Piñata Politics Just Tempest in a Tea Party Pot

By Becci Robbins

Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. At this time last week I was making a gift for my friend Donna Dewitt to celebrate her retirement from the SC AFL-CIO. And what says party like a piñata?

Yes, the piñata was my idea. I made it. I filled it with candy and Bobby Bucks. I videotaped its predictable demise. I sent the clip to friends to amuse them in these most un-amusing times. Who knew it would go viral?

The breathless response has been over the top, a sad commentary on the echo chamber that is the Internet.

Was the piñata in poor taste? Yes. Was it malicious? No. Am I sorry it caused some people to lose their minds? That’s their problem.

My only regret is having put a dear friend in the position of having to defend a piñata she did not know about or ask for. Donna works harder at a thankless job than anyone I know. She doesn’t deserve the heat she’s taken, including death threats and a promise from Gov. Nikki Haley on national TV to “continue beating up on unions.”

To fixate on unions instead of dealing with the critical problems we’re facing is to use the tired politics of distraction. I should have expected it from the governor, whose favorite posture is that of victim – first of racism, then sexism, now union thugs.

While Haley has made an odd habit of union-bashing, for me she crossed the line when she used her last State of the State address to proclaim: “Unions are not needed, wanted or welcome in South Carolina.” Instead of a message to unite all of us who call the Palmetto State home, she served up a campaign speech of red meat. It was inappropriate. And insulting.

When the governor bashes unions, she’s bashing my colleagues. She’s bashing my friends. She’s bashing my family. She’s bashing me. So forgive me for taking it personally, but I’ve had enough.

The piñata was intended as comic relief among friends after a long day of talking about the state budget, our election system and workers’ rights at the SC Progressive Network‘s annual spring conference. The party was a chance to unwind and honor Donna, our longtime co-chair. For the governor to use the incident for political gain is predictable but unfair, and more than a little ironic.

After all, Donna didn’t do anything as shameful as cut funding for education and mental health services. She didn’t gut environmental regulations or stack boards with corporate cronies. She didn’t show contempt to the Supreme Court. She didn’t campaign on a promise of transparency and then routinely sanitize her paper trail. She didn’t lobby for a corporation while being on their payroll. She didn’t use her power like a bludgeon.

Donna smacked a piñata. Which is, good people, what happens to piñatas. I made one of a Corporate Fat Cat for John Spratt’s retirement party, and it, too, got smashed. Why didn’t it go viral? Because nobody could make political hay out of it.

And that’s exactly what the governor is doing. Yesterday I got an email solicitation from her office inviting me to watch the video and contribute $250 to fight “Big Labor.” The email mentions President Obama twice. Talk about tasteless.

The governor will get no apology from me. But I offer one to Donna for putting her in an awful position. She could have risked hurting my feelings by refusing to play along at the party. Or she could have thrown me under the bus when she started catching heat. She did neither. As a labor leader, she knows something the governor doesn’t: solidarity matters most when it’s inconvenient.

Sorry if this flap has embarrassed any of our members. Please know that Donna and Network Director Brett Bursey have made the best of the rare media attention. (Watch Brett on Fox and Donna on CNN, for starters.)

It may not be pretty, but at least people are talking about organized labor in South Carolina. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue, and it’s up to us to keep it honest.

Becci Robbins is SC Progressive Network Communications Director. Reach her at becci@scpronet.com.

5 thoughts on “Piñata Politics Just Tempest in a Tea Party Pot

  1. Becci,

    I agree 100% with your remarks. I think Haley and her cronies lie in wait to find something, no matter how insignificant, to twist to blow all out of proportion to fill her coffers. She does what she please and gets away with a lot. When is she going to be called out for being in contempt of the SC Supreme Court and what is ever worse, encouraging others to do so?

    I know there was never a thought in your mind of what ultimately happened when you made the pinata. I would have done the same thing…it was all in fun. Please don’t beat yourself up over this. I am certainly not embarrassed. I stand with you 100% and I so admire you for all you do for the under served in SC. I know a lot of people who feel the same way I do. And I think that Brett and Donna did themselves proud in their interviews!

  2. I just wrote you a long letter of support saying that I agree with you 100% but I can never get through the hurdle of trying to retype the codes below and somehow lost my comments.

  3. Feisty people like you in SC is what I miss most after moving to Boston. Good going and I love your response to the naysayers! Keep it up! I keep telling all my liberal friends that SC is not as bad as they are reported in the news! – at least not ALL people are crazies like the governors they elect (and then only by a small majority of the minority who vote).

  4. The Nimrata Pinata was very successful, as for death threats and right wing fundraising openings, everything we do will earn us that. This is what South Carolina is now. Reasoned rational debate won’t activate because we quietly prepare for it and wait for the other side to show up. Nobody will support us unless we show some guts and verve.

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