Network launches ACA help center in Charleston; seeks volunteers

From the SC Progressive Network’s Lead Navigator in Charleston, Loreen Myerson:

Dear Friends, Trusted Allies, and Valued Volunteers:

I am writing to request your help with a matter of great urgency. The demand for Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace policies has been intense since its historic launch on Oct. 1. As an ACA navigator for the SC Progressive Network, it has been my honor to assist dozens of SC families in enrolling in comprehensive health insurance policies at a reduced cost.

I have spoken with hundreds of members of civic groups throughout our region, educating them about the implications of the ACA for South Carolina’s families and small businesses. Yet, obviously, no one person can meet this great need alone. That’s why I’m writing to you.

On Monday, Dec. 2, the SC Progressive Network will launch its Lowcountry Surge Center at 360 Concord St. in Charleston, on Fountain Walk, near the aquarium. I ask you to please sign up for a shift or three between Dec. 2 and Dec. 13 to help folks to improve their lives by enrolling in the Affordable Care Act Marketplace policies.

We will have trained healthcare navigators and certified application counselors on hand to meet with the public both by appointment and on a walk-in basis. Additionally, we require volunteers to make the public feel comfortable and welcome as they arrive; register voters; supervise children in the arts and crafts area; answer phones and schedule appointments; distribute flyers, etc. We will be working hard, but we will celebrate with each new application.

Please take a moment to review the sign-up sheet here.

For more information, call (843) 475-2859.

Thank you!

Public invited to hearings on SC bill to nullify “Obamacare”

Failing to learn from history, in May the SC House passed the “Freedom of Health Care Protection Act ” on a party-line vote. The bill claims that the state has the power to “render null and void” the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and upheld by the US Supreme Court.

This Tea Party sequel to the War of Northern Aggression is the latest reason why people roll their eyes when you say you are from South Carolina.

Beaufort County Sen. Tom Davis has put together a Senate Select Committee to hold public hearings on the bill the first week in November (times and locations below). Davis, a Tea Party favorite, was recently skewered in Mother Jones for lamenting the Confederate loss at Gettysburg.

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Please attend one of the hearings and, in the nicest way possible, tell senators that the ACA has given Americans new rights and benefits, ending lifetime and most annual limits on care, covering preexisting conditions, and giving patients access to free preventive services. The ACA has problems, but it moves us in the right direction of having everyone covered and lowering costs.

The real problem is the fear too many lawmakers have of Tea Party opposition in the 2014 Republican primary. With 80 percent of SC legislators winning their seats with no general opposition, winners are chosen by a majority of the 10 percent who vote in the primary. This dynamic yields a state government prone to cruel delusion.

Our legislature, cheered on by Gov. Nikki Haley, refused to take back 1.4 billion of our federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid and cover some 300,000 of our poorest neighbors. These people will continue to go to emergency rooms and drive up costs. Instead of having a doctor and preventative care, they are collateral damage in an ideological war against the president’s signature policy achievement.

Because of the state’s failure to take the money, an estimated 1,319 people will die for lack of care.

The are literally killing people – lots of them – for a few hundred votes in the primary. Keep in mind all these anti-Obamacare legislators have state government health insurance. Add insult to injury, our tax dollars will now go to other states.

The governor says that we can’t afford the 10 percent matching funds in 2017 to take the billion plus a year to expand Medicaid. It’s a 100 percent grant we are turning down for the next three years. But in fact, eliminating the $300 sales tax cap on luxury cars, yachts and planes would fund the Medicaid expansion.

In other words, the state is not broke; its leaders are morally bankrupt.

Since SC refused to set up a state health insurance exchange, the feds have issued grants to nonprofit groups to help people navigate the insurance marketplace set up by the ACA. These exchanges are intended to hold down costs through comparative pricing, and offer reduced cost policies to lower-income applicants.

A minimum-wage earner in SC ($15,400) will pay around $20 a month for a $4,100 insurance policy. The subsidies are taken off the top, and are not a rebate after payment. The subsidies cover people making between 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

Medicaid expansion would have provided free health care for those earning less than $11,490 a year. Because South Carolina refused the expansion, the insurance subsides don’t apply to those in poverty.

The SC Progressive Network received one of the grants, and has 10 Navigators who are certified to help people buy insurance through the federal exchange. Other than the hysteria generated over the government web portal not working, the hardest part of the job is telling people who live in poverty that in South Carolina there is no help for them. That policy that cost a fast food worker $240 a year is full-price for them: $4,100.

When they ask why, we tell them to ask their legislator and their governor.

