Images from the Unity Festival at the State House

The above video gives you a small taste of what the Unity Festival at the State House was like yesterday, July 4, 2015.

It was different from the urgent, earnest gathering of two weeks earlier. That one was more intensely pitched at urging our state’s leaders to take down the Confederate flag that flies on the State House grounds. It was a cry from the heart, and at the same time one with relatively little hope for quick action. Folks were mostly there, I believe, to bear witness by their presence that the flag didn’t represent them, whatever our elected leaders did.

But two days later, the event’s three main organizers were present at the miraculous presser at which Gov. Nikki Haley and an extraordinary gathering of other state leaders (including Sen. John Courson!) called for the flag to come down.

As a result, this second demonstration changed focus, and became an occasion for people to celebrate, in a fairly laid-back way, the way black and white, Democrat and Republican have mostly come together on the issue — even though, let me emphasize, it hasn’t happened yet (although we’re moving that way with extraordinary speed, for the SC Legislature).

Basically, the program was half live music, half speakers. In the clip above, I particularly enjoyed that the band was covering Link Wray’s classic “Rumble,” the 1958 guitar instrumental piece that had such huge influence on the guitarists of the ’60s. You’ve heard it a hundred times, probably, as background in a film about surfing, or really almost anything. But few know the name of the piece, or its author. Anyway, it felt just right as background for a pan around the scene. I’m sorry the sound isn’t better.

The crowd was smaller than two weeks earlier, although still respectable for a holiday when so many are out of town or gathering with family (I slipped away before it was over because we were having dinner with my parents and all five of our grandchildren). Estimating it was complicated by the fact that a lot of people were off to the sides, in the shade of trees. The weather wasn’t as hot and humid this time, but there was more direct sun, and it was uncomfortable. Lynn Teague estimated it at 800-1,000. If the first one was indeed 1,500, that sounds about right.

The speakers were… generally not as impressive as at the first rally. And they lacked focus. The Rev. Neal Jones of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation was the first speaker, and he went beyond the flag to call for a litany of lefty causes, such as an increase in the minimum wage. I couldn’t resist saying, via Twitter, that “I guess no Southern Baptists were available.” And indeed, that was the disappointing thing. The consensus in this state to get the flag down — as represented by that group standing with the governor at the aforementioned press conference — is so much broader than this roster of speakers would indicate. I mean, there was no Brett Bursey this time, but Kevin Gray spoke. Enough said.

I had broached this subject with one of the organizers earlier in the week, and the problem largely is that these folks, who are not political consultants, simply didn’t have the contacts for the kinds of speakers that I hoped for — say, Paul Thurmond or the governor herself. (Confession time: I stepped out of my role as journalist so far as to give the organizer the phone number of Matt Moore, chairman of the state GOP. But apparently nothing came of it. I had thought that since Democratic Chair Jaime Harrison had spoken at the first rally, either Matt or some designee would provide balance — and I knew they were both on board on the flag.)

By the way, I had been concerned when I heard that the NAACP was taking over the logistics of the event, even being called the sponsor. You know, on account of its confrontational style, especially the attempt to coerce the state to do the right thing via a boycott, which has done so much over the years to keep lawmakers from wanting to address the issue. But it was cool. Sure, you had the NAACP signage, but aside from a brief address from Lonnie Randolph, the group was cool and low-key, in no way disturbing the whole “Shiny, Happy People” tone of the event.

The best speaker by far was Rep. James Smith. And though as a Democrat he couldn’t symbolically balance the event the way a Paul Thurmond could, he centered the issue nicely, because he was the one speaker focused on the debate coming this week in the real world. He said a lot of things that would never occur to the other speakers — such as noting, as I have done (and as organizer Tom Hall had done two weeks earlier) that it is a gross dishonor to the soldiers who represented South Carolina in the Civil War to fly that flag after they surrendered.

But the most important thing he said, and something we all need to keep in mind and insist upon this week, is this: There must be no compromise this time. As he said, “No flag and no flag pole!” In a shouted conversation before he went on, while one of the bands was playing, he told me he was optimistic, but worried by all the talk of compromises that were swirling around — such as leaving the pole and flying some other flag there.

Absolutely not. This absolutely must be the end to it. Nothing else will answer at this historic moment. The governor, with all those people standing with her, said it was time for the flag to be removed, and that’s it. Get it down, put it in a museum. Period. Otherwise, we’ll be talking about it for another 15 years.

