Tishaura Jones is the Leader St. Louis (and the Country) Needs

Jones’ victory comes at a time when the nation faces a political crossroads

Michael B. Thomas, Special To St. Louis Public Radio

Something very important happened in America on Tuesday.

Tishaura Jones, St. Louis city treasurer, won the election for Mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, becoming the first Black woman to hold that office. While that is exciting and inspiring in and of itself, the significance of her win goes far beyond the demographic milestone.

This country is at a political crossroads, and the Democratic Party and progressive movement are also at that same crossroads. We are mere months removed from ousting an unapologetic white nationalist from the White House, a man propelled into that office — and nearly kept there — by the political power of white racial fear and anxiety.

Myriad studies have affirmed and re-affirmed that the underlying basis of Trump’s support and popularity is his unapologetic appeal to and validation of the fears of white folks. While Trump has been removed, after a violent and deadly attempted coup, we are at a crossroads facing two fundamental questions.

First, who is the United States of America? Are we first and foremost, a straight white male Christian nation (that sometimes tolerates “others” so long as they stay in their place)? 74 million people supported this notion of the country by voting to keep in power a man defined by a lifetime of racism — from the Central Park Five to birtherism to the Muslim ban to “Mexicans are rapists” from whom we need to be protected by a multi-billion dollar wall.

This was the worldview of the Founding Fathers of this nation who codified slavery in the Constitution, demonized and attacked Native Americans in the Declaration of Independence, and, in one of their first Congressional acts, created a law in 1790 that would last for 156 years, restricting immigration to “Free white persons.” Today, most of the Republican party seeks to pick up Trump’s racist, xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic mantle, fanning flames of fear about immigrants at the border and about transgender youth — their current cause du jour.

While Barack Obama’s election certainly moved us towards the vision of a country that embraces the various stripes of the rainbow, Trump’s triumph represented a powerful white backlash, and now we stand at this point where two roads diverge in a country of color.

Which leads to the second question, one for Democrats and progressives: Will we unapologetically embrace the full diversity of this nation? In the early months of this year, this strategic direction remains unclear and has been held in abeyance while the Biden Administration addresses the devastation from the pandemic.

Among progressives and Democrats, we are far from consensus on this question of strategic focus, with many voices counseling to keep a distance from “unpopular” issues such as defunding the police and immigration reform. There is also notable ambivalence about forcefully refuting the recent attacks on the trans community.

Which is why Tishaura’s win is so significant. As Mayor-elect, she is not just a municipal official, but now she is a national political voice, a mayor of a major American city. At a time when others tiptoe around issues of justice, equality, and inclusion, Tishaura put the world on notice on Tuesday about the kind of leadership we can expect in the months and years to come.

“We are done ignoring the racism that has held our city and our region back,” she said in her victory speech. The stunning clarity of her resolve stands in stark contrast to many in Democratic politics. With emphasis and determination, she continued:

“I will not stay silent when I spot racism.

I will not stay silent when I spot homophobia or transphobia.

I will not stay silent when I spot xenophobia.

I will not stay silent when I spot religious intolerance.

I will not stay silent when I spot any injustice.”

She delivered her victory speech with the pride, dignity, attitude and confidence of a strong Black woman taking her place on the national stage and quoting Maya Angelou for good measure,

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dirt, I’ll rise.”

While some Democrats and many cautious consultants might not be ready for this bold Black woman to enter the rooms where it happens, this country’s multiracial New American Majority is more than ready.

Tishaura Jones’ victory is right on time. This nation needs leaders just like her as we move from the crossroads back onto the journey towards justice and equality.

Host of podcast, Democracy In Color with Steve Phillips; Author of national bestseller “Brown is the New White”; Sr Fellow, Ctr Amer Prog

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