Modjeska School homework is a chance for all of us to get educated

The Modjeska Simkins School invites you to join the spring session by reading and watching from home. Class assignments and video clips are posted at our web site.

Bookmark the site, as material is being added every week. This is a tremendous resource. Please share with those interested in South Carolina history and its perplexing politics.

Here’s a clip of SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey welcoming the incoming class. The man he’s pointing to was stolen from his home in Congo and enslaved by the Taylor family – in whose home the Modjeska School is meeting.

John Crangle: This week in the State House

The SC Progressive Network has instituted a weekly briefing with our new government relations director, John Crangle. (Read about our good fortune in The State.)

The conference calls are open to members interested in keeping up with bills we are tracking in the State House. The calls are every Friday at 5:30pm, and last about a half-hour. To participate, send email to, and you will be sent the call-in number and code.

Friday’s call included discussion of these four items, summarized here by Network staff.

1. Legislators Water Down Money Laundering Law
Calling it “one of the more ludicrous events in the past week,” Crangle unpacked a story that involves House Judiciary subcommittee members realizing at the last minute that they were about to pass regulations to a statute that would criminalize legislators taking kickbacks – like those currently being investigated in association with Richard Quinn and Associates (RQA).

The money laundering law originally passed in 2016 with the intended purpose of criminalizing “illegally sourced money,” which the legislators took took to mean money from prostitution and drugs. When the legislature creates a law, the state agency charged with implementing it comes up with regulations to enforce it. In this case, it was Attorney General Alan Wilson’s job to submit the regs to the legislature for approval, but the AG’s office never got around to writing them. Crangle suggested the AG may have been distracted by the fact that he, his father, the former AG and current governor Henry McMaster all have given tons of money to RQA. Furthermore, Wilson appointed the special prosecutor that is digging into kickbacks from RQA to legislators and state agencies.

Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), concerned about prostitutes and drugs on the Grand Strand, proposed an amendment to speed implementation of the money laundering law – before the regulations were written to implement the law. Clemmons’ amendment was on the agenda at the subcommittee meeting when a reporter asked Crangle to comment on the amendment. After Crangle told her that the money laundering bill could apply to legislators taking kickbacks from their consultants, she began asking the subcommittee members if the law could be applied in the current campaign finance scandal. Crangle said legislators were running around like the Keystone Kops when they realized they were about to pass a law to criminalize the redirection of campaign donations into the pockets of their Republican colleagues. Clemmons pulled his amendment, apparently to ensure the new law prevents legislators from being defined as prostitutes.

See story in The State.

2. Independent Redistricting Commission (H-3339: Funderburk, Cobb-Hunter)
This would establish an independent body of seven non-legislators to draw new political districts. The current 170 legislative districts and seven congressional districts have been drawn by the majority party of the legislature, and have resulted in the nation’s least competitive elections. The current districts established a majority-white, Republican rule that insures that Republicans will draw the new districts in 2020. It’s a good guess that the Republicans will not draw competitive districts that would require them to address the concerns of all the people in their districts. Our politically gerrymandered districts result in 78 percent of South Carolinians having only one candidate to chose from in general elections. The current situation allows the majority party to chose who votes for them, rather than giving the citizens a choice.

The chances of the bill passing are slim to none. But the Network is using the bill to help people understand the true gravity of our broken democracy. The Network’s spring conference on April 15 will focus on this problem. (As they become available, details will be posted on our web calendar and Facebook event page.)

3. Special Election Restitution Act (S-533)
New state senator, Progressive Legislative Caucus ally, and longtime Network member Mike Fanning introduced this bill less than a month after taking office. It requires elected officials who are removed from office due to a criminal conviction to pay the cost of the special election to replace them. The bill has gotten national attention, as it appears that no state has such a provision. Crangle got the idea for the bill after state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was busted for cocaine and a special session of the legislature was called to replace him. Crangle convinced federal Judge Joe Anderson to add $28,000 to Ravenel’s sentence to cover the session’s costs. Crangle has lined up Judge Anderson to testify in favor of the bill. The only opposition to this reasonable bill will be legislators fearing indictment or planning a criminal enterprise.

