“How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?”

Beverly Diane Frierson
Columbia

Just before I entered the elementary school where I tutor two third-grade African-American boys, I heard that a decision was expected soon on an indictment in the Eric Garner case.

As I drove home from the session, the radio announcer said there was no indictment.

I thought he meant that the grand jury was still deliberating. Then I got a voice message from my childhood friend from Sumter, who had called to give me the grand jury’s decision. The anguish in his voice was palpable as he said: “Beverly, call me.”

I turned on the television and listened for hours. When my sister got home we stared at each other, in great pain. We watched; we listened; we watched; we listened. Finally she said, “I can’t take it anymore” and went upstairs to be alone.

I remained downstairs, feeling drained and dreading the phone call I had to make. Fortunately, when I reached my friend, he and other friends had gathered to talk, so I promised to call later, but it was a promise I just could not keep.

How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?

What words could I find to assuage his pain, and was it even appropriate to take the edge off of such pain, in times like these?

If I had said, “I know what you are feeling,” it would have been a lie, for the experiences of black men and black women are not the same in this country.

I knew why my friend had called me. He, my sister and I helped pave the way for African-American children in Sumter and Florence counties to attend the public schools of their choice. The three of us still bare emotional scars from those days, and my sister barely missed physical scars, for on more than one occasion her white classmates attempted to push her down stairs because they detested her chocolate hue.

But that was the 1960s, and this is 2014. When did some people start viewing innocent African-American men as menacing, grunting beasts whose lives are worth nothing?

When I work with my third-graders every week, I see innocence. I see hope, and I hear of their dreams. Their aspirations should not be locked in a box with an inaccessible key because of the color of their skin.

I wonder: When must I and other adults prepare them for the bleak reality that awaits them?

When must I explain that they are guilty? When must I reveal their crime: being born with dark pigmentation?

Why is America still so color-conscious, so ill?

Healing must begin with honest dialogue. An extension of that dialogue may include protests to highlight displeasure with the status quo, but the danger is in relying on weekend warriors. For some, commitment to the movement will fizzle when the weather turns cold or wet. Seasoned civil and human rights advocates understand that the struggle never ends; it manifests itself in different forms in each era.

Reaction to injustice has its place, but proactive planning, organizing, following through, evaluating and modifying are also required.

Beverly Frierson, a longtime member and activist with the SC Progressive Network, is a certified lay speaker of the SC Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention.”

Kerry Taylor
The Citadel, Charleston SC

Many of us who have remained largely on the sidelines of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Denzel Curnell in Charleston are hiding behind three comforting fictions. The first fiction relies on the presumed character flaws of the victims. In Curnell’s case we learned through leaks to the press of his alleged emotional instability, his spotty military record, and his theft of his stepfather’s gun.

Assuming that the official version of his death is accurate and that Curnell committed suicide, that suicide took place after he was unnecessarily accosted by an off-duty police officer. It was the precipitating factor in Curnell’s death. In Ferguson, we learned from the police department that Brown stole cigars from a convenience store just minutes before the confrontation that ended in his death. Curnell’s and Brown’s alleged misdeeds, vulnerabilities, and reputations are nevertheless irrelevant. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights protect citizens from the undue use of state force, even those who look “like a demon,” as Michael Brown’s assailant described him to the grand jury.

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A second justification for our silence and inactivity rests on the fiction that African-American leaders have been hypocritically indifferent to “black on black” crime and that they should spend more energies chastising African Americans, especially young people who do not conform to mainstream cultural norms. There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, there is no such thing as black on black crime as a distinct social phenomenon. Statistically, African Americans murder one another at roughly the same rate as other ethnic groups.

While crime rates in some areas with large concentrations of non-white residents are unacceptably high, I would be hard-pressed to identify a civil rights leaders who has not devoted a tremendous amount of energy towards addressing issues related to crime and violence in its many forms. Locally, African American activists have worked tirelessly and often productively with law enforcement officials and church leaders to enhance crime fighting strategies.

