Monday, August 30, 2010

Moving On!

This blog is no longer in use. If you want to follow my writings, check out my new site:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Comes After The Spartanburg Spark?

The Spartanburg Spark has been one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever been a part of. In the year and a half I’ve been actively involved with the project, I’ve seen the number of unique monthly visitors to the site more than double, and the page views skyrocket to over five times the level they were when I first started. I’ve had the privilege of being along for the ride as this simple blog has changed the tone in Spartanburg in some small, but important, ways. Even if it closed its digital doors tomorrow, I think it would be hard to call the Spartanburg Spark anything but amazingly successful. That point is driven home even further by the fact that the project never had any money to speak of. The whole thing has been a giant learning experience for me personally, and I’m going to miss shooting emails over to Steve to ask about this or that Spark-related thing.

When I first learned a while back that Steve was going to be moving back to Asheville, and that the Spark would either have to be handed off to someone else or killed off altogether, I didn’t have any idea what that meant for Spartanburg’s burgeoning progressive movement or for me personally. Defying all common sense, Steve offered the site to me first—and keeps offering it to me every time we speak—and while I’ve definitely entertained the idea of running the site, I’m not sure that doing that would be the best thing for me personally or for the Spark.

It’s not false modesty that makes me think that I shouldn’t run the Spark. I could run the site just fine. In fact, I’ve done exactly that for a couple of months at a time. The truth is, I don’t think Steve Shanafelt realizes that the Spartanburg Spark can’t survive without his voice. I’m not trying to kiss the boss's ass here. That’s just calling things as I see them.

Steve is persistently positive on many, many fronts when it comes to Spartanburg. Not to be insulting, but the word “Pollyanna” has been thrown around a lot, though always in a good way. That sort of enthusiasm isn’t something I’ve always shared, but it has been part of the Spark’s character. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that it’s a part of that character that I can’t reliably recreate. I told Steve, in explaining why I wouldn’t take over the Spark, that the only thing I’m truly confident in is my own voice. My voice has been a part of the Spark, but it’s only a part. I wouldn’t dream of making it the whole.

There are practical, personal concerns as well. I am currently still unemployed, which obviously means that I have the time to run the Spark, at least for now. Eventually though, I’ll find a job. It’s hard enough as it is to look for work without worrying about some site that thousands of people depend on. What happens once I find work? If I took on the Spark, I’d naturally want to find work that allowed me to devote the necessary time to running the site. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed or not, but now isn’t exactly the time for those of us looking for jobs to be selective. I won’t allow the future of the Spark to hinge on my employment situation.

So, now we’re at the part where we talk about other options for the Spark.

Steve has been having conversations with different groups about how the site could continue, and I won’t go into any detail about those conversations except to say that in my opinion, many of the people who’ve expressed interest don’t exactly “get” the Spark’s mission. They’re coming from the best of places I’m sure, but to me, a lot of what’s been mentioned so far hasn’t been anything I’ve been thrilled with. Ultimately, what happens there is Steve’s decision, and I’ll support whatever he decides, but I should explain what I mean by not “getting” the site’s mission.

Some of the people who’ve been reaching out so far believe that every aspect of the future Spark should be relentlessly positive in it’s coverage of Spartanburg. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody reading this that I think that’s a terrible idea.

I know, I know. I just wrote a few paragraphs ago about Steve’s “persistently positive” take on many things in our community, so how can I be bashing that sort of positivity now?

For starters, Steve is positive on certain things, but he’s just as quick to turn a critical eye at some things as I am. Some of the people who who’ve expressed interest in taking over the site don’t share that eye. The public persona of those people is relentlessly positive at all times. That sort of thinking will kill the Spark. The choice isn’t between negative and positive. In fact, I reject that dichotomy out of hand. There are issues where it’s important to speak out with a loud, forceful voice. That’s not negative, that’s realistically confronting injustice. There are other times when boosting something positive in the community is what needs to happen. The Spark has always been about balancing those things, cheering when appropriate, challenging and questioning when not. To lose that balance is to lose the essence of what the Spark is.

The other part of that for me is personal. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but if the Spark is ultimately taken over by people who have the intention of neutering the site and turning it into some bland, mindless, cheerleading blog, not only will I not have any part of it, but I’ll actively work against it. The last thing we need in Spartanburg is another goddamn cheerleading organization. We need an honest, balanced, forcefully progressive alt-media site, and if there’s no way for that to continue on the Spark once Steve leaves then the site should be killed off.

