Resistance Rises in South Carolina (and Beyond)

Source: elle.d6collab.com

This article was originally published on and promoted by Huffington Post. You can read it here.

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

Members of the Southern Negro Youth Congress Meet with Idaho Senator Glen Taylor (Image Ownership: Public Domain)

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.

Modjeska Simkins

Source: scpronet.com

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.

Modjeska School

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.)

Source: pixabay.com

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.

Sources:
http://scpronet.com/
http://www.blackpast.org/aah/southern-negro-youth-congress-1937-1949
http://www.thestate.com/news/state/article109188157.html

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

This article is also available on Huffington Post

Yesterday was an unprecedented display of resistance across the country, as protesters in all 50 states showed up as a last-ditch effort to persuade electors not to confirm a president-elect who is wholly unqualified on every level, and may have actually been put in office due to the hacking of our election by a foreign government (Russia). Initially, I had planned to simply give an account of what happened through the course of the day, as well as encouragement to those involved in the movement. Then this happened:

“Dozens of protesters chanted obscenities and were removed from State House grounds by SLED officers.” –Ben Hoover, ABC News, Columbia, SC (watch the video here

This quote comes from a local news station, is purposely misleading at best, and is an excellent example of how the mainstream media twists the truth to better fit their narrative and agenda. I was actually there, so let’s examine the facts. Dozens of protesters showed up to the State House to promote unity and equality, and to demonstrate solidarity with others of like-mind from across the country, who also felt compelled to exercise their constitutional right to protest an act that is not in the best interest of anyone but a very select few. The rally was peaceful. In fact, out of the dozens of people who showed up, there was only one person who legitimately chanted obscenities and was escorted out of the building, not off the grounds as the quote claims, where he stayed and continued protesting peacefully, even after the emotionally charged incident. Do you see why the above statement is so irresponsible? It gives a completely wrong impression of all but one protester, in a brief moment during an entire day; thus, discrediting our demonstration, and undermining the real message and purpose. It’s dangerous. Don’t buy in.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can get back to my original purpose. The morning began with some good, old fashioned protesting. Dozens lined the street in front of the State House, holding signs with messages opposing the confirmation of Donald J. Trump as our next president.

What followed was a series of speakers who energized the crowd, despite the cold and rain, with motivational messages promoting unity and equality, as well as a shared sense of responsibility to protect our nation from the swamp monsters getting ready to infiltrate Washington DC. With high level appointments and cabinet picks such as, Steven Bannon (former CEO of Breitbart), Rex Tillerson (current CEO of Exxon Mobil), and Andrew Puzder (current CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.), it is clear where this administration is headed. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I shutter to think about what is being hidden.

Next, the demonstration was moved inside in time for the electoral vote. So many people lined up, even the overflow area was filled with protesters and there were still people left in the hallway watching on their phones. Not surprisingly, the electorate confirmed Donald Trump. (This is when the aforementioned emotional outburst from one protester occurred.)

Truth be told, no one I spoke to expected anything else to happen. That wasn’t the point for most of us. We were there to unite with others who know what’s happening is patently wrong and aren’t afraid to speak out against it. We showed up to let our marginalized brothers and sisters know they are not alone. And we did it to demonstrate to the government that we will not back down. We will be there to stand up and fight back every time a dangerous and/or unjust act is visited upon the American people by our new regime.

After the vote was officially announced, a group of protesters remained on the grounds for some time as an additional show of resistance. We marched peacefully and chanted, without obscenities. We even sang uplifting songs together.

The message outside was laden with radical love. Why? Because, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., ”hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The call-to-action of organization and mobilization was evenly paired with one promoting the understanding of the everyday Americans who supported Donald Trump. Many are genuinely hurting and in need. Instead of judging and chastising them, we should try to understand their plight to have any chance of building a united front.

I think Will Bowen sums it up well in his book Complaint Free Relationships: Transforming Your Life One Relationship at a Time:

“Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion. Compassion is defined as a ‘keen awareness of the suffering of another coupled with a desire to see it relieved.’ People hurt others as a result of their own inner strife and pain. Avoid the reactive response of believing they are bad; they already think so and are acting that way. They aren’t bad; they are damaged and they deserve compassion. Note that compassion is an internal process, an understanding of the painful and troubled road trod by another. It is not trying to change or fix that person.”

Where do we go from here?

We seem to be left asking this question a lot lately. Here’s what I think we should do: Keep going. Don’t give up. Push forward. Do what’s right. Resist fascism. Be the change. Stand together and fight injustice.

Those who can, must show others how to find their voices. This is the only way to make a sustainable change. We the people have to rise up and speak out. There is no other choice.

I would like to conclude with a call-to-action I hadn’t planned on making when I first decided to cover this historic event, but was reminded is critically necessary. If you are like me and always snapping photos with your phone, start turning your camera toward what’s really going on around you, if you haven’t already. We need you. You are a critical part of the solution. Start documenting the efforts in your own community, and post them online. Write articles, blogs, and social media posts using your photos to chronicle the movement as it crystallizes around you.

If you see injustice occurring and the only “weapon” you have to fight it with is your camera, take it out and start recording. In this new, post-fact America, we cannot rely on those in charge, or their mainstream media puppets, to report the truth. It has now become our responsibility to open our eyes, take a shot, and report on what is actually happening. We must all look out for one another in every way possible.

Technology has made it incredibly easy to share snapshots of your personal life with anyone and everyone you want. Imagine what we could do with that technology if we all used it to capture snapshots of life that would allow us to illuminate reality, and educate each other about what’s happening in our own corners of the world. Knowledge is, always has been, and always will be, power. Seek it out, empower yourself, and spread the love.

Photos included in this article are part of a larger project detailing the struggle for true equality in my state, and was started approximately a year and a half ago.