Sen. Clementa Pinckney fought for publicly financed elections. It’s still a good idea.

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Sen. Clementa Pinckney addresses the media at a SC Progressive Network press conference at the State House in 2001. He was the lead sponsor of the clean elections bill, first filed in 2000, to reduce the influence of money in South Carolina elections. A study done for the Network in 2001 by the University of South Carolina found that a majority of citizens – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – support clean elections. It concluded that: “More than 60 percent of those surveyed believe that the cost of elections keeps many qualified people from running for public office, a majority believes that the state should have a system of public financing, and almost 60 percent would support a system of public financing if it would cost the average citizen about $3.50 a year.”

Network profiles three extraordinary SC women

In 2014, the SC Progressive Network was awarded a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission to produce a booklet about Modjeska Monteith Simkins. It was distributed free to readers in the Midlands, and was so well received that the Network ordered a second printing.

Last year, the Network received another grant from the Commission for two additional booklets, on gay rights activist Harriet Hancock and legal pioneer Sarah Leverette. The Hancock booklet came out in May; the Leverette booklet will be released in mid-August.

Becci Robbins, the Network’s communications director and author of the booklets, said of the project, “While I didn’t set out to write a trilogy, the booklets evolved into a package that now seems perfectly timed. Besides telling the stories of three phenomenal South Carolina women, they offer a chance to explore racism, sexism, and homophobia—problems continuing to fester in the nation’s addled psyche.

The booklet about Modjeska, whose grandparents were enslaved, reminds us of South Carolina’s grim past – and how it haunts us still. The booklet about Harriet went to press just days before the massacre in Orlando that left 49 people dead and 53 maimed in a gay nightclub.

And the last booklet about Sarah, who was born on the eve of women’s suffrage in America, comes out as the nation deliberates whether to vote for its first woman president. This historic election has come with the sad reminder in certain news outlets and on social media that misogyny is alive and well.

While the booklets provide no easy answers to the vexing problems we face, they give some historical context to help understand the current social and political climate in America and here at home. And they show the power a single citizen can have, given enough passion and commitment.
 
My hope is that these booklets will make their way into the hands of girls and young women who will be as moved and impressed as I have been by Modjeska, Harriet, and Sarah. It has been a great privilege to share their stories.”

Questions? Call the Network at 803-808-3384.

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Download this booklet to read about Modjeska’s extraordinary life.

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Click here to download Harriet Hancock booklet.

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The Sarah Leverett booklet is at the printer, and will be available in mid-August.

Federal courts find photo ID laws unconstitutional

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The argument the SC Progressive Network has been making about South Carolina’s photo ID law being a Republican plan to suppress the black vote has been taken up by new champions: federal judges across the country!

The 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals that struck down the North Carolina photo ID law on July 29 ruled “the demonstrated ingenuity of state and local governments in hobbling minority voting power… imposes cures for problems that didn’t exist.”

Most recently, the three-judge appeals court in Richmond ruled that North Carolina’s photo ID law was unconstitutional. It also voided new NC laws that cut early voting, ended same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

Although North Carolina’s “reasonable impediment” ballot for registered voters without a photo ID was modeled after the SC photo ID law, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice Anita Earls advised that the ruling doesn’t automatically apply to South Carolina. Earls has 20 years of experience as a top attorney in the Voting Rights Section of the US Dept. of Justice. The SCEJ has been advising the Network on voting rights laws, and was a party to the North Carolina case.

Responding to the Network’s inquiry about the ruling’s impact on South Carolina, Earls said, “We think that there are some important distinctions among reasonable impediment schemes, and even though the North Carolina provisions were modeled on the South Carolina law, there is no immediate and automatic invalidation of South Carolina’s photo ID requirement as a result of this decision.”

Earls said that what won the fight in North Carolina was the difficulty in getting the free photo ID there. The operation was poorly run by the state DMV, rather than by each county board of elections, as in South Carolina. Opponents of the photo ID law in North Carolina were able to prove that people had a hard time getting the free ID and that many of the impediment ballots were not counted as required by law.

The task before opponents of the South Carolina photo ID law is to gather the data on the impact of the law on the 202,484 registered SC voters who the State Election Commission identified in 2012 as not having a DMV photo ID.

