What I’ve learned about the flag rally Saturday night


As y’all may have noticed, I’ve been ranting and raving about my inability to find out anything about the anti-Confederate flag rally that Facebook told us was (and still is) scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at the State House.

Who was organizing it? Who would be speaking? Would this be a mainstream sort of thing that would impress the powers that be (legislators), like the original King Day at the Dome and Joe Riley’s march in 2000? Or would it be something that lawmakers could smugly dismiss as “fringe” and continue in their state of apathy and cowardice on the issue?

Being someone with more than 20 years hard-won experience dealing with the issue, I know where the mines are buried in the field, and I was very concerned that this rally might make fatal missteps. I was also concerned that this was too quick, too early. We’re still in mourning, families and friends have yet to bury the dead — time enough for political moves later.

But I knew why people were impatient. They were impatient because we live in a world in which we all see national and international news coverage immediately, and the story was playing like this: A white supremacist murdered black worshippers and drove away in a car decorated with the very same flag that South Carolina still flies on the State House lawn. And we all wanted to say, Yes, that’s the case, but it doesn’t fly there with MY permission. At the very least, we wanted to say that.

Anyway, gradually, in bits and pieces, reaching one person who led to another who led to another, I’ve managed to get ahold of people who are involved in pulling this together. And one reason I’ve had trouble getting ahold of them is that they ARE trying to put this thing together in a very short time, and things are rather hectic. Here are some chunks of what I’ve learned:

  • Apparently, what has happened is this… A lady I will not name because I haven’t spoken to her yet put out the idea that wouldn’t it be great if everybody gathered at the State House Saturday to express our desire that the flag come down. This engendered a tsunami-like response (note the activity on the Facebook page) which kind of overwhelmed her. She was particularly unprepared for some of the more hateful messages she received. So, chivalry not being dead in the post-bellum South, two men agreed , on the spur of the moment, to pitch in and help her. They were Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall.
  • I’ve spoken with Emile, who says that the program is still coming together, and as they know more they will post more (speakers and such). But he assures me that this group will look like South Carolina, or a reasonable cross section of it. It’s an unaffiliated gathering, owing nothing to any group or agenda. As he puts it, “This is a group of concerned, mainstream citizens who give a s__t.” He says there are a thousand people coming, in spite of the ungodly weather, and national media will be there. So, you know, if you’d like to tell the world what South Carolinians are really like, that we’re not a bunch of Dylann Roofs, then here’s your chance.
  • I haven’t reached Tom Hall. We’ve both tried, and keep missing each other.
  • Before I talked with Emile, I spoke with Becci Robbins and Brett Bursey at the SC Progressive Network, who seemed to have been pulled in by the event in a haphazard way. Becci had posted earlier in the day a question like mine: What is going on here, and who’s in charge? She had not realized that Brett had already started getting involved in it. Brett said he was telling people that this was less a flag rally than a memorial for the slain — although the flag would be mentioned. At 5:21 p.m. today, after I spoke with him, Brett put out a media advisory saying the following: “The tragic deaths of nine black people at the hands of a young white man in Charleston is a soul-searing opportunity for South Carolina to confront our state’s historic racism and the bitter fruit it continues to yield. The Confederate flag that has flown on the State House grounds since 1961 is a symptom of the institutional racism that afflicts all aspects of life in South Carolina. The removal of the flag from the front lawn to the State Museum is but one necessary step in the long road to true racial equality. The SC Progressive Network is calling for the community to gather on the Gervais Street side of the State House on Saturday, June 20, 6pm-7pm. There will be a short program. People are advised to bring water, lawn chairs and a shade umbrella.”
  • It was not clear under whose auspices Brett was issuing that. I had had no indication from Emile that he expected Brett to be doing media relations on the event or indeed playing any central role in it. But Becci had written to me that she had spoken with “someone associated with this event,” and he “invited us to do what has not been done: logistics, program, hospitality etc.” It may have been one of a number of people I talked to other than Emile. There are a lot of people eager to make this thing happen, and I don’t think they’re all talking to each other.

So there you have it. It’s going to happen, but no one is yet entirely sure what will happen. I’m going to be there, and a lot of good folks I know are going to be there, and in the end I think it’s important that we do that, so that the aforementioned national media can see that we’re there and we care. There’s plenty of time for refining the message and the movement later. It’s almost impossible that anything would be done about the flag before the Legislature comes back in January, for a lot of reasons. Not least, the fact that this is too soon after the tragedy for a major political sea change to occur.

