What is progress?
June 11, 2001
Today’s article was supposed to be the conclusion of my recent battle with the DMV. All it took was to read the lead headline of the most recent The Greenville Journal to change my mind.
The headline? “A community divided?” I would link to it on the Web except http://www.greenvillejournal.com does not seem to be updated with any regularity—if at all. You’ll have to find the paper to read the full article.
I’ll fill you in on the basic gist of the article. The article leads off by informing us that Professor A.V. Huff, vice president for academic affairs and dean at Furman University(http://www.furman.edu, has informed the writer (Gary Hyndman) that we are a divided community. He asserts most of the recent conflicts we have had in our community can be attributed to a “conservative ‘backlash’ against progressive elements that have long defined the county’s history.”
The article goes back into time reporting on issues that arose as early as late 1800’s. More recent issues include, removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse dome, the Greenville County Council resolution “condemning the gay lifestyle”, Sunday alcohol sales, and the tax referendum. Other issues such as funding for the BI-LO Center and the Peace Center are also mentioned.
What is the division? According to Mr. Hyndman it exists between conservatives and “progressives” as well as county interests verses city interests. Frankly, I would agree. However, I do take exception at the way these differences have been portrayed.
The first exception I encounter is the use of the term progressive to describe one of these divisions. The writer seems to infer that the progressive group supported the removal of the Confederate flag, desegregation of public schools, acceptance of homosexuality, the tax referendum, Sunday alcohol sales, and economic development by the chamber. The conservatives, of course, took the opposing positions. Minor Mickel Shaw is quoted in the article as saying, “I think it was important for the chamber to advocate for taking down the flag.” She comments on protestors who picketed outside the chamber, “Some of those same people were angry with the chamber for supporting the tax referendum.”
Perhaps I am reading a little too much between the lines, but it appears that conservatives in Greenville must be racist, homophobic (we won’t get into the ridiculous use of that “word”), uncaring, prudish and economically backward. Mr. Hyndman says, “Anti-tax and Christian Right-leaning county voters thrashed the recent school tax referendum and soundly defeated another referendum that would have permitted Sunday alcohol sales in area restaurants.” Once again the writer has neatly packaged the people involved in each of these issues. Of course, those who voted in favor of the tax referendum and the alcohol sales were the enlightened, “progressive” souls.
I do not believe that every person who supported the removal of the Confederate flag also supported the tax increase. I believe the people of our county and city are more complex than this article would paint them to be. More importantly, I would not ascribe a common motive to any particular block. I explain: Some believed strongly that the Confederate flag should not fly over the statehouse because it was not a flag representing a legal government. Others felt it should not fly over the statehouse because it was perceived to be a symbol of racism. Therefore, it would not be accurate to say that those who believed the flag should be removed did so because of only one of the two reasons. However, that is how the media continually packages issues.
A second problem I have with the article is that it is clearly biased in its research. The article mentions some unidentified citizens in such paragraphs as “Some privately surmise council’s defunding of the chamber was partly a reaction against its progressive (there is that word again!) views, though council members who supported the decision deny it.” The quotations by A.V. Huff, Tim Brett, Minor Mickel Shaw, Bill Workman, Tommy Wyche and Wade Cleveland are measured for the most part, but seem more sympathetic to the “progressive” section of our divided community. Completely missing from the article is any viewpoint sympathetic to those who are--what can we say-- “stagnant, backward, degressive or reactionary”.
I know I tend to be a little skeptical of the media. I look at The Greenville Journal and I see the close ties they have with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce—for instance, they hold the contract for printing the chamber’s newsletter, Outlook. I know of their “downtown” roots. Could it be that there is a bias toward the “progressives”? I hesitate to assert it is so, but I do ask the question.
Okay, I have to close. However, I must make a parting shot at the use of progressive to define one group of this divided community. Progressive has two definitions, the idea of advancing and the political idea that government has a role to play in social improvement. It seems to me that both sides have right to claim the term progressive. The question simply becomes toward what vision for our community is each group progressing? As I mentioned in an earlier editorial, let’s discuss ideas and not muddle the discussion with labels that bring emotion to the table. Of course the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus lists as the synonym for progressive; liberal. I also wonder how many members of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce would want to claim that label.