The signs showed up overnight around Ward 1 and parts of Ward 7: "Vote Today: The Future of Jackson Depends On It." The texts and emails started arriving: "Tomorrow the future of Jackson will be determined." The Facebook and Twitter posts, supporting one of the mayoral candidates, continued the theme: "The world will implode into a zillion pieces Tuesday if you don't vote for my candidate!"
OK, I made the last one up, but certainly not the first two.
My first reaction to the mysterious white signs was a journalistic one: Who did them? Is it a campaign trying to target just white voters? Are they really only in certain parts of town? (They were; I drove the city and looked because investigative blood flows through my veins.)
By Tuesday, ironically for the folks who targeted only certain areas, hearing about the Ward 1 and 7 signs seemed to motivate people all over town to get and vote, which was the best possible outcome. The more voters, the better. Always.
But here's the other thing about the signs. They hit a nerve with me precisely because the sentiment is so backward and inaccurate and alarmist. Part of our problem in Jackson is that we allow ourselves to be divided by people who convince us that the person in the mayor's office is the key to everything. They tell us that development downtown is blocked by the mayor; local businesses can't thrive because of the mayor; the potholes are there because of the mayor; people kill people because of the mayor. Or the creative class can't happen without the mayor (which we've helped prove wrong without ever involving a mayor's blessing).
Seriously: We're supposed to wait around for one or another mayor to come along and save everything, including our businesses, for us? This is the worst kind of reliance on the government. And it's really a dumb notion used for political purposes.
What this absurd notion actually does is disempowers citizens, and keeps them fighting among themselves. We have a handful of loud and divisive folks with platforms in the city who have told us continually how much Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. sucked when clearly they didn't like him and their egos were all up in it. I'm just going to be honest: I always have long respected Mayor Johnson, and he sure was a lot better than other mayoral options we've faced in the last decade, but I never once have asked him for permission to do a damn thing.
And, funny, Mayor Johnson has never gotten in my business' way. He was respectful back, and the city and the JFP sometimes got annoyed with each other. But there wasn't a whole lot of trailer-park drama in our relationship. It was professional, and it wasn't co-dependent or alarmist.
But to hear some of these campaigns, especially one, tell it: that mayor destroyed everything and made it impossible to get anything done. Of course, that was an ego-driven lie, but it didn't matter. Many of the same people who have pushed that meme against him--since way back when he became the city's first black mayor in a tough battle in the 1990s--have never let it go.
No matter at this point; it worked. He's out. And by the time you read this, barring some big chad-apalooza, we'll have a new mayor. And probably half the city will hate him and dog him for four years no matter what he does. Because, you know, our future depends on that mayor. Wink, wink.
And I have a big old lake to sell you. There's nothing true about that.
Think about it. Eight years ago, a fake "unity" coalition convinced Jackson voters that Frank Melton was the savior of everything and would cure crime in 90 days. (One candidate this year has promised to fix potholes in three days. Ahem.) Of course, he had no idea how to run the city and not a whole lot of interest in anything but amassing power, playing cop and probably weeding a bunch of files out of the system, truth be known. But we were told he was the man who was going to save us from ourselves, and Johnson, and our future depended on electing him! We couldn't convince people that he was a charlatan, at first, no matter what we reported.
And guess what? He screwed up about everything he touched as mayor and--drum roll--we voted him out in four years and brought back a mayor who actually had a grasp on reality, if a whole lot duller by comparison. If the new mayor is a screw-up, we will do the same thing. Jackson's future does not depend on him succeeding. The people who sell you that bill of goods are trying to distract you in some kind of Orwellian fantasy where all you do for four years is whine about the administration instead of digging in with your own initiative.
We sensed some buyers' remorse in the two weeks since voters ousted Johnson in the primary. We saw a lot of extreme, unethical campaigning and efforts to paint one of the candidates as "the other." We saw a heap-ton of racism in social media, and we heard the usual chorus of people who are going to run kicking and screaming from the city if Mr. Lumumba won. It was pitiful and depressing.
The JFP did not endorse either choice that we faced in this runoff due to both men's high negatives--which the last two weeks brought into starker focus than before the primary. But one of them will be mayor unless an independent candidate really surprises us in June. And either man can make a good mayor if we hold him accountable and give him a chance without ridiculously high expectations (like potholes being filled in three days).
But the biggest favor we can do for Jackson is to take the emphasis off one man, or seven people, being our savior. And the last thing we need to do again is to slam our entire city's progress in a scorched-earth attempt to unseat a mayor. That was one big collective insult to all of us, and any campaign that does that ought to be summarily dismissed. (Note that for the future.)
Folks, it takes you, and you, and you, and you, and me to build a great city. We each have to step up to our responsibilities and stop complaining about what others aren't doing. How can you help? Are you shopping at local businesses? Are you mentoring a young person? Are you helping keep an eye on your neighbor's house? Are you part of efforts that build the kinds of amenities that residents want?
Are you voting for policies that help get our people out of poverty?
The list goes on, and there is at least one task on it for everyone. Please remember: No matter who you voted for on May 21 or who won, the future of the city depends on you.
You're up. Please don't let us down.