Network members and allies return to historic Penn Center for fall retreat

Don’t miss the most important progressive gathering of the year Oct. 23-25! Get away to the Lowcountry for a weekend with friends and allies to talk politics, build alliances, sharpen strategies, and recharge our batteries.

Join grassroots activists from across the state at historic Penn Center – where the SC Progressive Network was born 19 years ago – for a weekend of fellowship, networking and mapping strategy. Sadly, this may be the last chance you can experience Penn as an activist, as the site is under new management that is working to turn it into a charter school.

The weekend will include enough structure to be focused and productive, but with enough free time built in so participants can caucus, get to know each other, or explore the area on their own. Come for a day or the whole weekend. We promise you will leave more energized and motivated than when you arrived.

At our last visit to Penn in 2013, US Sen. Bernie Sanders – not yet a candidate – electrified a packed hall with a message about building a movement fueled by progressive values. Our focus this year will be the participants themselves, who will take a hands-on and strategic approach to advancing key legislation and Network projects in the coming year.


We will look back at the past year to see what it can teach us, from our Healthy Democracy Road Show through the aftermath of the massacre in Charleston and the renewed furor over the Confederate flag, through the launch of our organizing institute, the Modjeska Simkins School. We’ll deconstruct the year as grassroots activists, and use it to inform our work going forward.

Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter will introduce us to the newly formed SC Legislative Progressive Caucus, which she and her legislative partners say will fill a need not being met by the current Democratic or Black Caucuses. She will talk about why she launched the new caucus and what it hopes to do when the lawmakers return to Columbia in January.

We will look ahead to the coming legislative session to map priorities and refine strategies. We will continue our work on Medicaid expansion, which will be even more complicated this year as a coalition is pushing a plan to privatize funding. The Network thinks it is the wrong approach.

The Network will offer workshops on two of its ongoing projects – Racial Profiling Campaign and the Missing Voter Project. Graduates of the Modjeska School will run the sessions, using updated tool kits and strategies.

The retreat will feature lots of down time so people can network with others working in their region or interest area.

On Saturday evening, American troubadour Dave Lippman will offer some comic relief with parodies and a sing-along. We’ll also open up the mic to anyone who wants to share stories about life in the trenches and what motivates them as activists.

The weekend kicks off Friday evening, for people who want to arrive early. Check-in between 5-9pm in Hampton Hall. Registration begins at 9am Saturday morning, and the event wraps on Sunday afternoon. Carpools and scholarships are available.

Spread the word! RSVP/Share on Facebook.

See our photo album from our past retreats at Penn.


9am: Registration/room assignments

Welcome, introductions and housekeeping

Brief reports from member organizations

Chapters: The Network has chapters in Charleston, Columbia, Rock Hill, and in the Upstate. Horry is under development. We will discuss structure, strategy and regional leadership development.

Modjeska Simkins School – short course. We’ll offer a condensed class to teach participants a short people’s history of South Carolina. This will include a look at the SC Progressive Network’s own history, which has been remarkable given our radical agenda and paltry funding.

SC Progressive Network year debrief:

  • Healthy Democracy Road Show
  • Marriage equality victories
  • Network Voter Registration Offices Survey
  • Modjeska Simkins School
  • Confederate flag rallies
  • Days of Grace

Caucuses – breakout sessions. Additional caucuses may be proposed by participants.

  • New Legacy Project (youth group)
  • Women’s health
  • Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice
  • Peace and anti-death penalty movement
  • Labor
  • Immigrant rights

Legislative forecast for 2016: discussion led by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter

Communications: What’s new, best practices, boosting our statewide visibility. One-on-one social media sessions available throughout the weekend for anyone wanting to set up an account or ask questions about Twitter or Facebook.

Project workshops:

Saturday evening: fish fry, open mic tales from the trenches. Singalong and satire by Dave Lippman.

Sunday: Workshops and caucus reports.

SC Progressive Voter Coalition (SC ProVote) discussion. The electoral arm of the Network will map strategy.


The full weekend package: Friday check-in between 5-9pm, through Sunday 3pm, all meals and shared bedroom: $175. Private bedroom, add $35 per night.

Saturday – Sunday package: includes registration, lunch, fish fry, Saturday night shared bedroom, Sunday breakfast and lunch: $125

Saturday registration only, no meals: $10
Saturday registration; lunch: $30
Saturday registration, lunch; fish fry: $45

Sunday registration only: $10
Sunday lunch and registration: $20

We have a limited number of rooms on campus at Penn, so book early. Private rooms are available at the nearby Quality Inn. Click here to make reservations for the conference and/or lodging.

