Progressive Network to create show featuring activists who changed South Carolina history

In March, the SC Progressive Network screened The People Speak, a documentary inspired by the book A People’s History of the United States, which chronicles the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of our history. The premise of the film is that change doesn’t come from the top, but rather from the bottom.

Author, historian, and activist Howard Zinn wrote the books and developed the film because he wanted Americans to recognize the power of protest in shaping their country’s history. Zinn, who died in 2010 at 87, said our textbooks present the story of America only through the eyes of its generals and presidents, giving “a distorted view of the past.”

The film got us thinking that we should take Zinn’s idea and apply it to South Carolina history. We’re inviting historians and activists to collaborate on writing, staging and filming a 45-minute or hour-long program documenting the work of some of the Palmetto State’s most important historical figures, in their own words. Like Zinn, we want to focus on those whose passion and commitment to social justice helped shape South Carolina’s story.

If you want to join this collaborative effort, please call us at 803-808-3384, email becci@scpronet.com, or join our Facebook page. We’re shooting to debut the production in September. Between now and then, we’ll meet as needed at the Network’s office to brainstorm and issue assignments. If you have ideas for people to feature in the program, or are interested in performing, please contact us.

See additional resources at The People Speak web site.

SC AFL-CIO supports bill to repeal SC’s “stand your ground” law

As the country attempts to understand the shooting of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin, the SC AFL-CIO calls for justice for Treyvon’s family and supports Rep. Bakari Sellers’ proposed bill to repeal the “stand your ground” provision of South Carolina’s “Protection of Persons and Property Act” enacted in 2006.

“We have long had laws on the books that allowed for legitimate self defense,” said SC AFL-CIO Vice President Ken Riley. “These new laws are being used by vigilantes to excuse frontier justice against unarmed people. People of color have a deadly serious reason to fear that this law provides bigots an excuse to shoot somebody as their first option to resolve a problem.”

The state’s “stand your ground” clause was recently used in the defense of a white Spartanburg home owner who shot a homeless man who was squatting in a vacant house for sale. District Solicitor Barry Barnette said the shooting was justified under the “stand your ground” provision of the state law. “Obviously, your have a right to defend your property,” Barnette told the Spartanburg Herald Journal about the shooting.

The SC AFL-CIO believes these unnecessary laws conflict with its commitment to equal rights and due process for all citizens. “These new laws have no place on the books of a society that considers itself civilized,” Riley said.

The SC AFL-CIO supports Rep. Sellers’ bill that would strike the section of the statute that states, “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60.”

SC Progressive Network Movie Night to feature popular documentary “The People Speak”

For its March monthly movie, the SC Progressive Network will feature THE PEOPLE SPEAK, a documentary film inspired by the books A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History, which chronicles the lives and experiences of ordinary Americans who, through their words and actions, changed the course of our history.

The movie will be shown March 27 at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia. Free entrance, free popcorn. A fine selection of beer, wine, and sodas will be available for purchase. Door opens at 6:30pm; film at 7pm.

The philosophy espoused in the film is that change doesn’t come from the top, but rather from the bottom, and that without those everyday citizens pushing for betterment, there would be no America. This film takes us on a journey from the founding of our country to the civil rights movement, all the way up through today.

Author, historian, teacher, activist, and now television producer Dr. Howard Zinn is a man on a mission. He wants Americans to recognize the power of protest in shaping their country’s history. Along with executive producers Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Josh Brolin, and Anthony Arnove, he is moving his message from high schools and college campuses to film and, later this year, to HISTORY.

Zinn, who died in 2010 at 87, has been a history professor for most of his professional career, and in the lecture hall and in his writings, particularly his very popular A People’s History of the United States, he espouses history “from the ground up” in an articulate and engaging way. If our textbooks present the story of America only through the eyes of its generals and presidents, Zinn argues, it gives “a distorted view of the past.” Certainly he provides a powerful counterbalance to the hero-centric approach of traditional textbooks. In 2004 Zinn joined with Dr. Anthony Arnove to publish a collection of primary source documents titled Voices of a People’s History of the United States, an academic bestseller on college and high school campuses. The materials range across the length of American history and feature letters, petitions, poems, speeches, and songs from “women and slaves, immigrants and youth, soldiers and students.”

Zinn and Arnove began to organize public performances of selections from Voices in 2003, before its official release, when A People’s History of the United States sold its 1 millionth copy (it has now surpassed the 2 million mark). Today, Voices brings alive the words and emotions of the past with songs and dramatic readings performed by well-established artists. At a presentation this past May celebrating the publication of A Young People’s History of the United States in New York City, seven performers gave new life to the words of famous dissenters — such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr. — and lesser known, but equally stirring, voices from the past.

Bill requiring voters to register by party goes nowhere

The SC House Judiciary Committee today debated a bill to require voters to register by party to vote in party primaries. The SC Progressive Network opposed it, arguing it posed an unnecessary impediment to voting rights. South Carolina has more legislators chosen by primary than any other state.

Enough Republicans on the committee had concerns about limiting voters’ options in primaries — which are paid for by all taxpayers — to send the bill back to subcommittee, making it unlikely the bill will pass this session.

