Memorial services set for Rev. Joe Neal

Rep. Joe Neal at a SC Progressive Network press conference in 2001 launching our campaign for voter-owned elections.

Rev. Joseph H. Neal, who co-founded the SC Progressive Network in 1996, died unexpectedly on Feb. 14 at age 66. Joe served as as the Network’s Chair for 12 years, and continued to lead us as Chair Emeritus until his untimely death. While he represented Lower Richland County in the legislature, he truly represented all who work for justice and equality.He was more than our hero, he was our friend and brother. Joe always provided wise counsel, and taught us that love and compassion are powerful weapons. By example, he also taught us to never give up.

Memorial Service
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:30pm at Calvary Baptist Church, 130 Walnut St., Chester, SC

Funeral Service
Monday, Feb. 20, 1pm (viewing at 11:30am) at First Nazareth Baptist Church, 2351 Gervais St., Columbia (803.254.6332) Burial will take place at St. John Baptist Church, 230 J.W. Neal Circle, Hopkins, SC.

SC Progressive Network Celebration of Joe’s Life
Tuesday, Feb. 21, 5:30-7pm, Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St., Columbia.
We will share stories to remember and honor our dear friend. Casual dress; all are welcome.

Keeping Joe’s Spirit Alive
At the Neal family’s request, those wishing to further Joe’s mission of fighting the good fight can make a tax-deductible donation in his name to the SC Progressive Network Education Fund. You can use your credit card at our secure site or by calling the Network’s office at 803-808-3384. If you prefer, drop a check in the mail to POB 8325, Columbia, SC 29202.

Being “business friendly” makes South Carolinians work sick and cheap

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business-friendly, the Senate passed a bill on Feb. 8 to ensure that we not only work cheap but also work sick. The bill passed by a 32-8 vote, with six Democrats voting with Republicans.

Introduced every session for the last five years, the bill would prohibit 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 passed in 2002 that bars local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

If it’s hard to see how such legislation benefits ordinary South Carolinians, it’s because that was never the intent.

To put the issue in perspective, at least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The United States is among the few countries that doesn’t require paid sick leave for all workers (McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index”), which is what’s prompting cities to act and big business to react.

Both the “work-cheap” and the “work-sick” bills can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-funded bill mill where “business-friendly” conservative legislators and corporations craft model state legislation that benefits the corporate bottom line. A paid sick days preemption bill, originally passed in Wisconsin in 2011, was shopped around at an ALEC meeting that year by the National Restaurant Association, and similar bills were subsequently introduced in at least 13 other states, including South Carolina.

The bill was rushed through the Senate in 12 days, and is now on the way to the House, where we need to insure that it is given a thorough public vetting.

The ALEC task force behind the bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging corporations are leading the fight against sick leave. Not surprisingly, these corporations are among LCI members campaign contributors.

A study by the Food Chain Workers Alliance “The Hands that Feed Us” found that 79 percent of food industry workers do not earn paid sick days. Another study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food service workers. Numerous economic studies show that paid sick days are a benefit to employers who want to retain a skilled and dedicated workforce, save more than it costs in medical expenses, and reduce the impact of communicable diseases.

The “work- sick” bills target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick days ordinances. Ironically, these bill are an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that the Hilton Head town council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being served by sick workers and puts the issue of sick leave to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance ensuring that workers who take a few, non-paid, sick days a year not get fired.

Under current law, more than 600,000 people in South Carolina must choose between working sick, staying home with a sick child, or getting paid. To many, making the responsible choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

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

The six Democratic senators who voted to keep you working sick are: Gerald Malloy, Thomas McElveen, Nikki Setzler, Kent Williams, Floyd Nicholson and Glen Reese. Full campaign disclosures on senators voting for this bill to follow.

Brett Bursey is the Executive Director of the SC Progressive Network. Email him at network@scpronet.com.

Thousands brave stormy weather in Columbia to rally in solidarity with people around globe

SC Progressive Network Co-Chair Marjorie Hammock welcomes the overflow crowd at Music Farm, the rally’s rain location. See more photos in our album.

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Thundershowers didn’t dampen the spirits of the thousands who gathered in Columbia on the first day of the new administration. The rally was held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, held in cities across the state and around the globe.

It was more than a rally. It was a call to action. Saturday’s post-rally strategy summit opened with this video from Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter.

It was followed by speakers from some of the summit’s 43 partnering organizations, spoken word artists, gospel, and drumming. The mood was electric.

The extraordinary poet Nikky Finney and Dr. Akan Malici offered powerful moments.

Daniel Deweese of the New Legacy Project challenged the young people in the crowd to get busy and “dream dangerously.”

The day concluded with participants breaking into issue caucuses and planning next steps.

Follow-up meetings are being planned for Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville. Bookmark the Network’s web site to stay in touch. If haven’t signed up yet, subscribe to our e-list.

Finally, please read Meeghan Kane‘s piece and watch Betty Benns‘ video at Auntie Bellum. It will inspire you.

Keep the faith. As the James Brothers reminded us on Saturday, “all things are possible, if you only believe.”

Amen.

