First, the headline: Lawmakers voted to empower themselves to act on the flag during this special session, once they’re done with the budget. The House approved the amendment to the sine die resolution 103-10, and the Senate passed it by voice vote.
Also, 28 senators have signed on as sponsors of a bill to take down the flag and put it in the Confederate Relic Room. (You know, if we didn’t have a Confederate Relic Room, and I wanted to make up a hypothetical place that would be the perfect place for the flag, I would call it the “Confederate Relic Room.”)
Meanwhile, there was a sort of rally-for-folks-who-missed-the-rally-on-Saturday on the State House grounds as a way of keeping up public support for this historic move.
Tomorrow, Sen. Clementa Pinckney will lie in state in the State House.
Following are some notes from the rally, which I attended for as long as I could stand the heat…
I hope nobody is going to judge public sentiment on the issue by the turnout at this gathering, because it was apparently sparse by comparison to Saturday. I say “apparently” because it’s difficult to say how many people attended, for several reasons:
Being in the middle of a working day, people came and went. The thing dragged on for hours (unlike the event Saturday, which was about the length of a white-people’s church service), and almost no one was in a position to stay for all of it. I noticed the pattern of people coming and going when I looked back down on the event later from the Capital City Club.
Also, it was difficult to gauge the number of people at any one time because of the way people were distributed.
There were basically four or five groups: First, there were the fortunate ones seated in the shade of two tiny white tents on the lawn, like mourners at a graveside service. Then you had the people standing around the tent and trying to look in and see the speakers, which was tough because if you were standing in the blinding, searing sun, it was hard to see everything going on in the tent, which is where the podium was. It was also hard if you were in the sun to make out the third group, probably larger than the first two put together, that was in the shade of the trees to the east of the tents, maybe fifty feet from the action, listening but not seeing (a lesser, sparser group stood under trees on the west side, near the Ben Tillman monument). Another contingent sat high up on the State House steps, also in the shade.
This was different from Saturday in tone and content. As a lot of people noted at the time, the Saturday group was about 90 percent white, organized and attended by (mostly) white people. The speaker roster was slightly more diverse than the crowd. This one today was blacker — although there were a lot of white faces present, perhaps even more than half of the crowd — and at times had a black-church feel, with call-and-response cadence. And while the Saturday event had an eclectic mix of speakers thrown together at the last minute, this event had a steady stream of dignitaries that wanted to say a few words.
There were white speakers as well as white attendees, and one that particularly interested me was Sen. Tom Davis. Tom’s sort of out there on his own, an iconoclastic figure, not someone automatically with this crowd or that one. He’s also known as a filibusterer. So it was good to hear that he was on board with getting the flag down.
I liked one thing Tom said in particular: Some might think that we shouldn’t be moving to act on a political issue in response to the deaths of innocents. He noted that Clementa Pinckney himself helped lead the push for body cameras on police, and that was in response to the last sensational, senseless killing in Charleston, that of Walter Scott.
There was a tiny cluster of counter-protesters at the scene, right around the soldier monument, but they didn’t get much notice. It wasn’t Sons of Conferederate Veterans or League of the South types. These folks were more marginal. So far, we’re not seeing a coherent opposition that might be effective. But this is early; opponents of change are sort of rocked back on their heels — for the moment.
Standing over near the counter-demonstrators was an older African-American man just maniacally wailing away on a cowbell — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK. He seemed intent on drowning out the speakers, or something. I asked several people who were there before me whether they knew what he was on about. I didn’t want to ask him; he was furiously intent on his task, looking only at his cowbell, and keeping at it like a perpetual motion machine — CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK-CLANK.
Standing in that heat, so much more intense than Saturday, I felt like I was getting a fever, and the cure was most assuredly NOT more cowbell.
I kept moving around the tents, trying to get a good angle to see the speakers and maybe get a picture (almost impossible with an iPhone that was in the sun while the subjects were in the shade). For one short period, I was next to this really beatific African-American lady who was standing under a parasol and insisting that I share its shade. With one hand she held the umbrella (declining my offer to hold it for her), while the other was resting gently on the shoulder of a rather scruffy, middle-aged white man.
The white man had a constant scowl on his stubbled face, and every once in awhile he would sputter out something cryptic like “Why don’t you take down the flag at Fort Sumter?” in a tone that made it sound like he didn’t think taking down any flags was a good idea.
Each time he did, the lady would pat his shoulder, speak soothingly to him saying things intended to make him feel welcome and at his ease. And he seemed to calm down each time. At one point, a black man a couple of feet away cried out something defiant-sounding about the flag, and the white guy really got stirred up and started saying something like, “You can’t do that! You can’t! It takes two-thirds of the legislation (sic)! You can’t!”
I really thought for a second they were going to go at it, and we were in the way.
The lady shushed him, pleaded with him to be calm and not get excited, and eventually steered him back out of the press of people. She came back a moment later, but he did not. She was a bit shaken, but trying to stay calm. I asked her whether she knew that man. No, she didn’t. She just saw him as a soul in need of consolation.