4. Dark Money Bill
This was introduced by Sen. Hugh Leatherman this year after he was targeted by the deep-pocketed political action committees of the Koch Brothers. The Kochs dumped money into primary campaigns of Tea Party candidates to oppose Republicans who supported increasing SC’s gas tax. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that corporations have free speech rights and SC doesn’t require disclosure of donations to independent advocacy organizations, liberals are being swamped by right-wing money. In a turn of the screw, Koch front groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth have been targeting Republicans who dare to suggest a tax increase of any kind. Leatherman, arguably the most powerful politician in SC, was in a tight race against a dark-money fueled opponent. Sens. Wes Hayes and Larry Martin both lost their seats to dark-money candidates because they dared to support a gas tax.

It was bizarre theater at the hearing. The cast of characters included Koch-supported veteran organizations, Tea Party representatives, and anti-choice activists who testified that their supporters would be afraid to donate to their organizations if their names were disclosed.

Rep. Jeff Duncan stops payment on memorial to Rep. Joe Neal

When Rev. Joe Neal died unexpectedly on Feb. 14, his family asked that any donations in his memory be made to the SC Progressive Network, which he co-founded and led for 21 years.

Congressman Jeff Duncan‘s office sent a $25 check, as the two had served together in the SC House. But when Duncan became aware that the donation was going to the Progressive Network, he stopped payment. Adding insult to injury, the Network was charged $20 in bank fees.

Network Director Brett Bursey called Duncan’s office to clarify whether the congressman was indeed that petty. For the record, he is.

When Joe’s sister, Wilma Neal Garren, was told about the incident, she said, “Anybody who touched Joe’s life knew that, as a founder of the South Carolina Progressive Network, that the organization was near and dear to his heart. To step forward to honor Joe and then take the donation to Joe’s favorite charity back is the height of hypocrisy, and shows that he didn’t know Joe.”

The check came from Duncan’s 2016 campaign account, which spent $715,207 to beat Democratic opponent Hosea Cleveland, who spent $9,166. Duncan’s campaign ended with a balance of $65,285. Duncan is a member of the Freedom Caucus, a collection of the most conservative lawmakers in DC, and was most recently in the news defending his bill to make it easier to buy gun silencers.

Government watchdog John Crangle joins Network’s legislative team

The SC Progressive Network‘s strategic plan to educate, agitate, and legislate is off to a great start in 2017. The timing couldn’t be better to welcome John Crangle to our team.

Crangle just retired as Director of Common Cause-SC after 30 years, and has signed on to be the Network’s Director of Governmental Relations. He was instrumental in writing the state’s ethic law that was passed after the FBO’s “Lost Trust” 1990 sting busted 17 state legislators for taking bribes. He recently published Operation Lost Trust and the Ethics Reform Movement, a 607-page book about the case and the long road we are still traveling for ethical government in the Palmetto State.

Crangle and the Network’s Executive Director will be meeting with the Progressive Legislative Caucus, headed by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, every Tuesday during this session. Crangle will host weekly legislative updates for Network members every Friday, beginning March 10. To be included, please email or call 803-808-3384. The time and nature of the briefings (face-to-face or conference call) will be determined by those interested in participating.

Modjeska School graduate talks about lessons learned

Rep. Joe Neal congratulations Kyle Criminger at the 2015 graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights.

As the Modjeska School prepares for its Spring 2017 session, we thought it timely to share Kyle’s thoughts about the school and lessons learned there. The School is accepting applications through March 13. Classes run March 20-June 12 at the Seibels House in Columbia. Some scholarships available; call 803-808-3384 for details.

•  •  •

We got perspective at the Modjeska Simkins School: a big-picture analysis—a Modjeska Simkins analysis—of South Carolina’s history.

We learned that there is a direct line of malice from John C. Calhoun, who defended slavery as “a positive good,” to Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman’s white supremacist state Constitution of 1895 (under which our state continues to operate to this day), to the coded racism of Harry Dent and Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy. Always the substance of South Carolina public policies has shown that black lives don’t matter here.

The imbalance of power in South Carolina is no accident. Because of unprecedented partisan gerrymandering, we have the least competitive legislative elections in the United States. Three out of four representatives faced no major party competition in the 2014 general election.

“Most of our legislators in South Carolina are winning with 99% of the vote,” said Brett Bursey, Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. “The old Soviet elections we used to make fun of? Well, we now have that here.”

South Carolinians have the lowest combined state and federal tax burden in the country, yet our legislature tells that us we’re broke when we’re not. In fact, we leave more money on the table in special interest tax exemptions than we take in. We get immoral budgets and refused Medicaid Expansion for 250,000 of us because of petty partisan politics.