A final thought: I enjoyed listening to Emile talk about the issue.

“We really take it on the chin in Columbia,” he said. We host the nation’s Army, the state’s flagship university, the state government, and the region’s homeless people.

He says “we’ve done enough” without lawmakers “planting a flag and running home” to leave us to live with it. “I work on Main Street,” he says, and he’s tired of it. He wants to tell them, “It’s not fair for y’all to plant that flag where we have to deal with it.”

He fantasizes about getting a bunch of Confederate flags, some poles and a few bags of cement, and driving them in a truck to the places of business of some of these lawmakers — their law offices, their insurance agencies and so forth — and planting the flags in front of their businesses and seeing how they like it.

And he’s right, of course. Most of them wouldn’t. They just keep the flag up because they don’t want to stir up that extremely passionate minority out there who would descend on them if they lifted a finger to bring it down — the kinds of people who totally freak out the uninitiated when they venture into flag territory.

Anyway, that’s what Emile wants to do. But instead, he and a few other folks are trying to pull a rally together.

Maybe I’ll see y’all there.

20 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about the flag rally Saturday night

  1. Mark Stewart

    It isn’t too soon to stand up for this issue.

    What may be too hasty is the apparent injection of the Occupy movement perspective. That would be a serious miscalculation. This event, to have real political impact, needs to be apolitical and firmly moderate. Not inclusive of every voice that wants to speak, but inclusive of those ideas that bring everyone together and offend no one save those who rabidly support the Confederate flag flying.

    if it doesn’t feel like Sunday Supper with the extended family it will have missed the mark. If it doesn’t draw, and reflect, people who don’t otherwise engage in political theater it will have missed the mark.

    It must feel compelling to people across the socio-economic spectrum – including (just for instances and not to call anyone out) the Heathwood Hall community.

    If I were in South Carolina and not on the West Coast this week I would attend. I would also be the first to leave were it to be open to non-inclusive speakers and a left-leaning political agenda. So I hope they get it right; less is more here. It is a stand and be counted moment. That alone is enough.

  2. Emile

    Thanks for the write-up Brad. Mark, we have no Occupy bent, and hopefully a crowd that you and Brad approve of will show up. That, however, is entirely out of anyone’s hands, so please encourage your Sunday supper folks to come out!

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    MAN, I hate it when the main web presence of an event or organization is Facebook!

    Emile said when they knew more, they’d post more — but where do I look? It’s not in the “ABOUT” area. And the newsfeed is a jumbled mess, not even appearing in chronological order. I’ll see an item from 20 hours ago, followed by one from one hour ago, then 14 minutes ago, then 13 HOURS, and so forth.

    The best way to provide information is with a conventional website, with key information in fixed places that are easy and intuitive to navigate to.

    Facebook is a great way to share pictures from your vacation with friends, but it’s not good for much else…

    1. Doug Ross

      This will be a good test of whether social media is able to accomplish what more traditional coordinated methods did in the past. It may be that it’s YOU who needs to adapt to the times.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Two points, Doug:
        1. I fully expect there to be a crowd. That’s not the test. The test is whether the event is organized and formulated so as to do any good.
        2. It’s not about “the times.” I happen to be something of a social media professional. I know enough about social media to know what a particular one is good for and what it is not. You can get a lot of buzz going with Facebook, turn out a lot of people. You can even accomplish what I’m talking about — providing answers to essential questions, answers you don’t have to hunt for — if you know what you’re doing. But few people do it right. Nine times out of ten, a regular website is better for what I’m talking about.

        1. Doug Ross

          What essential questions need answering? The flag should come down. We don’t need speeches. We need action. We need the media to do its job and ask Hugh Leatherman whether he will support trading it down. It’s his call.

      2. Ralph Hightower

        Social media is not great for getting the news out, though it’s a start. For example, if I want to read what Governot Nikki Haley says, I have to “Like” her Facebook page. That ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Phillip

    I see Mark’s point, but also agree with Emile that if the “bent” of the crowd or the speakers tilts one particular way it would not be because of exclusion, but because of the unwillingness of some to join in this call.

