Go back to school without leaving home

Grimke-Sisters

South Carolina sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Charleston abolitionists and early feminists

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The SC Progressive Network‘s spring session of the Modjeska School begins Monday, March 21, and runs through June 20. We invite you, no matter where you are, to take advantage of the online study guide.

Brett Bursey, Meeghan Kane, and Graham Duncan have compiled an excellent collection of readings and film documentaries that is free and completely accessible online. Additional study material will be added to the site over the coming months.

This session of the Modjeska School is an organizer/activist training course that studies South Carolina history for students to better understand today’s social and political landscape. This is not a traditional course on SC history, but rather a people’s history of resistance. To be effective organizers, we must understand our past. Classes One through Six will highlight our state’s rich history of both repression and resistance. Classes Seven and Eight will analyze our shared past to help shape current theories, strategies and practices for making progressive change in South Carolina.

Class One Study Guide is HERE.

Spring session class schedule is HERE.

Follow the Modjeska School on Facebook.

Questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Modjeska School is now accepting students to its spring session

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“We are really excited about the spring session of the Modjeska School,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “It’s shaping up to be a powerful experience. We have expanded our readings, will have more guest teachers, and are adding a class. We also have built in more time for open discussion.”

The spring session of the Modjeska School will be held every other Monday between March 21 and June 20. The session is limited to 32 students. Preference will be given to SC Progressive Network members who pledge to put their learned organizing skills to work in South Carolina.

Students will meet in the evenings between 6:30pm and 8:30pm at Columbia’s historic Siebles House.

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Kyle Criminger, who graduated from the summer session of the Modjeska School, had this to say: “South Carolina community organizers have the complete package in the School: guided study followed by mentorship in the field. In the people’s history lectures and readings, you find a South Carolina you didn’t know existed.

The School is informed by a global analysis of the problems.  It is all one struggle, the struggle for human rights, and we learned again and again the lesson that all of us who are losing must work together to fight our common enemy. Doing the work of organizing our communities means that first we tap into the collective wisdom and experience of those who have come before.

We don’t just just talk about the problems; we’re leveraging effective strategy to get the job done. That means students use “shovel-ready” Network projects, hold work meetings, and then educate, agitate, and organize a community of shared values, a movement with the power to set political priorities that meet everyday South Carolinians’ needs.”

To apply, prospective students must submit a written application and complete a brief telephone interview. (You must download the application to make it interactive.) A $190 tuition fee covers class materials, copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History and A Place at the Table: Struggles for Equality in America. Fees may be paid monthly; scholarships are available to those who need help.

If you have problems downloading the application or have any questions, call 803-808-3384. For more about the Modjeska School, visit our web site.

• CLASS SCHEDULE •

Class 1 – March 21: In the beginning – 1860. Earliest human habitation, through Native presence, the arrival of the White Man, the establishment of the colony by the Barbadians and the development of the slave economy

Class 2 – April 4: 1860-1895: SC’s role in the Civil War. Reconstruction and redemption.

Class 3 – April 18: 1895-1945: 1895 Constitution, redemption, the rise of Jim Crow, the fall of democracy, the New Deal and a world war.

Class 4 – May 2: 1945-1968: Rise of Dixiecrats, SC’s struggle against racial equality and the civil rights movement, the Great Society and the Southern Strategy to end it.

Class 5 – May 16: 1968-1996: Modern movements. Vietnam, United Citizens Party, GROW, gay and women’s liberation movements, Republicans rising, Democrats surrendering and the SC Progressive Network established.

Class 6 – May 23: 1996-2022. (schedule change due to Memorial Day) Progressive Network’s history and future plans. Building political power on changes, opportunities, clever planning and hard work.

Class 7 – June 6: Theories, Strategy and Tactics. What are our sharpest tools for building and sustaining a popular movement for a revolution of social values? What skills do we need, and what resources do we have?

Class 8 – June 20: Enough Theory; Let’s Practice! Students will design and launch an actual organizing project.

Voting system expert to address lawmakers and voting rights advocates Feb. 18

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As South Carolina lawmakers deliberate replacing the state’s aging voting machines, Open Source Election Technology Foundation‘s executive director Gregory Miller will address the Joint Committee on Voting Systems Research on Feb. 18, 8:30-10am. He later will meet with voting rights advocates for a luncheon at the SC Progressive Network‘s offices, 2025 Marion St., downtown Columbia.