Network Director Brett Bursey pointed out to the committee that 20 of its 25 members had no opposition in the general election and they won their seat in the primary. This applies to both Republicans and Democrats; see memo below.

A majority of the committee members won 99 percent of the vote in their uncontested general elections.

“Sixty-five percent of South Carolina voters had only one candidate to vote for in the last general election for legislators,” Bursey said. “If you can’t vote in the primary, you don’t have a voice on who represents you in the State House.”

Due to partisan redistricting over the past 30 years, South Carolina has the least competitive general elections in the nation. The creation of “safe” legislative districts resulted in 80 of the states 124 House districts (65 percent) having only one major party candidate on the general election ballot. In these 80 races, the voters only opportunity to cast a meaningful ballot was in the primary.

As long as the majority of elections for the legislature are decided in the primaries, all voters must be afforded the opportunity to participate in open primaries. Until our general elections are competitive, restricting participation in the primaries effectively prohibits citizens from casting a meaningful vote for their representative.

Twenty of the 25 members of the House Judiciary Committee had no major party opposition in the 2010 general election. These members took office by winning their party’s primary, often with no opposition.

House Judiciary members with general election opposition (with percentage of general election vote)

Nanny 66% R
Bannister 75% R
Quinn 72% R
Peter McCoy 47% R (Anne Peterson Hutto 43%, Eugene Platt 8%)
Leon Stavinakis 55% D

House Judiciary members with NO general election opposition (with percentage of general election vote)
James Harrison 99% R
Alan Clemmons 99% R
George Hern 99% R
Jenny Horne 99% R
Dan Hamilton 87.92% R
Karl Allen 99% D
Derham Cole, Jr. 99% R
Eddie Tallon 99% R
Walton McCloud 98% D
Greg Delleney 99% R
Boyd Brown 98% D
David Weeks 99% D
Laurie Slade Funderburk 99% D
Thad Viers 99% R
James Smith 99% D
Todd Rutherford 88% D
Tom Young 99% R
Bakari Sellers 99% D
Seth Whipper 99% D
Mike Sottile 99% R

South Carolina needs new anti-embezzlement law

By John V. Crangle
Common Cause of South Carolina

Embezzlement and theft of taxpayers’ money is rampant in this state. Research provided to the Senate at the request of Sen. Jake Knotts shows that in the past 10 years, the attorney general and solicitors have convicted people of embezzling $22 million from state and local government, in more than 600 cases.

The problem is actually worse, because law enforcement records are not organized in a way to make it easy to count all the cases. Beyond that, this doesn’t count undiscovered fraud that may never be brought to light.

False-claims bills in the Senate (S.100, S.1018) would encourage government employees and citizens to report crime to authorities, by protecting them against retaliation at work and rewarding them financially if stolen funds are recovered. Oftentimes, non-participants become aware of stealing by fellow employees but don’t report it. The Paul Moore scandal at the Department of Social Services, which involved some 200 people within and outside of the agency, was exposed when one of the conspirators went to authorities after falling out with Moore in a quarrel over the money. But this was only after $5 million had been stolen and squandered beyond recovery over several years. The false-claims legislation is designed to interrupt the stealing while the money still can be recovered.

The legislation, which complements the newly created office of inspector general, is a bipartisan effort by Sen. Knotts, Gerald Malloy, Vincent Sheheen and Mike Rose. At that first hearing on the bill, the attorney general’s office testified that South Carolina has been forfeiting 10 percent of the millions recovered by the federal government in Medicaid fraud in recent years because we do not have a federally approved false-claims law; this has cost the state $7.8 million in the past five years alone.

The Legislature needs to pass this law as soon as possible in order to cut short the losses, punish the embezzlers and fraudsters, recover stolen money and obtain South Carolina’s fair amount of the stolen Medicaid funds recovered by federal prosecutors. As Sen. Rose noted: “Either we are going to get serious about fraud in South Carolina, or we are not.” Taxpayers have the right to know that their tax money is not going to be stolen by crooked government employees and fraudsters and spent on drugs, alcohol, foreign vacations and strip clubs.

John V. Crangle is Executive Director of Common Cause of South Carolina, a member of the SC Progressive Network.

New bill against trespass troubles civil libertarians

By Adam Klasfeld
Court House News

A polarizing debate has erupted over a new anti-trespass law, with some saying it criminalizes protest and others calling it a harmless patch of a security oversight. The White House describes the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Act of 2011, or H.R. 347, as legislation that “makes it a federal crime to enter or remain knowingly in any restricted area of the White House, the vice president’s official residence, or their respective grounds without lawful authority.”

Though seemingly innocuous, civil libertarians took issue with the language of the bill, which defined “restricted buildings as grounds” broadly enough to include any place where Secret Service personnel are stationed. At the Lawfare national security blog, D.C.-based attorney Wells Bennett speculated that this could include demonstrators loudly protesting the Obama administration’s targeted-killing program. After the bill sailed through the House of Representatives in a 388-3 vote, John Tjaden, a board member with the American Civil Liberties Union of Sacramento, sounded the alarm in a blog post titled, “Goodbye, First Amendment: House Bill HR 347 will make protest illegal.”

