Celebrating grassroots activism in South Carolina

The SC Progressive Network held its annual Thunder and Lightning Awards Celebration on Feb. 18 at The Big Apple in downtown Columbia. Congratulations to this year’s honorees!

Larrie Butler

Virginia Sanders

Sen Gerald Malloy

Dr. Brenda Williams

For more photos, see our photo album.

The tale of the infamous goddess Nimrata

Once upon a time there was an adorable little girl in Bamberg, SC, whose name was Nimrata Randhawa. The beautiful daughter of Indian immigrants from the Punjabi region, she was raised to follow the religious teaching of the Sikh religion from their native land. From her early years, Nimrata developed a profound interest for money and power. The story goes that by the age of 13 Nimrata was already in charge of the exotic coins of her family.

The transformation continued and by the time she reached adulthood she adapted her birth name to a more Americanized version and took her husband’s last name. Fearing public perception, Nimrata willed her skin to change and by the time she reached complete transformation, she claimed to the be officially white and of the Christian faith.

Nimrata, clearly, was not a little girl anymore; she turned into a very astute woman. The legend also tells how Nimrata used others’ powers to her own benefit, thus with the support of Sarah Queen of the Rattle Snakes, and King Mitt of Gold and Coldness, she was able to reach the summit of power in a rather hostile place.  And one day she became the first governor of the state where she lived. Thus, becoming the first Indian-American and woman to obtain such an honor.

The exotic Nimrata keeps changing during her constant evolution. She is quite conspicuous, especially since she enjoys sipping Tea at high-end venues especially in Paris, while opposing funding for the Arts and Culture. Needless to say, the Goddess does not enjoy public demonstrations, especially after sunset. Recently those who have seen Nimrata say that she is turning blue, and becoming more and more elephant like, which make her look amazingly like Ganesh, the adorable Indian God of obstacles, both good and bad. Although her looks are quite pachydermic she is considered the Goddess of the cherry crops.

Those who have seen her recently warn us about this exotic Goddess and her powers.  They say that Nimrata will keep changing to accomplish her goals.

Original painting by Columbia artist Alejandro Garcia Lemos, who donated the piece to the SC Progressive Network to auction at its Thunder & Lightning awards celebration Feb. 18. See details about the event here.

Don’t miss Dave Lippman in South Carolina!

Thrill to the post-corporate comic stylings of satirical songster Dave Lippman. The anti-war troubadour afflicts the complacent, takes the air out of the windbags of the week, and de-distorts history. On the extreme other hand Dave’s alter-ego, Wild Bill Bailout, the Bard of the Bankers, champions the beleaguered 1 percent in this hysterically funny, not-to-be-missed show.

Favorite tunes from this dynamic duo include Brother Can You Spare a Diamond, What the Frack?, I Hate Wal-Mart, Your Car is Disgusting, and many more endearing titles.

Charleston

Friday, Feb. 17, 6pm

Mad River Bar and Grille
32B North Market St.
FREE SHOW! Presented by Charleston Peace and the SC Progressive Network.

Columbia

Saturday, Feb. 18, 7pm
The Big Apple
1000 Hampton St.
Dave will headline the SC Progressive Network‘s annual Thunder & Lightning Awards Celebration. See details here.

See what people are saying about Dave:

“Laughing hysterically.” – Medea Benjamin

“Viciously funny” - Guardian

“God, that man can talk! I tell you, he’s good.  What a great writer!” - Utah Phillips

“The Dean felt that more harm than good would come from your visit.”? – student, Skidmore College

“He makes me laugh every single time.” – Holly Near

2012 Thunder & Lightning Awards Celebration

Honoring South Carolina’s outstanding agitators

Feb. 18, 7pm

The Big Apple
1000 Hampton, downtown Columbia

Silent auction.  Finger food.  Cash bar.

This year’s Thunder & Lightning honorees were instrumental in successfully blocking the voter photo ID law in South Carolina, a major victory that showed grassroots activism at its best.

