Learning from Fannie Lou Hamer

Source: Matthew Miles Goodrich, Dissent, October 6, 2017

…. October 6th marks the centennial of Hamer’s birth. She is remembered for her outspoken moral courage (“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” has traveled from epitaph on her gravestone to epigraph of working-class exasperation), her magnanimity, and, whenever morale waned, her impassioned renditions of the spirituals “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine.” But her own charisma might overshadow her deeper contributions to the movement. Her commitment to voter registration and her personal philanthropy as an anti-poverty worker in Mississippi later in life are well known. But by taking advantage of the crumbling political order to win enfranchisement of African-Americans within the Democratic Party, Hamer proved to be one of the most brilliant strategists of the civil rights movement. On the 100th anniversary of her birth, it’s worth examining how today’s left can learn from this overlooked part of her legacy. ….

…. Bayard Rustin described the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as the civil rights movement’s most innovative arm. Hamer and her delegates made “a conscious bid for political power” (emphasis his), jockeying for influence within the broad tent of the Democratic coalition. A strategic left today would continue the effort Hamer started. We need fewer nonprofits and more insurrections that beat down the doors of the Democratic coalition, while maintaining Hamer’s unflinching commitment to racial justice.

Though the Republican Party in 2017 holds more legislative seats than ever, its coalition is too broad and too weak to sustain. Realignment is inevitable. A left that profits from it is not. …