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 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

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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 TruthfulTuesday.net.

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Photos on Flickr.

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

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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 TruthfulTuesday.net 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.)