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

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.

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.

“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


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.


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.


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 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.


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

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


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 Call the Columbia Network office at 803-445-1921 for help.

New Legacy Project


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

What would Jesus do?

By Jeff Koob
Columbia, SC

We’re undoubtedly the most powerful nation on earth, and arguably the most prosperous. All of the other major industrialized nations recognize health care as a basic human right, not a privilege.

Republicans who oppose this principle are on the wrong side of history. They say they’re against the Affordable Health Care Act because it’s unworkable, but have no alternative plan to care for people who are too poor to get preventive health services, or too disabled to support themselves financially. The conservative hardcore doesn’t think that the government should be responsible for caring for our neediest citizens, even in times of relative prosperity.

Many Republicans in the SC legislature want to turn down Medicaid funds that would prevent illness and save lives, purely on ideological grounds. The federal funds SC turns down will go to other states.

What’s happened to Christian values like, “love thy neighbor as thyself”? When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story of the Good Samaritan. Legislators who profess to be Christians seem to be more wedded to the values of dog-eat-dog capitalism: “Every man for himself.”

They are like the priest and the Levite who passed by their injured neighbor, unconcerned with his plight. They need to put the welfare of the neediest of their constituents above their more-conservative-than-thou political posturing.

IMG_1807Jeff Koob (wearing blue hat) was among 17 people arrested on March 18 for blocking the road outside the SC State House as part of a sustained lobbying effort to pressure lawmakers as they debated the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Read more about South Carolina’s Truthful Tuesday movement here.

Nullifying the nullifiers; a political primer

sen davis

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey challenges Sen. Tom Davis outside Senate chambers before senators take up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Truthful Tuesday activists have been lobbying lawmakers since the legislature reconvened on Jan. 14.

The “Nullify Obamacare” bill was voted down in the SC Senate late Wednesday night, with a vote of 33 opposed to nine in favor of the House-passed version. It’s complicated, but here’s a breakdown.

Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) completely rewrote H- 3101, which expressly rejected Medicaid expansion and regulated federal ACA Navigators. (The Network was among the groups in South Carolina awarded a grant to help people navigate the insurance marketplace to be in compliance with the new health care law.)

The amended bill died after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ruled that Davis’ amendment was not germane to the House version. McConnell, who serves as president of the Senate, said of the House version, “I was having trouble understanding what that bill really did.”

Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) raised a point of order that the regulations placed on Navigators had nothing to do with the original bill. McConnell agreed, and ruled Davis’ entire amendment out of order.

In a move seen as disrespectful in the body that prides itself on being deliberative and cordial, Davis appealed McConnell’s ruling to the Senate floor. Twenty-eight senators, 14 from each party, upheld the decision to kill Davis’ amended bill.

With Davis’ version of H-3101 dead, the vote then was called on the original House version that even Davis had declared unconstitutional. Only nine Republicans voted to adopt the “Nullify Obamacare” version of the bill. In the end, 19 Republicans joined 14 Democrats to reject the bill on a 33 – 9 vote.

That only nine of 28 Republican senators took the rigid Tea Party stance against “Obamacare” is seen by SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey as “a rare victory for rational thought in the legislature.”

That said, Bursey cautioned that the damage has already been done, calling the time-sapping legislative posturing “bad political theater.” South Carolinians are already suffering from the state’s refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act, with more than 1,000 deaths predicted here this year because lawmakers refused to accept Medicaid expansion money (which, we remind you, is OUR tax dollars.)

The death of H-3101 doesn’t mean that South Carolina lawmakers will stop obstructing the ACA. South Carolina is still refusing money for a state insurance marketplace and Medicaid expansion. The Davis bill would have added regulating state Navigators and blocking public bodies from helping people get insurance to the state’s anti-Obamacare campaign.

“A goal of our Truthful Tuesday protests,” Bursey said, “was to get people talking, change the dialogue, and reduce the Tea Party influence on Republicans. That is happening.”

Another Truthful Tuesday; 17 more arrested

Rev. Tom Summers leads a prayer with healthcare advocates, ACA navigators and concerned citizens kneeling in the road outside the SC State House March 18, the third week in a row of civil disobedience led by the SC Progressive Network.

More at


Photos on Flickr.

For third week in a row, Truthful Tuesday activists to face arrest March 18


On Tuesday, as the SC Senate continues debate on the nullification bill (amended to the ACA Anti-Commandeering Act), concerned citizens will again remind lawmakers that health care is a moral issue, not a political one.

Even lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act don’t dispute that more than 1,000 people will die this year because South Carolina refused to expand Medicaid in 2013.

For the third week in a row, Truthful Tuesday activists will block the entrance to the SC State House garage at Pendelton and South Main beginning at 10:45am. As they have in weeks past, health care advocates, ACA Navigators and people “thrown under the ambulance” by the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, will lobby senators as they enter the Senate chambers, beginning at 11:30.

Members of the Senate have been invited to speak to demonstrators in the upstairs lobby before the session. After noon, when the session begins, some senators will be called out to the lobby to answer questions from their constituents.

Join us! We need folks willing to step off the curb, others to support them by standing in solidarity on site, and others to help pack the upstairs lobby at 11:30. Call 803-808-3384 or see for details.

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 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.)