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With the inauguration of Donald Trump rapidly approaching, there has been a much needed resurgence of interest in the progressive movement around the country, as well as an awakening to the need of an actual revolution by more moderate liberals. The Republican sweep of all levels of government indicates an all too familiar conservative backlash against the social progress that has been steadily building over the last eight years. Historically, this has ultimately led to the empowerment of emboldened racists and bigots of all ilks, which we are presently seeing.
President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominations and White House staff choices signal dark times ahead; therefore, it is important to shed light on a few of the associated implications. Here is a cursory rundown to illustrate a few points: Chief White House Strategist Stephen Bannon is the newly former CEO of Breitbart, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson is the recently retired CEO of Exxon Mobil, Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants (Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), the nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is Ben Carson, and nominated to be Attorney General is Senator Jeff Sessions. If you care about the environment, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, poverty, freedom of speech and religion, or human rights in general, the time to come together is now.
There is no doubt, these are frightening times if you are anything other than a reasonably affluent white man. Those who have been aware of the ramifications of the president-elect’s words and actions since the beginning of his campaign are justifiably concerned about what the future might hold. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone. We are all in this together and, fortunately, we even have some blueprints drafted by civil rights leaders and activists of the past to follow.
Southern Negro Youth Congress
The 20th century saw a surge in the civil rights movement. In 1936, The National Negro Congress was held in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance was an ambitious group of young activists who deeply understood the message and wanted to execute its call-to-action on a larger, multiracial scale. Thus, the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1937, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1939.
Columbia was chosen to host SNYC in October of 1946, in large part due to the momentum gathered in South Carolina by civil and human rights activists like Modjeska Simkins and John McCray in Charleston. Overall, thousands attended the conference, including 800 white delegates. Establishing eleven chapters across the Palmetto State, Modjeska Simkins played an instrumental role in sending more than 400 members to the conference. At the time, it was likely the largest human rights event ever to be held in the South. Sadly, although not surprisingly, this event has all but faded from history, as fear and racism were responsible for completely dismantling and dissolving SNYC by 1949.
By all accounts, Modjeska Simkins was a formidable force and, at times, a controversial figure in the fight for human and civil rights in South Carolina. Because she became an executive board member of Columbia’s branch of the NAACP and chair of its program committee when it was first formed in 1939, she subsequently lost her position as Director of Negro Work with the Tuberculosis Association. Similarly, her tenure with the NAACP came to an end in 1957 when she was not nominated by the Nominations Committee for the first time, presumably due to accusations that she was a communist.
Throughout the course of her life, she was a veracious champion of human rights, ferociously fighting for racial equality, and ardently advocating for the poor. Though her message and work could be controversial, she was awarded with the highest commendation in South Carolina, The Order of the Palmetto, along with a myriad other honors. (To learn more about Modjeska Simkins, please feel free to download this booklet or check out the video below.)
GROW – Grass Roots Organizing Workshop
In 1975, after spending more than a year meeting in people’s living rooms, founder Brett Bursey and the members of GROW opened the GROW café as a place for progressive political activists to organize and have meetings. Throughout the years, the café served many purposes: a bar, a food co-op, an art house, a print shop, and a venue for live music, just to name a few. At its core, however, it remained the nerve center for the progressive movement in Columbia, South Carolina. Around 1978, Modjeska Simkins became a mentor.
South Carolina Progressive Network
South Carolina Progressive Network (SCPN) was founded by GROW in 1995. The network is a “coalition of organizations and individual activists from across the state who have joined forces to promote social and economic justice in the Palmetto State.” The goal is to continue the social justice and human rights work of Modjeska Simkins. (Learn more about SCPN here, and explore the site to find out how you can become involved.)
Through various projects, the network inspires burgeoning activists to find their voice, and more importantly, learn to use it effectively.
Education is always key. SCPN launched Modjeska School in 2015 to cultivate and activate new leadership within the community. The lessons are geared toward giving students the resources and tools necessary to advocate for their community and champion reasonable, effective public policies. Additionally, students are treated to a “people’s history” of South Carolina, rather than the revisionist history that is taught in public schools. (You can learn more about the purpose and curriculum here.)
Racial Justice Project
SCPN is committed to establishing a public contact reporting system wherein law enforcement officers are required to annotate the details of their interactions with citizens in the community. This will guard against racial profiling as well as help to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve. In 2005, a diluted version of a bill that was sponsored in 2001 by SC Progressive Network Co-chair, Rep. Joe Neal was passed. Work is ongoing to enact more comprehensive legislation. (Learn more here.)
Missing Voter Project
The Missing Voter Project has registered over 7,000 new voters and educated exponentially more than that on issues and policies important to their communities since it began in 2004. The objective is to train new advocates to organize drives that assist in educating and registering historically under-represented citizens. (Learn more here.)
New Legacy Project
The New Legacy Project is all about getting the youth in the community energized, organized, and mobilized. Through education and leadership development, the project empowers new activists to use their voices and minds to help effect positive changes in their communities. Continual growth and evolution is vital to the success of any movement. The best way to encourage that is to pass down the legacy of progressive activism, allowing each new generation to learn from, modify and add to it as needed. (Learn more here.)
Donald Trump as Commander in Chief is a tremendously chilling proposition for many people. The mere prospect of the consequences of his presidency has ignited a renewed interest in social justice and the progressive movement around the country. There is comfort to be found in that, because it means we are not alone. More people are waking up to the reality of our unsustainable system and looking for a way to help.
The implementation of projects and programs, like the ones outlined here, allow for more educated, empowered communities to emerge. Through widespread communication on a local and national scale, we will build a stronger movement. It is time to come together and stand against inequality and injustice of all varieties. Do not let the conservative vacuum that is about to take over Washington deflate your enthusiasm. Let the inauguration of Donald Trump breathe new life into our movement.
On January 21, 2017, South Carolina Progressive Network is hosting a Rally and Strategy Summit, as well as supporting the Women’s March on Washington, to encourage collaboration among progressive organizations. There are other marches and rallies happening around the world that day. If you want to become involved, find out where one is being held near you. You can start by just showing up.