The Network introduced the open-source, non-proprietary voting technology to the committee at its first – and only – hearing in November. (Story and audio link here.) In 2004, the Network advocated for a voter-verified, paper-based voting system before the state instead opted to buy South Carolina’s current proprietary, paperless system.

“As the state considers buying a new voting system, we are pleased that the committee is hearing about alternatives that promotes transparency rather than secrecy in voting technology,” said Network Director Brett Bursey.

OSET is a non-profit election technology research, development, and education foundation established eight years ago to advance innovation in election administration and voting technology. OSET works under an “open source mandate,” meaning that anything they develop is freely available for any jurisdiction to adopt, adapt, and deploy. It exists to advance the cause of “critical democracy infrastructure” and to catalyze a new model for the important commercial delivery of election technology innovation. At its core, it is about increasing confidence in elections and their outcomes in order to preserve our democracy.

Miller and OSET participants come from many of the well-known household technology brands such as Apple, Google, Netscape, Oracle, and others have become social entrepreneurs in this effort to substantially innovate the systems on which this nation relies to administer elections. OSET has no commercial agenda and is offering to consult with South Carolina legislators, election administrators and citizens, in an intellectually honest manner, on the spectrum of innovation underway.

Download this fact sheet about OSET.

Mr. Miller will meet with voting rights advocates on Thursday from 11:30am – 1pm at the Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., in Columbia. Participants are welcome to bring a brown bag lunch or place an order from the No Name deli across the street.

Mr. Miller will be available for media interviews on Thursday after the hearing. Contact the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384 or network@scpronet.com to make arrangements.

Dates set for spring session of the Modjeska School

The SC Progressive Network is pleased to announce the dates of the Modjeska School‘s spring session. Beginning March 21, classes will be held every other Tuesday 6pm-9pm at the historic Seibels House, 1601 Richland St., downtown Columbia.

“We are grateful to Historic Columbia for allowing us to use the Seibels House for the spring session,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “Their support reflects the kind of enthusiasm we’re getting from the community about the Modjeska School. It bodes well for our long-term viability and sustainability, and we couldn’t be more excited about the school’s future.”

Classes will be held March 21, April 4 and 18, May 2, 16 and 23, and June 6 and 20. The Network expects this cycle to be competitive; only serious students need apply. Stay tuned for details about fees, scholarships and the application process.

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Rep. Joe Neal was a guest lecturer for the Modjeska School’s summer session.

See more photos here.

An evening of fellowship and remembrance

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On Saturday, friends and family of Modjeska Monteith Simkins gathered to honor her life and legacy on what would have been her 115th birthday. They shared stories about Modjeska, and students of the school talked about what they learned. It was a moving and inspiring evening.

Proceeds from the benefit will go to the SC Progressive Network‘s new Modjeska School. The future of the school looks bright. Plans are under development to raise funds to purchase the building next to the Modjeska Simkins House, where the Network has its offices. We have outgrown the meeting space of the House, and need a place to hold classes.

We will keep members informed as the project develops. To make a donation to the school, click here.

For more photos from Saturday’s party, see our photo album.

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As SC prepares to replace aging voting machines, the SC Progressive Network advocates for low-tech devices

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SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey addressed the Joint Legislative Committee on Voting System Research on Nov. 10 at a meeting to talk about replacing the state’s aging voting machines. (His testimony begins at 2:13 in this clip.)

The five Senators and five House members on the committee invited State Election Commission Director Marci Andino to make a presentation about the acquisition of new voting machines. She was hired in 2003, not long before she spent the state’s $34 million federal grant to buy new voting machines. Ours was the first state to spend its Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money that was allocated after the 2000 “hanging chad” drama that resulted in the George Bush presidency.

In 2003, the Network testified before the SEC board (Andino’s bosses) while its members deliberated whether to buy more than 10,000 of the machines at $3,000 apiece. We presented expert witnesses who testified that the proposed machines were not certified by the federal Election Assistance Commission, that the software to run them is secret, and the devices don’t produce a voter-verifiable paper record necessary for a recount.

Against that advice, South Carolina bought the machines, and Andino remains a loyal consumer of the paperless, secret-software, touch-screen devices we have been using since 2004.