The truth is I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with the Spark, but I can make a few promises about what’s going to happen with my part of it.

First, “Flying Oskar” isn’t going anywhere. If the Spark is ultimately shut down I will create a site for it, and for some other projects I’ve had on the back burner. It will not be a replacement for the Spark by any means, but it will be a place where progressivism in Spartanburg is proclaimed loudly and proudly. I also intend to continue filming Spartanburg City Council meetings as long as it doesn’t conflict with whatever job I end up with. My hope is that I’ll be able to deliver some sort of original content at least three times a week, and I think that’s possible even if I do land a job that puts more constraints on my time than I’d like. I’m willing to gamble on that because it would be my site, so if it fails it’s won't be as though people depend on it the same way they’ve come to depend on the Spark.

Whatever happens to the Spark, I can promise you that I’ll still be out there doing many of the same things I’m doing now. The Spark may have been my most successful foray into the world of blogging, but it was by no means my first, and it certainly won’t be my last. I started “Flying Oskar” with no expectations beyond the catharsis that comes for me with writing. As far as I can tell, I need that catharsis now probably more than I did when I started, so no matter what, I’m pretty sure you’ll all still have Christopher George to kick around for quite a while to come.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thoughts on Movements and Consensus

I had an interesting conversation over lunch this week that left me in a decidedly philosophical mood. The conversation was about whether it’s more productive to work to build a consensus among the powerful and influential members of a community or whether mass, populist movements of ordinary people are more effective. During the conversation I admitted that it’s a smoother ride from idea to implementation for those who work the elites for their pet causes, though the idea seemed fundamentally elitist and undemocratic to me. Still, say whatever you want about democratic principles, when the elites want something done, especially in Spartanburg, it gets done.

There’s a famous Fredrick Douglass quote that says, ““Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Less often quoted though, is the context of that particular quote.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Try as I might want to for the sake of my friends who seem to—on occasion at least—marvel at the efficiency of oligarchy, I can find no reason to disagree with Fredrick Douglass. The truly powerful people in a community (or a society) will never agree en masse to a move that threatens their own position. It’s not an evil on their part, at least not a conscience one; it’s simply the nature of power. No thinking person who sits as lord and master of the manor is going to argue that we should burn the manor down. The servants, however, may have a different opinion.

Movements are messy. Movements are invariably imperfect. Movements are sometimes destructive. But movements are the only tools for meaningful social change that have ever worked.

Without a labor movement, there would be no minimum wage, no eight-hour day, no child-labor laws, no social security, and no right to organize. Without the Civil Rights movement, there would be no Brown Vs. Board, no Voting Rights Act, and no Civil Rights Act. These were things that the powerful did not want. They were things that the powerful actively fought against, and were it not for the thousands who lost their lives fighting in those causes, these are things that never would have happened. Societies move forward because those without a seat at the table demand a chair.

It’s no different at the community level. Rent control in New York happened because tenants during the Great Depression demanded it. Berkley, California’s “People’s Park” didn’t exist until a group of people who wanted a place where free speech would be respected without condition seized it from the university, instigating a bloody standoff with then-Governor Ronald Reagan. City ordinances all over the country covering everything from public green space protection to affordable housing, and from benefits for same-sex partners of city employees, to the preservation of culturally significant historic landmarks all have their origins with community movements.

If a community’s progress is left exclusively in the hands of a community’s powerful members then we should never be surprised if that progress only seems to benefit those already affluent members, aside from the paternalistic sense of noblesse oblige driving the best-intentioned among those elites of course. Well intentioned though they may be, theirs is a paternalism that thinks of the underclass as a problem to be solved, not as a people who should be empowered. Those benevolent members of the beau monde never seem to come up with the right answers for how best to lift up the underclass because they spend all their time asking the wrong questions.

Like most other ideas I have, there’s a quote out there that sums this one up far better than I ever could. This one’s from Paulo Freire: “True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’ to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

If it seems like I’m throwing the idea of influencing the aristocracy as a means to bring change under a bus it’s because I am, but that’s not to say that I don’t think that sort of thing has it’s place. In areas less about the powerful versus the powerless, it can work effectively and quickly. That’s nothing to shake a stick at, but the issues where that sort of thing is possible are almost always benign matters that may have a perceived benefit to all of a community’s citizens, but never seem to address the disparities between those citizens.