38 thoughts on “Images from the Unity Festival at the State House

  1. Lynn Teague

    I was quoting the 800-1000 number from a Columbia PD estimate given somewhere (I forget where) on-line. I think it is probably reasonable overall, given the coming and going that went on over a period of three hours. And then if you count SLED and other police, it might have been another 100-200. I certainly felt well-protected.

    Eme Crawford and Emile DeFelice deserve a lot of credit for putting together a really good upbeat event that should help the cause. I think most of us realize that we want to keep up the evidence of public engagement and determination, but also recognize that so far the evidence of legislative intent is positive. That deserves an appropriately positive and encouraging response.

    Speaking of which, Cindi’s editorial this morning is certainly positive, the very embodiment of Dum Spiro Spero. I too believe that there could be a meaningful shift in the tone of our politics coming out of all this, but I can’t quite bring myself to Cindi’s level of optimism.

  2. Barry

    I want the flag down but I have ZERO interest in hearing anything Neal Jones has to say about any of his left wing causes- or really even the flag issue.

    Glad my family avoided the rally.

  3. Barry

    BTW- this Southern Baptist was at a family event with 4 other couples from our church.

    And obviously if you are going to hold a “rally” on July 4th at the statehouse, you are going to get a relatively small crowd- and the issues raised (Jones for a perfect example) are pretty predictable.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I hope y’all had a great time. We had a great time last night with all of our grandchildren over, and the four youngest spending the night with us…

  4. Michael Rodgers

    I agree with Barry’s two comments. This is not a political issue and anyone, such as the Rev. Neal Jones, who pivots it into politics is wrong to do so. I applaud Gov. Haley’s clear and inclusive leadership and Rep. Smith’s clear and focused determination. I thank the party chairs Matt Moore and Jaime Harrison for their unity. Our state needs to heal, and taking down the flag and the pole together unceremoniously as soon as possible will help tremendously. We need our Legislature to get done what the people and the businesses of South Carolina want done, which is for our legislators to do what our governor told them to have our state do: “fly the flags of our country, of our state, and no other.”

    1. Mark Stewart

      I was afraid that this would happen. This should be an apolitical effort. If you can’t get people from Trinity, First Pres, the Methodists, dare I say some Southern Babtists(?), etc. then the UU’s do not make a positive substitution.

      And the first time someone tried to brand this an NAACP effort with banners or anything else, that should have been the time to say “no thank you”. Better to cancel than to go that route.

      It would be helpful if the kinds of people who are skilled at messaging and at organizing (think more like the citizens who drove the “Pray for Kennedy” fundraiser more than the yappy talking heads that degenerate our political discourse) would step forward and help round out this effort. The shared sentiment is there; so the public events have a straight-forward task: Simply avoid shooting the effort in the foot.

      It’s one simple message as Michael and Brad say – restore our State’s dignity / take down the flag.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Amen. I cringe at this stuff, but the folks in charge — while smart, good people — are not pros at this. And they don’t necessarily have the right contacts to pull together something like this together. Each event has sort of developed organically, which is why the kinds of people who push themselves forward at such a time, such as Kevin and Brett Bursey, end up emerging as speakers.

        I say again, the organizers are smart people. I’m tempted to see Mariangeles Borghini, an Argentinian who’s only been in this country five years — as kind of a well-meaning innocent on this issue. It sort of takes a lifetime of exposure to get all the idiosyncrasies of this issue in South Carolina. But I do her an injustice — today, she sent me a FB message with the link from above to my old post about the NAACP headlined “The boycott will NEVER (and should not) get the flag down.” She wrote, “Brad I could not agree more with you.” And yet, that’s something a lot of native South Carolinians don’t get.

        So — smart people, but not professionals, and being buffeted by a lot of forces as they hang onto the tiger’s ears.

        That’s why, as I disclosed above, I helped Tom Hall by giving him Matt Moore’s contact info. I did more than that: I called Matt first to ask him whether that was OK. He said sure, although he would not be able to be a speaker himself, since he would be out of town. I think Tom tried, but they never hooked up.