Message to enraged and newly engaged Network members

Like the rest of the world, the SC Progressive Network is coming to grips with the new social and political reality since the election. We’ve mourned. We’ve raged. Now we’re moving to the next stage: organizing like our lives depended on it. We are glad that you’ve joined us.

Progressives must work collaboratively and strategically to map a way forward – together. These perilous times offer an opportunity to grow the revolution of social values the Network has been working toward for 20 years. It is going to take discipline, hard work, and a lot of help. We need your time, your talent, your energy, your ideas, and your financial support. (Become a member by clicking here. Already a member but want to make a donation? Click here.)

We have an influx of new members to the Network, and a renewed interest from organizations who are in the process of re-joining or becoming members for the first time. Interest on social media also has spiked. (If you haven’t already, join us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also view video clips of Network events and rallies on our YouTube channel.)

Columbia’s November meeting attracted some 140 people, so many that we had to change our meeting space. We may have to do the same in December; check the calendar when we send it next week for the meeting location.

To accommodate our growth spurt, and to find ways to engage our new members, we are expanding our meeting schedule so that those who can’t make a regular monthly meeting can pick a different day and time and get together for a breakfast or lunch meeting, or for an after-work or Sunday afternoon social. We will solicit comments from our members and implement our broader calendar in January.

We are in the beginning stages of organizing an event for SC folks who are not going to Washington to protest the inauguration. We’ll be talking about it at our next chapter meetings. Ideas welcome. We may model it after the InHogural ball we held to celebrate Gov. Nikki Haley’s taking the helm in 2011.

inhogural_low_resTo newcomers, we welcome you with gratitude and great hope for building a broader and more united force to resist the rising tide of oppression and fascism. Please feel free to call or email our office with your questions or suggestions, or to get assigned a task. Meanwhile, please visit our web site to see the projects we’re working on and ways you can get involved.

We wish you all peace during the the coming holidays. If you’re in Columbia, please join us for our annual celebration of Modjeska Monteith Simkins’ birthday on Dec. 5 at her home, 2025 Marion St. The casual drop-in between 5:30-7pm is open to all.

Onward!

4The November Network meeting in Columbia attracted such a large crowd we had to move to a larger space. More pics here.

Keeping Simkins’ fighting spirit alive, graduates of Modjeska School talk about lessons learned

7At the SC Progressive Network‘s 20th annual fall conference, Robert Burgess and Daniel Deweese talked about the Modjeska School and their commitment to building a strong social movement in the Palmetto State sustained by a community of organizers in it for the long haul. Burgess and Deweese are core members of the New Legacy Project, an emerging organization for younger activists.

Tracking racial profiling and the militarization of cop shops in SC – and how YOU can help!

In 2000, the Network released a study on the racial disparities in our criminal justice system that found SC arresting nearly 10% of black citizens every year, a rate unequaled in the world. In 2001, as a tool to identify and mitigate the racial profiling that drives arrest rates, we wrote and introduced legislation to require all cops to report data on all stops. It wasn’t until 2006, when the legislature’s Republican majority needed Black Caucus votes to over ride Gov. Sanford’s veto of a mandatory seat belt bill (necessary to continue receiving federal highway funds), that our racial profiling bill was passed.

We later learned that our bill was watered down by a conference committee of five white legislators to require only warning tickets be reported.

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Kyle Criminger (left) and Rep. Joe Neal lead discussion on racial profiling project at the Network’s fall retreat. See video below.

Our racial profiling project has made inroads with state and local law enforcement agencies about how they will benefit from the improved race relations that will come from a transparent public data base of all stops. Our plan for the coming legislative session is to get the cops to be the ones calling for strengthening the reporting requirements.

As part of our ongoing effort to research and reduce racial bias, we have expanded our work to include the factors that contribute to the militarization of our police. We want to lead a public and political dialogue about whether our local police are warriors or guardians.

Network Cochair Kyle Criminger updated members on the racial profiling project at the group’s fall retreat. Based on a review of racial disparities in arrest rates and a new law requiring cops to report the race of those stopped for traffic warnings, our study reveals that most police agencies in South Carolina are breaking the law by not reporting. The most recent report on the Department of Public Safety’s web site reveals that most of the state’s police agencies are not in compliance.

The Network is circulating this study to stimulate public dialogue about racial profiling and to encourage police agencies to advocate for a database that records all stops to allow for increased transparency.

For more information, see http://scpronet.com.

Sen. Clementa Pinckney fought for publicly financed elections. It’s still a good idea.

clem_clean

Sen. Clementa Pinckney addresses the media at a SC Progressive Network press conference at the State House in 2001. He was the lead sponsor of the clean elections bill, first filed in 2000, to reduce the influence of money in South Carolina elections. A study done for the Network in 2001 by the University of South Carolina found that a majority of citizens – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – support clean elections. It concluded that: “More than 60 percent of those surveyed believe that the cost of elections keeps many qualified people from running for public office, a majority believes that the state should have a system of public financing, and almost 60 percent would support a system of public financing if it would cost the average citizen about $3.50 a year.”

Greenville County ordered to permit college students to register to vote

The SC Progressive Network‘s two-year campaign to recruit Greenville County college students to file suit against the county election board ended today with a clear victory.