HONOREES

Larrie Butler was born at home in Calhoun County in 1926 and never had a birth certificate. Mr. Butler exposed the governor’s lack of knowledge about the law by having sufficient photo ID to buy Sudafed and a plane ticket, but not to vote in South Carolina. He was featured in local, state and national news programs, and his story illustrated how the new law would prevent some people from voting. (See video the SC Progressive Network shot of him in his home.)

Delores Freelon, a Columbia resident, never had a first name on her birth certificate, so the SC DMV would not issue her a driver’s license — in spite of having a valid license from another state and plenty of other identification. Her story was picked up by the media. (See video the SC Progressive Network shot documenting her story.)

Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Darlington County attorney, took the point with the US Dept. of Justice, packaging our grassroots testimony into a clear, compelling case.

Virginia Sanders, a Richland County resident and SC Progressive Network co-chair, is being honored for her tireless dedication in raising public awareness about the ID law by working the radio call-in shows and organizing in Midlands communities. (See photos of her in action here.)

Dr. Brenda Williams and her husband, Joseph, have run a family medical practice in Sumter for nearly 30 years, where they have long been dedicated to promoting civil rights. Dr. Williams gathered scores of affidavits from area residents whose voting rights were threatened by the law. She was also featured in local, state and national news pieces about her work on the ID law.

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Dave Lippman

Dave Lippman will provide the evening’s entertainment. A satirical troubadour with an international reputation, Dave afflicts the complacent, takes the air out of windbags, and updates worn-out songs with brand-new parody. His alter-ego, Wild Bill Bailout, is the bard of the bankers. (For a taste of his work, check out this video.)

Tickets are $25 single/$40 couple. Price includes a year’s membership in the Network. Event proceeds will be used to further our work improving the quality of life and government in South Carolina.

You may pay at the door, but reservations are requested as space is limited. Call 803-808-3384 or RSVP on Facebook.

Make an online donation here.

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Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing the ground, rain without thunder and lightning. Power concedes nothing without demand and struggle. It never has and it never will.

Frederick Douglass

Tents at State House don’t merit emergency regs

Gov. Nikki Haley placed an “Emergency Regulation” on the Budget and Control Board’s Dec. 20 agenda in an effort to prohibit camping on the State House grounds. She will argue that camping on the lawn is an “imminent peril to public health, safety and or welfare.”

“While camping out at the State House may not be a constitutional right, the governor is going about changing the regulations in a wrong and dangerous way,” said Brett Bursey, director of the SC Progressive Network.

Occupy Columbia protester works on his sign Dec. 18 at State House.

The governor is proposing to use the emergency regulations clause to bypass the laws  (1-23-120) that require public notification, public hearings and legislative consideration for new regulations. The emergency regulations allow a state agency to have regulations approved immediately upon filing with the state Legislative Council. There is no public notice, no hearing and no legislative review of Emergency regulations.

“One would anticipate such an extreme measure to apply to plagues and natural disasters, not to tents on the State House grounds,” Bursey said.

Past emergency regulations have only been enacted by DHEC  for imminent health threats to a community, or considered by the Department of Public Safety during a hurricane evacuation.

“We have an established constitutional process to make new regulations that mandates notice and public hearings,” Bursey said. “Through this process people may decide that ‘free speech camping’ is not allowed on state property, but neither the governor nor the Budget and Control board has that emergency authority. If the emergency regulation can be used in this fashion, there would be nothing to prevent the Department of Agriculture from suspending immigration laws to prevent the ‘imminent peril’ of peaches rotting in the fields as a threat to public welfare, or SLED from declaring union pickets a threat to public safety.”

It’s clear that the governor is more concerned with appearances and politics than with our state’s laws. “She doesn’t want tents on the State House lawn when the legislature returns in January or during the Republican presidential primary Jan. 28. While the governor may find tents on the lawn tacky, they hardly constitute an imminent peril to public welfare. One could argue that the imminent peril is that our democracy has been occupied by monied interests, and the tents on her lawn are a legitimate response.”

The SC Progressive Network suggests that the Budget and Control Board move on to part (B) of the governor’s request, which is to draft regulations for the use of the State House grounds through the established process.