President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, signed it Thursday? A spokesman for Rep. Thomas Mooney, the Florida congressman who sponsored the bill, called the controversy “a whole lot of kerfuffle over nothing,” in an interview with Reason Magazine. “This doesn’t affect anyone’s right to protest anywhere at any time,” spokesman Michael Mahassey insisted. “Ever.”

Mahassey said the bill updates existing law, allowing the government to federally prosecute those who would climb over the White House fence. In that sense, the H.R. 347 controversy mirrors that of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), widely known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill for allowing the military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without charge or trial. NDAA defenders say the government already claimed that power under the Authorization to Use Military Force, which courts have upheld in subsequent case law.

Civil libertarians countered that the NDAA took narrowly tailored legal opinions and expanded them to have global jurisdiction. ACLU policy advisor Gabe Rottman told Courthouse News that, in both instances, small changes to existing laws could have profound changes. One such change in H.R. 347 is the “intent standard,” which the law reduced from “willfully and knowingly” to “knowingly,” Rottman said. A federal appeals court parsed this difference in 2005 while considering the case of Brett Bursey, a South Carolina activist arrested for protesting then-President George W. Bush at the Columbia Airport. In the opinion, the 4th Circuit agreed that “willfully” had a stricter standard than “knowingly.”

“Divining the meaning of ‘willfully’ in criminal statutory mens rea terms has long bedeviled American courts,” the unanimous opinion states. A footnote continues: “We focus our discussion on whether Bursey ‘willfully’ violated the statute, because, generally, ‘[m]ore is required’ with respect to conduct performed willfully than conduct performed knowingly.”

Now the head of the SC Progressive Network, Bursey told Courthouse News that he did not “willfully” or “knowingly” break any law he could perceive.  He said he was standing in a crowd of people when singled out for arrest because his sign said “No more war for oil, no war against Iraq.”

“They told me that I would have to go to the Free Speech Zone,” Bursey said. “None of them were quite sure where it was.”

When police told him they would charge him with trespassing, Bursey said he had “a déjà vu moment” because he was arrested for state trespassing charges — at almost exactly the same spot — while protesting Richard Nixon in 1969.

Bursey said he fought the 1969 case all the way to the state Supreme Court, and won. Believing he would beat the charges again, Bursey refused to budge at the Bush protest until police hauled him into a corrections van.

“I watched George Bush get off Air Force One through the bars of the paddy wagon and go into this building to give this speech, where he actually used the words, ‘They hate us because we’re so free,’” Bursey recalled, adding, “And I’m hogtied to the van outside.”

Bursey said that he learned from local reporters about four months later that he had been indicted under a statute called “Presidential Assassinations, Kidnappings and Threats.” “I fell out of my chair when I read that,” Bursey said. This time, Bursey lost his appeals, which again went up to the Supreme Court. And he had to pay a $500 for the misdemeanor charge. Under a 2005 reauthorization of the Patriot Act, that offense would have counted as a felony. The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Act of 2011 uses similar language.

Bursey thinks that Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements might have caused legislators to boost the law. “Why was it necessary to pass this new statute?” Bursey asked. “Since ’05, under the Patriot Act, this same statute has been in effect replacing the one that I was arrested under. So it’s nothing new.”

Bursey believes he is the only protester to have been prosecuted under the laws in their earlier or subsequent forms. “They only arrested one person in 30 years,” he said. In a rhetorical question to legislators, Bursey asked, “What is the clamoring horde that’s trying to break down your bubble?”

Rottman also could not identify any other protester arrested under the former anti-trespassing statutes, but he hoped that H.R. 347 did not signal its expansion. “I hope this law will not be applied to make lawful protest a federal crime,” Rottman said. “Given the discretion, there is concern that it could be misused. The ACLU and other groups that track these regulations will keep a keen eye on any abuse.”

Celebrating civil rights in Fairfield County

Laughlin McDonald

• • •

The public is invited to a community celebration to honor civil rights activist Laughlin McDonald

March 3, 3 – 5pm

Church of the Nazarene, 650 9th St., Winnsboro

Laughlin McDonald was born and raised in Winnsboro, graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1965, and has been Director of the national Voting Rights Project of the ACLU since 1972. During his 40 years of fighting for equality, Laughlin has led the fight for equal rights in Fairfield County, across our state and our nation.

Join us for this FREE celebration!

Program

Master & Mistress of Ceremony: E. Sutton & Mrs. Tangee Brice Jacobs

Invocation: Pastor Harry Varn, Church of the Nazarene

Musical Salute: Blair Coalition of Churches Youth Choir

Purpose of Occasion: Crosby Lewis, Former House Member; Councilman Kamau Marcharia District 4

Greetings: Travis Medlock, Senator Creighton Coleman, Representative Boyd Brown, Sheriff Herman Young

Dance: Saint Luke Dance Team, Saint Luke Baptist Church

Award Presentations

Introduction of Attorney Armand Derfner: Brett Bursey, Director of SC Progressive Network

Introduction of Honoree: Armand Derfner,Attorney

Honoree: Mr. Laughlin McDonald

Reception immediately following program.