Inaugural class graduates from the Network’s Modjeska Simkins School


The students who graduated Aug. 24 from the Modjeska School’s summer session were a diverse mix: gay and straight, retired and collegiate, blue-collar, union and professional, black, Latino and white. The youngest was 2nd-grader Rose Duncan, daughter of guest lecturer Graham Duncan, and the eldest student was Eunice “Tootsie” Holland, who will turn 84 in December.

What they shared was an intense, three-month session that covered a South Carolina people’s history. The massacre at the Emanuel Church in Charleston took place just two days after we talked in class about Denmark Vesey’s 1822 slave rebellion. It was Vesey’s church that was again the chosen target of a violent racist attack. We added an extra class to talk about the tragedy, Sen. Clementa Pinckney – an ally of the SC Progressive Network – and the political maneuvering around the Confederate flag. Pressure from GOP candidates on the campaign trail forced Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the flag to come down. It was a stunning example to see how history is made, and remade.

The summer session covered South Carolina history as well as our own, teaching how the Network was created 19 years ago, and tracing its genealogy from the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop (GROW). Students also learned basic civics and organizing strategies. “You’re never too old to learn new things,” said Andy Sidden, pastor at Garden of Grace Church, “and, boy, did I!”

The school is a work in progress. “It was a privilege to have been a guinea pig for the noble experiment,” said Kyle Criminger. “We learned so much, so many stories that I had never heard. And it put the popular movement in historical context, and clarified our strategy and tactics.”

Course material will be revisited, repackaged, culled, expanded and posted to be accessible and user-friendly for students and the public. We are in the process of recording oral histories on key topics by South Carolina social justice movers and shakers, as well as uploading clips from the summer classes to share on the web site. Our goal is to see that the Modjeska School’s organizer training gets spread across the state by training up a corps of teachers and by also having on-line classes.

Students will carry what they’ve learned into the real world, starting immediately. They have signed up for at least one Network project, and will be working with other activists to expand and create Network initiatives. They are:

  • Medicaid expansion. South Caorlina is on track to privatize Medicaid funding, a really bad idea that’s driven by for-profit health care and anti-government ideologues. We will update our campaign for this new reality in 2016.
  • Racial profiling. Using the toolkit the Network created years ago, with a law we wrote to support it, we will teach community activists how to hold law enforcement accountable for its practices during traffic stops.
  • Missing Voter Project. The Network will continue its work on voting rights and targeting under-served communities to engage them and register them to vote.
  • Clean elections. Also called publicly financed, or voter-owned elections, this is the reform that can make all other reform possible. We will continue the work that Sen. Clementa Pinckney held dear, reducing the influence of money in politics.

Duncan said, “These last three months with the school have been incredible, and I feel fortunate and honored to have been included in helping develop a curriculum for the classes. Seeing a group of people come together to discuss how we can use lessons from South Carolina history to inform and influence our current efforts to organize in an attempt to enact more progressive policies gives me real hope for the future.”

Thank you to guest teachers Graham Duncan, Dr. Ed Madden, Dr. Hoyt Wheeler, Dr. Tom Terrill, Kevin Gray, Rep. Joseph Neal, and Meeghan Kane.

And congratulations to the graduates!

See more photos in our class album.

For more about the school, call 803-808-3384 or email

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

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

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

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

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

Marking 50 years of the Voting Rights Act


On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the SC Progressive Network held a press conference to mark the occasion and to talk about the work undone. Speakers included Brett Bursey, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, and Jesse Jackson.

In his remarks, Rev. Jackson announced Rainbow/PUSH’s plan to hold a conference Aug. 28 in Columbia to further voting rights, among other issues. The Network has agreed to collaborate.

Rep. Cobb-Hunter took the Black Caucus and the Democratic Party to task for blowing a chance last legislative session to map a meaningful redistricting plan.

SC LGBT pioneer Harriet Hancock discovers she’s kin to another pioneer, Modjeska Monteith Simkins


Columbia natives Harriet Hancock and Modjeska Monteith Simkins share more than a passion for civil rights. They share a family tree rooted in the same Midlands soil.

Harriet discovered the connection after reading about Modjeska’s family history in the SC Progressive Network’s booklet Modjeska Monteith Simkins: A South Carolina Revolutionary.

“She was an activist. I’m an activist,” she said. “It’s all about civil rights, no matter whether it’s about race or sexual orientation or transgender issues. It’s all the same. What a great thing it is that we come from the same bloodline.”

Listen to her remarkable story.

Don’t sanitize history; learn from it


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignorance is strength


Mars Vanquishing Ignorance

Daniel Deweese
New Legacy Project

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.