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.