It’s maddening, but our problems aren’t new. “The names and faces have changed,” notes Progressive Network Communications Director Becci Robbins in Modjeska Monteith Simkins—A South Carolina Revolutionary, “but the political and social dynamics of exclusion, extremism and institutional racism remain stubbornly intact in South Carolina. We share Modjeska Simkins’ frustration and sense of urgency.”

Time and again, South Carolina history shows us how Modjeska Simkins and so many others have resisted. We are not alone, you see. Have you heard of the Yemassee War, or the Stono Rebellion? Denmark Vesey, or the Grimké sisters? What about Robert Smalls and our state’s Reconstruction legislature, which was the only majority black House of Representatives in the nation? The Lighthouse and Informer newspaper, Judge J. Waties Waring, or the Rev. J.A. Delaine?

Maybe you don’t know these names, events and institutions because the “winners” have written our textbooks. Generations of South Carolinians used Mary Simms Oliphant’s infamous history text into the 1980s. The book spoke of “happy slaves,” and was sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. (In the 1920s, as a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, Modjeska Simkins refused to use the Oliphant textbook, deeming it racist.)

So we have on the one hand a state that has lived and died by the Golden Rule. Everybody knows the Golden Rule: regrettably, he who has the gold makes the rules. But beside that Rule, we also have stories of rebellion and revolutionary spirits, a South Carolina “people’s history” of organizing. And the task Modjeska Simkins and so many other South Carolinians like her have laid out before us: we must organize to form a community of shared values.

That is 24-7 work. It’s a process.

Organizing means preparing for opportunities. It entails building an organization that returns phone calls, pays staff, and fosters relationships in the community based on trust and confidence. And it is strategic, a disciplined use of collective energies on effective projects, not by simply being reactive. The best organizers leverage already-existing, well-thought-out organizing tools, and tap into the collective wisdom and experience of those who have come before, just like Modjeska Simkins did.

We must connect the dots to see that there is only one struggle, and it is for human rights. “If you have enough sense in your noggin,” Simkins once said, “you’re going to know a fight is there—and not just for black people, but for all mankind.”

The need for exploring our history has never been more critical. The Modjeska School provides an education like none other in South Carolina, one that benefits not just the students but the larger community, as well. As a graduate, I can attest to its value.

•  •  •

Kyle Criminger, a Spanish-language interpreter, serves as Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network. He was one of 35 inaugural graduates of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights. You can support the school by making a secure donation here, or by calling 803-808-3384 or sending an email to

Remembering our friend, ally, mentor and leader Rev. Joe Neal

Rep. Joe Neal leads discussion at the SC Progressive Network’s fall conference.

•  •  •

Network members and staff were heartbroken to learn that Rev. Joe Neal died unexpectedly on Feb. 14 at age 66. He was our friend, mentor, and strongest ally in the state legislature. He was instrumental in founding the Network in 1996, and served as our co-chair for 12 years. Unable to let him go completely, we named him chair emeritus, and relied frequently on his counsel in the legislature.

Rev. Neal is irreplaceable. We will do our best to live up to his example and keep his spirit alive by promoting our shared values of justice and equality.

Here are a few video clips that we think capture the essence of who Rev. Neal was as a true public servant dedicated to the needs of South Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens.

•  •  •

In 2011, the Network led a vigorous campaign to pass a moral budget. At a rally in March, Rev. Neal reminded us that the fight was a long one. He asked the crowd to meet in the State House lobby on the following Monday to let their lawmakers hear from them. And they did.

As the House began debate on a budget bill that would cut core services, citizens gathered in the lobby to urge lawmakers not to solve our budget crisis on the backs of working people, the elderly and disabled, and to cut special-interest tax breaks instead.

Rev. Neal recounted the scene with House Speaker Bobby Harrell when we “mobbed the lobby,” crediting that action – and the rally we held two days earlier – with successfully pressuring the legislature to reduce budget cuts from 20% to 5%. This bolstered the spirits of activists who’d gathered for the Network’s 15th annual spring meeting.

Studies showed that some 1,400 South Carolinians would die in 2014 because the state refused a federal grant to expand the program. Rep. Neal spoke on behalf of the legislators who left the House chambers to stand with their constituents at a Network rally.

In April, friends and allies of the SC Progressive Network marked 20 years of grass roots organizing in the Palmetto State. Rev. Neal offered a look back.

