Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Heritage of Hope

On Saturday, March 27, mayoral candidate, Aaron Johnson, and city council candidate, Grant Robertson, sponsored an anti-Confederate Flag rally at the S.C. State House. The rally featured performances by Confederate Fagg, Drink Small, and Say Brother. “The flag hurts our state in terms of public image and business opportunities,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, it sends a message to minorities in our beloved state that our government is still in a state of war. Even if the cannons are silenced... a flying flag of battle is an ideological statement that can not be refuted.”

By Chris Bickel

I was just thinking back on the rally and what a positive event it was and how much it meant to me, personally, to be a part of it.

I remember going to many rallies in the early 90's to remove the Confederate Flag from the State House dome. It seemed almost hopeless early on at those rallies, but enough people believed the flag was not a symbol of their community and that it represented far more than history or heritage. Eventually progress was made and the flag was removed - to a more prominent location - front and center. Compromise. Insert eye roll.

I also remember showing up (as a voice of opposition) to the rallies held in support of keeping the flag on the dome. Some of these rallies were huge.

I used to play in a punk band called In/Humanity. I had written a song in 1995 about attending a pro-rebel-flag rally. Over 500 people were in attendance to show their support of the flag. I juxtaposed this with a rally I had been to some days earlier. A rally to save the life of a man named Sylvester Adams who was on death row. Adams, an African American, had been given an unfair trial and was found by experts to be mentally retarded ("challenged" the better term?). About 50 people showed up for this. The protest was in vain, as Adams was executed.

In/Humanity was an angry band that wrote angry songs. The song juxtaposing those two State House rallies was titled "Southern Swastika". The lyrics were screamed as follows:

Here's a short note on the value of life in South Carolina - 1995
The power of protest to save a man's life
Pales to the fight to let a flag fly
Fifty can't stop the death of a man
Unjustly tried
But five hundred can
Raise a lot of hell in a battle flag's defense...
Preserving their heritage
and ALL it represents.
Get uber it - put the Southern Swastika in a museum where it belongs.

In/Humanity toured the U.S. three times and nearly every country in Europe. I always took a minute to discuss the flag issue in our state before we played the song. Screaming at like 500 bpm isn't necessarily the most coherent form of communication - so I always wanted to connect with the audience and share a bit about our community and the issues that concerned us.

Until recently I had no idea how easy it was to bring a rally to the State House. I mistakenly assumed such things were far out of the reach of "regular people." Only the well-connected had access to the State House grounds. Turns out I was wrong. It's within easy grasp. Had I known this in 1995, it would have been a dream come true for In/Humanity to have played those State House steps. To convey the messages that were so important to us.

But in a way, I'm glad it ended up being my (as some would call it) "joke band" that ended up playing those steps - 15 years later - in opposition to the flag which is so offensive to so many. As much as In/Humanity meant to me then, we were coming from a place of seething anger. As honest as we may have been, it would have been a negative spectacle which would not have created a vibe conducive to positive dialogue. 

I'm grateful that Aaron Johnson and Grant Robertson took a chance on putting Confederate Fagg on the bill. The end result was positive and fun. It was a party, but the flag issue was still front and center. I was personally afforded the opportunity to say a few words on the subject, but without having to dwell and revel in anger and negativity. The response was so loving and positive and absolutely will go down as one of my most treasured memories.

If nothing else can be taken away from that event, please take this: if my dumb band can play that granite stage - anyone can do anything. People have a voice. We can make things happen here.

Thanks to everyone who attended the spectacle - which was hopefully more than a spectacle.

With love,


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