Changing Political Demographics Close SD Peace and Justice Center

I’m sorry I didn’t catch this until it hit my local paper this morning—after 36 years of social advocacy, the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center has folded. The group just didn’t have the financial support to keep working on “banning the box” to help ex-cons get jobs, promoting income equality and corporate accountabilityprotecting the environment, speaking for American Indian rights, and other good progressive causes.

Alarmingly, the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center didn’t have the people:

The group has lost significant ground in fund raising since its inception, particularly over the past three years, said Brian Bach, the Rapid City-based former president of the board of directors.

“The political demographics in South Dakota have changed over the last 40 years,” Bach said. “A lot of the people who’d supported us in the early 90s had left us” [John Hult, “SD Peace Center Closes Down,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.10.12].

Hmmm… maybe I need to revise my prediction to Mr. Jones that Hillary Clinton can coax more than the 31.6% of South Dakota voters who are Democrats to come to their humane senses at the polls and vote for someone qualified for the job of President.

On the less dim side, it’s not just progressive groups like the Peace and Justice Center having trouble sustaining membership. Count the grey heads at either major party’s county meetings, or at your local nonpartisan Rotary or Kiwanis. Plenty of community groups have trouble engaging the current generation of parents, workers, and students to carry on the work of their aging members. All groups face the challenge of piercing the attention-deficit-inducing media blizzard and reaching potential donors and volunteers with their messages.

And on the good side, the Augustana Democrats were able to recruit fifty-some marchers for their Black Lives Matter demonstration at Viking Days.

Still, we have lost one useful organized voice for social justice in South Dakota, because we have lost committed voices for progress. Time for more voices—and hands!—to rise and fill that vacuum!

16 Responses to Changing Political Demographics Close SD Peace and Justice Center

  1. Donald Pay

    Incredibly, I was never a member of South Dakota Peace and Justice Center. It was a broad-based group, and I was always more focused on a few issues. I worked a lot with Jeanne Koster, though, and always admired her and SDP&JC’s commitment to pushing forward on nearly hopeless causes. Some of these causes were won just because SDP&JC had a committed membership base that was willing to stand up and be counted. SDP&JC was not afraid to take on anyone, and that included Janklow, Daschle and Johnson on what was called “The Danklow Bill,” which is somewhat like Thune’s goofy Spearfish Canyon land exchange bill.

  2. Roger Elgersma

    Jeanne Koster was well liked and stayed on a variety of important subjects. But some of the last leaders were not on board of some subjects. When a leader says I want to kill that horrible person and you have people against the death penalty in the group is a little divisive. Also some pushing for a few fringe issues and getting out of balance can alienate some members as well. It definitely takes the right person to lead a group with a lot of issues on the agenda and keep the right balance.

  3. In a lot of ways, Bernie Sanders set a new precedent for social justice issues – bringing them to Presidential conversation.

    Bernie’s awesome support is/was proof that social justice issues are just relevant today as ever. Fundraising for those issues might work better with $5 (or $27) donations, but there is no way to compensate for the fact the majority of SD voters might actually be so deplorable that they give our state to Trump.

    SD is a really super tough place to promote social justice. We’re not as Christian as we think we are out here.

  4. Donald Pay

    I always thought their fundraising was through churches and religious foundations, and was pretty secure. I know Jeanne was always going to one congregation or another to speak. When you have one or two issues, you can get by on less than what they are collecting, but if everyone wants some time and effort spent on their issue, then you need more money to keep more balls in the air. It’s too bad, because they could be really effective at raising awareness.

  5. Roger, that’s an important challenge you mention. Different issues will energize social justice activists and bring them to the meeting. A good organizer wants to harness that energy, but that means giving those activists the opportunity to channel their energy toward their priorities. It’s a darn shame to turn good activist energy away, but one group with limited resources can fire at a limited number of targets.

    I get a little of that up here campaigning for Senate. Every now and then, I bump into voters who are completely consumed by a single issue. They want every conversation to be about that issue. If I told them I would work on nothing but that issue, they’d probably drop money in my tip jar and come knock on doors every evening. But if my campaign is about nothing but that one issue, I lose the enthusiasm of a whole bunch of other voters and volunteers who could broaden my appeal and vote count. It can be tough find a place for single-issue enthusiasm.

  6. If a campaign is going to focus on one or two issues, it needs to do so through a fair, open, and practical discussion of what can be achieved. Visible progress on one or two two focused issues can be the platform for recruiting new donors and volunteers to help expand the group’s portfolio and tackle bigger issues.

  7. I distinctly remember once and I think twice, I attended their annual convention at their invitation as a representative of GOED. Back then, when we had invites to meetings, the Commissioner at staff meetings would ask if any Division Director was going to be in the area. I don’t remember if I had business there already or I put my hand up as I knew of the group because of its anti-death penalty efforts.

    Jeanne did a real good job of introducing me by saying there are matters where there is disagreement and because I wasn’t the policy maker, arguing policy wasn’t going to be effective. She then asked for me to give a short report on what we were doing and then we opened it up to find areas of agreement or cooperation.