The federal court admonished the state at a Dec. 14 hearing that the GROW v. Campbell decision of 1989 required the state to establish regulations regarding First Amendment expression on state property. Those rules were never codified. (GROW had permission to put a sign on the State House grounds opposing sending the SC National Guard to Central America, at a time when federal troops were banned. The rules were changed – the day the sign was to go up – to prohibit all signs. The court issued a directed verdict of guilty against the state and governor for changing the rules in order to violate GROW’s First Amendment rights. Part of the settlement was the promulgation of new rules.)

Bursey was director of the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop (GROW) when the organization successfully sued Gov. Carroll Campbell over his suppression of free speech on the State House grounds. In  1994 GROW organized the founding of the SC Progressive Network.

“For the past 22 years there has been an operative policy that you don’t need permission to exercise free speech on state property,”  Bursey said. “With Occupy Columbia challenging the governor’s sense of decorum, it looks like we need to put the policy in writing.”

Citizens united win in South Carolina!

In case you missed it, here are video clips and photos of the SC Progressive Network‘s support of the Occupy Columbia movement. For the most current Network news and events, join us on Facebook.

Occupy Columbia protesters defy Gov. Haley’s orders to leave State House grounds at 6pm.

SC Progressive Network issues call for citizens to challenge Gov. Haley’s order. Some 300 people showed up for a spirited rally at the State House. Nobody was arrested. Big night for free speech in South Carolina.

SC Progressive Network Director declares victory with Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the only legislator to risk arrest in defense of the First Amendment.

Photos of Gov. Nikki Haley’s press conference Nov. 16 announcing the eviction of the Occupy Columbia protesters, and the arrest of 19 two hours later.

Photos of a rally organized by the SC Progressive Network Nov. 21 challenging Gov. Haley’s orders.

Citizens United to Challenge Gov. Haley’s Order

The SC Progressive Network is asking South Carolina citizens to gather at the State House on Monday, Nov. 21, to challenge Gov. Nikki Haley’s order against protesting on the grounds after 6pm.

“We are urging citizens who believe that our First Amendment right to petition our government doesn’t end at sunset to join us at the State House from 6 to 7pm on Monday,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “We will peacefully protest on the grounds, and are inviting legislators to join us in taking a stand for free speech in South Carolina.”

Gov. Nikki Haley orders protesters off the State House grounds at a Nov. 16 press conference. Two hours later, 19 Occupy Columbia activists are arrested.

The Network is a 16-year-old statewide coalition of advocacy organizations and grassroots activists that promotes democratic reforms, including reducing the influence of money in politics. “We do not believe that money is free speech, that corporations are people, or that the Occupy Wall Street protests don’t have a clear message,” Bursey said.

Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders said the the prohibition against protesting after 6pm reminds her of Columbia’s old Jim Crow practice of running the last bus to the black communities before dark. “The governor is saying that if I work until 5pm, my opportunity to protest her decisions will last about 15 minutes,” Sanders said.

Sanders’ remembers 1961, when 187 black students were arrested for protesting racial segregation on the State House grounds. The US Supreme Court threw out the conviction, ordering that the state could not “make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.”

Participants in Monday’s protest will not be arrested unless they refuse to leave after being ordered to do so by the Bureau of Protective Services.

Neither the Governor’s Office, the Dept. of Public Saftey or the Bureau responded to repeated requests Friday for clarification of the new limits on First Amendment expression on the State House grounds. “It’s my guess that they don’t have a clue how to enforce an illegal order,” Bursey said.

“If I can’t stand on the State House grounds with a sign that expresses my opinion about how our democracy has been hijacked by corporate interests, I’d rather be in jail,” he said.

Revolutionize your plate, and the planet

Progressive Network Movie Night

Forks Over Knives

Nov. 22, 6:30–9:30pm

Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia

Learn about the great health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet while sampling vegan dishes at our FREE screening of Forks Over Knives and potluck!

Don’t miss this film, full of crucial information but also easy and fun to watch. You will not be subjected to scenes of factory farm horror; instead you’ll see evidence of health hazards caused by meat and dairy in the human diet. Watch what happens when the narrator decides to try a whole foods, plant-based diet during filming. The results are extraordinary.

Beer and other beverages available for purchase. Bring a non-veg friend. The hope is to inspire people who haven’t tried a plant-based diet to move in that direction.