Network Director Brett Bursey recently requested the State Election Commission to provide a tally of how many of the provisional ballots cast in the 2014 election were for lack of photo ID, and how many of those impediment ballots were rejected. “I was told that the state Election Commission did not gather those numbers and I would have to go to each of the 46 counties for that information,” Bursey said. “Without that data, we can’t determine if our photo ID law had the same impact on black voters as it did in North Carolina.”

The Network will be seeking the information needed to determine the law’s impact.

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.

Not all Medicaid expansion plans are created equal. Know the facts.

1When the legislature returns in January, expect a new round of debate over Medicaid expansion. Do not be fooled by a plan that would take those federal funds and privatize them.

“They’re allowing states (Arkansas was the first) to take the billion-plus dollars and privatize it,” explains SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey.

“They put it into a cabinet agency – in South Carolina Nikki Haley appoints the head of the Health and Human Services – and they would then subsidize insurance for poor people by buying them an insurance policy with a private company like Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

It’s a really bad idea. It’s a bad idea financially. It’s a bad idea from a medical standpoint. It’s just actually obscene making that type of money off of our tax dollars by ripping off poor people, privatizing poverty.”

Don’t sanitize history; learn from it

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The monument to racist Gov. “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman on the State House grounds.

Since the Confederate flag has come down, there is some public sentiment that the state now must remove monuments erected to racist state leaders. The SC Progressive Network does not subscribe to that idea. Network Director Brett Bursey issued this statement:

“The tragedy in Charleston is a teachable moment, and a chance to talk honestly about the racist nature of our heritage. Removing monuments to white supremacists like Calhoun, Hampton, Simms or Tillman will not change the past, nor will it help future generations understand and change the institutionalized racism they inherit.

White supremacy is deeply woven into our history. It was, in fact, at the core of the state and nation’s founding. We support telling the truth about our former ‘heroes’ with additional plaques that explain their role in using race and class oppression to retain wealth and power.

If Ben Tillman is erased from our present history, we will not fully understand why and how our state ranks so consistently low on quality of life charts.”

The Network is in the process of creating a walking tour of the State House grounds, a people’s guide to its monuments. The project will launch this fall.

Brett Bursey began his life-long career as a progressive activist in 1968 as the SC State Traveler for the Southern Student Organizing Committee. He founded the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop (GROW) in 1975. GROW organized the SC Progressive Network in 1995.

Ignorance is strength

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Mars Vanquishing Ignorance

Daniel Deweese
New Legacy Project

In today’s liberal-permissive (western) societies, we are relatively free, (formal freedom-to use the old Marxist jargon) you can buy this or that ,if you have money. You can travel here or there (again if you have money), you are (after the Supreme Court’s recent decision) free to marry whom ever you want. You are relatively free from danger, if you are white. You are relatively free to say what you want as long as you are not a whistle blower.

During the week of liberal victories (which should be celebrated); the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the subsidies provided by the ACA and marriage equality, one must not forget a more ominous victory was won for global capital; the TPP. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will not only displace thousands of workers but will also subvert the sovereignty of the nation-state. That is to say, multinational corporations will be able to hold tribunals in order sue a nation-state if a law (in the form of environmental regulations, worker’s rights, and so on) obstructs the objective, that is the profits of the aforementioned corporations. It should also be noted that the entire process has been shrouded in secrecy, those governing the process refusing to release the specifics of the deal.

The irony of this situation is that the same “liberal” administration pushing for certain freedoms (LGBT rights, access to health care and what appears to be anti-racists policies) also served as the impetus for secret trade agreements such as the TPP and the mega-secret TISA (Trade In Services Agreement). Again, we can do what we want to a certain extent but we are prohibited from deciding the very economic coordinates that determine the framework of our network of choices. Freedom must be more.

One must examine how ideology dissimulates antagonisms. For instance with Dylann Roof, we are not simply dealing with the distorted psychology of an individual, we are contending with ideology. In his manifesto, he claimed; “They are ruining our country and raping our women.” Of course, there are antagonisms in our society (poverty, violence etc.), however, it is through ideology that the antagonisms produced by the system itself are displaced onto a race of people (a’la the Jews in Hitler’s Germany and blacks in the white supremacist south). This ideological frame work accounts for the asymmetry and antagonisms experienced in a society and thus providing a precarious consistency in the symbolic order.