    Really, for our desired goal to take place, we need to have Nikki Haley and/or some other legislators/leaders whom we might not normally expect, to seize this as their “Nixon goes to China” moment.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, and that takes time. It takes WAY more than putting up a Facebook page and then waiting to see who comes. It takes planning, a LOT of talking to lots of people, patience, perseverance, diplomacy and persuasion.

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that the folks who would make this thing work are “unwilling.” I’m guessing most of them don’t even know about this yet, it’s been put on so hastily. And I think a lot of them — some of whom are going to funerals and such in the coming days — would think this isn’t the moment. That can be argued either way, but I can see that some would think that.

      1. Doug Ross

        Lindsey Graham could say “Take it down”. Nikki Haley could say “Take it down”. Hugh Leatherman could say “Take it down”.

        They don’t need to show up for a photo op or make a speech. Steve Benjamin already said it without having to be here.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    A couple of quick items to add about the rally:

    1. First, the person who launched all of this, only to see it become bigger than she expected, is Mariangeles Borghini. She and I are currently playing phone tag, so I might know more soon.

    2. Second — and I can’t believe I forgot to mention this in the main post last night — there is to be another rally after this one. That’s the plan, anyway. This is sort of a warmup, I take it. It comforts me greatly to think of another one, with more time to plan, being on the way…

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, now I’m worried again.

    Yesterday, Brett Bursey told me that one of the speakers they wanted to get was Bud Ferillo. He would have been good.

    Now, Ms. Borghini tells me that Brett Bursey is going to be speaking.

    And I spoke with Bud a few minutes ago. He is physically and mentally exhausted, just back in from Charleston (and he says if we think it’s hot HERE, we should try there), and as he says, “We haven’t buried the first person yet.” For him, and all sorts of other people who are close to this, this is WAY too early for an event like this.

    I’m going to be there today, and I see a number of friends and family members plan to be, too. But I’m really concerned, still, about what sort of event it will be.

    Just talked to Emile again, and he said what he could to reassure me, but I’m still worried. I don’t want to see yet another setback on the flag. I want to see a movement that can SUCCEED…

  7. David

    I understand the need for a broad group of people from across the political spectrum at this rally in this state at this time. But surely part of the healing process in this state is to welcome the voices of all people on this issue, including that of Brett Bursey, a citizen of this state. If you want other voices there, fine. But surely he has a right to speak just as they do. To be blunt, you write far more quickly and emotionally on these issues than you should. Ratchet down the rhetoric, just as you’re asking others to.

  8. Elise Blackwell

    Thank you for putting together this information. I had planned to attend already, but I feel better knowing a little more about the who and what. It *is* early, and the planning sounds haphazard, but perhaps there’s a case for capturing momentum quickly or at least being counted. (Major media outlets are already talking about the issue, politicians from both sides of the aisle locally and nationally are offering lip service, twitter is screaming at the state, and a major figure in the Southern Baptist leadership penned an anti-Confederate flag op ed.) It’s good to hear that a more organized event will follow later. (I’ve heard the date July 4 mentioned, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.) Anyway: thanks.

  9. Mark Stewart

    I encourage people to go – the victims deserve the rememberance. And the Confederate flag must not fly on the Statehouse grounds.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    Does our dysfunctional General Assembly have the political will and resolve to address the contentious of “The Flag” next year, along with the other issues that didn’t get resolved this year?

    The government of South Carolina, past and present, do not respond well to outside pressure or influence. More than likely, they are apt to flip the middle finger and say “FU”.

    This year, the Senate flipped the middle finger to the House and said “FU” to the three primary issues facing South Carolina: Road Repair, Ethics Reform, and Public Education. They did address a fourth issue that flared up this year with the bankrupt financial state of SC State and probable loss of accreditation at the last minute.

    Yes, the Confederate flag needs to be removed from the State House grounds, but in 2000, that was the best compromise for removing it from the dome.

    I don’t have a solution for stopping extremists of either race; yes, a white extremist committed mass slaughter at Emmanuel AME church. But does anyone remember John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo? They terrorized a region: a guy cutting his grass, a person getting gas, a woman going to a mall; all gunned down at random times and random places coming from nowhere. We were in the DC area at the time of the sniper attacks and there was fear.

    How can we stop these sick bastards?

  11. Bill

    Brett is a creep.He’ll exploit any situation to get attention. Murders=Flag .Simplistic and shallow ‘thinking’.

  12. Pingback: The Whig and last summer’s anti-flag rallies | ADCO

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