Lumpkins Named to City Commission

Following two deadlocked votes, the Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday swore-in Elias Lumpkins to replace a 3rd Ward seat vacated by former City Commissioner Robert Dean.

Following two deadlocked votes, the Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday swore-in Elias Lumpkins to replace a 3rd Ward seat vacated by former City Commissioner Robert Dean. Earlier, a field of 19 candidates had been narrowed down to two—Stephen Deem and Elias Lumpkins—in a process that had achieved considerable media and public attention. The replacement of Dean brought out questions from both the public and the City Commission about the Commission’s ability—and the City government’s—ability to relate to some of the most vulnerable residents in the city.

For Commissioners Rosalyn Bliss and Jim White, as well as Mayor George Heartwell, the candidate selection brought up significant questions about how the Commission related to the community and how it responded to the desires of the community. During Tuesday’s night’s first public comment session, numerous African-American residents of the 3rd Ward described the deep roots Lumpkins has in their community and the ways in which he had touched their lives. Residents described how Lumpkins had positively impacted the community with his work in education as a Grand Rapids Public Schools principal, as a dean at Grand Rapids Community College, as a coordinator of the Upward Bound program at Calvin College, and in his work with prisoners transitioning into the community, with many speakers describing how Lumpkins had personally intervened to help them. Speakers also touted his record of community involvement and familiarity with both community leaders and residents in the third ward.

While Lumpkins supporters generally praised Deems and caution against calling the selection process a “race game”—race, as it should, played a role in the selection process. Residents speaking at the meeting were clearly in favor of Lumpkins, a fact that was not surprising due to Deems response to questions about regarding his connections to the African-American community. In response the aforementioned questions, Deems essentially “name-dropped” African-Americans that he knew yet said relatively little about his relationships with ordinary people in the third ward. Commissioners Bliss, White, and Mayor Heartwell raised concerns about racial representation on the Commission and explained how Lumpkins had substantial connections to the 3rd Ward, and more importantly, was being endorsed by both resident of the third ward and fellow third ward Commissioner White. Moreover, Mayor Heartwell described how he was willing to “stake his seat” on the issue of racial representation and on this vote, just as he had done in 2000 when he quit the City Commission in order to prevent it from becoming and all white body.

Opposition to Lumpkins candidacy was centered largely on fiscal issues, with three Commissioners believing that Deems work as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) would be invaluable for the Commission to work on the city’s fiscal problems. The focus on Deems work as a CPA—while legitimate on some levels—almost rose to the level of absurdity when his supporters felt compelled to describe his mathematical abilities and when Lumpkins described his familiarities with pensions and calculators. Commissioner Schmidt explained his support for Deems by stating that sometimes as a Commissioner you have to “make tough decisions,” while Tormala and Jendrasiak expressed their support for Deems in terms of budget issues. Tormala described his “obsession” with the budget and explained how having a CPA on the Commission might help the Commission get better results from city staff so that they could begin to help marginalized populations in the city. Bliss criticized the idea that people had to be CPAS to be good commissioners, arguing that the people of the third ward and their wishes have to come before the city commission’s politics. Similarly, Commissioner White pointed out that he once managed a $400 million budget despite the fact that he was not a CPA and Mayor Heartwell pointed out that the Commission has not had a CPA on the body since the 1960s and since that time the city has gone through a variety of ups and downs. Heartwell went on to say that the budget has more to do with philosophy and priorities than it does with arithmetic, echoing comments made earlier by Comissioner White.

Following the end of the Commissioners’ discussion in which it was clear that none of the Commissioners were going to change their votes, the Commission again deadlock on a vote. While the process of choosing a replacement was by drawing lots was prevented after an earlier deadlocked vote, just as that process was to begin Deems stood up and announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration because if he were to be selected by lots he would lack the “moral authority to govern.” Moreover, he went on to state that he hoped Lumpkins would take him under his wing and help him develop stronger connections to the third ward, a statement that elicited three standing ovations from the audience.

A Brief History of the Zapatista Movement and the Other Campaign in Mexico

In his second update from a trip to Mexico, a Media Mouse contributor provides a brief history of the Zapatista movement and the Zapatistas recently launched “Other Campaign” to transform politics both in Mexico by uniting people working on progressive social change. The Other Campaign, like their Juntas of Good Government, is seen by many as another innovative project of the Zapatistas to redefine what is considered democracy.

In January 1st of 1994, the indigenous farmers of southern Mexico took up arms and declared autonomy from the Mexican state; they called themselves the Zapatistas, in honor of one of the leaders of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. This uprising was a response to globalization and free trade, especially The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into effect on January 1st of 1994 as well. The demands of the Zapatistas could be called modest. They wanted dignity, land, liberty and the ability to decide their own future. After the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) occupied the southern city of San Cristóbal and engaged in a bloody street battle with the Mexican military, a cease-fire was reached and peace talks began. These talks eventually produced the San Andrés Accords, legislation that the Mexican government still has not passed. After years of trying to effect change through the state mechanism, the Zapatistas decided that this approach was getting them nowhere. Although they didn’t—and haven’t—laid down their arms, they began to work on autonomy projects within their own communities. In 2003, they unveiled an ambitious project in anarchistic democracy. They developed Juntas of Good Government, governing bodies with rotating membership that are a response to the “bad governments,” the official Mexican state government structure. The Juntas are made up of representatives from autonomous Zapatista communities and make important decisions that would have previously been made by the EZLN. Thus, the Zapatistas have ensured that all the members of their communities have a voice, and, through rotation of representatives, that power does not stagnate.

In June of 2005, the Zapatistas released their Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona. This document, in very accessible prose, summarizes their progress since the 1994 uprising and described their view of the future. It includes a critique of capitalism and neoliberal globalization, a call for the uniting of different worldwide struggles for justice, and a “new way of doing politics.” Following the release of the Sixth Declaration, the Zapatistas launched a tour of the country called The Other Campaign. The Other Campaign, which started in early 2006 and coincides with the political campaigning for the upcoming summer elections, is a tour all across Mexico in an attempt to unite various people who are working for progressive change. The Zapatistas and their highly visible spokesman, Sub-Comandante Marcos—who is now referred to as Sub-Delegate Zero, have met with many people who have a stake in changing Mexico: indigenous campesinos, political organizations, teachers, political prisoners, sex workers, and other oppressed members of society. The Other Campaign is an attempt to re-politicize the people of Mexico—and the world—in a time when Mexico’s democracy not is adequately addressing the needs of the people. The Zapatistas have drawn fire for denouncing the center-left presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD (see footnote), reiterating their stance that meaningful change is not possible through electoral politics, even if a left-leaning candidate wins.

Unfortunately, while The Other Campaign traverses Mexico, there has been a spate of repression against supporters of the Zapatistas. Many people have been harassed and imprisoned and one man was even killed, although the culprit will likely never be captured. This repression comes at a time when evidence is surfacing about the “dirty war” that the Mexican government waged against leftist guerrillas in the 1970s in which hundreds of people were tortured or killed. Amidst a whirlwind of empty campaign slogans and rhetoric, The Other Campaign is a very optimistic and bold attempt to permanently politicize the people, change the face of the Left in Mexico, and promote international solidarity in the struggle against worldwide oppression and exploitation.

Note: Mexico has three major parties: the PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional), the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), and the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). The PRI was in power for almost 70 years, and is notoriously corrupt. The PAN, the conservative party, headed by President Vicente Fox is currently in power. The PRD has never held the presidency, although it is widely accepted that the PRI stole a PRD victory in 1988. PRD presidential candidate López Obrador is currently leading the polls for the summer election.