Andino told the committee that she was going ahead with writing the Request for Proposals for the new voting system, and expected to have the bid let by the end of the year. Committee Chair Sen. Ronnie Cromer (R-Lexington) pointed out that the committee wouldn’t have their report on what kind of system SC should buy until after the first of the year.

Andino told the committee that the state procurement code put her in charge of writing specifications for investing $40 million in a new voting system. Murmurs in the audience suggested that she might regret telling legislators that they couldn’t tell her what to do.

Comments from legislators – especially the Republicans – supported the type of system that the Network has for years been advocating: a publicly owned system that doesn’t rely on secret codes for security, but relies on a voter-verified paper ballot. It is a simple system that can use an off-the-shelf computer or tablet to run software that lets the voter touch (or talk) to the screen and print a paper ballot. The voter reviews the ballot to verify that it’s marked correctly, then deposits the ballot in a scanner that counts the vote before the voter leaves the precinct.

This low-tech system will cost about half of what Andino is prepared to spend on a proprietary one, and it doesn’t require specially trained company technicians. The state could teach students in our 17 tech schools to maintain our publicly owned system.

The Network will be educating the public and our members on this issue, and asking them to lobby their legislators to purchase a more transparent, reliable and fiscally sound voting system.

SC progressives map strategy for 2016

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Grassroots activists from across the state met Oct. 23-25 at the SC Progressive Network‘s annual fall retreat at Penn Center in St. Helena, near Beaufort. It was a full weekend of networking, organizing, and mapping plans for the coming legislative session – and beyond.

Saturday morning was spent on Network business: reports from the 11 member groups present and updates from our chapters (Charleston, Columbia, Rock Hill and Spartanburg). The body also approved a bylaws change to establish caucuses within the Network so members can organize around issues and specific constituencies. At Penn, participants caucused on racial justice, women’s rights, and young people. They will identify and promote their own priorities, set their own meeting schedules and develop their own leadership.

Graham Duncan and Meeghan Kane, who taught portions the summer session of the Network’s Modjeska Simkins School, led a short course on the people’s history of South Carolina. Brett Bursey talked about the history of Network, and its precursor GROW.

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The afternoon was given over to a strategy discussion for 2016, centered on a four-pronged approach to: educate, agitate, legislate, and litigate. Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (Orangeburg) and Joe Neal (Richland) – members of the newly formed SC Progressive Legislative Caucus – led a session on the state of voting rights. They were joined by George Eppsteiner, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The main consideration for shaping our strategy about voting rights is recognizing that the system has been rigged by partisan gerrymandering. As the dominant Republican Party has been allowed by the US Justice Dept. to draw legislative districts that create majority-black and white districts, the winners will be chosen in primaries that fewer than 10% of the citizens decide. Accordingly, the Network’s strategy includes grassroots education and agitation around the nation’s least-competitive elections. This educational effort will reflect legislative proposals to restore democracy through creating competitive political districts and other voting methods. These efforts will be capped off by possible litigation challenging the rigged nature of elections.

That session segued into a facilitated discussion on this state’s most insidious problem – institutional racism – and practical ways the Network can address systemic oppression in South Carolina. The panel included Kevin Alexander Gray, Rep. David Mack, and Laura Cahue of Somos SC.

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Participants then broke into work groups, joining issue caucuses or attending workshops on the Network’s Missing Voter Project (led by Kyle Criminger) and Racial Profiling Project (led by Kevin Gray). The Racial Justice caucus and the Immigrant Rights caucus joined the discussion around the Network’s Racial Profiling Project as a “shovel ready” tool to organize against racial injustice anywhere in the state. Laura Cahue reported that Latinos are being targeted by police in traffic stops that often result in jail and deportation. Rep. Neal wants the Network to help coordinate racial profiling complaints from Latino communities to the SC Progressive Legislative Caucus.

Network Caucus contacts:

In the evening, everyone gathered at picnic tables under giant oaks to dine on Gullah Grub’s fried fish and fixin’s, then went inside Frissell Hall to sing along with the fabulous Dave Lippman.

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On Sunday morning, caucus representatives gave reports on their work and next steps. Among other Network business, it was decided to postpone elections for Network officers until our annual spring meeting.

Rep. Cobb-Hunter offered a legislative forecast for 2016, which was followed by discussion on bills we will introduce and promote.