Moreover, police violence is wholly different from violence perpetrated by one citizen against another. Through my taxes and votes, I sponsor and pay for state violence. Talk of black on black crime should be understood for what it is—a racist diversion from our shared responsibility to one another.

The final convenient fiction too many of us use to justify our silence is the notion that protests and riots are counterproductive and undermine the possibility of reform. Martin Luther King Jr. consistently denounced the urban revolts of the 1960s, arguing “that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.” But King also recognized that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” It is a form of protest for those who have no access to conventional avenues for expressing dissent.

In the final months of his life, King sought to harness the energy of the urban rebellions and channel it towards pressuring the federal government to enact policies that would address poverty and economic inequality. King pledged that his Poor People’s Campaign would be “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots without destroying property.” King did not live to realize that vision.

Those of us who profess to believe in fairness and peace need to move from behind the myths that have provided us with protective cover. Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention. In King’s words: “As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption.”

Kerry Taylor teaches US History at The Citadel. He is co-editor of volumes four and five of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and served as an editor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University from 1997 to 2004.

Stay, Illusion! The Subversion of the Empty Master

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Presentation to the SC Progressive Network at its annual fall retreat Nov. 15 in Columbia.

Daniel Deweese, New Legacy Project

A Faceless Master.

A specter is haunting South Carolina — take it from someone who has been to ten of its cities in ten days — the specter of Modjeska Simkins, the ghosts of a progressive and effective left.

Nearly a century ago, on the precipice of the emergence of the twin monsters of the 20th century, namely Stalinism and Fascism, Freud, in his prescient insight identified the forthcoming antagonism; “Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this—hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension. And now it may be expected that the other of the two heavenly forces, eternal Eros, will put forth his strength so as to maintain himself alongside of his equally immortal adversary.” (1920, p.147)

We are on the verge of a new totalitarianism, one with a faceless master; that of  global capital.  This is attested to by the winner of our last election; money. Millions of so called “dark dollars”-uncountable, utterly  inundated this election. It is appropriate here to recall Boiseguillebert’s insight of finance as the alembic of commodities that extracts that unholy essence and  “…money declares war on the whole of humanity.” ( Marx, 1992, p.239).

A Princeton study has indicated something we Leftists have known for a long time, namely, that the United States is transforming into an oligarchy. It is economic elites who possess the most influence over public policy (TPM, 2014).

The first step in any critique of ideology that has the potential to foster revolutionary upheaval is to identify the position of the master (the ruling class) as being what it is, namely, an empty position. There exists an irreducible gap between the totalitarian master and his title. The master seizes this mantle and yet it is not congruent to his being. The title is something that is assumed rather than a “quality” that is inherent to the master.

For example, the divinity of kings or the so called “hard work” of Wall Street executives are just some of the reasons manifested to justify the position of mastery which in turn is utilized to justify the accumulation of the surplus social product at the expense of the working class. The revolutionary must not only expose the master as being empty but she must also expose and attack that in herself which chains her to the ruling ideology. Here we return to the predicament of postmodernity, namely, that of unlimited consumption. If the consumption of frivolous commodities is the equivalent to or at least the path to social fulfillment, then why is postmodernity so fraught with discontent? This is true in even the wealthiest of the industrialized nations (I developed this idea further in my article Truth as Contradiction).

The duty to consume and its failure to cultivate a meaningful social bond should be taken as a sign of the   impotence of the dominant discourse. The gaps in this discourse also manifest themselves in the forms of poverty, war, starvation and so on.  For instance; “The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase.” (worldhunger.org). And yet millions starve. It is true that 300,000 South Carolinians would have had health insurance if the Governor would have accepted the Medicaid expansion. And yet thousands will go with out, some even to their deaths.

The Ghosts that Speak Truth

The revolutionary must pronounce to the ruling class and all those who rest underneath their heel; “ I am your truth! (poverty, oppression, exploitation!), you the master are not complete!” It is crucial for a dialectical analysis to realize that this undeniable excess, these foreclosed subjects, are not separate from the dominant discourse but are apart of the the effects of the totality of global capital. After traveling through our fair state it became clear to me; there are those of us willing to protest, that is, publicly enunciate this truth of the foreclosed excess. However, these scattered voices wander like ghosts searching for an apparatus that would materialize their very substance into something more.

In Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? he emphasizes that the working-class will not spontaneously formulate into an emancipatory collective due to oppressive conditions. He believed it would take a vanguard party to educate and organize the people. This I claim was the victory won in the Healthy Democracy Road Show, namely, laying the ground work for this emancipatory collective in South Carolina, the ground work for a new legacy. Therefore, something of an education is required. Namely, a school that is right, the Modjeska School of Human Rights!

The way for the Left to undermine the dominant discourse is to facilitate the birth of a new discourse by utilizing the emancipatory legacy left for us by the revolutionaries of the past. To conclude, we return to the spectral realm and echo a thought from Walter Benjamin; ?“ Every Revolution is not only directed towards the future but it redeems also the past failed Revolutions, all the ghosts-as if the living dead of the past Revolutions, which are roaming around unsatisfied will finally find their home in the new freedom.” (Zizek, 2014).

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Freud, S. (1920). Civilization and its discontents. (p. 135). New York/London: W.W. Norton & Company.
Lenin, V. I. (1969) What is to be done?: burning questions of our movement. Intl Publishing
Marx, K. (1992) Capital Volume 1 (p.239). London: Penguin Classics.
www.worldhunger.org
Zizek, S. (2014) The pervert’s guide to ideology

Don’t mourn. Organize!

While there is much hand-wringing in the wake of Tuesday’s elections, the SC Progressive Network is not mourning; we are celebrating a job well done. After a year dedicated to educating and mobilizing voters on health care, we capped the campaign with a 10-day 10-city blitz. We started at the Governor’s Mansion with a press conference, and ended with a rally at the County Square in Greenville.

It was a long haul. But that’s what the Network is about. We are working year-round to promote progressive values, not cranking a cold motor every two years when elections roll around. If we have a chance to pull this state out of the ideological ditch that’s drowning our most vulnerable citizens, more of us need to move beyond outrage to action. It can be gratifying.

On the road we got to see parts of South Carolina too often neglected, we met dedicated community and political activists at every stop, we made friends and allies across the state, we nurtured a growing solidarity among our staff and volunteers, we generated some great press and, best of all, we changed the conversation on Medicaid expansion. It was an issue the pundits and pooh-bahs had declared dead. We insisted that the only thing dead about this issue are the people paying the price for petty, partisan foolishness.

In related news, because our staff has been busier than expected with the Road Show, the Network’s fall retreat Nov. 15 at Penn Center has been moved to Columbia.
We’ll be meeting at the Lake House at Sandhill Research Education Center, 900 Clemson Rd. It is a nifty facility, built in 1932 by WPA workers. Details to come.

Thanks again to our Road Show crew for a campaign to remember. Warning: watch this video, and the song may loop in your brain for days.

It was a gay day in South Carolina!

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On Oct. 8, two Network groups and their allies from across South Carolina celebrated marriage equality at the SC State House after the historic court decisions paving the way for marriage equality in several states, including South Carolina. After a rally, LGBT activists and allies delivered a box of 5,000 petitions to SC Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. Ignoring the writing on the legal wall, the governor and the AG vowed they will continue using taxpayer money to fight the issue.

Indeed, the next day the SC Supreme Court blocked the marriage license applications gay couples filed the day before in Charleston and Richland County court houses.

In spite of the stubborn response on the part of state leaders, marriage equality is inevitable, even in South Carolina. Congratulations to our member groups SC Equality and the Harriet Hancock Center for their dogged pursuit of fairness for all South Carolina’s citizens.

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More photos on Flickr.

Network Survey Shows County Voter Registration Offices Unclear About Law

Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

If you are sent to prison in South Carolina, you lose the right to vote. By state law, that right is to be restored upon completion of your sentence. But a new survey of the state’s voter registration offices reveals that how the process for re-enfranchisement works — and doesn’t work — depends on where you live.