Public hearings on bill to nullify “Obamacare”

Greenville: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 6pm-8pm
Greenville County Public Library, 25 Heritage Green Place

Columbia: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 10am-noon
SC Senate Gressette Building, Columbia, SC Room 209 G – meeting room

North Charleston: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 6pm-8pm
North Charleston City Hall, Third Floor, Council Chambers, 2500 City Hall Lane

Public invited to join SC progressives for a weekend of politics, strategy and fellowship

Penn Center

The timing couldn’t be better for the SC Progressive Network’s annual fall retreat at historic Penn Center Oct. 19-20, as political gridlock in DC and the mess over South Carolina’s refusal to participate in “Obamacare” has underscored how dysfunctional our political system had become. People are angry and looking for action.

“Our registration is already double what it usually is, and we are looking forward to a spirited and productive weekend,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “Since the Network was founded, we have been organizing to build a progressive movement in South Carolina that can effectively represent the interests of working families. The dire predictions we have been forecasting have become real. This is no longer just an ideological discussion.”

South Carolina has been at the mercy of anti-government politicians who don’t believe in taxes and who claim that our state is too broke to meet the responsibilities of a civilized society. The truth is, that while South Carolina has the nation’s lowest combined state and federal taxes, and gives away more in special-interest tax breaks than it collects, our leaders claim we are too broke to fund our schools and government at mandated levels. Their refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act means over 300,000 of our citizens will not get health care.

“We’re not broke; our leadership is morally bankrupt,” Bursey said. “We will take our fight to a new level in 2014, and we’ll be making plans to do that at Penn.”

Months before the threat of government shutdown, Network Cochair Donna Dewitt met US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and invited him to Penn Center. He accepted, hoping to find answers to a question he’d been pondering: why working people in states like ours keep voting against their own interests.

In the past weeks, Sen. Sanders, has emerged as a leading voice of reason in the ideological war raging in Washington. On Saturday at Penn, the public is invited to hear him discuss the shutdown and other matters facing a country in crisis. Registration begins at 9am; the senator will speak at 10, followed by Q&A. This portion of the program is free, but all are welcome to stay for the rest of the day’s program and for the evening’s fish fry.Among the most progressive members of Congress, Sen. Sanders recently introduced the “Democracy is for People” bill for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech. He’s promoted progressive interests on the Hill since 1991, including Social Security, universal health care and workers’ rights.

Participants who don’t need accommodations or meals can register for $10. The Saturday night fish fry and entertainment is $15.The weekend package is $125, and includes conference materials, all meals, and accommodations in one of Penn’s refurbished dorms. It also covers Saturday night’s fish fry with all the trimmings and entertainment by singer/organizer Jane Sapp and satirist Dave Lippman.

Sapp recorded Carry It On, an album of movement songs, with Pete Seeger. She was a civil rights movement leader, former director of Highlander Center and established the first museum at Penn Center in 1971. She now heads the cultural committee of the Southern Partners Fund. She will be joined on stage Saturday by songster Lippman, who “afflicts the complacent, takes the air out of windbags, and updates worn-out songs with parody.”

The public is invited to come for the whole weekend, a day, or just part of the program. Call 803-808-3384 for details, or see www.scpronet.com.

Progressive Network helps South Carolinians navigate new healthcare insurance marketplace

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The SC Progressive Network is among the nonprofit organizations in South Carolina to receive a grant from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services to train and manage insurance marketplace navigators.

The Network’s navigators  are helping people understand their health insurance options, and purchase an individual, family, or small business plan as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Network is providing this service because the SC legislature refused to set up a state-run exchange.

People who make between $11,500 and $46,000 are eligible for reduced price policies. But 280,000 South Carolinians who make less than $11,500 will have to pay full price for insurance. The ACA was designed to expand Medicaid to provide free health care to those in poverty.

South Carolina’s Republican leadership refused to take the $1.4 billion federal grant to expand Medicaid and provide healthcare for the poor. Gov. Nikki Haley led opposition to “Obamacare,” claiming that South Carolina couldn’t afford the 10% matching funds ($140 million) it would have to pay beginning in 2020.

We’d remind folks that eliminating just one of the state’s 80 sales tax exemptions could cover the cost of expanding Medicaid. Raising the $300 sales tax cap on luxury cars, yachts and private planes to the regional average would raise $160 million next year. That’s just one of the exemptions that leaves more than $2.4 billion in revenue out of our budget.

For information or help in applying for insurance through the federal health exchange, call the Network Navigators at 803-445-1921 or email navigator@scpronet.com.