I guess when you get right down to it; this whole thing is a lot simpler for me than it is for a lot of other people. Many people go through their lives never wanting to rock the boat, and I understand that. I’ve just always been the sort of person who doesn’t just want to rock the boat; I want to capsize the motherfucker, and drown the people who’ve been steering it. That’s one area of my radicalism I’ve never been able to completely abandon, and really, I hope I never do.

At the end of the day, it comes down to one point that I think is absolutely inescapable. Elites are fine with progress, so long as that progress doesn’t threaten their status. To me, any progress that doesn’t threaten the status of a community’s elites isn’t progress at all, at least not the sort of progress that truly matters. So when it comes to deciding how people seeking real change go about achieving it, I think the roadmap is already pretty clear.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bloggers Versus "Real" Writers

Through the technological marvel of Netflix-streaming through my Playstation 3, I started watching Californication today. It's a Showtime series starring David Duchovny as a down-on-his-luck writer who, for a variety of reason, can't seem to get his shit together. It's pretty interesting so far, in that way that shows with semi-nihilistic, self-destructive characters are usually interesting. One episode in particular though, grabbed me in a slightly different way.

In the episode, Duchovny's character is being interviewed for a local public radio show—Henry Rollins plays the radio show host. In the interview, Duchovny's character goes on this rant against Internet acronyms like “LOL” and “LMAO,” saying that they represent the destruction of the English language. The radio show host points out that Duchovny is part of the same problem because he's blogging for a local website. Duchovny agrees, and makes a joke about self-loathing.

The exchange reminded me of an old argument I've had with myself many times over the difference between being a blogger and a writer.

To a certain extent, there is no difference at all. Bloggers write just the same as other writers. From one point of view, the only difference is in the method of delivery. “Real” writers write for reputable publications like the New Yorker or the L.A. Times. Bloggers either self-publish on their own websites (like this one) or they blog for other websites. The line between writers and bloggers is pretty blurry at times though. Almost every “real” writer these days has a blog, and though many of them complain about the informal, conversational nature of the format, they still aren't stupid enough to allow a new medium to completely pass them by.

For what it's worth, I've always called myself a writer, not a blogger. Maybe it's just that I buy into the snarky stereotyping coming from the “real” writers out there, but I've always felt like calling myself a blogger would somehow belittle what I write. Since I started writing for the Spark, I've become more open to the label, but mostly it's because that's how the world sees what I do, so I can either get with the program and call myself a blogger, or I can insist on calling myself something that the rest of the world will likely never call me.

My name is Christopher George, and I'm a blogger. That wasn't so hard I guess.

Does that put me in the same class as some of the bloggers out there, the ones with prose as clumsy and awkward as a fat kid trying to play shortstop? Maybe.

It's not as though I don't at least somewhat buy some of the criticism being thrown out there by the “real” writers of the world. Lately, I've been doing the Spark's weekly local blog roundup, and just based on that I can tell you that a huge majority of what's out there is terrible, the sort of stuff so awful that when you read it you feel embarrassed for the person who wrote it even if they don't. Still, a fair amount of what's out there is pretty good, especially among the bloggers who take it seriously, so when I read something from some professionally trained journalist going on and on about how awful the blogosphere's content is, I take it with a grain of salt.

Those people are staring down a technological shift that they're not prepared for. It's going to change their entire world in ways nobody can predict, and a lot of times, they're lashing out because they're afraid. A lot of times though, they're also lashing out because of a certain contempt.

It's easy to understand from a certain point of view, a professional, educated point of view.

I don't mean that the point of view itself is educated, just that the people who ascribe to it usually are. These are people who've often spent the better part of a decade learning how to write, paying good money for the privilege. They look at bloggers the same way that a composer who graduated from Juilliard might look at Dee Dee Ramone. It's snobbishness par excellence.

As far as I know, I've never had any of that snobbishness directed at me personally, but I have been in situations where I felt dramatically out of place because I was surrounded by writers far better educated than I am, and far more accomplished to boot. It was intimidating to say the least, but more because I noticed the difference, not because anybody thought any less of me as I writer, at least not openly anyway.

Leaving aside those personal experiences though, I think bloggers don't get nearly the respect they deserve, especially the best of them.

