Anatomy of a BillMississippi

Civil Discourse Leads to Historic Breakthrough in Mississippi

July 30, 2020

The past few months have brought about many things in America, including a resolution from the Mississippi legislature to remove and replace its state flag, which previously bore Confederate imagery. This recent decision was a direct result of bipartisan cooperation, and would not have occurred without the support of legislators from both sides of the political aisle — especially not without legislators’s cross-party discourse in the Mississippi Future Caucus. In this way, the Millennial Action Project (MAP) has had a direct impact on the cross-party discourse in this state by launching the Mississippi Future Caucus. MAP has 29 Future Caucuses throughout the U.S., each fostering bipartisan dialogue among young and innovative legislators that are committed to working on the issues facing future generations.

The Mississippi Future Caucus was launched just after the 2016 election, due largely in part to Rep. Jeramey Anderson (D), the youngest African American elected to a legislature in United States history, and former Rep. Toby Barker (R), who was the first Millennial elected to the MS legislature. At the time, Toby Barker was a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives; now he’s the mayor of Hattiesburg, MS. Rep. Anderson originally connected with MAP through social media after it was clear that they shared similar visions for the future.

During this time, there existed a narrative from many national media outlets that the Deep South was irredeemable — that an organization like MAP, seeking bipartisan cooperation,would struggle to find success in this region of the US. Anderson and Barker proved the national narrative wrong, and played instrumental roles as the Future Caucus’ co-chairs by facilitating difficult conversations with their colleagues across the aisle. Although they represented opposing parties, they were determined to work together from the very beginning. In fact, at the launch event in the capitol building in Jackson, MS — a meeting which was expected to be ceremonial and symbolic — Anderson showed up with a bill in hand, ready to work and receive feedback from his Republican counterpart.

The partisan divide in Mississippi has had a strong correlation with the racial divide. Anderson and Barker come from different backgrounds and usually have opposing political views, but one thing they share is a love for their country and their home state of Mississippi. Around this time, there were discussions about a potential bill that would change the state flag, although its passing did not seem politically feasible. Nonetheless, these initial meetings between a bipartisan cohort of young elected officials were instrumental in the recent success concerning the removal and replacement of the MS state flag.

MAP’s Founder and CEO Steven Olikara recognized that it was a good omen when legislators addressed one another with respect, empathy, an open mind, and most importantly, good spirited humor. The main goal of the MS Future Caucus was always to promote constructive dialogue and build long lasting relationships regardless of party affiliation.

In the most recent episode of Olikara’s podcast “Meeting in Middle America,” he talked with Rep. Anderson about his state’s decision to replace the flag, and about Anderson’s methodology and “can-do” attitude which helped to manifest this change. While many politicians see their job as a zero-sum game in which an outcome is judged by its impact on their party, Anderson realizes that issues are multifaceted and prides himself in analyzing both sides, in order to make the best decision for his constituents:

“(I) understand the benefit of having an open line of communication with each other, specifically on those issues where we disagree.”

Anderson acknowledged that there were many other people and outside factors that contributed to the recent decision:

“This is not something that just randomly came about. This is decades of work, put in by past lawmakers, speakers, activists, and CEO’s who demanded change.”

He also added that pressure from the recent Black Lives Matter protests contributed greatly to the recent decision. In the summer of 2020, the perfect storm had culminated from years of effort to finally remove the Mississippi flag.

Anderson believes that a state flag should be a symbol of inclusivity that all of its constituents can be proud of. The Confederate imagery on the Mississippi state flag did not give him this feeling or sense of pride, rather quite the opposite. Anderson touched on this in a recent interview with Rolling Stone:

“I am not trying to erase history. I think we learn from our history in order to be better in the future, so we don’t repeat those mistakes. As a state, we don’t need to have symbols that promote violence within our state. That is a symbol of hate and oppression. We have about 38, 39 percent African American population.”

Anderson did not try to discredit White Mississippians’ sense of heritage, but rather offered his account of how the symbol made him feel, as well as the Black and Brown communities that he comes from. It is clear that the Millennial generation is finally beginning to reckon with our country’s history of slavery and racial injustice. This may have just been one small victory, but it is a victory nonetheless; it represents that young leaders of this country are trying to learn from history and address its shortcomings, rather than ignoring or erasing them.

While this was a historical milestone, Anderson and the rest of the Mississippi Future Caucus recognize that there is still plenty of progress to be made:

“This is only the start. We still have work to do — voter suppression, inequitable incarceration rates, lack of upward mobility, lack of equity in education — we must not rest.”

If there’s anything the past few months has shown us, it’s that America as a whole has plenty of work to do — not just Mississippi. We encourage all of the Future Caucuses within our SFCN to look towards leaders like Rep. Anderson and to use his methodologies in furthering the civil discourse in their own communities.

By: Nick Kelly, Intern at Millennial Action Project

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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