After lunch, the SC Progressive Voter Coalition (SC ProVote), the electoral arm of the Network, met to discuss GOTV priorities and involvement in upcoming state and local races. They were later joined by progressive activist and tax reform expert Mike Fanning, who is running for state Senate (Dist. 17: Chester, Fairfield and York). After a rousing presentation, he earned the group’s endorsement.

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Before adjourning, the body rejected a resolution to support a presidential candidate, as that would break with the Network’s state-based strategic model.

Our thanks to everyone who made time for a very long, but ultimately productive weekend. We will keep you posted about progress with the emerging caucuses and Network chapters.

For information on joining a caucus or creating a Network chapter in your area, or to schedule a Missing Voter Project or Racial Profiling Project training for you or your organization, call our office at 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com.

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See more snapshots from the weekend at Penn Center in our photo album.

Network members and allies return to historic Penn Center for fall retreat

Don’t miss the most important progressive gathering of the year Oct. 23-25! Get away to the Lowcountry for a weekend with friends and allies to talk politics, build alliances, sharpen strategies, and recharge our batteries.

Join grassroots activists from across the state at historic Penn Center – where the SC Progressive Network was born 19 years ago – for a weekend of fellowship, networking and mapping strategy. Sadly, this may be the last chance you can experience Penn as an activist, as the site is under new management that is working to turn it into a charter school.

The weekend will include enough structure to be focused and productive, but with enough free time built in so participants can caucus, get to know each other, or explore the area on their own. Come for a day or the whole weekend. We promise you will leave more energized and motivated than when you arrived.

At our last visit to Penn in 2013, US Sen. Bernie Sanders – not yet a candidate – electrified a packed hall with a message about building a movement fueled by progressive values. Our focus this year will be the participants themselves, who will take a hands-on and strategic approach to advancing key legislation and Network projects in the coming year.

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We will look back at the past year to see what it can teach us, from our Healthy Democracy Road Show through the aftermath of the massacre in Charleston and the renewed furor over the Confederate flag, through the launch of our organizing institute, the Modjeska Simkins School. We’ll deconstruct the year as grassroots activists, and use it to inform our work going forward.

Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter will introduce us to the newly formed SC Legislative Progressive Caucus, which she and her legislative partners say will fill a need not being met by the current Democratic or Black Caucuses. She will talk about why she launched the new caucus and what it hopes to do when the lawmakers return to Columbia in January.

We will look ahead to the coming legislative session to map priorities and refine strategies. We will continue our work on Medicaid expansion, which will be even more complicated this year as a coalition is pushing a plan to privatize funding. The Network thinks it is the wrong approach.

The Network will offer workshops on two of its ongoing projects – Racial Profiling Campaign and the Missing Voter Project. Graduates of the Modjeska School will run the sessions, using updated tool kits and strategies.

The retreat will feature lots of down time so people can network with others working in their region or interest area.

On Saturday evening, American troubadour Dave Lippman will offer some comic relief with parodies and a sing-along. We’ll also open up the mic to anyone who wants to share stories about life in the trenches and what motivates them as activists.

The weekend kicks off Friday evening, for people who want to arrive early. Check-in between 5-9pm in Hampton Hall. Registration begins at 9am Saturday morning, and the event wraps on Sunday afternoon. Carpools and scholarships are available.

Spread the word! RSVP/Share on Facebook.

See our photo album from our past retreats at Penn.

PROGRAM

9am: Registration/room assignments

Welcome, introductions and housekeeping

Brief reports from member organizations

Chapters: The Network has chapters in Charleston, Columbia, Rock Hill, and in the Upstate. Horry is under development. We will discuss structure, strategy and regional leadership development.

Modjeska Simkins School – short course. We’ll offer a condensed class to teach participants a short people’s history of South Carolina. This will include a look at the SC Progressive Network’s own history, which has been remarkable given our radical agenda and paltry funding.

SC Progressive Network year debrief:

  • Healthy Democracy Road Show
  • Marriage equality victories
  • Network Voter Registration Offices Survey
  • Modjeska Simkins School
  • Confederate flag rallies
  • Days of Grace

Caucuses – breakout sessions. Additional caucuses may be proposed by participants.

  • New Legacy Project (youth group)
  • Women’s health
  • Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice
  • Peace and anti-death penalty movement
  • Labor
  • Immigrant rights

Legislative forecast for 2016: discussion led by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter

Communications: What’s new, best practices, boosting our statewide visibility. One-on-one social media sessions available throughout the weekend for anyone wanting to set up an account or ask questions about Twitter or Facebook.