Film starts at 7pm. See movie trailer and more at www.forksoverknives.com. The SC Progressive Network shows free movies every 4th Tuesday.

Thanks to Rosewood Market for donated organic vittles.

Download a flyer to post at work, school or church.

New South battles old poverty as right-to-work promises fade

By Margaret Newkirk and Frank Bass

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Nineteen years ago, when BMW announced a new factory off Interstate 85 in Spartanburg, South Carolina looked like the king of smokestack recruiting.

The world’s biggest manufacturer of luxury vehicles would make the city a “Mecca of foreign investment in the United States,” The Independent of London predicted. It would see a rush of industry chasing Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. Downtown would spring to life. I-85 would be America’s Autobahn.

“Oh, they were going to solve all of our problems,” said Cynthia Lounds, director of community economic development at Piedmont Community Actions Inc., a social-service agency.

Today, South Carolina is one of the most impoverished states in the nation, becoming the seventh poorest in 2010 from 11th in 2007, according to recent U.S. Census data. Its percentage of residents living in poverty shot to 18.2 percent from 15 percent in that period. In downtown Spartanburg, near- empty Morgan Square features a used clothing store and two pawn shops.

South Carolina and other southern U.S. states topped the nation’s poverty rankings, a sign of trouble in the so-called New South known for its growth and ability to lure employers with laws restricting union organizing. The South was the country’s only region with an increase from 2009 to 2010 in both the number of poor and their proportion of the population, the census said.

‘Downward Pressure on Wages’

The numbers show that even as South Carolina trumpeted coups like BMW, the state’s stance toward organized labor has depressed living standards, said Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, North Carolina.

“There’s been this kind of undertow of low-wage jobs all along,” Kromm said. “There have been successes in luring industries, there’s no question about that. But it brought an overall downward pressure on wages.”

Job creation is at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. South Carolina on Jan. 21 will play a key role as host to the first Southern primary in the race to select President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger.

The effect of right-to-work laws on wages has been the subject of intense debate for years. The National Right to Work Committee, for instance, says that employee compensation rose faster in states with those laws, according to the organization’s website.

Boeing Battle

South Carolina’s rising poverty rate coincides with a dispute over expansion of a Boeing Co. plant in North Charleston. The National Labor Relations Board sued Boeing Co. over its decision to locate a 4,000-job factory there, saying the move was intended to punish union activity at its base in Washington State.

“It’s like the Obama administration can’t come up with anything else to stifle business growth in this state,” said Lewis Gossett, president of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.

Hostility to organized labor was at the core of the region’s strategy for attracting jobs: South Carolina joined the ranks of right-to-work states in 1954, outlawing contracts that require union membership or dues, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

‘Come on Down!’

The state marketed its non-union labor in the unionized North, said Brett Bursey, executive director of the SC Progressive Network, an activist group based in Columbia. One industry recruiting poster from the 1980s, he said, showed a man in a T-shirt and a swelling belly. “South Carolina has no labor pains,” it read. “Come on down!”

The fight over Chicago-based Boeing’s efforts to expand in North Charleston has revived the issue. With the state’s unemployment rate at 11.1 percent in August, compared with 9.1 percent nationwide, even some critics of the state’s labor stance want the Boeing plant to stay open.

“There’s not a lot of debate about that around here,” said Joseph Darby, a pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston who criticized what he said is the state’s emphasis on low-skill work over education. “The area is so starved for jobs.”

Like much of the Southeast, South Carolina lost construction employment during the recession. Its textile industry continued to bleed jobs as well: Union County, about 20 miles from Spartanburg, had the state’s fourth-highest unemployment rate after a sock factory and a mill closed in 2009 and 2010. The county also lost a 150-job Disney distribution warehouse it had lured from Memphis 12 years earlier with tax breaks. Disney moved the operation back to Tennessee in July.

Warehouse Work

“I’m just waiting to see what God has in store for me,” said Joan Bobo, 49, who worked at the facility since it opened. “I’m experienced in warehouse work. I haven’t found anything yet.”