The SC Progressive Network has just completed a survey of the state’s 46 county voter registration offices, finding that 33 of them require people to provide documentation that they’ve completed their sentence in order to re-register.

“Talking with staff in each of the 46 offices, we found a selective application of the law that we believe violates the equal protection clause,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “People who have served their time are being made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to regain the full citizenship granted by law. It is unfair, further depresses the state’s dismal voter participation rate, and affects twice as many black citizens as whites.”

While 13 offices do not require documentation from ex-offenders, Susie Edwards, Director of the Dillon County voter registration office, said her staff will ask for proof if someone “is acting sketchy.”

Saluda County voter registration office Director Dana Burdern said, “A letter from Pardons and Parole is not required by law but it’s asked for.”

Deputy Director Patrick Lee of Charleston said, “We go on their word. We don’t require more than that.”

The word Lee is relying on is the “voter oath” a person signs when registering swearing that he or she is a US citizen, is 18 years or older, and a South Carolina resident. Registrants also swear that they haven’t been found “mentally incompetent,” are not serving time in jail, and have completed their sentence.

“The only part of the oath citizens are being asked to provide additional proof for is the completion of a prison sentence,” Bursey said. “No law requires the counties to ask for further proof, and there is no established system for proving someone has served their time.”

The survey also revealed that 20 counties wrongly claim differences in the waiting periods between felonies and misdemeanors for voter registration, with felonies requiring additional waiting time.

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SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and volunteer Bishop Shirley Raiford work a voting registration table at the bus transfer station in downtown Columbia.

“South Carolina’s voting system is a vestige of the Jim Crow era,” Bursey said. “The Senate was able to retain white power in 1895 by granting control of the election process to the counties, whose boards Senate members appointed. To this day, legislators appoint the boards, and each county is in charge of its own elections. This is why we have 46 counties interpreting the laws differently.”

The Network has introduced legislation that would require the state to inform people exiting the prison system of their voting rights. The bill has not advanced, but will be introduced again next legislative session.

“We think it is an important part of the reintegration of people back into our communities to ensure they regain their voting rights,” said Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders. “The state removes you from the rolls if you are incarcerated, and it should make sure that you can be reinstated once you’ve served your time.”

Sanders, who has spent years doing registration drives through the Network’s Missing Voter Project, said a common misconception, especially in rural areas, is that when people are sent to prison they forever lose their right to vote. “It’s sad that so many people don’t understand the law, especially those who are charged with enforcing it.”

The Network will use the survey as evidence in a case that is being prepared for federal court. Ex-offenders with relevant testimony about difficulties registering to vote are asked to contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or by sending email to network@scpronet.com. For more about the Network or its Missing Voter Project, visit scpronet.com.

New group works to raise funds to fight for marriage equality in South Carolina

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A grass roots group called The Will of the People has recently formed with a singular focus on South Carolina’s marriage equality fight. The mission is simple: To raise funds for non-attorney costs to support both a pending lawsuit as well as future marriage equality litigation in our state. The catalyst for the organization’s creation is the pending lawsuit by two women against the State of South Carolina in Federal District Court. The suit seeks an order requiring the state to recognize their 2012 legal marriage in Washington, DC.

The Will of the People is a volunteer organization; therefore, nearly 100% of the money raised will be used for filing fees, legal brief writings and clerical costs in the ongoing fight for marriage equality in SC. An account has been set up in the name of The Will of the People Fund at Wells Fargo Bank in South Carolina. All contributions are tax deductible. Send checks payable to The Will of the People Fund to The Will of the People Fund, PO Box 5006, Columbia, SC 29250.

Learn more about The Will of the People Fund on Facebook and Twitter @RealWOTPF.

SC Progressive Network part of college forum on third parties in South Carolina

American voters often think in two flavors: Republican and Democrat. But about a fifth of the candidates running Nov. 4 in South Carolina for state or federal offices are third-party candidates.