We should not miss the crucial point here; Zizek’s (2008) notions of subjective and objective violence can lend some elucidation here, the subjective (singular) violence of a distorted individual should not dissimulate the objective violence of the state, as it so often does. Haley’s call for the confederate flag to come down (only after being pressured by the people), and her cries for unity must not conceal the violence of the state directed towards minorities and the poor; in the form of the refusal of the Medicaid expansion, the death of Walter Scott and an entire history of lynching and police killings (Denmark Vesey, Orangeburg Massacre, etc.)

 

The dominant hegemonic ideology often utilizes individual acts of subjective violence to distort, conceal and disguise its own violence. It is appropriate to recall here Orwell’s; “Ignorance is Strength.” The psychoanalytic concept of displacement is useful in clarifying this statement. One’s own aggressive tendencies are projected onto an other thereby maintaining a psychical homeostasis (strength) while at the same time repressing, that is, keeping the subject ignorant of the source of this conflict, which always returns in the guise of different symptoms.

Furthermore, one must be careful with the calls for “unity” and “coming together” after the Charleston massacre, for many conservative commentators (and liberals) this “coming together” is another way of stating; “Lets not talk about systemic racism.” I.e: police brutality, the overwhelming incarceration of black males, voter suppression and poverty in the black community.

Of course the flag should come down, but as many have observed; will this serve as an impetus for any type of sustainable movement that addresses the aforementioned acts of objective violence that constitute the very ground of existence for so many people? Irrespective of the liberal-optimism and conservative reactionary responses, no one can say for sure. One of the first steps towards liberation is to question the dominant ideology presented to us. It is the only way that we can clear the obfuscation and monopolization of reality. In order to combat the strength of those in power, we must first defeat ignorance.

“We have grieved. Now we must get back to work.”

Message from SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey:

After one of the most painful weeks in our state’s Jim Crow history, the SC Progressive Network is stepping away from the microphone and media circus to refocus our energy on the long-term struggle ahead. We have grieved. Now we must get back to work.

We are committed to insuring that the struggle for equality and democracy continues beyond the funerals and the flag controversy.

6Kevin Alexander Gray speaks on behalf of the Progressive Network at the State House on June 23.

It appears that the flag will be coming down before the end of the current special session. The state Senate convenes at 10am July 6, and will take up the bill to move the flag off the grounds as it awaits House action on the budget. The House goes into session at 1pm July 6, and will take up vetoes and the budget while awaiting the Senate bill to remove the flag.

Our allies in the legislature have counted the votes and believe there is the necessary two-third to move the flag.

That said, a continued citizen presence and insistence on removing the flag will facilitate getting the job done promptly. But be mindful that grandstanding on the flag’s removal, especially by national figures, isn’t helpful. In the interest of using the occasion to fend off the fundamentalists and bring more rational thought to our legislature, we need to recognize that conservative legislators like Senators Tom Davis and Paul Thurmond are voting to bring the flag down.

Then we work on getting them – and others in power – to address the larger, more insidious problem of systemic racism in South Carolina.

On July 4, there will be a “Unity and Healing” gathering at the State House that is being billed as a family event with music and speakers starting at 4:30pm.

The Network will have a table and be talking to those in attendance about the work yet to be done, and inviting them to get involved in the revolution of social values to which we remain committed.

Network members who want to help spread the message should come by the Network’s tent and pick up some invitations to distribute to crowd.

Questions? Call our office at 803-808-3384.

2014: it was a big year for the Network!

For the SC Progressive Network, 2014 was busy and our work ambitious. We organized an Enough is Enough rally in January to welcome legislators back on the first day of the new session. We sustained a months-long and aggressive lobbying campaign to pressure the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. Our Truthful Tuesdays campaign culminated in 39 arrests of peaceful protestors who, over three days, blocked the entrance to the State House garage. Charges were later dropped. We organized a Healthy Democracy Road Show, taking our message across the state.

In 2014, we marched, we paraded, we knocked on doors, we registered voters. We helped South Carolinians navigate the ACA’s insurance marketplace, with 10 trained navigators and dozens of volunteers in Charleston and Columbia. We held two statewide conferences (spring and fall). We published a booklet about human rights activist Modjeska Simkins, and we threw a party on her birthday, as we do every year. We celebrated marriage equality in South Carolina. We grew our membership base and online visibility. All in all, it was a productive year.

We are excited about 2015, when we focus on the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, the Network’s new organizing school. We hope you will join us!

“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.