Photo Scrapbook: A Look Back

Memorial services set for Rev. Joe Neal

Rep. Joe Neal at a SC Progressive Network press conference in 2001 launching our campaign for voter-owned elections.

Rev. Joseph H. Neal, who co-founded the SC Progressive Network in 1996, died unexpectedly on Feb. 14 at age 66. Joe served as as the Network’s Chair for 12 years, and continued to lead us as Chair Emeritus until his untimely death. While he represented Lower Richland County in the legislature, he truly represented all who work for justice and equality.He was more than our hero, he was our friend and brother. Joe always provided wise counsel, and taught us that love and compassion are powerful weapons. By example, he also taught us to never give up.

Memorial Service
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:30pm at Calvary Baptist Church, 130 Walnut St., Chester, SC

Funeral Service
Monday, Feb. 20, 1pm (viewing at 11:30am) at First Nazareth Baptist Church, 2351 Gervais St., Columbia (803.254.6332) Burial will take place at St. John Baptist Church, 230 J.W. Neal Circle, Hopkins, SC.

SC Progressive Network Celebration of Joe’s Life
Tuesday, Feb. 21, 5:30-7pm, Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., Columbia.
We will share stories to remember and honor our dear friend. Casual dress; all are welcome.

Keeping Joe’s Spirit Alive
At the Neal family’s request, those wishing to further Joe’s mission of fighting the good fight can make a tax-deductible donation in his name to the SC Progressive Network Education Fund.

Being “business friendly” makes South Carolinians work sick and cheap

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business-friendly, the Senate passed a bill on Feb. 8 to ensure that we not only work cheap but also work sick. The bill passed by a 32-8 vote, with six Democrats voting with Republicans.

Introduced every session for the last five years, the bill would prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide any employee benefits, such as sick leave. If it becomes law, the “work-sick” requirement will be tacked onto a “work-cheap” law passed in 2002 that bars local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

If it’s hard to see how such legislation benefits ordinary South Carolinians, it’s because that was never the intent.

To put the issue in perspective, at least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The United States is among the few countries that doesn’t require paid sick leave for all workers (McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index”), which is what’s prompting cities to act and big business to react.

Both the “work-cheap” and the “work-sick” bills can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-funded bill mill where “business-friendly” conservative legislators and corporations craft model state legislation that benefits the corporate bottom line. A paid sick days preemption bill, originally passed in Wisconsin in 2011, was shopped around at an ALEC meeting that year by the National Restaurant Association, and similar bills were subsequently introduced in at least 13 other states, including South Carolina.

The bill was rushed through the Senate in 12 days, and is now on the way to the House, where we need to insure that it is given a thorough public vetting.

The ALEC task force behind the bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging corporations are leading the fight against sick leave. Not surprisingly, these corporations are among LCI members campaign contributors.

A study by the Food Chain Workers Alliance “The Hands that Feed Us” found that 79 percent of food industry workers do not earn paid sick days. Another study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food service workers. Numerous economic studies show that paid sick days are a benefit to employers who want to retain a skilled and dedicated workforce, save more than it costs in medical expenses, and reduce the impact of communicable diseases.

The “work- sick” bills target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick days ordinances. Ironically, these bill are an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that the Hilton Head town council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being served by sick workers and puts the issue of sick leave to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance ensuring that workers who take a few, non-paid, sick days a year not get fired.

Under current law, more than 600,000 people in South Carolina must choose between working sick, staying home with a sick child, or getting paid. To many, making the responsible choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

The folks from ALEC, who brought us the photo ID law to restrict who gets to vote, are now pushing legislation to restrict what we get to vote on.

The six Democratic senators who voted to keep you working sick are: Gerald Malloy, Thomas McElveen, Nikki Setzler, Kent Williams, Floyd Nicholson and Glen Reese. Full campaign disclosures on senators voting for this bill to follow.

Brett Bursey is the Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. Email him at

Join us Feb. 5 in Columbia for special organizing session

The Jan. 21 Rally and Strategy Summit mobilized thousands across South Carolina. As we said, it was not just a rally but a call to action. On Sunday, we’ll meet in Columbia to plan next steps. Please join us.

SC Progressive Network Planning Meeting
Sunday, Feb. 5, 3-5pm
SC Education Association, 421 Zimalcrest Dr., Columbia

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached during the war in Vietnam that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” We are again at that time in America. The SC Progressive Network has been working for 20 years – and our mentors for decades more – to be ready for this time. We have to acknowledge that we are not ready. We’re not surprised by what has happened, we just didn’t see it coming so soon, so fast and so brutally. We’ve got the skeleton, but it needs the muscle and flesh of kindred spirits to bring our resistance to full power.

