Election update: working a rigged system – and winning!

In keeping with the Network’s analysis that there are few races that aren’t preordained in South Carolina, through gerrymandered districts and other tools that rig the system, SC ProVote, the Network’s C-4, picked two campaigns on which to spend our resources.

In the campaign for Senate District 17 (Fairfield, Chester and York), we supported Mike Fanning, a progressive candidate who we thought had a solid chance at winning. In the other campaign, our mission was to remove the Lee Bright from Senate District 12 (Greenville, Spartanburg) by promoting his Republican opposition.

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Mike Fanning speaks to at the Network’s annual fall conference at Penn Center.

We are pleased to report that our preferred candidates won in both races.

Progressive Network member Fanning forced a run-off and beat the longtime Democratic incumbent Creighton Coleman. Network volunteers made hundreds of phone calls and our Rock Hill chapter knocked on many doors in the York County portion of the district. We are thrilled that he will be an ally in the State House.

Sen. Lee Bright, the indefatigable bigot who wages futile battles against civilization, will not be going back to the Senate. Our upstate members made calls to Democrats encouraging them to vote for Spartanburg attorney Scott Talley in the June primary. We know Talley from his time in the House and consider him rational. While we don’t expect Tally to be progressive, we are reminded that there are no permanent friends, or permanent enemies in the legislature, only temporary allies.

Crossover voting in the primary has long been a taboo. But now that political districts have been drawn to insure Republican dominance of the legislature, Democrats in these districts won’t have a say in who represents them unless they vote in the Republican primary. 75% of the 170 legislators are chosen in the primary, so the majority of citizens only have one person to vote for in the general election – like the old Soviet style elections we used to make fun of.

The Network has long argued that we can’t rely on an electoral system that is driven by money and corporate influence to solve our problems. We must take on and sustain, the long, hard task of building a popular movement with the power to make real change.

A look back at three weeks that changed South Carolina

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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.

“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.

Remembering Sen. Clementa Pinckney

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

Brett Bursey
SC Progressive Network Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Network takes healthcare message on the road

logo3The SC Progressive Network is in the process of training crews of volunteers to launch its latest project, the Healthy Democracy Road Show, designed to educate and mobilize voters on the state of democracy and healthcare in South Carolina. Road crews will do door-to-door canvassing in targeted neighborhoods, and a show is being developed to liven up events in selected towns across South Carolina.

We spent the last legislative session targeting lawmakers on Medicaid expansion. Now, over the summer and early fall, we will focus on targeted communities across the state, taking our message to the people most affected by state lawmakers’ refusal to accept federal funding — our own tax money.

In July and early August, trainings for organizers are being held. For information, or to schedule a training in your area, call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com. The next training is on July 21 at the ILA Hall in Charleston.

This clip is from a training in Columbia, presented by Network Director Brett Bursey.

Network’s Spring Strategy Conference Recap

About 80 activists from across the state spent part of last Saturday debating and refining organizing strategies for the rest of the year. Continuing the SC Progressive Network‘s strategic focus on the state’s refusal to accept Medicaid funding, and the general sad state of democracy in South Carolina, we are preparing tools you can use to organize in your town or county. We can map the location of registered, inactive and unregistered voters by neighborhood who have been denied Medicaid coverage. The Network is calling for voter education and mobilization around a healthy democracy.

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Health care is being denied and our democracy is being held hostage in a rigged game. 75% of South Carolinians will see their House representative elected without major party opposition on Nov. 4, most with 99% of the vote. Practically speaking, our best opportunity to affect state policy is in the governor’s race.

Our nonpartisan campaign will provide side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ health care positions, and let informed voters decide.

We believe that our plans to “change the dialogue” on accepting Medicaid funding in South Carolina worked. Our Truthful Tuesday educational and act-up efforts helped more people understand the issue, and widened the gap between rational conservatives and anti-government radical fundamentalists.

