Campaigners from throughout the South are petitioning in Jackson, the state capital and Mississippis largest city. A second team of campaign supporters is gathering signatures in Pascagoula and Biloxi, two cities on the Gulf of Mexico. A third team is doing the same in Natchez.
The response of students at Jackson State University (JSU) has been fantastic, reported Nicole Sarmiento, Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, who came to support the petitioning effort here along with other SWP candidates from Florida, as well as Alabama, Georgia, and Texas.
One JSU student, John Handy, told Sarmiento that he agreed with the demand U.S. Troops Out of Iraq! on the socialists campaign flyer. This reminds me of the students who were killed here over 30 years ago, for protesting the Vietnam war, he said. The history of this university is a fighting history, and were still struggling for civil rights. He also noted that the 40th anniversary of Freedom Summer is approaching. Thats when thousands of students from northern universities came to the South to join the civil rights fight. Youve come to the right place, Handy told the socialist petitioners.
Brian Williams, another SWP campaign supporter, said many students at Jackson State said they strongly agreed with the demands by the Socialist Workers campaign to prosecute those responsible for the murder of Emmett Till to the fullest extent of the law.
Till, 14, an African-American from Chicago, was kidnapped and tortured to death by racist thugs in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. Tills lynching became one of the most well-known cases of racist brutality and helped spark the struggle for Black freedom in the 1950s and 60s. His case was reopened in May after a New York film maker produced and widely circulated a documentary that provides new evidence in the case.
I feel very compelled about this issue, Jonathan Walker, a sophomore at Jackson State, told Williams, because for all these years the criminals have not been brought to justice.
The state requires 1,000 signatures of registered voters to place independent candidates on the ballot in Mississippi. As we go to press, 2,175 people had signed. Petitioning in shopping centers, campaigners got a friendly response from workers, farmers, and young people interested to learn that they can put on the ballot a working-class alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. The six electors for Calero and Hawkins include a farmer from Tchula, a town in the Mississippi Delta, and a Steelworkers union member and former striker at Titan Tire in Natchez.
Petitioning in Jackson coincided with events marking the 40th anniversary of the racist murder by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1964 of three young civil rights workersJames Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
Recently, a group of citizensincluding NAACP leaders, and businessmen and elected officialsin Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the murders took place, has called for a new investigation into the case, one of the most important unsolved murders of the civil rights era. On June 4, Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood told reporters that he has asked the U.S. Justice Department for help in the investigation. Philadelphia mayor Rayburn Waddell also called for justice in the case on behalf of the city administration. A commemoration of the three slain civil rights workers took place Sunday, June 20, at the Neshoba County Coliseum in Philadelphia. The renewed pressure to reopen investigations into the murders follows the announcement that the Till case was being reopened.
Petitioners took part in a conference titled Unsettling Memories: Culture and Trauma in the Deep South held at Jackson State University June 15-21. The conference dealt in part with the experiences of slavery and the civil rights movement.
The exhibit Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America is also on display at the Jackson State University campus. It shows graphically many examples of the thousands of lynchings that took place in the Jim Crow South.
What has changed since that time in the South through the civil rights revolution, and the challenges that remain part of todays reality, were part of the experiences of SWP campaign supporters here.
During petitioning June 5 outside a store in Meridian, a small town in eastern Mississippi, for example, an older man in overalls approached campaign supporters asking them what they were doing. After hearing an explanation of the SWP ticket, the man, who is white, and who said he grew cotton, soybeans, and vegetables near Meridian, took the board and signed the petition to put Calero and Hawkins on the ballot.
As he was wrapping up, a lumpen-looking guy, who was also white, came over and told the farmer, Do you know what you just did? You signed for communists! The man had confronted socialist petitioners a few minutes earlier outside another store, telling them he wanted to put a bullet in every one of your heads, and then going inside the shop and convincing management to ask SWP campaign supporters to leave.
After a few minutes of taking in the anti-communist rhetoric spewed by this guy, the farmer looked at him and said, Well, if you give me two capitalists and two communists, Ill take the communists every time. The right-winger realized he wasnt getting much mileage and finally walked away.
Meanwhile, a worker who is Black was leaning against the store wall, watching the scene. One of the petitioners went over to explain to him what was going on. I know whats going on, he said. That guy is in the KKK, he added, referring to the rightist. Asked if he knew the right-winger, the man responded, No, but Ive known people like that all my life. He then took the pen and signed the petition to put the SWP slate on the ballot.
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