 

 

Remembering Modjeska

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey wrote this tribute to his mentor, Modjeska Monteith Simkins, upon the occasion of her death. It ran in the May 1992 issue of POINT, four years before the newspaper was archived online. Here is a scan of the piece. Click on the image to enlarge.

The article is among the research materials being assembled for the Network’s latest project, establishing the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, set to launch Dec. 5, on what would have been Modjeska’s 114th birthday. Follow the progress of the project on Facebook. For more information, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or network@scpronet.com.

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SC Progressive Network launches Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights

To preserve the fighting spirit of Modjeska Monteith Simkins, the SC Progressive Network is establishing a school to teach a new generation of activists the skills to be effective leaders in their communities and in their government.

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Modjeska was the larger-than-life matriarch of South Carolina’s progressive movement. She spent her long life (1899-1992) acting on her belief that civil rights were just part of a larger human rights struggle. She was ahead of her time, often the only black woman at the table, and was never shy about speaking her mind.

The Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights will be based in the home she lived in for 60 years, where she entertained friends such as Thurgood Marshall and others not welcome in the white-only motels of the day. The home, at 2025 Marion St. in downtown Columbia, now serves as the Network’s office and meeting space.

A generous grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission is being used as seed money. An advisory committee has been meeting to outline a curriculum, to oversee the research and production of course materials, and to map out a funding plan to sustain the project.

The school will launch on Dec. 5, on what would have been Ms. Simkins’ 114th birthday. Mark your calendars and plan to join us for a big party. The Network has celebrated Modjeska’s birthday for many years, but this one promises to be truly special. See photos from last year’s gathering, and the year before.

To follow the school’s progress, join us on Facebook. Donations for the project are always welcome, as are your ideas. Contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or network@scpronet.com.

Register NOW for Network’s most fabulous gathering of the year! Satisfaction guaranteed

Maybe the only thing better than seeing historic Penn Center as a tourist is to experience it as a grassroots activist, in the true spirit of the place. You can do that at the Network’s fall retreat Oct. 19-20.

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Started as a school for freed enslaved people in 1862, Penn later became a conference center and meeting place for movement organizers. At our retreat, we’ll gather in the same hall where Joan Baez once sang to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was also in that hall that the Network was founded in 1996. Over the years, the Network has returned many times to map strategy and talk politics.

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“It’s been four years since we’ve been to Penn Center, and I’m looking forward to going back,” said Network Co-chair Donna Dewitt. “It is a special place with such a rich history, and the setting always inspires us.”

The weekend is a unique chance for the Network’s members, friends and allies get away to the beautiful Lowcountry for a chance to recharge, reconnect, and refocus.

Knowing that sometimes the most valuable part of the retreat is time spent talking to each other one-on-one, there will be down time for that.

“The weekend will be a mix of workshops, strategy sessions, and taking care of in-house business,” said Network Director Brett Bursey.

“We’ll also be working on current Network projects, with a special focus on the mass action we’re planning for the legislature when it reconvenes in January. We’re putting a lot of thought and effort into the event, and we need all hands on deck to make it as powerful and broad-based as we believe it can be.”

Vermont Senate

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I – VT) will fire up the crowd on Saturday morning. Among the most progressive members of Congress,  he recently introduced the “Democracy is for People”  bill for a constitutional amendment to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech. He’s promoted progressive interests on the Hill since 1991, including Social Security, universal health care and workers’ rights.

Network member groups will be invited to share their victories and challenges in the past year, and to solicit support for projects and campaigns they’re working on now.

The weekend package is $125, and includes conference materials, all meals, and accommodations in one of Penn’s refurbished dorms. It also covers Saturday night’s fish fry with all the trimmings and entertainment by nationally known singer/organizer Jane Sapp and satirist Dave Lippman.

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Sapp recorded Carry It On, an album of movement songs, with Pete Seeger and Si Kahn. She was a civil rights movement leader, former director of Highlander Center and established the first museum at Penn Center in 1971. She now heads the cultural committee of the Southern Partners Fund, which helped fund our retreat.

She will be joined on stage Saturday by songster Lippman, who afflicts the complacent, takes the air out of windbags, and updates worn-out songs with parody. Song samples: All We Are Saying is End Corporate Crime, and I Hate Wal-Mart.

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Come for the whole weekend, a day, or just part of the program. Overnight space is limited, so make your reservations now. If you need a ride or can share one, call 803-808-3384.

Share/RSVP on Facebook.