    Because of the way Jeanne set up my talk, we filled the entire hour (or whatever was my allotted time)

    Jeanne Koster was (is if she is still alive) a person whose leadership style and personality was attractive (meaning people were attracted to her deeper person) which transcended differences. I remember reflecting Jeanne’s kindness reminded me of Ruth Karim, the head of Right to Life at the time. There couldn’t be two people farther a part politically than them but their similarity was much greater. As Ruth lived in Pierre and she had a daughter in my class, I knew Ruth pretty well. I recall running into her and saying I’d met Jeanne and Jeanne reminded me of Ruth. Ruth smiled and thanked me for the compliment, which it was.

  8. I think these are the top 3 justice/social issues of our time:

    1.) We incarcerate more people than every other country, and yet many of us wrongly boast that we live in the most free country. We warehouse inmates instead of rehabilitate them, perpetuating the most bloated and wasteful prison system on Earth.

    2.) The top 1% need to be forced to pay their fair share in taxes so that this country can actually operate.

    3.) The US has punished substance abusers in unconscionable ways compared to the slaps on the wrist Wall Street and mortgage brokers got for colluding against the public and taking nearly the whole economy down. No fat cats were put behind bars because our prison system is too often seen (by the wealthy) as a poverty management system. This is unacceptable.

    Essentially it’s a 3 or 4 pronged 99% Movement, and that being said, I don’t see much of a roll for South Dakota in solving today’s most critical social justice problems. Asking people in rural states to weigh in on solving the biggest justice problems in the US is like asking Donald Trump for good spiritual advice – it just doesn’t work – he hasn’t seen enough and/or doesn’t know enough to engage on that topic.

    It really seems to me that social justice in SD is limited to what we can do in our voting booths – in the form of measures, referred laws, amendments and such. Fortunately, our 2016 ballot offers more opportunity than ever to make this state a more fair and just place to live!

  9. Cory said, “I’m sorry I didn’t catch this until it hit my local paper this morning.” Me too! Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t they send out a distress signal months ago? People would have responded.

  10. Perhaps this should be a lesson for all of us who claim to be progressive. When you get bullied/fooled/deceived into supporting corrupt, corporatist agendas who pretend to have your interests at heart, we all lose!

  11. I like what Troy says about how Jeanne managed that meeting, deflecting disagreement, discouraging people from using the opportunity to throw verbal punches, setting the agenda as simply seeking information and opportunities to work together. I should work on that with the comment section more often. ;-)

  12. Adam, maybe South Dakota can’t solve the country’s problems, any more than it can put Hillary Clinton over the top in the Electoral College (she’s at 340, and sees her flipping Montana, Texas, Missouri, Indiana, and Georgia, and Alaska before taking us blue, too). But I can see possibilities for South Dakota to make progress on each of the areas you list:

    Incarceration: The Governor’s 2013 criminal justice reform bill is supposed to be keeping people out of prison. It seems there was some positive national press about some aspects of it serving as a model for other states.

    Taxation and Fair Share from the 1%: This’ll win me another grouchy postcard from the SDGOP, but I’ll say it again: we can do all sorts of progressive tax reform in this state. Zero out sales tax on food (and maybe utilities, Cathy B will contend!), replace that lost revenue by extending the bank franchise tax to other corporations (remember, SD banks already pay a regressive income tax—flip the rates and brackets so bigger banks pay higher rates!), tax farmers on what they actually make rather than what some formula says they coulda/woulda/shoulda made if they’d planted optimal corn when the Moon was in Sagittarius.

    Substance abusers: well, we can just stop it, can’t we? We can focus more on rehabilitation and on economic development that alleviates the poverty and despair that may lead people toward drug abuse. We can listen to experts on effective drug prevention and intervention policies.

    Sure, even if South Dakota fixed all three of those problems, 99.75% of Americans would still have those problems. But we all have to do our small part in our small corner for social justice. If we all mow our yards, the neighborhood comes out looking pretty good.

  13. Cory, perhaps South Dakota’s PUC could help solve 18 million people’s clean water issues by electing Henry Red Cloud. Perhaps, South Dakota, by electing Jay Williams, could help preserve democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press by supporting Net Neutrality and opposing the AT&T/Time Warner merger. Sen. John Thune will have none of that nonsense because he is beholden to his Telecom donors! As Bernie Sanders said, we have more power than we think. What say you, Sanderscrat Heidelberger?

  14. Cory, I really appreciate everything you said! Voting for people like you, who have a significant depth of knowledge and perspective on social justice issues, goes further (when the rubber meets the road) than organizations like perhaps SDPJC ever could.

    Now that you mention it, I heard some talk about Daugaard’s widely recognized new prison reform plan as well – a couple few years ago. It sounded promising and then it disappeared. Where’d it go?

  15. Leo, obviously, I agree: Henry Red Cloud on PUC would forward our progressive values.

    Adam, thanks again! I won’t try to quantify potential impact, but I’ll say that progressive groups like SDPJC and DRA, while bound by 501(c)3 rules not to get too political, can certainly cultivate relationships with legislators and quietly encourage their own members to run for office to promote their agendas.

    Daugaard’s CJS reform chugs along as the Public Safety Improvement Act. It has its own website and everything!

  16. If any of you personally know Jeanne Koster and still remain in contact with her, please, ask her to contact me Thank you.