South Carolina has seen good business news in the past year. Manufacturing employment in August was up 11,000 jobs from a year earlier, including 1,600 new jobs at BMW. The state beat out North Carolina for a Continental Tire company factory on Oct. 6. It’s getting an Amazon distribution center near Columbia.

BMW’s South Carolina plant directly and indirectly supported 23,050 jobs in 2007 and 2008, generating $1.2 billion in wages, according to a study by the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The automaker’s direct employees at the plant accounted for 2.2 percent of the state’s manufacturing employment, the study said.

Expectations ‘Exceeded’

“Since announcing our BMW operations in South Carolina in 1992, and beginning production in 1994, our expectations have continually been exceeded,” Max Metcalf, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Some of the new jobs in the state, though, have carried a downside. Employers began hiring through staffing agencies, instead of directly. The jobs were temporary and lower paid than permanent positions. At BMW, the difference was $15 per hour compared with $15.50, Metcalf said. The company needs the flexibility to respond to demand, he said, and recently moved many temporary workers to permanent status.

While South Carolina’s private businesses have added employment, the state lost 15,700 government positions in the year ending in August.

Juanita Dixon, 33, lost her seven-year government job in February. A community-college graduate and mother of two, Dixon earned $10.25 an hour, paid vacation and insurance as a medical assistant at a county rehabilitation center. Budget cuts closed it, she said in a phone interview.

Five Applications Daily

Dixon put in five job applications daily, she said. When BMW’s staffing contractor held a job fair at a hotel, she applied and was told the wage was $13 an hour.

She passed a written test, but failed a physical one. “You have to put tires on a car, and you have to do so many in so much time,” Dixon said. “They said, ‘You can reapply in a year.’”

Dixon now works at Spartanburg’s new Adidas Distribution Center, earning $9 an hour doing factory warehouse work. She got the job through a staffing agency in September: “It’s a temporary job for three months,” she said.

When BMW arrived in the city, the look of the place was transformed, said Lounds, of Piedmont Community Actions. Factory workers tooled around town in cars bought with employee discounts.

“There were more BMWs around here than Fords,” she said.

Drawn by BMW

Out on I-85, BMW now employs 7,000, nearly twice the 4,000 promised in the 1990s, said Metcalf, the spokesman. The automaker attracted more than 40 suppliers to the state, spurred investment in the Port of Charleston and invested $750 million during the recession in Spartanburg, which now has 277,916 people, according to the census.

Yet the I-85 “autobahn” of industry didn’t materialize, said Holly Ulrich, senior scholar at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs at Clemson University.

“Those predictions were made during the boom years for South Carolina and the South, before a series of national economic catastrophes,” Ulrich said. “I haven’t seen evidence that it happened.”

On Sept. 27, five days after the census poverty numbers were released, the first-term Republican governor, Nikki Haley, tried to boost morale. She ordered state workers to change the way they answered the phone.

By the next morning, callers to an unemployment office in Spartanburg heard the new message: ‘It’s a great day in South Carolina.”

–Editors: Flynn McRoberts, Stephen Merelman

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at mnewkirk@bloomberg.net; Frank Bass in Washington at fbass1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

Town halls expand Network’s voter ID campaign

The SC Progressive Network is holding a series of community forums titled “Voter ID and the new Jim Crow.” Network Director Brett Bursey will moderate. Each event will include a Q&A session and instructions for activists to work the issue in their community.

The forums will address the moving target of DOJ pre-clearance, and where we should put our efforts to try and stop it. The meeting will recognize photo ID as a symptom of larger problems, and will focus discussion on sharpening a strategy to address The Big Picture.

The Network is planning a statewide summit on Oct. 29 in Columbia to sharpen our focus and efforts. Details and agenda to be posted as they become available.

Call  803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com for details or to schedule a meeting in your area.

•  •  •

Sept. 12, Florence: 7pm at Poyner Auditorium, 319 South Dargan St.

Sept. 15, Beaufort: 6:30pm at Golden Corral, 122 Robert Smalls Pkwy. or Hwy. 170. Come early if you want to have dinner.

Sept. 20, Charleston: 7pm at ILA Hall, 1142 Morrison Dr.

Sept. 22, Greenville: 7pm at Furman University, Younts Conference Center.