PROGRAM

Saturday, Oct. 19

9 am – Registration, Frissell Hall
10 – Welcome and introductions. Who’s at the table?
10:15 – US Sen. Bernie Sanders, followed by Q and A
11:15 – The SC Progressive Network: Who we are, why we are, how we win
11:45 - Current policy priorities: voting rights, ethics reform, Medicaid expansion, moral budget
12:30 – Catered lunch and free time for networking, policy caucuses, or sight-seeing
2pm – Network member organizations report on what they accomplished last year and what’s ahead
2:30 – Mass action planning, plenary session
4:30 – Breakout caucuses, to be decided by retreat-goers. Possible topics: public transit, labor organizing, gay rights, homeless policies, reproductive rights, animal  welfare, immigration reform, environmental protection
6:30 - Fish fry; music by Jane Sapp and Dave Lippman

Sunday, Oct. 20

8 am – Breakfast in cafeteria
9  – Sunday service. The proletarian vanguard, spiritual seekers, peace warriors, the curious are all welcome
9:30 – Cultural workshop with Jane Sapp
10:30 – Network business: elections, treasurer’s report, new Network chapters’ form and function
Noon – Lunch in cafeteria
1pm – Homework assignments, action plan recap and caucus reports

Adjourn c-3 portion of program

2pm – Progressive Voter Coalition update, projections and election strategies
3 – Adjourn

And the real work begins…

REGISTRATION

FULL WEEKEND package: $125

Day registration, no meals: $10
Saturday w/lunch & dinner: $35
Fish fry and entertainment: $15
Sunday registration and lunch: $20
If you want to come early, add $50 for Friday night room and Sat. breakfast.

Mail check to SCPN, POB 8325, Columbia, SC 29202. Or call 803-808-3384 to pay by credit card. To join the Network or update your membership, include $25 ($10 for students and seniors) in your fee.

Teaching the real history of the 1963 March on Washington

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

August 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Publicly associated with Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, this march brought more than 250,000 people to the nation’s capital. The day went down in history as a powerful show of force against Jim Crow segregation. Over time this great event has risen to levels of near mythology. The powerful speech by Dr. King, replayed, in part, for us every January on Martin Luther King Day, has eclipsed all else—so much so that too many people believe that the March on Washington was entirely the work of Dr. King.

It is also barely remembered that the March on Washington was for freedom and jobs. In fact, The Americans, a high school history text by publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, tells students that the march was called simply “to persuade Congress to pass the [1963 civil rights] bill.” In reality, the demand for jobs was not a throwaway line designed to get trade union support. Instead it reflected the growing economic crisis affecting black workers.

Indeed, while Dr. King was a major player, the March on Washington did not begin as a classic civil rights march and was not initiated by him. There is one constituency that can legitimately claim the legacy of the march—one that has been eclipsed in both history as well as in much of the lead-up to the August 2013 commemorations: black labor.

Initiated by A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the march became a joint project with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Randolph and other black labor leaders, particularly those grouped around the Negro American Labor Council, were responding to the fact that the black worker was largely being ignored in the discussions about civil rights. In addition, the economic situation was becoming complicated terrain for black workers.

As historian Nancy MacLean has pointed out, the elements of what came to be known as deindustrialization—which was really part of a reorganization of global capitalism—were beginning to have an effect in the United States, even in 1963. As with most other disasters, it started with a particular and stark impact on black America.

It is also barely remembered that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee played a key role in the event. The civil rights leadership insisted that the militant rhetoric of the original speech by SNCC’s then-chairman John Lewis—now Congressman John Lewis—be toned down. Reading U.S. history textbooks, students are seldom even introduced to the words of Lewis or other speakers. Here is Pearson’s U.S. history textbook coverage:

“Many people, including Christian and Jewish religious leaders, gave speeches that day, but none moved the crowd as did King. His voice rang as he proclaimed, ‘l have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skins but the content of their character.’”

Teaching about the March on Washington presents a series of challenges precisely because it involves counteracting sanitized textbooks and demythologizing not only the march, but also the Black Freedom Struggle—the Civil Rights Movement, as it became known. As such, there are a few points that cannot be overlooked if we want to honor the march’s true story:

1. The context.?The idea for the march in 1963 did not appear out of nowhere, and the fact that A. Philip Randolph originated it was no accident. The notion of the March on Washington in 1963 was, in certain respects, the revival of an idea from 1941 when Randolph convened a group to plan a march on Washington, D.C. to protest the segregation of the growing war industry. That march, which was planned as a black march on Washington, never happened because the mere threat of 100,000 African Americans marching forced President Franklin Roosevelt to give in to the demand for an executive order bringing about formal desegregation of the war industry.

