A look back at three weeks that changed South Carolina


The racially motivated tragedy in Charleston’s Emanuel Church ignited a renewed resolve to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds, something the SC Progressive Network committed to 20 years ago at its founding conference. At a rally organized just days after the murders, Network Director Brett Bursey addressed the crowd of nearly two thousand, asking the assembled to become part of a social movement.

As lawmakers in special session deliberated the fate of the flag in the SC State House, citizens gathered outside in the blistering heat to demand action. The handful of Confederate supporters there got an earful.

On July 4, hundreds gathered to rally for the third time to demand lawmakers remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. Kevin Gray spoke for the SC Progressive Network.

Four decades after burning Confederate flag, Network Director Brett Bursey says the struggle continues

Days after the Charleston murders, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman interviewed Brett Bursey outside the Hope Emanuel Church.

“In Charleston, South Carolina, we speak with Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, who calls himself the oldest living Confederate prisoner of war. He says he is still out on bond after he burned the Confederate flag in 1969. Bursey knew Rev. Clementa Pinckney and says, “I feel a responsibility to Clementa to take advantage of the sacrifice he made to challenge the hypocrisy and bigotry” of Governor Nikki Haley and Republican lawmakers who backed voter ID legislation and blocked the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the state.”


See video and full transcript here.

“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.

SC citizens on Confederate flag: Take it down!


In the wake of the tragedy at Emanuel Church in Charleston, nearly 2,000 South Carolina citizens gathered at the SC State House to demand that lawmakers remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds.

The loss of nine people – murdered in their house of worship – has broken our hearts but strengthened our resolve to do what is right and decent.

It is way past time to retire the flag to its rightful place in a museum. If not now, when?


See more images from the June 20th rally in our photo album.

Remembering Sen. Clementa Pinckney


Sen. Clementa Pinckney testifies at a legislative committee hearing on the SC Progressive Network’s bill calling for clean elections.

Brett Bursey
SC Progressive Network Director

I first met Clementa Pinckney when he was elected to represent Lowcountry counties in 1997. He was 24 years old and powerfully earnest in a humble way. I knew the name, having grown up in Beaufort with white Pinckneys who were ever-mindful of their famous namesake’s role in establishing this state and nation. A standing joke in Beaufort was “the Rutledges speak to the Pinckenys and the Pinckneys speak only to God.”

Clementa smiled at my mention of the white side of his family, noting that they got the money and land, but are no closer to God than his side of the family.

Most of his friends called him Clem. But I loved the name his mother Theopia gave him, and always used it. I had several occasions to spend time with his wife Jennifer and their two daughters. The girls are precious, precocious and polite reflections of their father. They will always miss him, but will always remember, too, the president of the United States eulogizing him, as well as the outpouring of grief and love across our state.


Sen. Pinckney speaks at a clean elections press conference at the State House.

Clementa was an active member of the SC Progressive Network, and championed legislation we promoted. His sponsorship and articulate defense of our clean elections bill to reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics was captured on an SCETV clip here.

Clementa’s calm nature in spite of his demanding schedule was humbling. While he was a legislator, pastoring a church on the coast and being a great dad back home in Ridgeland, he found time to get a masters degree in Public Administration from USC, then take classes at the Lutheran Seminary.

When he was transferred from a small AME church in Beaufort County to one in Charleston, he didn’t mention that he was the new pastor of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church. The church, one of the oldest black congregations in the nation, has a history that reflects the violence of our state’s racist heritage. Denmark Vesey, was one of the founders of the church in 1818 and the leader of a Charleston slave rebellion in 1822. Vesey and 34 others were hung for their role in the rebellion in which no white people were injured. The church was burned during the Vesey trial, and in 1834 the state outlawed all black churches.

A great new leader has been taken from us by an old and insidious enemy. Let it serve to remind us of the long road we’re traveling for racial justice, and deepen our resolve to stay the course.


Pinckney speaks to members of the SC Progressive Network at Penn Center.