A “Health Democracy Road Show” committee has been formed to carry our message beyond Columbia and Charleston. Anyone interested in helping organize events around the state between June and November should email network@scpronet.com.

The individual members of the Network’s political action committee, SC Progressive Voter Coalition, met and are refining plans to focus on a few political campaigns where we may make a difference. ProVote made two primary endorsements of long-time Network supporters, Sen. Brad Hutto for US Senate and Shelia Gallagher for Superintendent of Education.

See photo album on Flickr.

Affordable Health Care Update

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Network Navigators are still on duty to help people with a “life changing event” sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Life changing events include moving to a new state, certain changes in your income or family size, getting out of prison. See if you can get coverage (substantial discounts based on income) at healthcare.gov. Call the Columbia Network office at 803-445-1921 for help.

New Legacy Project

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Our youngest Network members announced at the conference that they are launching a campaign to educate and mobilize new blood. With the Network’s core activists graying, it is great news to see a new generation take the initiative to grow their own grass roots. Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile, any younger people wishing to get involved can contact Wayne Borders at waynerbord@gmail.com.

What did activist Modjeska Simkins think about the Confederate flag flying on the State House?

You might be surprised.

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey talks about the long-running debate he had with his mentor about the flag, which came off the dome in 2000 — and relocated to a more visible position on the State House lawn.

Why did I get arrested?

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Pat Jobe (left) was one of 11 protesters arrested March 4 for blocking the road to the entrance of the SC State House on the day the Senate took up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. With him are (from left) Wayne Borders, Kitt Grach, Jim Childress and Shawn Crowe. They are part of the Truthful Tuesday movement, which aims to educate the public about the Affordable Care Act and to pressure state lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

By Rev. Pat Jobe, Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

The young, Latino police chief, Ruben Santiago, could not have been more polite, more professional, more thorough. “I’m giving you one more chance to get out of the road and back on the sidewalk. You understand you are breaking the law and are about to be arrested?”

I will not soon forget the anger and frustration on the faces of the Capitol police, the black Smokey The Bear hats whose job it is to protect and assure smooth operations to the members of the General Assembly as they photographed us and ignored me when I said, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for your service.”

Had we chosen to disrupt the immoral actions of the General Assembly on its property, on the jurisdiction of the men in the black hats, we would have faced a possible $5,000 fine and three years in prison. By blocking the driveway on a Columbia city street, we faced a traffic ticket, handcuffs, a ride in a police car and about an hour of processing in police headquarters. We also have a court date of March 28.

There are so many vignettes, so many questions, so many stories to tell but I think I’m out of bed at five in the morning because of the questions. Why did we do it? The refusal of the legislature and the governor to take billions in new Medicaid money is dooming tens of thousands of poor people to less than the best medical care available to their wealthier neighbors. We have medicine that saves lives. In many cases, an estimated 1,300 this year in South Carolina, the result will be death.

People are going to die.

In addition to cancer survivor Jim Childress (and would he have survived had he been poor? Another question) a third Greenville UU made the trip to Columbia. She hopes to remain anonymous because she’s looking for work right now. But as we rode to Columbia she told of a friend who had stomach pain, was bent double with pain, was urged by his coworkers at Walmart to go the emergency room. He didn’t go. He failed to show for work for a few days and was found dead in his apartment. He had made it clear that he didn’t seek medical care because of the cost. He had made an earlier trip to the hospital and had received a bill for $30,000.

Did we do any good? If my Facebook page is any indicator, we got the attention of lots of folks who liked what we did. If the questions confronting Sen. Tom Davis as he walked into the Senate lobby Tuesday are any indication, yes, we did some good. Davis is seeking to amend the anti-Affordable Care Act law to prohibit any “public body” like the city of Greenville, or our libraries from helping anybody sign up for the Affordable Care Act. He would also like to make it a difficult, to impossible, for any private organization, like the SC Progressive Network, to sign people up for the Affordable Care Act.

Our immediate past president at the Fellowship, Richard Kelly, has encouraged me to consider a sermon on our becoming a police state. I wonder if I could be arrested for that?