2. The actual march was the result of work that began in the 1950s.?Although conceptualized by Randolph, the march was actually the result of the increasing tempo of a social movement. It could not have been organized in a little more than six months—as it was—if it had not been connected to local organizing that had gone on for decades in NAACP youth councils, churches, unions, women’s groups, and more. It was not individuals who chartered buses from all over the country—it was organizations.

3. The march’s principal organizer was Bayard Rustin.?This year President Obama will posthumously award Bayard Rustin the Medal of Freedom, however teaching about Rustin complicates the simplistic Civil Rights narrative offered to students by corporate history textbooks. Rustin was a gay pacifist with a long history of organizing, but despite his record of achievements, homophobia led to him being denied the title of national director of the march—technically, he served under Randolph.

Rustin closed the march with a list of demands and had everyone pledge “that I will not relax until victory is won.” He was a complicated character who remained in organized labor and became a mentor to many, especially to younger activists in the burgeoning gay rights movement. At the same time, he refused to later condemn the Vietnam War and was critical of the Black Power Movement.

4. The march was controversial on many levels within the Black Freedom Movement.?Individuals, such as Malcolm X, were critical of it, albeit in a contradictory manner, claiming that it would not amount to anything. And there were those within the march who, like then-SNCC chairman John Lewis, wanted a more militant posture.

5. The economic situation for African Americans was not addressed in any fundamental manner in the aftermath of the march.?There were periodic improvements, but the crisis that Randolph and the NALC saw brewing in the early 1960s took on the features of a catastrophe by the mid to late 1970s, a fact that we have been living with ever since. Divorcing “civil rights” from economic justice is a feature common to mainstream approaches to history, including those found in school curricula.

6. The entirety of Dr. King’s August 28, 1963 address should be read.?What comes across is something very different from the morally righteous and tame “I Have a Dream!” clips and textbook soundbites usually offered around the time of Dr. King’s birthday. In fact, the speech is a militant and audacious indictment of Jim Crow segregation and the situation facing African Americans.

To truly honor the legacy of this anniversary, teachers should have students compare the King of the actual speech with the King from the clips. It would also be useful to have students read and discuss some of the day’s other speeches. For example, in Randolph’s opening speech he proclaimed that those gathered before him represented “the advance guard of a massive moral revolution” aimed at creating a society where “the sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality.” This is a sentiment that we never hear about that day.

This 50th anniversary of the March on Washington also offers an opportunity to connect the issues and experiences of 1963 with current realities. In 2013, black workers have been largely abandoned in most discussions about race and civil rights. As National Black Worker Center Project founder Steven Pitts has repeatedly pointed out, with the economic restructuring that has destroyed key centers of the black working class, such as Detroit and St. Louis, much of the economic development that has emerged has either avoided the black worker altogether or limited the role of black workers to the most menial positions. Thus, unemployment for blacks remains more than double that of whites and hovers around Depression levels in many communities.

We can all do justice to this anniversary by asking the right questions and providing the actual historical context in which the 1963 March unfolded. More so, we can also offer, as Rustin asked the marchers in 1963, our “personal commitment to the struggle for jobs and freedom for Americans. . .and the achievement of social peace through social justice. How do you pledge?”

Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime labor, racial justice and international activist. He is an editorial board member and columnist for BlackCommentator.com and a senior scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Fletcher is the co-author (with Fernando Gapasin) of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social Justice (University of California Press) and ‘They’re Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions (Beacon Press).

Network and SC Equality to show film Aug. 27 about unsung hero of 1963 March on Washington

Public invited to Aug. 27 screening of film about Bayard Rustin, the gay organizer and unsung hero of the 1963 March on Washington

Find out how SC Sen. Strom Thurmond played an unwitting role

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The public is invited to learn a bit of history they likely know little about at a screening of the documentary Brother Outsider Aug. 27 at Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia.

The film documents the life of Bayard Rustin, who had been in the trenches of the civil rights struggle for decades when he was called on to organize the historic August 19 63 March for Jobs and Freedom. Not only has the demand for economic equality and jobs been lost from stories of the march, but Rustin himself has been overlooked by history.

Rustin was considered a master organizer, a political intellectual and a pacifist. He organized protests against WWII and served time in prison for refusing to register for the draft. He created the first Freedom Rides, and was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. For 60 years, Rustin fought for peace and equal rights — demonstrating, organizing and protesting here and abroad.

Rustin has been called “the unknown hero” of the civil rights movement. He dared to live as an openly gay man during the fiercely homophobic 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

In 1953, Rustin’s homosexuality became a public problem after he was found having sex in a parked car with two men. He was arrested on a morals charge. Later, when he was chosen to organize the 1963 march, some civil rights activists objected. In an effort to discredit the march, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond took to the Senate floor, where he derided Rustin for being a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual. Ironically, D’Emilo says, it became a rallying point for the civil rights leaders.