  5. Scout

    I wrote my legislators – Kenny Bingham and Nikki Setzler – yesterday. I got a very quick and genuine response from Kenny saying he valued my input and would be voting to take the flag down. I have not heard back from Setzler.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hey, we must be neighbors! (Wait — does that make me Boo Radley?) Those are my lawmakers.

      Yeah, I got a good, quick response from Kenny, and haven’t heard from Nikki — which puzzles me. He’s usually pretty responsive…

      1. Scout

        Yea I think we probably are. I live off 378 near the zoo botanical garden entrance. Well Boo turned out alright. I’ll feel safe if I ever have to walk home at night dressed as a ham 🙂

        I need to reread that book. The new old one they just found of hers is going to download into my nook pretty soon.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Having speakers at events about the Confederate Flag digress to other political issues (where there is sharp disagreement) is probably the easiest way to “break the spell” of the amazingly rare moment of unity that currently exists on this issue.

  7. guest

    The theme here seems to be: Don’t want no NAACP at our rallies. Don’t want no boycotts. Don’t want no Black women snatching down flags. Don’t want no leftists involved in our campaign. Don’t want no outsiders interfering in our business.

    Unity? Solidarity?

    I don’t see a whole lotta that here – unless it’s the unity of fretful white conservative nativists.

    1. Michael Rodgers

      The theme is shoulder to shoulder. We need our legislators to work together to do the right thing, which is what Gov. Haley is leading them all to do (fly other flags no more), respectfully, without delay, without horsetrading, and without politicizing.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Obviously, M., you aren’t paying attention. Or you have a problem with reading comprehension, which I would not have suspected previously. Or perhaps just some deep-seated, underlying hostility, some compelling urge to insult, that is interfering with your perception.

      In any case, you’re being rather obtuse. Not willfully, I hope, because this is a lousy moment for it. Our state needs all the good will it can muster right now.

      1. Doug Ross

        I’m not sure I agree. If we allow the members of the political “elite” to resolve this issue, we are likely to end up with a political solution that doesn’t send the clear message that the flag must come down immediately.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Doug, you are missing the point of what it will take. This isn’t about “allowing members of a political elite to resolve this issue.” This is going to be resolved when people like me but native (sorry, but that’s the truth) decide collectively that it is time to stop tacitly allowing an antagonistic minority to wield their social, political and economic ties to keep the Confederate flag (of any stripe) flying.

          This is not about forming broad coalitions. Sorry, it just isn’t. Neither is it about crafting a politically negotiated deal. That was tried and failed. This is simply about the type of person who normally doesn’t accept Kathryn’s label of privileged standing up to be counted.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          It’s not that we are allowing the political “elite” to decide, it’s that that’s the law. They get to decide.

          1. Doug Ross

            They decide based on the will of the people. The more willful the people are to take it down, the more likely they will vote that way, even if they don’t agree. Self-preservation for political purposes is a core competency for most of them.

      2. guest

        Oh, I’ve been paying extremely close attention to this issue – and not only just recently. Perhaps it’s you who hasn’t been paying attention to what I’ve been saying. And while I’m willing to admit that sentiment across the state may not necessarily be accurately reflected in the opinions that you and some others on this site have expressed, I can’t help but conclude from them, and yours in particular, that, in a very real sense, the same sorts of resentments – against “outsiders,” against “left-wingers,” against people with “agendas” – that led to the flag to be raised in the first place are echoed here among those who would like to see it come down. And that is indeed an irony – a very South Carolina kind of irony.

        Of course take down the flag – an utterly pointless redundancy. But if approving its removal is so tenuous that it requires the sort of self-censorship you have advised, no, which you feel is absolutely essential, then its removal may not really amount to all that much, except perhaps to those who are so blissed out on their own self-righteousness that they cannot see that removing the symbol of historic racism and race bias does not mark the advent of the year of Jubilo – not unless more, much more is accomplished besides.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, I’m glad that you agree that the flag should come down, even though you seem incapable of doing so without a leavening of contempt and condemnation.

          As you wrote before, “I do not come on here to play nice or make friends.” That much is obvious. And yet, that describes why the flag must come down. It is, indeed, about playing nice with others — for a change.

          As I’ve said often before, getting the flag down isn’t the goal in itself. When it comes down, if it comes down the right way — not in conflict, but in a consensus of unity — then it will show us that our state has come a long way in terms of our ability to respect each other and work together to accomplish things that up to this point, thanks to a lot of nasty impulses that have held our state back for its entire history, have proved intractable.