I've read commentaries from blogs that were every bit as nuanced and thought-provoking as the best op-ed's in the New York Times. Conversely, I've read pieces by “real” writers that I could've outdone in high school. As often as not, a person's educational background and his or her professional status have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the writing that person is capable of producing. Does that mean that it might be better to save the money you intend to spend on that graduate degree in journalism from Columbia and just start a blog, getting by on whatever talent you may have? Well, if you can stand the scorn from others who carry around their possibly meaningless piece of paper as though it's an affirmation from the almighty that they are indeed masters of the English language, the answer is...maybe.

There's still a lot to be learned from that formal training, besides being allowed to call yourself a “real” writer. I don't think I'd be $100,000 better, but I bet I'd be a better writer if I had that graduate degree from Columbia. At the very least, I'd get to shed that blogger label.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Thoughts On Home and Healing

Around the time I was 18 or so, I checked out a book from the old Pine Street library in Spartanburg called Leaving Alaska by Grant Sims. Sims wrote the book as a sort of memoir of his time living in Alaska, and the tone was bittersweet. He was critical of the state in many ways, but even his criticisms landed in my young mind with a heavy dose of reverence for a state that still exists in many people's minds as an untamed and wild place.

I was a confused and angry as a teen, and all I ever thought about was going someplace—anyplace—else, and I picked up Leaving Alaska because I wanted to read about a place I could escape to, even if only within the confines of my own mind. What I didn't expect from the book, was that it would ultimately leave me feeling more connected to my home than I'd ever been before I'd read it. One line in particular stuck with me. As I remember it, the line was repeated several times throughout the book.

“Place makes people; in the end place makes everything.”

It's such a simple sentiment when you look at it, and for some people it's undoubtedly not even true. Some people, from the moment they're born, are never tied to a place. They move and shift like Saharan sand, only staying in one place until the ever present wind pushes them on. I wonder, if place makes people the way Grant Sims insists that it does, what makes someone who never had a sense of place? Is it the journey then?

Whether or not Sims' sentiment applies as universally as he'd like to think it does, it certainly applied to me when I first read it. I was born of the piedmont countryside as surely as kudzu is born of the red clay. I've ran from that attachment, denied it, scorned it, made peace with it, and embraced it, sometimes doing some mixture of all of those things at the same time. If you ask me, a heritage isn't worth a damn unless you've taken the time to question it and fight against it a little.

Now as I sit here staring at this screen, I'm fighting against it again, though in a different way this time. I have to go back home.

Not that it should be of as much consequence as I'm making it out to be. As it is, I only live about 15 minutes or so from my childhood home, not exactly a cross-country trek. Still, psychologically this move might as well be 100,000 miles. My girlfriend and I will be living in the home I grew up in, next door to what was once my grandmother's home, on a plot of land once farmed by my great-grandfather. It's been in the family for nearly a century now.

The land itself shaped me in ways that I didn't understand until not that long ago. I spent many of my childhood days walking the woods, hearing stories from Papa about how they'd lived during the depression. Those stories, often about people long dead but still undeniably entwined with the land, created a sort of personal mythology. It was the sort of thing that gets into the bones, becoming a part of you whether you asked it to or not.

Now I'm going back to this place that nurtured me, the place that made me, and I'm going to ask it to nurture me again, to make me something else. I'm going to ask this not because I want to, but because when options are gone, home is there.

I need the land to sculpt me anew, to heal me in the broken places. I hope that I don't ask too much. I hope that the land is as forgiving as I need it to be. I hope that now, as a man, I can find the peace that proved so elusive as a boy. I hope that the lessons the land had to teach me then can still be learned now. I hope.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tough Love for South Carolina

Oh South Carolina. You are my home, my heritage, my marrow, and very often my muse. You’ve given me so much over the years, and done so much to shape my character that no matter what I do or where I go from here, your deep and abiding lessons will always be with me, shaping most every thought and action.

Though ours has never been an ideal relationship, I still have never abandoned you in my heart. While it may be true that you’re a lot like an embarrassing alcoholic uncle, always turning up to say the most inappropriate things at the most inopportune times, I’ve stuck by you, because that’s what family does.

Recently though, you’ve started to alarm me a bit. Your formerly harmless eccentricities have started to look a lot more like paranoid schizophrenia. Because I love you and because I want you to become the state I’d always hoped you could be, I think it’s time that you and I had ourselves a little intervention.

Before you start thinking it though, I’m not doing this just because you embarrass me at times; I’m doing it because your behavior is hurting those of us who love you most.