Network launches summer school for upstarts


Whether canvassing neighborhoods, lobbying at the State House, or applying heat on the streets, grassroots activists must understand their history as well as the political and social landscape of the Palmetto State in order to be effective. To that end, the SC Progressive Network will offer its members in the Midlands a chance to enroll in the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights‘ 2015 summer session.

One of the school’s prime missions is to teach grassroots activists the best practices for understanding, organizing and leading a movement for social justice in South Carolina. The 2015 summer session consists of six classes, held the first and third Mondays between June and August. Students will meet for 90-minute classes (45 minutes of instruction; 45 minutes of guided discussion) running 7pm-8:30pm at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St. in West Columbia.

While initial classes will be limited to members who live in the Midlands and those willing to drive to Columbia, we plan to have the courses online this fall. Once the curriculum is refined and course guides posted, classes will be made available to students across the state.

Participation is limited to individual members of the SC Progressive Network. To enroll, prospective students must submit an application, indicate a commitment to attend all six classes and complete required homework. A $120 fee covers expenses, class materials, personal copies of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History and the book A Place at the Table.

Class fees can be paid monthly and scholarships are available. We encourage sponsorships by organizations and individuals.

Click here to download the Summer School application. Fill it out and email to network@scpronet.com. Got questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Summer School classes will be moderated by SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey, with the assistance of faculty advisers, each lending their own expertise and teaching skills. Class sizes will be limited to facilitate interaction.

In the fall, a new semester will repeat the core introductory courses, and add advanced classes to focus on specific issues and skills.

• • •   Class Schedule  • • •

June 1, People’s History of South Carolina, Part 1: Exploring the historic dynamics that shape the state’s politics and culture, from native people through the Civil War.

June 15, People’s History, Part 2: From Reconstruction to today.

July 6, Palmetto Politics: How our history influences our current democracy and civic engagement. This reality-based civics course is critical to enable activists to be effective political organizers.

July 20, SC Progressive Network History: The SC Progressive Network was founded in 1995 by activists with decades of experience working in this state’s mean vineyards. Much can be learned and gained from studying the work that has gone into one of the nation’s best models of state-based movement building.

Aug. 3, Strategy and Tactics: Crafting the sharpest tools for building and sustaining a popular movement for a revolution of social values. We will examine tactics ranging from armed insurrection to prayer; review strategists from Lao Tzu and Jesus, to Che, Malcolm X and MLK.

Aug. 17, Enough Theory; Let’s Practice! To graduate, our students will work on an actual organizing project. Over the years, the Network has started sound projects that didn’t gain the traction they deserve simply because we lack enough trained and dedicated organizers to carry them to completion. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we need to grease it.

“Awesome in its evilness”

The political theater being staged on the backs of our state’s working poor has gone from tragi-comedy to farce.1

The Network anticipated that Gov. Nikki Haley, like other governors who refused to expand Medicaid, would promote a plan to privatize the federal funding. That way she could claim victory over Obama and keep the federal government from getting between a quarter of a million poor South Carolinians and the doctor they don’t have. Gov. Haley could direct the billions of returning tax dollars to health care-related corporations that, according to FollowTheMoney.org, have contributed more than $1.6 million to her political campaigns.

When the privatization scheme was promoted in April by moderate state senators who claimed it was the only way to get the much-needed health care funding, Gov. Haley confounded political prognosticators by promising to veto privatization.

Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT, noted that the holdout states are “willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people.” Gruber, a free-market economist who helped design the ACA, has called Haley’s position “awesome in its evilness” and “political malpractice.”

Network director Brett Bursey recently met with one of the Republican Senate sponsors of a privatization waiver. The senator acknowledged that while the US must ultimately move towards the type of universal health care found in all other industrialized democracies, the only politically practical step to get health care for poor South Carolininans was privatization. He noted that Haley’s pursuit of higher office, combined with 2016 legislative elections that will inhibit a veto-overide, means our state’s most vulnerable people will continue to suffer. And our tax dollars will go elsewhere until a new governor takes office.

