Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tishaura Jones and Undeniable, Unstoppable Change

Photo  by Wiley Price. Courtesy of the St.Louis American
Oh, how the obscenities flew. 

It was Tuesday, election night. I’d left candidate Tishaura Jones’ watch party in the Grove neighborhood feeling a bit hopeful. She was surging and had captured the #2 spot behind 28th Ward Alderwoman, Lyda Krewson. The wonderfully diverse and eclectic crowd were in high-spirits. We were riding high thanks to State Rep. Jamillah Nasheed’s words of encouragement. “We got this!”

Well, we didn’t. Krewson won. And, as widely predicted, the number of black candidates canceled each other out in the race. The bottom three major contenders (Antonio French, Lewis Reed and Jeffrey Boyd) garnered almost 20,000 votes between them. Jones, lost by a mere 888 votes.


Let us cry not for her. Jones did what she was supposed to do against great, stubborn, and institutionalized odds.

“Damnit!” I spat through the night. “We (meaning black folk) just gave this thing away! Why, oh why, couldn’t you (meaning the black candidates) read the tea leaves? Why didn’t you listen to those who worried about the obvious? Why wasn’t there a strategy to actually win the race?”

I’m happy I decided to wait a few days before writing anything about the contest. It took that time to change my perspective. Two days after the primary, newly-elected State Representative, Bruce Franks, announced he was going to challenge Krewson as a write-in candidate in next month’s general election.


The bottom three major contenders (Antonio French, Lewis Reed and Jeffrey Boyd) garnered almost 20,000 votes between them. Jones, lost by a mere 888 votes.

He didn’t. Franks rescinded the claim after realizing his representative seat could possibly go unfilled if he won the mayoral election. Considering that voters in his district put a lot of energy into helping Franks challenge the disproportionate absentee ballots that caused his loss to a dynasty candidate, it was probably a wise decision. Personally, I’d like to see Franks make an impact in the space he currently holds before seeking another political role.

Still, Franks’ announcement was an indication of what Jones’ campaign had accomplished. For one moment the tidal wave of progressive politics that’s been growing since the 2014 killing of Mike Brown, threatened complacent, establishment, elitist politics in our city. It would have given the almost 40,000 voters who rejected Krewson’s candidacy a dynamic do-over to accomplish what they couldn’t in the primary. It would have coalesced a broad swath of voters behind one black candidate, not four. It would have rocked the status quo by introducing a new people-powered paradigm in a backwards city in desperate need of diverse, progressive, and inclusive transformation.

We owe that wonderful possibility to Jones’ campaign which illustrated that big money and dirty, mainstream media tricks are not the obstacles they once were. Remember though, Jones victory was in the making long before she announced her bid for mayor. Democrats in this city, this state and this country have failed to recognize the simple fact that voters are sick and tired of a party that’s grown accustomed to unearned loyalty. They’ve grown nauseous of its slave-like ties to the capitalist system while resting on the tired laurels of “liberalism.”


Jones’ campaign illustrated that big money and dirty, mainstream media tricks are not the obstacles they once were. 

The party, nationally and locally, has been fractured by a huge swath of voters still seeking a Bernie Sanders-like apostle. This explains why a Bruce Franks or a Megan Ellyia-Green (15th Ward Alderwoman), or a Dan Guenther (newly-elected 9th Ward Alderman) or a Tishaura Jones could topple giants and arouse the passions of voters and supporters.

For the first time in my almost six decades of life here, a new narrative is spreading throughout the city. Thanks to a new wave of aldermen like Green and Guenther, the city’s south side is shifting from its base of predictable segregated politics. There’s new energy, new engagement, and new activism aimed at promoting true equity and age, gender and racial inclusivity.

A valuable lesson was reinforced for me during the Town Hall mayoral forum on Arts and Culture that I co-moderated with activist, De Nichols.  There, a group of stakeholders made a solid case for investing in local arts and culture that’s just as lucrative as casinos and the Ballpark Village to stabilize neighborhoods and generate local revenues. The work has already begun. With vision, the racially and culturally-eclectic Cherokee Street can become St. Louis’ version of the 24-hour entertainment-oriented Bourbon Street in New Orleans. In fact, it could be better because, unlike downtown venues where suburbanites drive in and drive out after a ballgame, locals can participate and benefit economically.


For the first time in my almost six decades of life here, a new narrative is spreading throughout the city.

Mayoral Arts & Culture Forum on Cherokee Street

The narrative of progressive prosperity is not just restricted to the south side. Because of issues raised during the mayoral campaign, north side residents are now aware that their lives and priorities have been rendered irrelevant. They know that they’ve been shafted during the past 16 years under Mayor Francis Slay. They understand that the will, creativity, and vision has actually improved already stable and already majority white neighborhoods. They are cognizant that their political representatives failed to muster the political hutzpah to improve long-neglected Northside neighborhoods while signing off on and divving up more than a billion dollars in public money to “big-box” developments in areas were the black population is dwindling or nonexistent.


Arts & Culture Forum

There is a cadre of nonprofits in the black community that are doing the hard, unappreciated work of fighting crime, educating, and employing youth, providing adult job and entrepreneur-training, building affordable housing and trying to create sustainable, food-based systems in the city. Like other arts and culture groups, we can’t wait for politics to come to us; we have to organize, strategize and take our work to the politicians. We must demand their support, and influence and force them to adopt an equitable use of tax dollars to further our community-oriented endeavors...too.

If black political leaders are wise, they will get their act together quick-like. They will never, ever allow egos or personal agendas to jeopardize the greater good. They’ll realize that just being “black” no longer equates to winning elections. Perhaps those who’ve sided with establishment politicians will turn from the no-return policy of “aldermanic courtesy.” Maybe they’ll demand something, anything for their lapdog support of publicly-subsidized stadiums, high-rise, high-end condos in high-income areas and other trickle-down adventures that only gift millionaires billions at the expense of public schools and poor people.  


If black political leaders are wise, they will get their act together. They will never, ever allow egos or personal agendas to jeopardize the greater good.     

Undeniable, unstoppable change has taken root in St. Louis. Some may not like it but the city has made history. With Krewson it has elected its first female mayor. Throughout the debates that highlighted the problems and promise of our city, my hope is that she really listened. Only Krewson can decide if she’s just going to be the city's first female mayor or a GREAT female mayor. If she fails, we know the burgeoning powers of progress will erase her legacy in just four years.

I won’t say that I’m not disappointed by the election results. A dream deferred can be a bitter reality. However, with the luxury of quiet, unemotional reflection, I am hopeful and committed. There are setbacks and challenges, distractions, and disappointments. But real, significant, life-altering dreams never die. They marinate, they resonate and then they rise when the time is right.

Only Krewson can decide if she’s just going to be the city's first female mayor or a GREAT female mayor.

Tishaura Jones is young, determined and still holds a powerful position in city government. Her future in whatever she aspires to do is solid. Let us cry not for her. She did what she was supposed to do against great, stubborn, and institutionalized odds. 

Jones' candidacy was just another needed-reminder of what dreams may come and what possibilities are on the immediate horizon…when the time is right.




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