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Memo to SC Progressive Network members, friends and allies:
Take a deep breath, step back, and let’s view Trump’s election as the last gasp of an obsolete system built on white supremacy, lies, and fear. Don’t get me wrong; this last gasp may take a while and be quite messy, but we never thought the revolution of social values would be easy.
The Network’s 20-year-old movement building strategy and “pre-party” organizing analysis is sound and substantiated by this election. The mechanisms of our democracy have been corrupted by money and corporate personhood. We are not yet strong enough to vote ourselves into the promised land.
The contradictions of millions of US citizens living in third world conditions will become more pronounced. It will become more apparent that “less government” and “lower taxes” means working people can’t get a decent education, health care, paved roads or other benefits enjoyed in civilized countries. Trump’s victory is going to make it easier to organize the shift from a thing oriented society to a people oriented society necessary for our survival as a democratic nation.
Too many in the white working class have been led to believe that poor people, minorities and immigrants have caused their problems. Now that their Republican champions hold all the power, they will soon find themselves in the same sorry state and perhaps understand who their real enemies are, as well as their real allies.
On Election Day, we spent 14 hours taking 921 calls from SC voters across the sate who called 866-OUR-VOTE with problems. That’s more than one call every minute. It will take us a while to analyze the calls, determine what problems were systemic or localized, and work to remedy the problems. One type of problem that stood out seemed to be rogue action on the part of poll workers, not election commission employees. The recurring problem of long lines caused by voting machines glitching or not working was anticipated. We’ve been working to get new machines since we bought the ones we’ve been using in 2004 and feel that we have turned the corner in convincing the legislature that our next voting machines should be publicly owned, low tech, and produce a voter verifiable paper ballot.
It is important to note that South Carolina’s voting system works relatively well. In most states, voting is run by a partisan, elected secretary of state. Here, we have an independent State Election Commission. Our 20 years of working with the state and county election boards has shown us that our voting is run reasonably well.
Our problems and our lack of democracy are a result of our state legislature. The majority Republican Party has, over the past 23 years, drawn political district maps to insure they remain the majority party. 78% of voters in SC had only one major party candidate to vote for Tuesday. Most of our legislators are chosen in the primary by fewer than 12% of the voting age population they represent. This is not what democracy looks like.
Across the nation people are pondering what to do in the face of this civic disaster. The Network will keep doing what it has been doing for 20 years. It’s a long, hard job – and we need your help.
What Modjeska Simkins said during the darkest days of the civil rights movement is important to repeat now that there’s little hope of salvation at the ballot box, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is no sitting down time.”
Yours for democracy,
Brett Bursey, SC Progressive Network Director
At 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.
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.
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 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.”
This is our first election for officers in the Network’s c-3 and c-4 organizations with a nominating and voting process designed to engage our entire membership, not just those who can make it to the state conferences. We sent out postcard notices of the election to members on Sept. 1, with nominations due Sept. 19. Since we only have one nominee per open seat, members are not being asked to vote by mail. Elections will be held at the Oct. 22 state conference.
For clarity, the SC Progressive Network is comprised of two organizations that are related but kept separate by federal law.
The SC Progressive Network Education Fund (501-c-3) is our research and policy institute that must be nonpartisan to accept grants and work with schools and other institutions that take tax-deductible contributions. Nonprofit organizations make up the membership of the Network’s Education Fund. Each has a seat and a vote on the board of directors. The Education Fund’s board elects the officers of its executive committee. Member organizations select their own representative. To check your organization’s status, email Kyle@scpronet.com or call 803-808-3384.
The Network’s (501-c-4) is comprised of individual and chapter members. Contributions to the c-4 are not tax-deductible, and members can engage in political campaigns and endorse candidates. Our individual members are the “boots on the ground” needed to educate, agitate and organize around the Education Fund’s policy work. The executive committee is elected by the vote of individual members at annual meetings. All dues-current members are entitled to nominate, run for, and vote for officers. To check your dues status, email Kyle@scpronet.com or call 803-808-3384.
All nominees must be Network members and be interviewed by the nominating committee. The nominating committee of current officers not up for election and staff acted as a search committee and found qualified nominees for all but one open seat. All the nominees are active in Network activities and are graduates of the Modjeska School.