“Because no one could appear to be on the side of Strom Thurmond, he created, unwittingly, an opportunity for Rustin’s sexuality to stop being an issue,” he says.

The trailblazing strategist will this year be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Brother Outsider,” an 84-min. award-winning film about Rustin, will be shown Aug. 27 at 6pm at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St. in West Columbia. The screening is sponsored by the SC Progressive Network and SC Equality. The film is free and open to the public. Snacks and beverages available for purchase. There will be a discussion after the screening.

For more information, call the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

Federal court judge throws out Republican lawsuit to close South Carolina primaries

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Federal Judge Mary Lewis dismissed the Greenville County Republican Party lawsuit against the State Election Commission Wednesday, ruling that the party did not have standing to bring the case to court. The state and Greenville County Republican parties filed the complaint in 2010, seeking to require primary voters to register as Republicans to cast a vote in that party’s primary.

The state party withdrew from the suit before the case was heard, contributing to the judge’s determination that the Greenville County party did not have standing to change statewide election laws. Voters in South Carolina do not have to register by party.

The SC Progressive Network  – along with 13 members of the SC Black Legislative Caucus, the SC Independence Party, the Constitution Party and the Columbia Tea Party – were defendant/intervenors in the case.

“For years now, we have successfully fought Republican-sponsored legislation to close the primaries,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “They sued the Election Commission to get the courts to do what they couldn’t accomplish in the legislature their own party controls. The state party pulled out of this suit because it didn’t want to argue the merits of a rigged election system.”

Bursey argued against such legislation before the House Judiciary Committee in March 2012. “We presented the committee a list showing that 20 of its 25 members won their elections in the primary, didn’t have general election opposition, and won with around 99 percent of the vote. I think they tabled the bill because they couldn’t defend the current system, much less one that restricted participation in the primaries.”

South Carolina has the least-competitive legislative elections in the nation, with nearly 80 percent of 2012 elections for the State House having only one major party candidate. “This is not what democracy should look like,” said Network Chair Emeritus Joe Neal, an intervenor in the suit. “Today the South Carolina federal court has upheld the rights of voters in South Carolina, especially the minority community, to free and unfettered access to the polls.”

“What passes for representative democracy in South Carolina is a farce,” Bursey said. “It will take at least a decade to fix the mess created by our legislature, which has spent 20 years making ‘safe’ districts that discourage competition.”

The Network is doing its best to educate the public about the serious need to create competitive political districts that encourage politicians to represent everyone in their district, not just the partisan 10 percent that turn out in the primaries. We are working to broaden electoral participation, not narrow it.

Vote suppression is the real voting fraud

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When I saw Rep. Alan Clemmons’ guest column in The State, “Voting problems continue to haunt us” (July 21), I was hoping he’d explain his part in peddling the myth of dead people voting in South Carolina, and apologize to the people he misled. He did neither.

Instead, he again claimed an “undeniable presence of election fraud in South Carolina,” and took a cheap shot at the S.C. Progressive Network to make his point. He referenced an instance years ago when bogus forms were turned in by someone the network hired to do voter registration in Florence County. I caught the fraud myself and called SLED and the County Election Board the day the forms were submitted.

No fraudulent votes were cast. I testified against the perpetrator, and he went to jail. The system worked.

Clemmons’ column goes on to call the photo ID law he championed “a good first step” and said, “Now, to cast a ballot, you are required to prove who your are and that you are eligible to vote in that election.”

The truth is that Clemmons’ bill was interpreted — essentially rewritten — by the federal appeals court, which ruled that “South Carolina’s new law … does not require a photo ID to vote.” The state spent $3.5 million on private attorneys to defend a law against a problem that doesn’t exist — and lost.

While unable to cite a single case of in-person voter impersonation, Clemmons told the U.S. Department of Justice that “voter fraud in South Carolina is an unspoken truth.” Still today, he conflates absentee ballot and voter registration fraud, neither of which requires a photo ID, with in-person fraud at the polls, of which there is no evidence.

In the nine years Clemmons has chaired the House’s Election Laws Subcommittee, he has killed every bill the network’s legislative members have sponsored to broaden voter participation. He nixed our proposals to establish early voting centers and high school voter registration programs, to reduce the influence of money in elections, to re-enfranchise felons and to adopt voter-verified paper ballots.

Rather than working to make voting more accessible and inclusive, Clemmons has said voting should not be easy.