The Network will continue to oppose privatization of Medicaid while we do the long, hard work of building a movement with the power to punish politicians who treat our citizens as pawns in their selfish game.

Too soon for SC to sell out on Medicaid expansion

Today, the Close the Gap coalition announced a legislative plan to accept Medicaid expansion. The group had asked members of the SC Progressive Network to turn out for its press conference, but wouldn’t reveal who the sponsors are or details of the bill. (A notice with the senators’ names and an acknowledgement that the group was calling for privatizing Medicaid expansion went out April 13, the day before the press conference.)

Unfortunately, the original solicitation didn’t mention support for privatizing Medicaid money, pointing to Arkansas as a model to emulate. The coalition didn’t mention that Arkansas is one of a few states that received a waiver to buy private insurance for the extremely poor, rather than simply provide them with Medicaid. The stated goals of the Arkansas Health Care Independence Act are to reduce state and federal obligations to entitlement spending” and address the “need to achieve personal responsibility” for health care – rhetoric straight from Haley’s opposition to “Obamacare.”


Network activists lobby SC lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

At our Network’s fall conference, we predicted that Gov. Nikki Haley would favor privatization, but we didn’t expect “progressive” allies asking us to support such a plan. Our position then – as now – is that privatization of poverty isn’t about helping the poor but rather about subsidizing the free market.

Our erstwhile allies think that we can’t win on principle, so they offer to settle by dealing with the opposition on their terms. Sadly, the struggle they avoid is the only way we can build the ability to win.

Our position is that privatizing health care for the extremely poor is immoral. Our position is that health care should be a right and supported by tax dollars, as is done in all industrialized democracies.

We don’t want to doom a good thing by demanding a perfect thing, but we are far from that point. If we are going to surrender, we need to talk about it first. To that end, please read this story by Michael Hilzik that ran last year in the LA Times. The piece quotes an MIT economist, who says “holdout states are “willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people.” Gruber helped design the health insurance reform in Massachusetts on which the ACA was modeled. He added: “It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.”

Brett Bursey is executive director of the SC Progressive Network. Reach him at network@scpronet.com.

Network makes waves, makes news

Modjeska Booklet Gets Legs

mms coverIn  case you missed the story in Sunday’s The State newspaper about the SC Progressive Network’s Modjeska booklet, you can read it here. The booklet has been so well-received that we ordered a second printing. Copies are free, available at the Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St. in Columbia. This week, we are leaving copies with each of the state legislators, and the booklet is to be recognized on the floors of the House and Senate.

We have submitted a proposal to the Richland County Conservation Commission for funding a series of similar booklets about lesser-known activists. Suggestions welcome. Email becci@scpronet.com or call 803-808-3384.

Medicaid Expansion – the Struggle Continues

On March 4, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments that the Affordable Care Act insurance subsidies don’t apply in states like SC who refused to go along with the federal law. Gov. Nikki Haley is a party to the King v. Burwell suit, and is spending tax money to insure that the half a billion dollars in subsidies for health insurance that went to SC citizens this past year is stopped. We will be working the press to provide them with real people who will be hurt if the governor wins. Read The State’s recent story quoting Tim Liszewski, who worked as one of the Network’s Navigators.

City Water War

The Network has been a player in the citizens’ effort to stop the city of Columbia from privatizing its water system. It has been interesting to be invited to the table with the mainstream liberals who were our arm-length allies in the Richland County penny sales tax campaign – which they now acknowledge we played a significant role in getting passed by organizing bus riders. They recognize that we have a rapport with working people that they lack. The opponents of privatization had two days notice of a city council meeting that would be considering a resolution against selling the water. The Network was asked to turn out people and we did. 10 of the 12 people who spoke in opposition to privatization were our members. The issue appears dead for now.

Voting Rights Project Update

Our project to gather the affidavits necessary to file a lawsuit against the state for equal protection of students and ex-offenders is slowly moving forward. We have one ex-offender ready to sign on, and another considering. We are meeting with the state Probation, Parole and Pardon Office on March 4. We submitted questions to them last month regarding their practices and procedures for training their officers about their clients’ voting rights. They have promised answers on the 4th.

