WHEN A North Carolina woman shinnied up the flagpole at the Confederate Soldier Monument early Saturday morning and tore down the Confederate flag, she played right into the hands of the flag’s defenders.
Bree Newsome’s stunt was far more dramatic, but to those who argue that Gov. Nikki Haley and the rest of state’s political leaders are trying to placate outsiders, it was of a piece with the politicians, editorial writers, columnists and activist groups around the country who are demanding that the flag be removed from our State House grounds.
This was a criminal act for which Ms. Newsome absolutely needs to be prosecuted, and it was a foolish act: If you ever do such things, and I don’t think you should, you certainly don’t do them when you have the upper hand politically.
Beyond that, it was potentially dangerous to the cause she supports so passionately, because the idea that outsiders are stirring up trouble in South Carolina is the most potentially powerful argument flag supporters have.
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Our struggle; our task
I don’t mean to suggest that we didn’t need to hear from outsiders.
Although I’ve never liked presidential candidates offering their opinions on S.C. policy, and never understood why people anywhere would get worked up over a legislative vote or gubernatorial action or supreme court ruling in a state where they do not live, I recognize that it can be useful to see ourselves as others see us. And it has been in this case.
The moment that the Confederate flag became not only an issue but the issue in S.C. politics occurred three days after a white supremacist massacred nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, when 1,500 South Carolinians converged on the State House lawn to demand the flag’s removal.
One of the things that motivated them was national news reports that showed the Confederate flag waving defiantly on our State House grounds while the U.S. and S.C. flags flew mournfully at half staff. They recoiled at that scene. They felt a compulsion to say to the world: “This is not who we are. That flag is not flying because we put it there or want it there or condone it being there.” And in this, they spoke for countless other South Carolinians, many of whom were just coming to that position.
So for the mirror, we thank those people outside of South Carolina.
To our friends and family who called or texted from other places to say, “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” we thank you.
To those politicians whose condemnation of the flag helped our elected officials recognize that this was not something that even Republicans in most of the country condoned, we thank you.
You have helped us.
Now we need you to help us again. We need you to go away. This is our struggle; this is our decision. We can make it on our own. We must make it on our own.
What people inside and outside of South Carolina need to understand is that the distance our Legislature has traveled on this issue in the past eight days is breathtaking. The speed with which the Legislature is moving is phenomenal.
Because the massacre occurred after the regular legislative session had ended and while legislators were coming back into session only for brief periods and only to discuss specifically delineated items, two thirds of both the House and the Senate had to agree even to allow the flag to be debated before January; both bodies easily achieved the two-thirds vote a week ago.
Legislators are set to begin the debate as early as Monday; that might feel like an interminable delay, but it was necessary to allow the families to bury their dead and to allow legislators to reschedule vacations and business commitments. The quickest the Legislature can pass a Confederate flag bill is four legislative days, and then only if the debate ends in a single day and every single member of the Legislature agrees to suspend waiting periods in the House and Senate rules.
Those of us who want the Confederate flag removed have the upper hand right now: Our political leaders, including the staunchest and most powerful flag supporters, have concluded overwhelmingly that it should be retired; more and more ordinary citizens are coming to agree; and the people who are rushing forward to insist that it stay in place are coming off like stereotypical Southern racists, straight out of central casting.
But it’s not a certainty. Enough legislators have said they support removing the flag to meet the two-thirds vote required in the Senate and the House, but with at least a week before the first votes are cast, some could change their minds; some could not show up for the debate. That means our legislators need to hear from their constituents; they need to hear that we want to retire the flag to a museum, and that we will support their decision to retire it. What they don’t need to hear is angry demands and threats, and they certainly don’t need to hear that from people who don’t even live in our state.
How not to win
What our friends outside of South Carolina need to understand is that the only thing South Carolinians hate more than being told what to do is being told by outsiders.
Like a lot of people, I believe that the NAACP tourism boycott torpedoed efforts to get a better compromise back in 2000, when the Legislature finally took the flag off the dome of the State House and planted it in front of that monument at the intersection Gervais and Main. Even though the boycott was requested by the S.C. chapter, it still was seen as outsiders trying to influence state policy. Worse, outsiders were trying to coerce us into doing something; the word “blackmail” was used a lot.
Beyond being counterproductive, launching boycotts or defacing Confederate monuments or tearing down the flag is the last thing we need when we hope to foster reconciliation. Our state is much less divided at this moment than we were in 2000, but we still need this to be a time of reconciliation.
Ultimately, we have to remove the flag not because others bully us into doing it. We have to remove it because we have concluded that it is the right thing to do. Only then do we have a chance to do more than simply remove an ugly symbol; only then do we have a chance to diminish the racial tension and division that are still too much a part of our daily lives.
Ms. Scoppe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 771-8571. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.
With friends like this …
Die-hard Confederate flag supporters say outsiders are bullying us into removing the flag from the State House grounds. But they have at least one out-of-state ally.
The day after Gov. Nikki Haley called on lawmakers to retire the flag, a conservative political pundit named Ann Coulter declared that our governor was unqualified to talk about the flag, because “she’s an immigrant and does not understand America’s history.”
Set aside the fact that Ms. Haley was born in South Carolina, and think about that for a moment: Someone who wasn’t born in South Carolina, doesn’t live is South Carolina, who as far as I can tell has no ties to South Carolina, is declaring that the elected governor of South Carolina is unqualified to say what South Carolina should do or not do on the grounds of the building that houses the governor’s office.
You go girl: More South Caroinians need to hear your opinion of us.