Circuit Judge Robin Stilwell issued an order at 4pm requiring the Greenville County Board of Voter Registration to “immediately and temporarily cease and desist from requiring the additional questionnaire from on-campus residents of Greenville County colleges.”

Judge Stilwell concluded that if the requested relief was denied “the Plaintiffs (Ben) Longnecker and (Katherine) West will not be afforded the privilege of exercising their constitutional rights in the upcoming election. That opportunity will be forever lost.”

furman_caseFurman student and plaintiff Sulaiman Ahmad, Rev. Carol Hill, Network Director Brett Bursey, and Greenville NAACP President Rev. J.M. Flemming at the Greenville Court House before the Oct. 6 hearing.

The lawsuit also prompted the State Election Commission (SEC) to issue its first “cease and desist” order telling a county board what to do since South Carolina’s voting laws were codified in the 1895 constitution that disenfranchised blacks. “We anticipate that the SEC will force Greenville County to permanently end this practice,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, “and that it will use its new authority to force counties to follow standard procedures that will make the voting process in South Carolina less confusing and more equitable.”

Building community, gathering power – one activist at a time

Robert Burgess
SC Progressive Network Faith Liaison

On a cloudy mid-June day, I stepped off of a short flight from Atlanta and into the jazz capital of the world. Unsure of which shuttle ran from the airport to Loyola University, I decided to stop by the service desk. The concierge was a nice middle-aged woman who offered pamphlets full of standard attractions and confirmed where I might find our shuttle. After a few pleasant exchanges about her beloved city, she offered up intel on festivals, parades and local happenings with a wink and smile. Her charm and friendliness would set the tone for my first excursion to New Orleans.

Over the next two days, SC Progressive Network Executive Director Brett Bursey, fellow organizer Daniel Deweese, and I would participate in the third annual SOLVE conference. The Southern Leadership for Voter Engagement conference is a multi-generational and multi-racial leadership group for increased civic participation in the South. The mission: collaborate to create innovative community-level initiatives to enhance voting access, and advocate for voting rights. This year’s theme was Strong, Persistent, and Determined Action: SOLVE after Shelby, a reference to the Supreme Court Case, Shelby County v. Holder, which ultimately struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional.

13435573_10104105429667957_7320718878067257072_n(From left) Robert Burgess, Brett Bursey, and Daniel Deweese in New Orleans

Brett, being the prudent strategist that he is, made our assignments very clear. Go forth and learn. Not just the raw data analysis and gerrymandering statistics that comes from actively listening to the panelist, but the type of learning that can only come from conversations in the hallway. From handshakes and a smile. Getting to know these prolific individuals and how they operate on a personal level. I imagine Brett already knew who was who among the packed headline of politicians, attorneys, national organization figureheads and the like, however he wanted us to engage and build our own networks. Friendships that may last beyond a two-day event and into the long future of our shared struggle.

Chief among them was Bryan Perlmutter. He was a calm, unassuming young man wearing a shirt that simply said, “People over money”. There were a few others wearing this black t-shirt with bold lettering circled around him. I would come to find through a series of candid conversations that Mr. Perlmutter had already done more good for NC than most of their leaders had done their entire career. Some of his accolades include building coalitions to oppose budget cuts and tuition hikes as a student at NC State, co-founding the NC Student Power Union, working as the Communications and Development Director for the Youth Organizing Institute, acting as the Development Chair for the Southern Vision Alliance and most notably, Founder and Executive Director of Ignite NC. His arrest in 2013 planted the seeds for what would become the Moral Monday movement which has now become a national campaign. We met a clear-eyed, young (24) impressive man who was nice enough to share tactics with two organizers from SC.

After spending time with a myriad of speakers at the SOLVE conference and enjoying a night out with Ignite NC, I returned home. Fatigued, yet full of hope. I thought, “If more organizations joined to confront issues, maybe there would be a light at the end of the tunnel for my kids.” I also thought about Bryan and his cadre of fired-up activists tackling heavy weighted issues like voter suppression and the HB2 bill. He was fearless, unashamed and ready to speak truth to power.

In the days following, I was encouraged by Brett to nominate him for the Mario Savio Young Activist award. This national award, which carries a cash prize of $6,000, is presented each year to a young person (or persons) with a deep commitment to human rights and social justice and a proven ability to transform this commitment into effective action. Bryan was an ideal candidate. Of course, Brett found it delightful that I obliged. The application process was rigorous and detailed, but my resolve remained intact. There was no question that he and his work were worth supporting. A small token of appreciation and an olive branch for the future.

Yesterday, three months after the application was received, Bryan called to tell me that he won the award and would be flying to California to accept. He was deeply grateful and I told him that he was beyond deserving. Our chat didn’t last very long. He was tied up bringing a new hire up to speed, organizing new student fellowships and working to unify Charlotte in the wake of recent extrajudicial killings. The conversation ended with a tentative reunion scheduled for the New Legacy Project’s Subversive Art Festival Extravaganza Oct. 8.

I don’t expect him to show up but it would be nice to catch up with a new, old friend.