Mounting opposition to an anti-affirmative action initiative
affirmed its support of race-conscious policies yesterday as groups
and lecturers across campus reflected on civil rights and the life
of Martin Luther King Jr.
A high-spirited rally hosted by BAMN and a more subdued meeting
of state leaders both sought to halt a ballot initiative which
would end race-conscious policies in public education, employment
and contracting in Michigan. Participants in both events looked to
perpetuate King’s ideals — universal civil rights and
equality of opportunity.
The group they oppose, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, is
running a petition drive to put the question of affirmative action
on November’s ballot. By July 6, the group must collect
317,757 signatures from registered voters. If successful, state
residents will vote on a constitutional amendment to ban the use of
race, ethnicity, sex and other characteristics in the public arena.
MCRI formally began its campaign last week.
Opponents view the initiative as a direct affront to affirmative
action and last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision
upholding race-conscious admissions.
Included among the opposition are many prominent state leaders
such as U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and state Sen. Liz
Brater (D-Ann Arbor), along with various school administrators,
ministers, political activists and student group leaders.
Yesterday’s holiday brought these coordinators together in
the Michigan Union in an attempt to create an organized opposition
to the amendment proposal propagated by MCRI and its sponsor Ward
Connerly, a University of California regent and chair of the
American Civil Rights Coalition.
“We have to do what we can as public officials to make
clearer our opposition to this effort. It’s very appropriate
on Martin Luther King Day to initiate this effort locally,”
Brater said during the meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was to develop a coherent opposition
message, brainstorm outreach methods, garner funds and start
educating the public on the issue, one student activist said.
When discussing their message, most of those at the meeting
focused on broadening the misconception that affirmative action
only benefits blacks. Incorporating white women — who were
originally, and arguably still are, the program’s greatest
beneficiaries — was of primary concern to many of the
Deborah Dingell, Rep. Dingell’s wife, emphasized the
importance of informing Michigan residents that the amendment will
have implications for women in sports and business.
Echoing this sentiment, a private practice attorney in Ann Arbor
said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) should publicly declare her
support for affirmative action. Stabenow’s regional manager
for southeast Michigan Barbara McCallahan, who was present at the
meeting, promised to take the information back to the senator.
State Rep. Ruth Ann Jamnick (D-54th district) also stressed that
residents need to “remember white women” and agreed
with one participant’s suggestion that Gov. Jennifer Granholm
should make her position on the initiative more public.
Reaching out to residents was also a significant concern at
yesterday’s meeting. The challenge of expanding resistance to
the rest of the state figured most prominently, though most of
those present operate out of southeastern Michigan.
“We have to build a coalition — which will not be
hard in this area — in the whole state,” Ann Arbor
mayor John Hieftje said.
Deborah Dingell, who is also vice president of corporate
relations for General Motors, stressed reconnecting with the
business community. After the Court decision this summer, opponents
of the University’s policies berated those corporations who
issued amicus briefs supporting affirmative action, Dingell said.
But affirmative action supporters barely thanked them, and so now
businesses are more wary to offer formal support — including
funding — to groups opposing Connerly, Dingell added.
One week after the MCRI began its petition drive, this coalition
of state leaders feels an ever-increasing need to educate the
public despite having no formal statement of purpose, financial
banking or well-defined plan.
“It will have a very mischievous effect on education,
possibly on hiring, very possibly it will have a severe, adverse
impact on other things about which we know not at this time,”
Rep. Dingell said.
Also feeling this need educate and persuade the public, BAMN
rallied yesterday to reaffirm their opposition to Connerly’s
initiative and galvanize their support in Ann Arbor.
“We’re also at a moment at which each and every one
of you that’s here today can have a much bigger impact on
what’s going on in the future of this society than you now
realize,” said national BAMN coordinator Luke Massie to a
crowd on the Diag.
Massie addressed the persistent inequalities in Michigan and the
nation, citing income disparities between women and men and the
differences in school facilities between predominantly black and
mostly white neighborhoods.
Among the crowd of supporters was Robby Saldaña, a
freshman at City High School in Grand Rapids. Coming from a
predominantly white high school that he characterized as
“gifted,” Saldaña says his surroundings have
impelled him to aggressively support affirmative action.
“We’re starting to organize an affirmative action
forum at our school, because our school is a majority white school
and from what I’ve seen, white students really don’t
understand what affirmative action is,” he said.
Other students at the rally had similar motives. LSA sophomore
Monica Smith said her support stems partially from her experience
as a student at Cass Technical High School in Detroit.
“I’ve seen all around me really underprivileged
black people, and then, when I go out on trips with my family, I
see how other people live. People I see in Detroit don’t even
know that they’re segregated,” she said.
BAMN, who has been an outspoken opponent of Connerly and the
MCRI since the initiative was announced in August, already has
formal methods of opposition in place.
LSA senior and BAMN organizer Kate Stenvig said that the group,
in addition to boycotting Coors beer — one of
Connerly’s alleged supporters —will also boycott the
businesses of all 19 state representatives who support MCRI. The
most public business owner and supporter of the initiative, State
Rep. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township), owns Blue Water
Industrial Supply. BAMN has already begun to boycott his