In the past month quiescent South Carolina has been riven by more progressive protest noise than in any time since the Civil Rights movement forty years ago. While no one has been arrested in the entire state thus far, people from more rambunctious places cannot grasp how angry and threatened the state's muscle bound ruling class is. They confront new agents for change who refuse to deal with them. Their opposition is operating at a speed faster than they can engage. Sacred things like the belief that tearing down a city baseball stadium to build a downtown Wal-Mart in the State Capital are being challenged by groups who camp out on the state house lawn, college professors, mothers with kids and homeless people all together.
"This is what Democracy Looks Like" in the Palmetto State. Its different from New York or Oakland. It's easy to dismiss our small numbers operating in brutally hostile conditions. These are people who have to say goodby to family, church and sometimes job to stand up for a better SC. From the fall line to the ocean, the state is being shaken up like I've never seen it before and it is just getting started.
The body of this post is my column published in this week's Moultrie News, which takes writer and reader across 115 miles from the sea to the Sandhills at a state trembling on the verge of something yet unknown. SC has never really changed in its entire history, except for the temporary conditions of reconstruction and a weirdly divided racist progressive movement in the 1890s. The Plantation is getting unquiet.
The Governor says it's all union hired out of state agitators. She couldn't be more wrong. This is a homegrown uprising. Nobody comes to SC to change the world. These are people who can't stand the state they have, from here and their struggle to impact the power which holds everything here still.
Read on for the full picture of a state struggling to raise its voice deep in the red South and meet some of our occupiers on video.
Published in the Moultrie News, Mt. Pleasant, SC (Circulation 27 thousand, Nov. 2, 2011)
On the dark deck of our common ship, I visited five stations in South Carolina last week.
Six days found me in five radically different places. Five communities wrestle with the mounting challenges of a Congress which refuses to work, an economy which won’t produce and a Governor who dismisses her native born critics as union funded operatives from out of state.
Monday put me at the International Longshoreman’s Hall meeting with the gray haired leadership of SC modest “professional left” many of whom are now Grandparents. On Tuesday I attended the Candidate’s forum for Mount Pleasant Town Council. On Wednesday I was with the East Cooper Democrats and the CARTA Board. On Thursday I video recorded the Isle of Palms Candidates Forum for the East Cooper CARTA Riders. On Saturday I visited Occupy Columbia and joined a protest march through the capital city.
In the ILA hall, seated in a circle were the surviving deans of the Lowcounty’s aging, veteran left. Most show the years and miles. The vegans do look better at 60. Gray hair sat in a circle. Some knees were in braces. There were more than a few canes. Some reluctantly fished warped reading glasses from the pockets where pride hides them. Determination, trust and memory had a prayer meeting in the great, gray hall of the ILA.
We don’t argue much any longer. Everybody knows their job. Lists, agendas, resolutions and budgets are second nature. We know where to go for our permits and which public officials can be trusted. We know who will show up a rainy day. As old and slow as we are, it is with these that I would choose to storm the gates of hell in search of the brighter day beyond.
On Tuesday, I had the honor of watching a painful sea change move over the Town of Mt. Pleasant. This decades hard lessons have sunk in. We are at the end of the roads. Every candidate recognized that after the over 120 million dollars of planned road projects are finished that there will be no space to lay down more asphalt and no money to pay for it. It is believed that another 30 thousand people are on their way to town, many elderly. Even more are expected to fill in McClellenville, Awendaw and innumerable outparcels which dot the Francis Marion Forest. All of the candidates are talking about transit. A few even speculated about light rail. There was a recognition that the life of drive, park and drive some more isn’t making us happy or making us a town.
For a community which declared that it never met a bulldozer it didn’t like 15 years ago, elected a mayor who declared it to be a bedroom community a decade ago and laughed at drawings of sidewalks filled with people six years ago, it was an astonishing change. While the candidates struggled with the question of what the community should be like 20 years from now, their answers were all much better than a great place to drive.
On Wednesday, the Democrats met in Mt. Pleasant. A room which had held five people six months ago welcomed 40. The Democrats struggle with a world faster and more critical than that which elected President Obama three years ago. This new world is one that campaign and President have helped make. Hope and change is returning to the sidewalks of America, but it is camping out on Wallstreet and in Brittlebank Park and 1100 other cities. Over 35% of those people aren’t Democrats.
Many reject all the established parties. Some people want to be arrested. Some people want to run as independents. Others want to burn the cities down. After one election that went blue in 2008 and another which went red in 2010, the economy is still flat lined. Neither party seems to be able to crank up the national defibrillator. Democrats have the exhilarating experience being pushed towards a cliff while being instructed to fly. We’ll see if they still have wings.
On Thursday, I was a passive witness at the Isle of Palms Candidates forum. Economic strain goes all the way to the sea. “For sale” signs dot Palm Boulevard. Candidates got testy about budgets. The easy income and tax money of resort management has disappeared like sand after beach renourisment. Both Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s are on the verge of losing all their CARTA bus services. Hundreds of households are aging in place, on the verge of needing public transit. A connection wasn’t made. Plenty still wait for the good old debt driven boom time’s return. Some want to gate the Isle of Palms and slam that gate closed “when it’s full.” With no dog in the fight, it seemed an island which may be underwater in 100 years needed to work harder on imagining what the future it has left should be like.
On Saturday I joined Occupy Columbia for a march through the capital city. We distributed union printed handbills, shouted chants, sang songs and sent it all out live online. We did “People’s Mike” at the Five Points Fountain. It is such a rush to have your words, amplified by one hundred voices hurled out towards a world beginning to listen. I hope my son in Seattle heard them.
The ship of common destiny shivers on her keel. Wind moves across the rigging. The canvass of the sails flaps in dark winds. Hands fight for the wheel. Those on the deck hold on. Those in the cabin houses hope. The faint lanterns peek out red and green forward and white aft. I do not know on what course we shall find ourselves at dawn. I am not certain the ship shall still be afloat. This I know, for those who desire to sail, a course is about to be laid.
William Hamilton (www.wjhamilton.com, twitter @wjhamilton29464) is an attorney who lives in I’On Villag