Saturday, April 25, 2020

Stand for Better Transit

Come Stand With Mary in Defiance of the Redneck Reactionaries in SC or
How a Square White Guy & Jesse are Trying to Build 

a Big Colorful Circle While People Get Sick


Jesse William talks to drivers waiting for the light to change.
Charleston, SC, USA, April 24, 2020- There were two demonstrations in South Carolina today. One was about the future, human dignity and saving  the planet in Charleston. The other, around the Statehouse, was a gaggle of violent ignorance, demanding that the workers of SC be fed into the grinder of the Coronavirus epidemic in the service of Donald Trump’s tiresome cortege of fear and hate.
Since stupidity and prejudice gets more publicity than it deserves, I thought I would tell you about today’s street corner banner pitch for better public transit that was part of #CHS #EARTHRISING and #HEROESMOVINGHEROES.  At the intersection of Meeting Street and the I26 onramp, Jesse Williams, activist and candidate for Charleston County Council and William Hamilton, Attorney and Executive director of Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit. This location was half a block from the former site of Charleston-s tent city of homeless people, cleared out four years ago.

At the North end of what was once Charleston’s now forgotten street car system that Mary fought to ride (her story later) and a few hundred feet from the planned route of the long promised, mostly paid for, over planned and as yet unconstructed bus rapid transit line, we made our stand while the rednecks surrounded the statehouse.

This banner faced the I26 on ramp
We pitched large banners declaring that it would be “Better on the BRT” an long delayed rapid  transit line between Summerville and Charleston we helped win voter approval of four years ago. Since then we’ve been fighting to force our elected leaders to spend the sales taxes we won for them on the transit system they promised to build. We have that promise in writing, incidentally.

The other banner, painted by the transit deprived people of the Johns and Wadamalaw Islands, declared “Sea Island Transit, There is Power in Togetherness,”  That one was so well received in it’s outdoor debut that Christian King of West Ashely started a project to create a large banner for their campaign to increase transit frequency there. We also have a twenty foot monster that demands bus service be returned to area beaches. That one is going up somewhere appropriate on Mayday.  We have tool boxes of bungee cords, rope, tent stakes and zip ties to put these up and keep them up in the wind.

Sticking It by the Side of the Road
Every pitch is different. This one’s curse was hidden concrete underground. Plastic tent stakes cannot be pounded into it with a rubber mallet. We finally found a soft spot. Jesse put up the chairs and cranked up our sound system and we were ready to go online.

Meta demo- This passerby  livestreams us livestreaming him
There are lots of people better at livestreaming that we are. Most of them aren’t putting up banners, greeting traffic and trying to manage a phone attached to the tripod with medical tape because the phone clip on the tripod broke. Tape is not an adequate substitute.  We finally got a shaky stream running shortly after 3 pm, as planned.  Then we had to finish staking up the other signs and banners. After that, when the tent stakes got pulled out in the wind due to soft ground, we put them up again.

It took us a while to get everything working but we get it all happening about 45 minutes into the stream. We call out our US Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, greet bus drivers, meet the public and wave at all the cars slowing down for a peek at the resistance.  You can see how we did on the record. The first 45 minutes are full of putting stuff up and the phone falling off the tripod. It isn’t exactly Avatar or Casablanca after that, but we hold it together for about 45 minutes until our failure to connect the booster battery to the phone catches up with us and we go dark.

Jesse worked at it hard, pushing through the mask and helping  out. We got it done. We threatened non- one. People smiled. The young people walked by reveling in the spring with the soulless pleasure that their doctors prescribe for them. They seemed unworried, but they should be. We were that small, persistent   voice among the noise warning the redneck army the future has it supporters here, even in reddest, most backward South Carolina.

Not Staying Home, Managing the Social Distance
Folly Beach Hates sent the Police to take this banner down. 
We wore masks and gloves and got out of the house.  We’re going to pitch our big “Bring Buses Back to our Beaches” banner on Mayday, to remind the community of the fierce injustice of relying on the low wage service labor of thousands of transit riders to keep it’s tourism economy working while refusing, year after year, to offer those without a car a way to take their children to the beach. 

The angry men with guns in white pickups demanded the beaches be reopened to them. The governor gave that to them. The people who own the governments that control access to those beaches then closed them again, sort of. That was injustice, the white pickup army declared. The people on the beaches and the shite pickup guys still remember the time when there was a gate on folly road that black people were only allowed to pass if they had a job cleaning a white person’s beachhouse. They want that world back.  We’ve got twenty feet of hell no to put up on the workers day. We’ll be livestreaming then too.

