OPINION: Knowing what to do, but not doing what we know, yields powerlessness

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“Free The Water, Free The Land” rally on February 10th in downtown Jackson (Advocate photo: Joshua Martin)

Since this legislative session began, there have been marches, rallies, forums, and town hall meetings dealing with the state’s racist grab for power from the city of Jackson. The protests have been quite well planned and executed. They have certainly gotten the message out.

Despite those efforts, however, the state Senate and the House, under iron-clad Republican leadership, have proceeded to pass bills that would take control of Jackson’s water system and that would place much of the city under the jurisdiction of the Capital City Improvement District and the Capital Police. The power-grab is steam-rolled as if Jackson’s nearly 90% Black population is powerless, that its voice is non-existent and its humanity meaningless.

On the contrary, the Black population of the city and state can be quite robust. It can determine a great deal when it comes to politics and economics. It is a matter of doing what is already known, having been learned over the years from both good and bad experiences.

For starters, Mississippi has long boasted that it has more Black elected officials than any other state in the union. Its relatively large legislative Black caucus has numerous knowledgeable and courageous members. Most of them came up through the ranks as civil rights advocates and community activists. They know what to do. They can and should be powerful. Yet, there are two things that could translate their relatively powerless status into one of tremendous power. 

For one, a more disciplined organization is necessary. The other is more effective use of the media. As matters now stand, some members of the MS Legislative Black Caucus have no problem voting against the best interests of their constituents and with the Republican majority. They suffer no negative consequences. That should not be the case. In addition to that, frequent and well-planned news conferences before and during the legislative sessions should inform their constituents of where the caucus stands on various issues, how the public can be helpful in lobbying, and who is helping to defeat the caucus’ agenda in committees and/or on the floor.

Beyond the caucus, the campaign staffs of the Black elected officials could remain loosely organized and serve as information conduits in the off seasons. This would enable them to have regular two-way communication that keeps them and their constituents informed, leaving little chance of either side being surprised when the sessions start. Such organizing should necessarily involve civil rights groups that could help keep the campaigns “honest” and vibrant.

This brings us to the next point. The writer has been pleased at the number of traditional and newly-developed organizations that exist in the Jackson area, such as One Voice, the NAACP, ACLU, SPLC, Black Lives Matter, Women for Progress, MASE, MIRA, Strong Arms of Jackson, the Poor Peoples Campaign, the Peoples’ Assembly, the Coalition for Economic Empowerment, the Nation of Islam, Mississippi Association of Educators, and others that are too numerous to mention. These groups have staged a number of events that were both necessary and informative. 

It would be truly amazing and effective if just two improvements were made in their operations going forward. (1) The efforts of the groups could be more united or effectively coordinated. Egos have no place in the important business of building Black power, especially if it would only result in ego-tripping in front of a miniscule group when the need is for a multitude. (2) The groups should make it a top priority to spread across the state, strategizing on local issues for greater local effectiveness and strategizing on state and national issues where that is necessary.

Finally, as has historically been the case, there is a need to identify and call out individuals who act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the Black community, even when it may hurt to do so. For example, the writer was greatly distraught when he viewed “Spies of Mississippi” and learned that two of the Black spies were individuals whom he had admired, but the truth had to be told. It has been reported that at least two current Black legislators, Angela Cockerham and Cedric Burnett, have voted contrary to the interests of Black people on more than one occasion. 

It is important to eliminate such leaders from the legislature, as should have been done with previous Black legislators who have us stuck with the charter schools and with an unfair tax cut for big businesses in the state, among other things. We seem to forget too easily and allow these traitors to weaken our agenda. Beyond such fall election corrections, the next battleground may need to be the courts.

If the current efforts of the state legislature to reduce the power of Black leaders in Jackson are allowed to stand, not only will such tactics spread to include Greenville, Meridian, and other places in this state, they will become the pattern for other heavily-Black cities around the country. Black people simply must learn to remember, find, and utilize the most effective ways to enhance and protect their power in Mississippi.

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OPINION: Knowing what to do, but not doing what we know, yields powerlessness

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
March 9, 2023