By: Michael Bailey
Is it possible to spot a revolutionary leader when their transformative work is just underway?
Brandon Upson, Ra Shád Gaines, Jason Belton, Craig Khanwell, Stephanie Denise, Alonzo Canzater, Jazz Johnson, Lester Young, Lawarence Nathanieal, Raquel Felder, Nocola Hemphill, Carol Coakley, DeAnna Miller Berry, and Leo Jones are just a few of the politically-emancipated activists throughout South Carolina who created grassroots organizations and organizing efforts that bucked the norms of party loyalists and resulted in creating an opportunity and a blueprint to transform the Democratic Party into an organization focused on reenergizing and expanding the democratic electorate in this state. Their work was more than noteworthy, it was, in fact, revolutionary and it continues today.
This multi-generational coalition of activists have either created organizations or led grassroots movements that were instrumental in helping turn out an unprecedented number of voters this past November. They built on the hard-learned lessons of this political season and laid the foundation for organizations and movements that speak to the current and real needs of black communities across the state, not just the South Carolina Democratic Party’s desire to elect democrats.
SC black democrats must recognize that we have a number of black activists throughout the state who are fighting for us because they love their communities and love us. They’re in the hood everyday trying to make life better for the individuals that still live there. They’re not on T.V. and radio bragging about how they made it out.
This is not meant to be a personal attack on anyone but a wake-up call to everyone. Everyday, we should and do celebrate everyone from our community who has pulled themselves out of poverty through education and hard work to achieve prosperity and/or fame. So, I am by no means diminishing those accomplishments. What I am saying is that it’s time we showed love to those individuals who are still on the frontlines trying to make a difference.
The sole motivating factor behind this group of activists is to empower black communities by expanding the black electorate. Their work was not done at the behest of, or funded, directed or coordinated by the Democartic Party. They didn’t wait on the Democratic Party chairman to give them permission to take action in their community. They didn’t wait on the DNC to send some young white Beltway consultant with a checkbook, who had never stepped foot in South Carolina to tell them the best way to reach the black voters in their communities. They created a plan and took decisive action out of love. It deeply saddens me to know that after 60 something years since the phrase was first uttered, “Love is still a revolutionary idea.”
The late Cuban revolutionary turned dictator, Fidel Castro, once said, “A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past.”
While I would never agree with the rhetoric of a communist dictator like Castro, it must be acknowledged that he got it half right. Because, while a revolution by its simplest definition can easily be summed up as a society’s struggle to hold on to the past versus accepting the future, on a deeper level, it’s more about new ideology versus old thinking. It’s about boldly stepping into the unknown versus aimlessly holding on to the comfort of the known. It’s about a vision of what could be, versus what is.
It’s the vision of what could be that inspires this group of revolutionary activists.
They’re not seeking leadership positions in the South Carolina Democratic Party. They’re not out to become career politicians. They’re not out to line their own pockets. Their only desire is to serve for the sake of service.
Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina often says, “Just as in a relay-race, our job as elders is simply to pass the baton to the next generation. We can’t tell them how to run their race.”
These enterprising activists are without question running the race on their own terms. They have shown us that “we” the black community of South Carolina have a vanguard of battle-tested social justice soliders, whose allegiance is not to a political party but to the black community and to the luminaries of the civil rights movement whose shoulders they stand on.
Despite the tremendous contributions made by these activists to turn out the vote in this year’s election cycle, the state Democratic Party leadership hasn’t thought to welcome these revolutionary activists into the party’s so-called “Big Tent.” Partly because many of them don’t possess the USC and Clemson pedigree that the party appears to prefer.
Don’t get me wrong, SCDP does follow the national Party’s Big Tent philosophy that says, “everyone is welcome.” However, the problem with this ideology is that, despite everyone being welcomed under the Big Tent, the leadership table under the tent is small and mostly segregated.
Let me explain, to be an effective organization there must be diversity of thought and beliefs. The party currently has a good bit of racial and gender diversity but lacks inclusion and the real diversity of thought that can make it effective. This is the key reason SCDP hasn’t reached its maximum potential as an organization. It is why the state party constantly loses election after election and nobody says a word. It is why party participants are discouraged or blackballed for asking the forbidden question, “Why do we keep amassing these losses and who’s responsible?”
Diversity of thought among party membership is frowned upon and often flat out rejected.
It’s time “we,” the black voters, which make up 61% of the democratic electorate in this state, demand not just change but revolutionary change. We need to call for real diversity and inclusion and offer the leaders and representatives of these newly formed organizations and movements a seat at the table. This cadre of activists should be invited to participate at a higher level in the party so that they can advocate and negotiate on behalf of themselves and the vast diverse constituencies of black voters they represent and speak for.
Iron sharpens iron and this group of sharp grassroots leaders can only make the party a sharper more powerful force within South Carolina.
The SC Democratic party would be well-served to recognize and value the contributions of these grassroots activists because they are proven leaders well positioned to breathe new life into the party. They are poised to revolutionize the party’s outdated message and methods before the Democratic Party finds itself obsolete and irrelevant in black communities across the state.
It’s time we speak up for those who are fighting with us and for us. We can no longer afford to be silent.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal… In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
So, who are these new revolutionaries? Let’s meet them and examine their efforts.