We’re still searching for a nominee to serve as the c-4’s treasurer. Nominations can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 803-808-3384 before Oct 21, to allow time for an interview with the nominating committee.
Network Education Fund (c-3) executive committee nominees
Cochair: Kyle Criminger: (outgoing: Harold Mitchell- incumbent: Marjorie Hammock)
Kyle is from Lancaster and holds a B.A. from USC and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate. A nationally certified health care interpreter, he is a graduate of the inaugural iteration of the Modjeska School and has helped develop the Network’s Democracy 101, Racial Justice, and New Legacy Projects. Kyle has served as the Network’s membership liaison, welcoming new friends and members since 2014.
“As Network Education Fund Co-Chair, I will pledge to work with the Executive Committee to continue to identify and develop new leaders that understand and implement our time-tested, movement-building strategy. It is a privilege to do the same work in the same vein as Modjeska Simkins and so many other South Carolinians who also loved justice and equality and laid the groundwork for our movement.”
Co-Secretary: Nathaniel Simmons-Thorne (Incumbent Co-Secretary: Wayne Borders)
A Modjeska School graduate, Nathaniel is an emerging activist and an upperclassmen at the University of South Carolina where he studies mathematics, philosophy, and history. Movements and activism pertaining to economic justice are particular concerns of his.
“My willingness and interest in serving on the board is shaped by a dedication to bolstering the scope and influence of a statewide progressive political movement equipped with the power to radically renegotiate structure while advocating for the powerless.”
Treasurer: Gareth Fenley (outgoing: James Carpenter) Gareth Fenley is a social worker and community organizer. Gareth and her partner, Judy, are joined in one of the first same-sex marriages recognized by the state of South Carolina. She is a graduate of the Modjeska School.
“Through many apparent twists, turns, disruptions, and wanderings, I see one theme in everything I’ve done: a radical insistence on the integrity of the self. I proclaim the right to be oneself without shame, respected as a human being among equal human beings.” “I initiated the Permanence Project to build the capacity of the Network. As a former 501(c)(3) president, I offer experience with nonprofit underpinnings like bylaws and budgets. Wisely attending now to our foundation will reinforce our ability to meet challenges and grow sustainably for years to come.”
SC Progressive Network (c-4) executive committee nominees
Cochair: Omari Fox (outgoing: Virginia Sanders – incumbent: Hoyt Wheeler) Omari Fox grew up in Brooklyn, and moved to Orangeburg as a young adult before attending SC State and finishing his teaching degree at Benedict College. Fox is a primary and high school art teachery in Swansea. He is a cultural worker and community organizer with the Southern Movement Assembly and chapter lead for Columbia based Simple Justice, an official chapter of the National Black Lives Matter movement. He uses art a a tool for social change, blending creativity and politics to further the work of the human rights agenda.
“I am coming forward for leadership to offer my brand of cultural community engagement in partnership with the South Carolina communities that face any and all challenges regarding the rights to access for all in education, equity and participation in our political system, arts and culture, and human rights. My vision for the SC Progressive Network is to be a leader in uniting South Carolina in a united front to reach the rich potential of a state that first seceded from the union and may now have the opportunity to succeed through union.”
Secretary: SaBrina Jeffcoat (outgoing: Leslie Orr)
SaBrina O. Jeffcoat is a graduate of the College of Charleston where she studied Studio Art and Biology. Following graduation she worked in the university sector in Exhibition Design and is currently working with the Columbia Museum of Art in Education and Community Outreach. SaBrina aims to use her love of the arts to make social justice issues more approachable to the masses.
“I look forward to serving as secretary of the c-4 sector of the Progressive Network for many reasons. I come from a liberal arts background that honed my documenting skills and practice in the arts which I think will allow me to also offer creative insight to our problem solving and forward-thinking planning. Thank you for considering me for the incoming secretary position.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
To put our organizing work into context and better understand the legacy we’ve inherited, the SC Progressive Network will explore our ancestors’ radical roots at its 20th fall conference on Oct. 22 in Columbia.
Activists from across the state will meet at the Harbison campus of Midlands Tech for a Network membership meeting 10am – 2pm, to tend to internal business, hear updates from member groups about their projects, and look ahead to the upcoming legislative session.