As I alluded earlier, you’ve never exactly been the country’s most ideal citizen. Whether it was flying the Confederate battle flag over the State House dome for almost four decades after not-so-subtly raising it during the middle of the civil rights movement, or electing a former segregationist “Dixiecrat” Presidential candidate to eight consecutive terms as a U.S. Senator, you’ve never been the type to play nice with those other, more genteel states.

Your track record speaks for itself. You’re consistently ranked near the bottom in good things like K-12 education performance, college graduation rates, and per capita income, and you rank near the top in all the bad things like HIV/AIDS infection rates, domestic violence rates, violent crime rates, and premature birth rates. These things have been common knowledge for a long time, but because of your devil-may-care attitude and your unwillingness to deal with real-world problems, you’ve largely ignored them.

All those things I mentioned are bad, but over the years I’ve learned to let most of them go, to chalk them up to the historical quirkiness befitting the first state ever to secede from the United States. Besides, those things aren’t really the sorts of things people talk about. Even those notoriously rude Northeastern states know it’s not polite to make fun of your neighbor’s deficiencies.

What’s been happening lately though, is a different sort of thing altogether. The crazy that you used to keep mercifully hidden, the sort of stuff I always knew was there but had thought was comfortably buried underneath several layers of appropriate decorum, has recently been let loose. And as your crazy stampedes across the land like some sort of mad elephant, I’m left to wonder what we’re supposed to do with you, South Carolina.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, lately you’ve been giving me too much to handle all at once.

First, you gave me an ineffective, extremist governor who, it turns out, spent many of his days galavanting across the world on the state’s dime to have an affair with his Argentinian “soul-mate” and then compared himself to the biblical King David when trying to explain why he doesn’t have the decency to resign.

As if that weren’t enough, you turn right around and give me a senator intent on painting himself as the Duke of Wellington out to give President Obama his “Waterloo” by killing health care reform, the same man who once declared his support for banning openly gay teachers from teaching in public schools. South Carolina, your junior U.S. Senator is such a reactionary demagogue that he makes your senior senator—a pretty conservative guy by national standards—look like a red-flag-waving communist by comparison.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me though happened this past week, and predictably it involved one of your elected representatives.

This past Wednesday, during a televised speech to a joint session of Congress on health care reform, President Obama was openly and loudly heckled by someone in the audience. After saying that the proposed health care bill would not cover undocumented immigrants, someone shouted “you lie” at the President. Leaving aside the fact that President Obama was, in fact, correct in saying the bill will not cover undocumented immigrants, the real problem was actually shouting “you lie” at a sitting president during a speech to a joint session of Congress. For my part, I was sitting on my couch watching the speech, pleading with Providence to please let the person responsible for this incredibly disrespectful outburst be from somewhere, anywhere else besides here.

As you already know, South Carolina, the heckler was the Congressman from your 2nd District, Rep. Joe Wilson.

I wouldn’t mind the national embarrassment if it weren’t for the fact that when you do things like this you hurt what others are trying to do in their own individual communities within your borders. My hometown of Spartanburg is going to great lengths to modernize itself and attract new “creative class” residents who are fast becoming the cornerstone of economic progress in the new century. When I read things like your governor comparing himself to an Old Testament king, I start worrying what those “creative class” people think of us.

They don’t move to places they perceive as culturally backwards. If our state’s elected officials sound like reincarnations of John C. Calhoun then it’s pretty difficult to make an argument to those “creative class” workers that we’re a forward-thinking bunch. So those of us in places like Spartanburg who would love nothing better than to see our cities thrive are left fighting against a perception—perhaps unfair—that we’re all just as crazy as your elected officials are, South Carolina.

I’m not a hard guy to please. I know you’re never going to go completely clean and give up the crazy sauce, but I’m having this heart to heart with you hoping that maybe you’ll see that what you’re doing ultimately hurts you and those who care about you.

You’re better than the way you’ve been acting lately, and I’d like to see you pull yourself together a little bit. I need you to be more than the sum of your history for once. I need you to be my friend and partner for a change, instead of being the guy I’m always apologizing for. If you won’t do it for me, maybe you should think about doing it for yourself and your future. Pretty soon, there won’t be much room in America for your kind of regression anymore.