Project workshops:

Saturday evening: fish fry, open mic tales from the trenches. Singalong and satire by Dave Lippman.

Sunday: Workshops and caucus reports.

SC Progressive Voter Coalition (SC ProVote) discussion. The electoral arm of the Network will map strategy.

RETREAT PACKAGES

The full weekend package: Friday check-in between 5-9pm, through Sunday 3pm, all meals and shared bedroom: $175. Private bedroom, add $35 per night.

Saturday – Sunday package: includes registration, lunch, fish fry, Saturday night shared bedroom, Sunday breakfast and lunch: $125

Saturday registration only, no meals: $10
Saturday registration; lunch: $30
Saturday registration, lunch; fish fry: $45

Sunday registration only: $10
Sunday lunch and registration: $20

We have a limited number of rooms on campus at Penn, so book early. Private rooms are available at the nearby Quality Inn. Click here to make reservations for the conference and/or lodging.

Inaugural class graduates from the Network’s Modjeska Simkins School

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The students who graduated Aug. 24 from the Modjeska School’s summer session were a diverse mix: gay and straight, retired and collegiate, blue-collar, union and professional, black, Latino and white. The youngest was 2nd-grader Rose Duncan, daughter of guest lecturer Graham Duncan, and the eldest student was Eunice “Tootsie” Holland, who will turn 84 in December.

What they shared was an intense, three-month session that covered a South Carolina people’s history. The massacre at the Emanuel Church in Charleston took place just two days after we talked in class about Denmark Vesey’s 1822 slave rebellion. It was Vesey’s church that was again the chosen target of a violent racist attack. We added an extra class to talk about the tragedy, Sen. Clementa Pinckney – an ally of the SC Progressive Network – and the political maneuvering around the Confederate flag. Pressure from GOP candidates on the campaign trail forced Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the flag to come down. It was a stunning example to see how history is made, and remade.

The summer session covered South Carolina history as well as our own, teaching how the Network was created 19 years ago, and tracing its genealogy from the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop (GROW). Students also learned basic civics and organizing strategies. “You’re never too old to learn new things,” said Andy Sidden, pastor at Garden of Grace Church, “and, boy, did I!”

The school is a work in progress. “It was a privilege to have been a guinea pig for the noble experiment,” said Kyle Criminger. “We learned so much, so many stories that I had never heard. And it put the popular movement in historical context, and clarified our strategy and tactics.”

Course material will be revisited, repackaged, culled, expanded and posted to be accessible and user-friendly for students and the public. We are in the process of recording oral histories on key topics by South Carolina social justice movers and shakers, as well as uploading clips from the summer classes to share on the web site. Our goal is to see that the Modjeska School’s organizer training gets spread across the state by training up a corps of teachers and by also having on-line classes.

Students will carry what they’ve learned into the real world, starting immediately. They have signed up for at least one Network project, and will be working with other activists to expand and create Network initiatives. They are:

  • Medicaid expansion. South Caorlina is on track to privatize Medicaid funding, a really bad idea that’s driven by for-profit health care and anti-government ideologues. We will update our campaign for this new reality in 2016.
  • Racial profiling. Using the toolkit the Network created years ago, with a law we wrote to support it, we will teach community activists how to hold law enforcement accountable for its practices during traffic stops.
  • Missing Voter Project. The Network will continue its work on voting rights and targeting under-served communities to engage them and register them to vote.
  • Clean elections. Also called publicly financed, or voter-owned elections, this is the reform that can make all other reform possible. We will continue the work that Sen. Clementa Pinckney held dear, reducing the influence of money in politics.

Duncan said, “These last three months with the school have been incredible, and I feel fortunate and honored to have been included in helping develop a curriculum for the classes. Seeing a group of people come together to discuss how we can use lessons from South Carolina history to inform and influence our current efforts to organize in an attempt to enact more progressive policies gives me real hope for the future.”

Thank you to guest teachers Graham Duncan, Dr. Ed Madden, Dr. Hoyt Wheeler, Dr. Tom Terrill, Kevin Gray, Rep. Joseph Neal, and Meeghan Kane.

And congratulations to the graduates!

See more photos in our class album.

For more about the school, call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com.