular race, one had to admire the way the campaigns were run. Each candidate worked hard to sell themselves as individuals who were qualified and committed to serve, and Black people should be proud of how those candidates conducted themselves.

Yet, there was a movement afoot that eventually brought the coalition back together. It seems as though the influential whites in the Jackson diaspora thought this was their time to recapture what had been lost to them by demographics, the court system and eventually the ballot box: the seat of power at City Hall. They made a concerted effort to line up behind a Black candidate that they felt would help their ascent back into power.

They invested money and manpower into this candidate, and when the smoke had cleared on May 5, 2009, their candidate had made the run-off. Their blatant acts of support for this particular candidate sounded an alarm within the Black community, even as we were mourning the sudden death of the current mayor.

Within days, the old coalition started reforming. Folks, who some fifteen years earlier had parted ways to fight their own battles, were answering the call to galvanize again. Once the coalition was put back together, they went to work and the culmination took place on May 19, 2009 with a resounding victory over the white power structure's anointed candidate.

Now the hard part begins anew. First is the business of finishing the deal on June 2, 2009 with another resounding victory and then it will be time to govern. There is some unfinished business that the coalition initially started addressing some twenty years ago that needs to be resolved.

One is to finish healing the divides that disbanded the coalition in the first place. Now that all of us are some twenty years wiser, that should not be hard to do. Then we must assist the new Jackson municipal government by holding them accountable to deal with the economic disparities and the issue of safety in our communities. In turn, we must continue to be supportive of each other's efforts to reach out to our youth and improve our quality of life, especially with housing, health care and education.

Those seem like daunting challenges, but as long as the coalition remains intact and strong, those challenges are no more insurmountable than any other campaign. We have proven we can come together for a short-term crisis, now our test is fighting the good fight for the long haul. My faith in God tells me it can be done because as His people do His work, their steps are ordered and they can achieve all things.

As long as the coalition holds, we can fulfill the desire of the prophet Isaiah and be the repairers of the breach in our communities. As long as the coalition holds, no weapons formed against us shall prosper. As long as the coalition holds, we shall see a new day in Jackson, Mississippi.

As long as the coalition holds.