This post first appeared on the Spartanburg Spark.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Property Tax Scam

When I make my decision on what to write about for my Spartanburg Spark column every week, an important topic will often get passed over because some more pressing or timely issue inserts itself into the local conversation. Sometimes, if the issue that got passed over was important enough, it won’t go away. It sits there in the back of my mind, pestering me to write about it until finally, I give in and put fingers to keyboard. Such is now the case with Bob Dalton’s now nearly month-old piece in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal about the effect of 2006’s so-called property tax cut bill, Act 388.

In the piece, Dalton points out that far from being a tax break for most Spartanburg homeowners, Act 388 has actually increased taxes on most homes in the county. A homeowner with a home valued at $100,000—roughly the median home value in Spartanburg County—paid $889 in property taxes in 2006. That same homeowner paid $921 in 2008. Meanwhile a home valued at $1 million would’ve seen a tax cut of about $6,199 in that same time period. That means that the tax cut given to Spartanburg’s 35 homeowners with homes valued at $1 million or better is more than the total property tax bill of 235 median Spartanburg homeowners.

Act 388 has been an absolute disaster for South Carolina’s schools because the centerpiece of the bill was the much-touted tax swap that eliminated the portion of homeowner property tax associated with school funding, replacing it with a one percent sales tax increase. The idea was to shift as much of the tax burden as possible away from wealthy property owners towards middle and lower income residents.

The effort was led mostly by wealthy coastal-dwelling homeowners who were unhappy that—horror of horrors—their property taxes had been going up because of their homes’ rapidly appreciating value. One of the biggest backers of Act 388, Charleston resident Emerson Read, was given state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto by Governor Mark Sanford. Apparently Governor Sanford was quite impressed with Read’s tireless work fighting against the evils of property taxes on coastal McMansions and antebellum estates.

When pushing for the law, the supporters of property tax reform assured us that school funding would not suffer. They assured us that the school money lost from the property tax cut would be more than made up for by the one percent sales tax increase. Though some at the time did point out that cutting property taxes on the wealthiest South Carolinians only to shift the tax burden to middle and lower income earners was unfair, many of them were ultimately placated by an agreement to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. In the end, the bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the South Carolina General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Sanford on June 10th of 2006.

Since then, basically everything that Act 388’s supporters have said wouldn’t happen has happened. They said that the bill provided broad-based property tax relief for all South Carolina homeowners, but as Dalton’s article points out, that clearly has not been the case. They claimed that school funding would not suffer under the bill because of the new sales tax, but school districts in South Carolina lost 1,900 employees last year. That number could soon grow higher as further cuts of four to five percent are expected according to State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. Most of those cuts are directly related to the sharp decline in sales tax revenue that’s been experienced since the economic downturn.

What the passage of Act 388 really was about was power and influence. Those South Carolina residents with the most power and influence wanted their property taxes cut. They didn’t care that the shortfall would hurt public schools because the people living in million-dollar homes don’t send their kids to public schools. In fact, many of them are honest enough to admit that they’d rather not have to pay for public schools at all. These people don’t care that their property tax relief has caused such massive budget shortfalls or that now the burden of funding our already-anemic state government falls with a thud into the laps of an already overextended middle and working class.

Really, why would we expect them to care?

Granted, It’s disturbing that a bill so blatantly biased in favor of our most state’s well-off citizens and against everyone else could’ve passed so easily. Now as we reap what we as a state have sown in the form of a state budget crisis and rising property taxes for middle class homeowners, we have a teachable moment.

The repeal of Act 388 anytime soon is extremely unlikely, but what we can do is learn from what happened. When concerns were brought up that property tax reform was skewed towards the wealthy, the bill’s supporters countered that though while the biggest cuts would come for most expensive properties, everyone would ultimately benefit from property tax reform. That was a lie, and an intentional one at that. Those lawmakers pushing so-called reform knew very well the shape of what they were carving, but they lulled people into supporting the bill by promising them money that was never going to come.

What the reformers managed to prove was that if you promise one voter a $10 tax cut, that voter won’t likely care that you promised a neighbor down the street a $10,000 tax cut. Keep the focus on the words “tax” and “cut” and you’re golden. It’s a scam, but it’s one that South Carolinians can’t seem to stop falling for. We’d buy the Brooklyn Bridge if we were told we’d get a tax cut in the process. Act 388 is just the latest in a long line of examples of exactly that kind of thinking, and I, for one, am pretty sure it won’t be the last.

This post first appeared on the Spartanburg Spark.