Happy birthday to us! Here’s to 20 more!


April 1996, Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC

Twenty years ago this month, the SC Progressive Network held its founding conference. The weekend was the culmination of a year of networking, with grassroots activists meeting and talking by phone to organize a statewide coalition.

The idea was to build a unified front to fight the erosion of gains they had worked decades to secure, believing that by joining forces they could leverage each other’s work and strengthen the progressive community in South Carolina. You can read about that weekend in a story that ran in the May 1996 issue of POINT newspaper, one of the vehicles for Network organizing.

That piece quotes Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who was at the conference, along with Rep. Joe Neal, who served as Network co-chair for the first dozen years. He said, “My first philosophy is: don’t agonize; organize. I think this is the first step toward doing that. In the work I do [as a social worker for battered women] we talk about breaking the silence to end abuse. That’s what we have to do here; it’s the same analogy. We need to break the silence.

“We need to get beyond our own groups… and challenge these crazies spewing hateful stuff. You cannot allow them to outwork you. Stop whining and complaining; get out and do something.”

The piece noted that while conservatives have monopolized the public debate, it is power that had been abdicated, not earned. “In truth, most South Carolinians do not participate in the political process. Less than half of us are registered. In the 1994 general elections, according to figures from the state Election Commission, only 34 percent made it to the polls. In the gubernatorial election, David Beasley won with just 17 percent of the state’s voting age population.” [Gov. Nikki Haley won with similarly low numbers.)

“The task for the Network is to reach – and mobilize – the other 83 percent. Once the numbers are crunched, the idea of shaking up the status quo seems a less daunting task.”

The Network has not just survived 20 years, but has thrived. We have done tremendous work on a shoestring budget, and have created a solid foundation that will serve the progressive community well into the future. With your continued help and support, we look forward to many more years of shaking things up and speaking truth to power in South Carolina.

“I’ve never been self promotional,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, “but after 20 years of good and productive work, I think it’s time to take a bow. I’m realizing that my reticence to blow our own horn limits our reach, our recruiting and our fundraising.”

Come help us celebrate at our monthly meeting in Columbia April 12, 7pm, at the Modjeska House, 2025 Marion St. After a brief update on the work we’re doing, we’ll have cake and hoist a glass to toast our success. If you can’t join us, you can let us know you care by sending a gift. Details here.

Thanks, everyone! See you in the trenches.


Network Director Brett Bursey, center, and Reps. Joe Neal and Gilda Cobb-Hunter. See more photos from the Network’s first statewide gathering in our photo album.

What’s news and what’s next in April?

Mark Your Calendar for the Network’s Spring Strategy Conference May 14

This year marks the SC Progressive Network’s 20th year of educating, agitating. We invite you to join us for our annual Spring conference on Saturday, May 14, at the American Postal Workers’ Union Hall in Columbia. The conference will run from 10am through 5pm, with socializing and dinner to follow. Stay tuned for details.

Modjeska School spring classes are in session, and YOU can take advantage of online study guide

The Spring Session of the Modjeska School started March 21, with 31 students enrolled in the 8-week session. While we are working towards having organized, online classes in the coming year, everyone is welcome to the study guides for the eight classes that are being posted HERE. We invite you to take advantage of the readings and videos compiled by the school faculty.

Sunday Social Justice School is a chance for the public to share a deep dive into SC history with the Modjeska School. On April 24, Vernon Burton, the authority on Ben Tillman, leads our discussion about Tillman’s Jim Crow legacy. On May 1, a screening  of “Shattered Justice,” a recent film about the 1968 Orangeburg massacre, will be followed by a discussion about racist violence led by Jack Bass, author of The Orangeburg Massacre. The free gatherings are 4-6pm at the Robert Mills Carriage House, across Henderson street from the Township Auditorium in Columbia. Stay after class for a reception. Questions? Call 803-808-3384.

Photo ID Arms Race

Network Director Brett Bursey testified at an Election Laws Subcommittee in March on a bill to allow concealed weapons permits to serve as voter photo ID. The Network has long argued against the requirement for photo IDs, seeing it as a tool to suppress the vote, especially of elderly black voters.

Bursey pointed out to the committee that 90% of the civilians packing concealed guns in South Carolina are white males over 21. You don’t even have to live in SC to get a CWP, just own property here.

After debate, subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) agreed to add, along with CWP permits, government-issued IDs to the list of approved voter IDs. Should the bill make it through the legislature, it will add CWP permits and public school IDs and local government IDs, as acceptable IDs. We’ll consider this a victory.

Racial Profiling Project Update

The Network’s Racial Profiling Project teams have been meeting with sheriffs and chiefs of police across the state to solicit their support for strengthening racial profiling monitoring in SC. A bill written in 2001 by the Network’s director and sponsored by Network Co-chair Rep. Joe Neal to require all cops to report all stops was finally passed in a watered-down version in 2005. The current “Public Contact” law only requires all cops to report warning tickets. Go HERE to see the lists of stops by your local cops on the Dept. of Public Safety web site.

Rep. Neal’s new bill (H-3993) requires all stops be reported, and requires SLED to analyze the data annually and report to the legislature. The new legislation fixes the problem that no agency monitors compliance with the law, and will require the legislature to suspend funding to any police agency not in compliance.

While we need more information about each stop than the race, gender and age than is currently reported, we’ve decided to focus on getting “all stops” legislation passed this session. We have learned that all the police agencies in the state are moving toward an electronic ticketing system that will automatically gather the data we want shared. Nearly 80 of the nearly 300 police agencies that stop citizens already have the laptop, scanner and GPS equipment in their cars that can plug into the “E-Citation”system. A bill has passed the Senate and is in the House to fund the outfitting of the all police cars by 2019.

Our strategy to get the bill passed has been to get the cops’ support first, pointing out that it helps build community trust, lower racial tension and make their jobs safer. The president of the Police Chiefs Association, Lancaster Chief Harlene Carter, and the incoming president of the SC Sheriffs Association, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, have agreed to testify in favor of the bill. The Head of the Dept. of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol has also agreed to support the bill.

Kudos to everyone who has been working on this project. We’re making sound headway.

Go back to school without leaving home


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

•  •  •

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

placeattable book

“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.


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 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


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.


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

See more photos here.

An evening of fellowship and remembrance


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.




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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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