In the afternoon, we invite the public to join us for a symposium with some of the state’s leading activists and historians. Led by University of South Carolina historian Dr. Bobby Donaldson and political scientist Dr. Sekou Franklin, the session will detail the vanguard role that Modjeska Monteith Simkins and South Carolina’s black activists played during the 1940s in the long struggle for civil rights.
After the Network’s meeting, we invite the public to join us for a symposium with some of the state’s leading activists and historians. All events will take place at the Harbison Campus of Midlands Tech.
The afternoon session – led by University of South Carolina historian Dr. Bobby Donaldson and political scientist Dr. Sekou Franklin – will detail the vanguard role that Modjeska Simkins and South Carolina’s black activists played during the 1940s in the long struggle for civil rights.
The meeting marks the 70th anniversary of the 1946 Southern Negro Youth Congress conference held at the Township in Columbia, a little-remembered but historic gathering. (See event program here.) Simkins did trainings at what was then Harbison Junior College for two dozen young blacks, mostly students, who spent 10 days studying black history, politics, civics, world affairs, and organizing techniques.
Simkins helped establish 11 chapters across the state that turned out over 400 members to the October 1946 weekend conference in Columbia. More than 2,500 people, from Birmingham to New York, filled the Township auditorium with the intention of striking a death blow to Jim Crow.
It was an impressive gathering. Julian Bond’s father came from Atlanta. Angela Davis’ mother came from Birmingham. The legendary Paul Robeson sang. Labor organizers and Communist Party members came from the north, and delegates came from as far away as Latin America and Africa. Our best notes on the conference come from FBI files that reported 170 participants were white, mostly union and peace activists.
Dr. W.E.B. DuBois gave the keynote speech that Sunday at Benedict’s Antisdel Chapel. The speech, Behold the Land, lifted up as among the nation’s best, rings true today. DuBois called on “young women and young men… to lift the banner of humanity… in the midst of people who have yelled about democracy and never practiced it.”
DuBois rose to national prominence in 1905 with the founding of the Niagara Movement that challenged Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist positions on segregation. He was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP in 1909, and the National Negro Congress and the Southern Negro Youth Congress in 1937.
The Columbia SNYC conference was the largest human rights event the South had ever seen, with a class analysis of racism and a call for a mulitracial united front. By the time of the Columbia conference, black soldiers were returning from WWII to the hostile welcome of Jim Crow segregation. South Carolina was in the nation’s spotlight for having the last white-only primary, the South Carolina Progressive Democratic Party crashing the 1944 national Democratic convention (20 years before the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party), and the blinding of Private Issac Woodard by police at the Batesburg bus station in February 1946.
Erik Gellman’s 2012 book Death Blow to Jim Crow claims that SNYC was more than a precursor to the modern civil rights movement; it was “the most militant interracial freedom movement since Reconstruction, one that sought to empower the American labor movement to make demands on industrialists, white supremacists and the state as never before.”
After WWII, white supremacists used anti-communism to beat back racial equality and labor organizing. We learned in our South Carolina high school history books that “carpet baggers and scalawags induced many of the ignorant and child-like Negroes to turn against the white people,” (Simms-Oliphant) and the Klan arose to beat back the 1870s Reconstruction and save the South.
Seventy years later, white supremacists like Gov. Jimmy Byrnes identified communists as the outsiders leading blacks astray. Simkins was “red-smeared up and down South Carolina,” and iced from the SC NAACP leadership in 1957 by black ministers who chaffed at her strong spirit and militant politics. The red scare effectively ended the militant era of civil rights, and domesticated the modern civil rights movement. That period is now recognized as one led by black ministers beginning in 1954.
DuBois called SNYC’s work the “second Reconstruction,” making the case that the gains of the first Reconstruction had been erased through the whitewashing of history. Now, ironically, 70 years after DuBois bemoaned the erasing of the first Reconstruction, we are studying the lost stories of the second Reconstruction of the 1940s – an astonishing period when the citizenry organized a serious challenge to the status quo – right here in South Carolina.
It is this under-valued people’s history that the Network is committed to lifting up, both at this conference and through its leadership institute the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights. While we’ve only recently discovered the importance of SNYC and Simkins’ deep involvement in that effort, the school is picking up where she left off, teaching similar solutions to sadly similar problems.