We need your help to turn this crisis into an opportunity, an opportunity to lift ourselves, our state and nation to higher expectations of what life, and government, should be like in the world’s richest country that calls itself a democracy.

We’re meeting in Columbia on Sunday to take stock and plan next steps. We’ll begin with a local imperative that has national resonance and an immediate action plan. The Grass Roots Alliance for Immigrant Rights is an organization that the Network has been fostering for several years, and is the only immigrant-led organization attempting statewide organizing. They represent SC family and friends threatened with deportation, and provide an example of how to leverage local organizing on national issues.

We will consider direct action plans to defend them that also serve to grow our united front movement. Network members and allies are encourage to attend.

Democracy Under Seige

Brett Bursey, SC Progressive Network Executive Director

When America looks in the mirror, staring back is the visage of Donald Trump, revealing the unadorned rotten core of the “thing-oriented society” that Dr. King warned us about. We failed to embraced the “radical revolution of values” he said were needed to conquer the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” Trump is a logical conclusion to our nation’s failure of moral leadership.

Last November, Americans voted against unpopular political parties with corporate and transnational allegiances. Trump won because white working people want their country back; but they bought the lies about who took it. The Democratic Party offered a kinder, gentler version of the free market: but it didn’t satisfy enough voters to turn the socialist and alt-right rising tides.

In his farewell address, George Washington warned that political parties are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

George was right. Unjust dominion is where our political parties have led us, where money is free speech, corporations are people, and democracy has been sold to the highest bidder. The result is: from health care, to education, economic mobility, to infrastructure, and voter participation, the United States trails the rest of the modern world.

At our founding 20 years ago, the SC Progressive Network determined that to win elections, a movement needed to grow its own party that was popular. We are in a “pre-party” phase, because we do not yet have the capacity to grow, or rehabilitate, a  political party with the clout to win and hold candidates accountable on a state wide basis.  Jamie Harrison, Democratic Party chair said, during debates over their candidate’s lack of support for “Obamacare”, that “the SC Progressive Network is doing what the Democratic Party needs to do to win elections.” We’ve got the ‘inside-outside” strategy and the tools, but we don’t have the organizational capacity to work them. That’s where you come in.

The new administration’s dangerous actions have provoked well-deserved outrage that needs to be sustained and spread. The Network will facilitate resistance with logistical support, legal counsel and networking. We will also continue the work to develop and strengthen the new tools and pathways necessary to fix our broken democracy. We must have the discipline to do more than simply react, or resort to the placing our hopes on the old ways that have failed. This fight has been a long time coming, and requires a long-term strategy.

The SC Progressive Network’s Education Fund, our nonpartisan policy institute, will continue to develop sound public policies. We work with the SC Progressive Legislative Caucus and the ACLU-SC to coordinate our strategy to educate, agitate, legislate and litigate. Our statewide individual membership will continue to be the troops on the ground to educate, agitate and organize their communities to strengthen our movement. We need more people to JOIN so we can hire our third staff person to keep up with the opportunities. We are not grant driven and the majority of our funding comes from local dues and donations.

Our political action committee will continue to strategically identify the few races where progressive engagement can make a difference.  The three candidates we chose to support won the last three legislative races we worked. Last November, we targeted the two Senate races, out of 46, that were contested. Our candidates, one Republican (who beat Lee Bright), and one Democrat who is a long time SCPN member, won. We are developing the necessary power to punish, or reward our political enemies or allies.

We will continue to offer the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights to train new organizers and send them into communities across the state. We will complete the purchase of the building next door to the Modjeska Simkins House in downtown Columbia to have dedicated space for the school, cultural activities and to strengthen our sense of community.

We will continue to provide a well-considered, state-based strategy to promote our shared social values. Our most important assets are our shared history with South Carolinians who have fought this same battle for generations, trust built on years of experience, an expanding core of people with a shared vision, and an emerging leadership that is prepared to carry the organization to new levels.

We are made hopeful by the public demonstrations taking place around the country and in South Carolina by people who are standing united for the very values upon which the nation was founded and we continue to strive for. We need to harness that energy in a way that is smart, fearless, and sustainable.

•  •  •

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”
Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967
Excerpt from “Beyond Vietnam”