We couldn’t stand by while the white pickup rednecks for the exurbs started their government takeover in SC. We gathered the weary, frightened survivors of our long, mostly losing struggle here on the phone and cajoled them into putting on their masks and picking up their flags. We begged, we promised and occasionally, we lied. Some came. More are coming. We’ve put together 12 days of struggle in the Lowcountry and Charleston and branded it #CHS #EARTHRISING, a part of the larger #EarthDay2MayDay celebration. Ours goes past Earthday because we needed to reach an anniversary in a city where the past from Francis Marion to the Civil War casts a long, dark shadow in our shared lives.
Sol Legare Island Transit Activists

May  4, is the 50th. Anniversary of the Kent State shootings. It is also the 153rd anniversary of the date Mary Bowers, a free woman of color, won the right to ride for all in Charleston. It was a month-long campaign that proves Mary would have consider us wimps. Mary’s approach to change was breaking things and setting them on fire.  Riots surged around police stations ended by shaky alliance confrontations with ex Confederate white police officers and very black Civil War Veteran US Army occupation forces. Mary wanted to ride the new horse drawn streetcars. They represented the future. So did her new freedom. The campaign began after a mass organizing meeting for the black reconstructionist Republican party in SC on Marion Square.  Mary decided to ride even though the “colored cars” were still allegedly on order. The conductor put her off. She said she would dismount, but there would be trouble.

Mary Does Not Do Zoom, She Summons Stones
Mary did not convene a zoom meeting to propound the value or her online petition and beg for donations for her new nonprofit on act blue. Mary did not beg for permits and pester Susan Dunn over at the ACLU. She went out and found a crowd. They found cobblestones. There was shortly a grave shortage or window glass. Charleston was then a city which had only two years before had so many windows blown out by the union bombardment that a yankee reporter, walking  through the weed wild streets South of Broad said the wagon ruts appeared to be paved in diamonds. After a month, General Scott commander of the Freedman’s Bureau suggested the street car company allow everyone to ride without discrimination as the new reconstruction act required. The board of directors held a meeting and concluded the implied idea that black federal troops would be riding streetcars with bayonets to increase the racial sensitivity of the conductors would be bad for business. On May 4th the affirmed the right of all to ride.

Talking to a Member of the CARTA Board
It has taken me ten years of advocacy to get new bus shelters up in Charleston and the long promised rapid transit line that votes agreed to fund in 2016 is still only a plan after four years. We need to be shovel ready now.  It took Rosa Parks and the mighty Martin Luther King over a year to desegregate the buses of Montgomery Alabama. It took Mary only a month to liberate the Holy City’s streetcars. Of course Mary broke and burned things, lots of them apparently. So many, in fact, that the conservative newspaper refused to admit it had happened.

Evidently breaking things accelerates the rate of progress on social justice in Charleston. I suppose that’s why they don’t tell the tourists about Mary Bowers and why she doesn’t appear in our kid’s school books. I still don’t advise setting cities on fire to change them. However, it apparently works.  If the redneck army wants to escalate, Mary has warned them about where we can go and who wins we do.  Perhaps our elected officials should listen to people who don’t bring assault rifles loaded with thirty round clips of live ammo to their rallies. I and Jesse saw police officers all afternoon, every one of them glad to see us. Let’s keep it that way if we can.  We buried nine friends here after Dylan Roof shot up a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel Church five years ago. Violence has no charm for us.

Mending the Circle, Claiming the Center
On May 4, her day and the day of the martyrs of Kent State, we’re planning a socially distanced demonstration in the Lowcountry, a great circular gathering. The circle has a radius of 98.6 feet and family groups will gather around the 300 foot circumference 12 feet apart. Speakers and musicians will take the center and the noise we make will move out through those gathered to the community and across the World Wide Web. We will restore the fractured circle of community and reclaim the center. The North axis will be dedicated to leadership and Government. The South axis point to family and community. The East will be dedicated to environmental justice. The west to social justice. To learn more, see the #Earthrising Rally event listing on Charleston’s new social network for Activists

Even in the midst of this epidemic, we cannot surrender access to the roadside and public square. We can’t agree to stand on the street while our transit system serves the priorities of tourists instead of the hard working people who serve them. We can’t stand quietyly playing TV on Zoom while people are forced to return to work without even the flimsy protection of an 80 cent disposable mask. We are not their children, we are not disposalble pieces of meat and as Mary Bowers knew, we should not be slaves.

By William J. Hamilton, III
Attorney, Executive Director
Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit
(843) 870-5299

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