By Barney Blakeney
How did we get here? That was the question my new friend asked as we discussed several issues on the subject of political corruption and social violence.
I met with Vince Matthews to talk about his new role as Lowcountry coordinator for the S.C. Progressive Network. A few days earlier I had an email exchange with SCPN Exec. Dir. Brett Bursey about the sentence given to former state Rep. Rick Quinn in his S.C. Statehouse corruption conviction.
The sentence was ridiculous – two years of probation and about $5,000 in restitution. According to some reports, the Quinns made off with some $4 million in ill-gotten gains buying and selling political favors. And who knows what their shenanigans cost citizens in other ways associated with their political peddling?
Our political system is broken, corrupt from the top to the bottom. And it’s costing us dearly. Because of voter apathy, ignorance or whatever, we elect representatives who are unethical, immoral and just plain crooked. They take money for their votes and make decisions affecting our lives that have profound impacts – decisions like those which contributed to the murders of all those high school kids in Florida last week. While we play the blame game, people are dying because of the decisions we make and fail to make!
Bursey and Matthews were telling me about a bill the network supports which would make it mandatory for elected officials to pay for special elections resulting from vacancies that occur due to their criminal activity. I think that’s a good idea. But in my mind, that’s running down the horse after it gets out of the barn. I figure it’s easier to keep the barn door closed – elect people who likely won’t conduct criminal activities.
Okay, I know that’s easier said than done. Thankfully, there are realistic people out there like those associated with Bursey and S.C. Progressive Network who understand there has to be practical mechanisms in place to facilitate that. Those guys are working on a slew of initiatives that address voter education and empowerment.
I wish some other ‘so called civil rights organizations’ would take note of what the progressive network does. The work is more than jumping around from issue to issue like checkers on a board and holding press conferences. The work becomes effective when there’s organizing, strategizing and implementing. But that’s another story.
I met with Vince Saturday after viewing the movie ‘Black Panther’. He had attended the Gullah Geechee Corridor Commission’s quarterly meeting at Charleston County Library in downtown Charleston where the African American Settlement Community Historic Commission made a debut. Also Saturday, the College of Charleston conference entitled “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World” wrapped up its two-day event.
With all that positive stuff going on Vince and I wondered how our community has gotten to the place where political corruption and gun violence not only has become the norm, but seems acceptable. What’s happened that causes us to advocate for metal detectors in schools, active shooter training for students and teachers and laws that force legislators and public officials to make restitution for crimes? How did we get here?
I saw something recently – it seems Billy Graham’s daughter was asked regarding the attacks on Sept, 11, hurricanes and earth quakes how God could let something like this happen. She said, “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.
“How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone? I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school – the Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself – and we said OK. Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem. We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said OK.
“Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with “WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.”
Okay I know everybody doesn’t believe in the Christian God, but I think most religions and faiths teach the same basic tenants- do unto other as you would have them do unto you, thou shalt not kill, steal, covet ,, etc. We leave a lot of stuff out of our ‘code of conduct’ then scratch our heads asking, how did we get here?
In the Black Panther movie the king wrestled with the challenge of sharing the wealth and technology that made his nation great, whether there was a moral obligation to do so. In the end, after much death and destruction among his own people, he figured out sharing was the way to go. I’m stuck on teaching morals and values and folks like Bursey and crew are advocating some more immediate practical approaches – stricter gun laws, tighter controls over gerrymandering.
I talked with Rep. David Mack the other day. He said there’s no one answer to solving our problems with violence and corruption. I think that’s about as close to the reality as we can get. We have to do something, begin taking steps, perhaps baby steps that move our society to a better place. But whatever happens, I know we can’t continue to simply ask, how did we get here?