We do agree on one thing: South Carolina’s election system is dysfunctional. It was established by the 1895 state constitution, which reversed the democratic aspects of the 1868 constitution that empowered black citizens. It delegated authority to 46 county election boards, appointed by local legislators, with no centralized control.

County election boards interpret and enforce election laws differently, and are not accountable to the State Election Commission.

Clemmons proposes to fix the problem by putting the State Election Commission under the partisan office of secretary of state. But in Florida and Ohio, where they run elections, secretaries of state have been accused of disenfranchising thousands of voters.

More partisan control in a state already crippled by it would be a mistake. A better answer would be to empower our independent, nonpartisan State Election Commission to run elections.

The truth is, our democracy is not threatened by voter fraud but by legislators who have rigged the system. Around 10 percent of eligible voters are choosing our Legislature.

If Clemmons was truly concerned about the “sanctity” of our electoral system, he would address the fact that the S.C. Legislature has the least-competitive elections in the nation, with 80 percent of lawmakers elected with no general-election opposition.

Clemmons, for example, got 99.12 percent of the vote in 2012, when he was the only candidate on the ballot. He was swept into office by 6.1 percent of voters in his district.

The Network believes we can do better. We will continue to fight to make our democracy more representative, and invite anyone who shares our goal to join us. Call us at 803-808-3384, email us at network@scpronet.com, or find us Facebook or Twitter.

Network Co-chair Harold Mitchell recognized for saving his community

In a July 15 article in Triple Pundit, a publication promoting ethical, sustainable development as a profitable business model, SC Progressive Network Co-chair Harold Mitchell was recognized as the founder of ReGenesis.

ReGenesis is a 15-year-old community development project in Mitchell’s Spartanburg neighborhood that has gained national attention for it holistic approach to saving a poor and polluted neighborhood. “The most striking example (of community redevelopment).” the article noted, “is an effort led by ReGenesis, a community-based environmental justice organization.”

“Harold is an authentic hero in his community,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, who first met Mitchell in 1995 when he was investigating the health problems in minority communities cause by toxic waste sites. “Harold’s family home was across the street from a toxic waste site, and he started connecting the early deaths and illnesses in his family to pollution from the site.”

Mitchell received the 2009 Environmental Achievement Award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for his work with the ReGenesis Economic Development project. Charles Lee, director of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice, called ReGenesis “a powerful testament to the vision of environmental justice and healthy, sustainable communities.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to [Mitchell,]” Lee said. “His vision and passion galvanized the formation of the ReGenesis partnership that has led us on this remarkable journey. Your work is incredible, and you are truly an inspiration to the nation.”

Lee said ReGenesis began with a $20,000 EPA grant in 1998, and since then more than $250 million has been leveraged in public and private funding through partnerships with more than 120 organizations.

Mitchell went from being a college student wondering why he and his family were sick to an activist who identified the problem and posed solutions, to a state legislator representing his community. Mitchell is currently the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus with 39 members representing a million South Carolinians.

The best government money can buy

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The 1% of the 1% (the .1% identified by Sunlight Foundation as about 31,000 ultra-rich) gave 28% of all federal campaign donations in 2012, $1.3 billion.

Every single member of the House or Senate who won an election in 2012 received money from the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

• For the 2012 elections, winning House members raised on average $1.64 million, or about $2,250 per day, during the two-year cycle. The average winning senator raised even more: $10.3 million, or $14,125 per day.

• Of the 435 House members elected last year, 372 — more than 85 percent — received more from the 1 percent of the 1 percent than they did from every single small donor combined.

Former SC state Sen. John Hawkins has change of heart on gay marriage

By Charlie Smith
Charleston, SC

A few weeks ago while helping to organize a summit on affordable housing in the Lowcountry, I was catching up with a good friend who was to be a presenter at the event. I had noticed that since we had seen each other last she had begun using a hyphenated last name. During the conversation she told me that she had recently gotten married; but when I asked her about her husband, there was a bit of a pause.

Then she mentioned that her husband had once been involved in South Carolina politics. As soon as she said those words and I connected them with her new last name, I’m sure that my jaw bounced off the floor. My friend’s comment and hesitancy in her voice could only have meant one thing. My wonderfully gay-supportive and embracing friend had married the man who had led the charge to exclude the right of gay people to marry in South Carolina. Her new husband was John Hawkins, the man who had been the sworn enemy of South Carolina’s LGBT community in 2006.