But being an insufferable zealot, I also wonder why it took me 60 years to get arrested, to commit an act of civil disobedience. Why not in the 60’s and 70’s to support civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the environment, the poor, good nutrition, to oppose every corporate and government madness that seeks to disempower anybody and place the good of one group above the good of another? Why have I not grabbed every bullhorn, stood on every stump, and in the words of John Prine, “screamed and hollered and cried?”

The story is probably legend, but when Thoreau was jailed for refusing to pay a tax to support the Mexican War, Emerson is said to have passed the jail and seen Thoreau inside.

“Henry, what are you doing in there?” Emerson asked.

“Ralph, what are you doing out there?” Thoreau asked.

I don’t know when I will be back in police custody, and I fear it will cost more next time. But I know civil disobedience is an effective tool in the struggle for The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. I capitalize that phrase because it is the title of a good book by Charles Eisenstein that is challenging me to do all I can to get food to the hungry, healing to the sick, and peace to a world tortured by all kinds of silly wars.

Thank you for the huge wave of encouragement I have received for my time in handcuffs and my ride in the back of a police cruiser.

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Pat Jobe likes Mark Twain’s tease of Lord Byron, “On with the dance. Let joy be unconfined is my motto. Whether there is any dance to dance or any joy to unconfine.”

Why did they do it?

Outside the Senate chambers March 4, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey explains to a reporter with The State why Truthful Tuesday activists blocked the road to the SC State House entrance. Eleven were arrested. (At the time of the interview, the protesters were still being processed at police headquarters, and Bursey thought 10 had been arrested.)

Truthful Tuesday Day of Shame in SC State House lobby on Feb. 25. Be there!

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In anticipation of the Senate taking up the Nullify Obamacare bill next week (H-3101, which passed the House last year), we are calling for a Truthful Tuesday Day of Shame on Feb. 25. We will gather in the upstairs lobby at 11am and greet the Senators as they go into session at noon. Bring signs and scarves (we’ll have some for folks who don’t.)

We will politely ask each one of them whether they support the Affordable Health Care Act and expanding Medicaid. If they say no, or refuse to answer, we will look them in the eye and simply say “Shame!”

We have been advised that disturbing a legislative session is punishable by three years in prison and a $5,000 fine, AND the Fifth Circuit Solicitor has advised our lawyers and the police that they WILL be using that charge should anyone violate 10-11-330. Given the unreasonable consequences, we are not calling for civil disobedience at this time and place.

We firmly believe that civil disobedience is a legitimate tactic that should be pursued. There are times when it is morally imperative for people to take a stand (or sit-in) against evil. It is what ended Jim Crow, brought an end to the Vietnam war, and is the people’s ultimate weapon against fatally wrong state actions. The primary beneficiary of CD is the participant whose principles are tested and found victorious. The tactic wakes the public, and forces the media to address why people are willing to get arrested.

If you are considering CD in the future, you must check in with our CD coordinator, Network Director Brett Bursey, for a briefing. Call 803-808-3384 for details.

We believe that when a majority of our legislators make partisan decisions that will cause hundreds of unnecessary deaths, it is incumbent on citizens to “disturb the orderly conduct” of such a body. We are committed to disturbing these politicians by exposing their shameless, petty, partisan self-serving conduct that violates their oath to serve the common good.

We have been reluctant to call shots when the legal liabilities were unclear, and our commitment to an open and democratic process has had us waiting for consensus from parties that are not responding.

We invite those allies who have fallen away from the effort to re-engage. The Moral Mondays spotlight in the regional and national media has given our own movement a boost, as the media has taken to linking our movements. We are resolved to press on. Please join us for the good fight and the long haul.

Bookmark TruthfulTuesday.net to stay connected. Finally, watch Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter in this clip at a Truthful Tuesday planning meeting, where she says she’s saving bond money in case she needs it. She’s stepping up. So can you.