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Rep. Jim Clyburn, Mayor Steve Benjamin call for progressive reforms on SC Statehouse grounds

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COLUMBIA — Gone from the S.C. Statehouse grounds on Saturday were the passionate calls by grassroots activists for racial equality and police accountability that have echoed across Columbia’s streets daily for nearly a month.

But a daylong assembly, which included a peace march from nearby Allen University to the capitol grounds, coupled that same sense of urgency with a suite of policy proposals.

"We have spent years in this country talking past each other, talking over each other, talking around each other, but not enough time talking with each other,” said House Majority Whip U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia. “We’re here today to bring an end to the failure to communicate.”

Organizers used the rally — which was attended by more than 1,000 people — to roll out a nine-point agenda asking for reforms in housing, education, criminal justice, economic development, food security, health, infrastructure, climate change and voting.

“This agenda is not merely some provincial blueprint for the few, but is rather a new and necessary standard of transformation that will benefit the many," said Bishop Samuel L. Green Sr., presiding prelate of the AME Church’s 7th District.

"The policies that we have are not working for everyone and they especially are not working for black people, and that is what is happening all over America,” he said.

The gathering was organized by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Columbia-based 7th District. 

It was the capstone event of days-long celebration of black ethos by the district, headlined by Clyburn and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. There were also “I Can’t Breathe,” “Say Their Names” and “Black Lives Matter” placards that have become staples of these protests.

“We know that activism without action is just a conversation,” Benjamin said. “We’ve got to find a way in all this pain and passion to make progress. We need to re-imagine every single thing that we do.”

Saturday’s march book-ended a busy week of cultural reclamation efforts across the state. Three colleges: Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and Winthrop University asked lawmakers to let them remove the names of avowed racist former governor Benjamin Tillman and gynecologist  J. Marion Sims, who experimented on enslaved women, from campus buildings.

And Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said a 110-high statue of John C. Calhoun in that city’s Marion Square will be relocated – a move council members are expected to approve Tuesday.

“When we witness injustice, anger is understandable," said Bishop Jonathan Holston of the South Carolina United Methodist Conference.

"When we witness injustice, protest is appropriate. When we witness injustice, action is vital, because we recognize that hopelessness is the enemy of justice,” he said.

In state where 800,000 people live in poverty and that ranks 45th in access to health care, addressing economic disparities must be addressed to assure a viable future for generations to come, officials said Saturday.

“If our community is going to win, we must compete with passion. And we must fight with purpose,” said Donald E. Greene, president of the Baptist Educational Missionary Convention of South Carolina.

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Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

Benson joined The Post and Courier's Columbia bureau in November 2019. A native of Boston, he spent five years at the Greenwood Index-Journal and has won multiple South Carolina Press Association awards for his reporting.

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