Columbia College is offering a forum for third-party candidates on Monday, Sept. 29, in the Breed Leadership Center. Beginning at 7 p.m. in Breed 201-202, third-party candidates will speak, each for five minutes, on their and their parties’ platforms. A brief moderated panel will follow, during which representatives of the third parties will discuss the effect on elections with representatives of the SC Progressive Network.

Afterward, time will be provided to personally meet candidates. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Those attending and the offices they are running for include:

  • For the Libertarians: Victor Kocher, Libertarian chairman and candidate for the U.S. Senate; Travis McCurry, S.C. House of Representatives, District 26; and Curtis McLaughlin, 4th Congressional District.
  • For the American Party of South Carolina: Jim Rex, American Party chairman and co-founder; Jill Bossie, U.S. Senate; Ed Murray, state superintendent of education; and Donna McGreevy, S.C. House of Representatives, District 74.
  • For the United Citizens Party: Morgan Bruce Reeves, governor.
  • To discuss the election effects: Brett Bursey, director, and Marjorie Hammock, co-chair, SC Progressive Network.

Why do some S.C. candidates and voters gravitate to third parties? The candidates themselves will answer the question on Sept. 29, as may voters attending.

Rex, of the American Party of South Carolina, says that his party’s appeal lies in the “emphasis on problem-solving and not on ideological absolutes or extremes,” as well as candidates’ vows to abide by “mandated term limits, transparency and unprecedented accountability.”

Kocher, a Libertarian, says, “Libertarian candidates trust people with the freedom to make the best choices for themselves while the Democratic and Republican parties trust the state with the power to make choices for the people.”

The event is sponsored by the Writing for Print and Digital Media program, a major that provides students academic and professional experience in digital and print journalism, public relations, social media and creative writing.

Breed Leadership Center is located at 1301 Columbia College Drive, which is between Colonial Drive and North Main Street. Parking is available in Lots A and B at the corner of Colonial and Columbia College drives. For a map of the campus, go here.

For more information on the event, contact Claudia Smith Brinson at Columbia College, csbrinson@columbiasc.edu or 803-786-3153.

Ethics reform: when a bad bill is worse than no bill

John Crangle
Director, Common Cause South Carolina

The State’s readers were treated recently to the musings of a pair of rookie legislators, Rep. Kirkman Finlay and Sen. Thomas McElveen, joined by JoAnne Day of the League of Women Voters, a newcomer to ethics reform, who praised House bill 3945 and ridiculed legislators who opposed the purported ethics-reform bill as “perfectionists,” “concerned” or “unwilling” ( “We must move forward on ethics,” Aug. 14).

It is not surprising, perhaps, that three people so recently acquainted with State House politics should fall for a fake reform bill like H.3945.

In particular, Rep. Finlay’s brief tenure in the House would not encourage much confidence in his actual interest in reform. He was one of the chief sponsors of two looney bills designed to rescue House Speaker Bobby Harrell from the criminal probe by the attorney general into his use of some $300,000 of campaign funds for pay for his personal airplane. Finlay joined with allies to fix a bill to remove Wilson as prosecutor in the Harrell case and empower Harrell himself and the president pro tempore of the Senate to appoint a special prosecutor to take Wilson’s place; they even proposed a constitutional amendment to strip Wilson of his prosecutorial authority.

Common Cause of South Carolina opposed H.3945 when it came to a vote in the Senate at the end of this past session; it was defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives.

No honest analysis of H.3945 could conclude that it was a serious reform proposal. It failed to address the most critical ethics problems that have plagued South Carolina in recent years. It failed to clean up the chronic problem of the misuse of campaign funds for non-campaign purpose. Just in the past few years, a number of officials have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar: Gov. Mark Sanford used campaign money to go on a hunting trip in Ireland; Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was thrown out of office after he bought clothes; Rep. Harold Mitchell was fined more than $20,000 for misuses; and Sen. Robert Ford was referred to the attorney general for buying sex novelties.

Not only did H.3945 not stop the misuse of campaign money for non-campaign purposes; it even proposed to allow candidates to use such funds to pay for family members to go on trips.