Making its SC debut, film Shadows of Liberty exposes broken media system


The SC Progressive Network is helping bring the internationally acclaimed documentary Shadows of Liberty to Columbia and Charleston, with interactive “talk-back” sessions after each screening.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, the public is invited to Tapp’s Arts Center, 1644 Main St., downtown Columbia for the 7:30pm showing.

The documentary reveals the extraordinary truth behind the news media: censorship, cover-ups and corporate control. In highly revealing stories, renowned journalists, activists and academics give insider accounts of a broken media system. They include Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, Julian Assange, Dan Rather, David Simon Normon Solomon Bob Bear, Roberta Baskin, John Macarthur, Jeff Cohen and John Nichols. They recount how controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone.

Shadows Of Liberty is dedicated to the journalists and information freedom fighters, the heroes of our time, who dedicate their lives to our right to freedom of information – the central pillar of a free society. The film  provides a platform for voices that have been silenced and in doing so, attempts to inspire change and accountability. This film champions the idea of an independent media where truth and integrity are the norm, not the exception.

This screening kicks off the 7th Leg of the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour.

After the screening, Network Director Brett Bursey will moderate a discussion about the film and critical issues facing the media today. The panel includes:

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the SC Press Association, started his newspaper career working summers at The Asheville Citizen while attending UNC’s J-school. After service in the Navy, he went to work as a reporter at The World-News in Roanoke, Va. He also was sports editor of The Waynesville Mountaineer and editor and general manager of The Star in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. He used the G.I. Bill to earn his master’s degree at Marshall University while advising the lab newspaper. He also taught at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide) before coming to USC (Go Cocks) to teach as the lead instructor in the Senior Semester. During summers at USC he worked at The State and was the writing coach at the Greensboro News & Record and The Herald in Rock Hill. He is a senior judge with the S.C. Barbeque Association and is also a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge. Earlier in his career he won two Addys for print and broadcast ads at an agency in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Candace Chellew-Hodge spent two decades as a journalist working as a reporter, anchor, writer and editor at various radio and television stations in Atlanta, Ga., including WGST Radio, WAGA-TV and CNN. While at CNN, she worked as an anchor and editor at CNNRadio, a writer and editor at CNN Interactive and a news writer for CNN Wires. She left journalism in 2002 for a career in academic public relations working for Georgia State University and the University of South Carolina. She has since left journalism and PR to pursue a career as a pastor and currently leads the Jubilee! Circle community in Columbia, S.C.

Ernest L. Wiggins is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. A former reporter and urban affairs editor at The State (Columbia, S.C.), Wiggins holds the M.A. in mass communications and has done post-graduate study in social theory and social structures. His teaching and research interests include reporting and editing, media literacy and criticism and the intersection of journalism and social justice. His recent publications include “Walking a tightrope: Obama’s duality as framed by selected African American columnists” (2014) in Journalism Practice, coauthored with Kenneth Campbell. Wiggins is a member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Frank W. Baker is a media literacy education consultant. He is a former broadcast journalist and educational TV specialist. He is the author of three books, including Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom (ISTE, 2012). He contributed two chapters to Mastering Media Literacy (Solution Tree, 2014). He is a recipient of the National Telemedia Council‘s annual Jessie McCanse Award given for individual contributions to the field of media literacy over at least 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @fbaker and visit his resource-rich website Media Literacy Clearinghouse (www.frankwbaker.com/mlc)

Tickets are $7 and benefit Tapp’s, the SC Progressive Network, and the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour.

Film Website: www.shadowsofliberty.org
Film Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SAUborWbPw
Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1188412

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The Charleston screening will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 7pm at the College of Charleston Tate Center. The event is being held in collaboration with the College of Charleston Department of Communication and Urban Studies Program, Media Reform South Carolina, the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, and the SC Progressive Network. The screening is free.