          I suspect that kumbaya stuff irritates you, given your particular habits of mind, but there it is. That’s what a lot of people from across the political spectrum are trying to accomplish right now. And it needs to happen.

          1. Doug Ross

            Brad – do you approve of paying off various parties to get them on board with taking the flag down? Do you believe there should be some type of bargain negotiated that involves things unrelated to the flag coming down?

            Why am I not surprised that it is the true leader of this state, Hugh Leatherman, who is working the money machine to make this happen?

            #nodeals #takeitdownnow #youlostgetoverit

            1. Doug Ross

              I do agree with M. guest that this is a symbolic act.. a tiny step on the way path to racial enlightenment. Getting the flag down doesn’t fix anything broken with the system. The fact that something that should be so simple to do takes so much effort and coordination and negotiation points to the much larger task that lies ahead.

          2. guest

            Para 1: If you ever believed I thought differently, then you definitely haven’t read what I’ve said in the past. Moreover, you must be one of those Buddhist Catholics, if you feel the cosmic Karma holding the universe together will suffer irreparably if anybody rhetorically steps the least bit out of line on this issue.

            Para3: If the symbolism of removing the flag does not extend beyond mere removal, then it will be empty symbolism. Bringing it down will show us nothing unless it is followed by accomplishing all those “things” you mention — but vaguely referring them as “things” signals the emptiness that potentially lies behind the gesture. Given this state’s past history, let’s just say I’m extremely skeptical about the prospects. In any event, are you ready to take on the post-flag crusade with the same proprietary sensibility you’ve shown with respect to removing the flag?

            Para4: You’re right. My BS meter is jumping toward the red line.

    3. Kathryn Fenner

      I don’t think anyone said no NAACP at the rallies. I do think that what has actually been said is correct: the interference of outsiders, especially civilly disobedient interference that is video-ed, (and the ding against the woman was that she was from NC, not that she was female or black), the pushing of additional liberal issues (dear to my heart), and (calls for) boycotts all run the risk of getting the deciders’ backs up and causing them to dig in. We have a delicate moment when we might actually get something–not everything, by any means–but *something* meaningful done that won’t likely get done any other way. Let’s not muddy the waters.

      1. guest

        ”…all run the risk of getting the deciders’ backs up and causing them to dig in.”

        Again, my point precisely. If all it takes is a supposedly misplaced comment or action to derail this, then it’s questionable how committed they are to it being more than a mere gesture, which is what makes it so doubtful that any minds or hearts have really been changed.

        1. Doug Ross

          Very true.

          I don’t care if there is a line of people around the state house waiting to climb the pole to take down the flag every time it is raised. It doesn’t change the fact that it should come down.

          Would we expect a jury to have a different opinion of Dylann Roof if they found out he was a Boy Scout or helped an old lady across the street one time? We would expect them to find him guilty and punish him to the fullest extent of the law. Why can’t we expect political leaders to have the same focus?

        2. SBS

          The hearts and minds that need to change are the closet KKKrs — who have laid some serious pipe here in SC over the past couple +\ decades. At all levels of government.

          It’s a coin toss, really, whether any significant change has taken place even if/when the flag comes down.

        3. Michael Rodgers

          We’re agreeing with each other — across the state and in the State House — on taking down the flag, which is not a mere gesture but a foundational change (for example our state will no longer be known as “South Carolina, where the Confederate flag still flies.”). Agreeing is nice.

        4. Kathryn Fenner

          I don’t care how committed they are. I want the flag down. I will take a slice of bread if I can’t get the whole loaf.

  8. Doug Ross

    Meanwhile, according to Will Folks, Hugh Leatherman was attempting a behind-the-scenes payoff of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to get their support for taking down the flag. The offer on the table include funding the Hundley museum, construction of a Confederate museum, and retaining the right to produce license plates for the group.

    This is exactly what we DON’T need. Why must we pay off those that support the flag remaining where it is? We don’t need a compromise. We don’t need a bribe using tax dollars. We don’t need anything but a straight up-or-down vote on keeping the flag. Tax dollars should NOT be used for museums. We have far greater priorities to address than to placate some hillbillies using my tax dollars.

    Yes or no. Up or down. Stop playing games.

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