In the fight which led to the passage of the anti-gay constitutional amendment, Sen. Hawkins had even done his best to prevent opponents of the legislation from being able to have so much as a hearing while the legislation was in committee. Even President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Glenn McConnell, saw this as unconstitutional. Others like Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry) had comments like this to say about their colleague’s efforts to hijack the hearing process and deny opponents of the anti-gay marriage amendment the chance to speak “Give them a fair hearing and then hang them.”

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That’s why it is so amazing today to see these comments from former Sen. Hawkins (R-Spartanburg) in response to yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding marriage equality. He led the charge in the South Carolina Senate to deny marriage to LGBT South Carolinians in 2006; but yesterday he renounced those actions, stepped up to the plate and had this to say about marriage equality:

“I just finished reading Passage of Power by Robert Caro. In the book, he details the efforts of JFK and in particular LBJ in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At the time of this bill, in the 60s and before, the South went to great lengths to shamefully discriminate against blacks. Southern police turned water hoses on children, black women couldn’t find a bathroom traveling through southern states because of segregation. Blacks’ voting rights were curtailed (they still are in some cases today, regrettably.) I could go on and on. And most of us now regard that discrimination as an odious stain on the history of freedom in America.

In my past days as a state Senator, I was active in working for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. With time and much consideration, not to mention a dose of enlightenment and empathy, I realize my past positions in this regard were wrong, and I honestly wish I hadn’t been so strident against gay marriage. I have come to see discrimination against gay people as a great wrong, akin to discrimination against blacks, women and other minorities. I believe that if a gay couple desires to get married, they should have the same rights as me. One cannot undo the past, but there is time left in life to change one’s mind and reject discrimination of any kind, in any form, and against anyone.”

The most important words in his statement are these: consideration, enlightenment and empathy. They are the keys to moving the “movable middle” toward marriage equality in South Carolina. I would never in a million years have EVER considered former State Senator John Hawkins to be anywhere near the “movable middle”on the issue of marriage equality…and that is precisely my point…we NEVER know who is part of the “movable middle.” That’s why as LGBT South Carolinians we must come out, lead by example and always be willing to educate rather than alienate. These are the most effective actions we can take to allow the healing elements of consideration, enlightenment and empathy to work their magic on stubborn prejudices as they obviously have on former Sen. Hawkins. That’s what we should always be about. You never know what it is that gets through to people…even when they tell you to your face that they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

If John Hawkins can come around, anybody can!

Work cheap, work sick, South Carolina

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business friendly, the House has unanimously passed a bill, with no public debate, to ensure that we not only work cheap but work sick.

The bill, introduced by House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee Chairman Bill Sandifer, prohibits 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 Sandifer sponsored in 2002 that prohibits local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

Both laws have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded bill mill where conservative legislators and corporate members collaborate on “model state legislation” that benefits the corporate bottom line.

Sandifer, an ALEC task force chair, introduced the work-sick bill April 11, a month after Portland, Ore., passed an ordinance requiring business in that city to provide employees at least three days of paid sick leave. Sandifer’s LCI Committee approved his bill on April 24, without debate or a public hearing.

The bill passed both second and final reading on April 30, and was introduced in the Senate on May 1, the last day for bills to cross over between bodies. It’s now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The ALEC task force that promoted the language in Sandifer’s bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging companies are leading the fight against sick leave.

A Food Chain Workers Alliance study, “The Hands that Feed Us,” found that 79 percent of food-industry workers do not get paid sick leave. A Centers for Disease Control study found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food-service workers.

Numerous studies show that paid sick leave benefits employers who want to retain a skilled and productive workforce, saves more than it costs in medical expenses and reduces the impact of communicable diseases.

The McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index” reports that at least 145 countries provide paid sick days. Of the 173 countries studied, the United States, Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland were the only ones with no paid leave for childbirth. The United States provides only unpaid leave for serious illnesses through the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers.

Congressional efforts to require paid sick leave have been beaten back by the same corporate interests that are backing the state laws to stop cities from requiring sick leave.

Sandifer’s campaign-finance filings show contributions from WalMart, which has a sick-leave policy that can lead to termination. Grand Strand hotels, which rely on low-wage service workers, have contributed $4,200 in the past two years, and ALEC reimbursed Sandifer $1,500 for attending its 2010 conference.

ALEC members have sponsored similar anti-benefit bills that have become law in six states. They target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick-leave ordinances. Ironically, this bill is an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that Hilton Head Town Council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being taken care of by disease-ridden peasants and puts the question to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance requiring plantations not to fire the service staff if they are out sick for five days a year.

Under current laws, hundreds of thousands in South Carolina must choose between working sick or getting paid, between staying home with a sick child or getting paid. To many, the right choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

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