The bill did nothing to stop legislative ethics committees from pretending to police their own members. The failure of the House Ethics Committee to do anything about Bobby Harrell’s out-of-control spending of campaign money on his private airplane clearly shows how conflicted and frightened the panel was.

Of course, H.3945 had no whistle-blower measure to protect government employees who report embezzlement, bribery and corruption, even though South Carolina is plagued by such crimes. It had no public integrity unit of the sort proposed by the attorney general to attack public corruption.

As bad as 3945 was, there were many legislators who wanted it to pass so they could say for the next generation that they has passed a wonderful ethics reform bill while they continued to misbehave for the rest of their careers.

In the end, Gov. Nikki Haley declared H.3945 an income-disclosure bill that didn’t address ethics, and Sen. Vincent Sheheen walked away from it, as both candidates for governor clearly saw that the bill fell far below their minimum standards for ethics reform.

The next two years will be a better time for passing a real ethics reform bill, as the 2016 elections will have both the House and Senate facing the voters. By then, perhaps another scandal will further demonstrate the need for a real ethics-reform law.

John Crangle is executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina, a longtime member of the SC Progressive Network.

SC Pride movement celebrates 25 years

The SC Progressive Network has supported Pride since our founding, back when doing so meant we would likely lose foundation money and certain community allies in the process. We’ve always tried to stay on the side of right, even when it hurts.

We applaud the gay community in South Carolina for its successes over the years, in spite of tough odds. Here’s a look back at Pride over the years.

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More photos in our Flickr photo album.

 

Network takes healthcare message on the road

logo3The SC Progressive Network is in the process of training crews of volunteers to launch its latest project, the Healthy Democracy Road Show, designed to educate and mobilize voters on the state of democracy and healthcare in South Carolina. Road crews will do door-to-door canvassing in targeted neighborhoods, and a show is being developed to liven up events in selected towns across South Carolina.

We spent the last legislative session targeting lawmakers on Medicaid expansion. Now, over the summer and early fall, we will focus on targeted communities across the state, taking our message to the people most affected by state lawmakers’ refusal to accept federal funding — our own tax money.

In July and early August, trainings for organizers are being held. For information, or to schedule a training in your area, call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com. The next training is on July 21 at the ILA Hall in Charleston.

This clip is from a training in Columbia, presented by Network Director Brett Bursey.

University Libraries offers glowing review of Network’s booklet about Modjeska Simkins

By Herb Hartsook
University Libraries South Carolina Political Collections
(posted June 30 on A Capital Blog and re-posted with permission)

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Modjeska Simkins was a remarkable human rights activist and a uniquely powerful speaker. Becci Robbins captures her essence in a new booklet, Modjeska Monteith Simkins: A South Carolina Revolutionary, just published by the South Carolina Progressive Network. The 38-page booklet is clearly a labor of love by Robbins, the Network’s Communications Director.

Mrs. Simkins’ voice is present throughout the booklet which features lavish quotations. Robbins places Mrs. Simkins both in time and place with a detailed biographical sketch. The booklet also includes rich illustrations and statements by people such as SC Political Collections donors Matthew Perry and Candy Waites who knew and were influenced by Mrs. Simkins.

Until a full-length biography is produced, this forms the best treatment on the life and important role played by this forceful human rights activist.

A June 26 reception at Mrs. Simkins’ Marion Street home, which houses the Network’s offices, celebrated the new publication. Brett Bursey, founder and director of the Progressive Network and devoted Simkins mentee, served as master of ceremonies and gave a stirring talk describing plans for the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, a new endeavor by the Network which will train and encourage individuals to follow in the footsteps of Mrs. Simkins and “take on issues of economic and social injustice.”

3,000 copies of the booklet, which was made possible by a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission, will be distributed to libraries around the state and interested individuals.  An electronic copy is available on the Network’s website.

Mrs. Simkins once noted, “Start each sunrise as a new day.  Start out believing there’s good to be done and people to do it for.”  That spirit still lives.