A crowd of over 600 people from cities around the nation kicked off their weekends Friday afternoon outside the Michigan League to rally in support of the “new civil rights movement.” The demonstration was one of the main events of the Third National Conference of the New Civil Rights Movement held this weekend, organized by members of the University’s chapter of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
Among other objectives, the conference was designed to unite leaders in the movement to defend affirmative action and integration and to express their agreement with the recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upholds the University Law School’s policy regarding the use of race as a factor in admissions.
Because members of BAMN wish to replicate the outcome of last month’s 6th Circuit decision in the Supreme Court, the conference also aimed to organize a rally that would be held in Washington, D.C. if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear an appeal of the decision. They also hope to collect at least 1 million signatures in defense of the University’s race-conscious admissions policies by the time of the hearing.
BAMN organizer and Education junior Agnes Aleobua said the conference covered the basics of the movement – how to start a BAMN chapter, how to give presentations about affirmative action in high schools and how to attend national events.
Aleobua explained the challenge of organizing such an effort is raising awareness about the problems that result from segregation. She also said focusing the fight for affirmative action and integration is really continuing the work of the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education which ruled the concept of “separate but equal” in education unconstitutional.
“A lot of high school students and organizers came here to discuss and work out how we’re going to carry out the fight for integration. I think that high school leadership really sets an example for college students but also for the movement we are trying to build across the country,” Aleobua said. “Without the civil rights movement, I would not have the opportunity to attend U of M right now.”
BAMN National Organizer Tanya Troy said many people do not understand how segregation and integration play out in reality.
“It’s hard for people to understand integration because we’ve seen so little of it. What we mean by integration is not the same thing as diversity, it’s not only to go to school together but also to live in the same neighborhoods. It means having real equality between races, Troy said. “We’re trying to make it clear to people all over the country that there is an increase in segregation in schools across the country and on campuses.”
Jodi Masley, University alum and a lawyer for the student intervenors in the University law school admissions case, spoke at the conference about the Movement for Justice in Britain, a movement similar to BAMN, alongside Alex Owalade, the MFJ national spokesperson. Masley explained in her speech that the fight to defend the rights of Owalade, who they say was wrongfully fired from his job because he expressed his support for affirmative action, clearly shows a “particular legal case can be the jumpstart of a clear political movement.”
“We have to be more conscious than our opponents,” she told her audience.
Masely likened the civil rights movement in Britain to the one in the U.S., saying people in Britain and other countries are inspired by the efforts toward integration put forth here. When asked by a member of the audience what the pragmatic goals are for the movement in Britain and what they would attribute as success, Masley responded by saying, “full integration, equality and social power.”
Owolade agreed with Masely and said, “that’s what (the movement) wants in a nutshell,” but added that it’s also about “winning my job back.”
“The demand for integration is more than what it actually literally means, it is who runs society and who has social power,” Owolade said.
Aleobua said it is important not to limit the fight for equality to the U.S. “We have a lot to learn from the fight the movement for justice is leading in Britain and they have a lot to gain from the struggle we’ve been able to build in the United States,” she said.
Detroit high school senior Romone Davis said he came to the conference to “learn more about affirmative action and the rest of the world.” Davis said his knowledge and support for affirmative action strengthened during the conference because he learned that his city is not alone in the fight against segregation.
“In the U.S., different cities deal with educational systems that are similar to the Detroit public school system,” Davis said.
Davis said he would attend again if another conference were held, but wished the organizers had involved high school students more. “I felt (high school students) didn’t really have a voice,” he said. He also said he thought the best part of this conference was the rally.
“When high school students found out that people were trying to get rid of affirmative action, it made them really mad, and the rally was a symbolic form to express their anger,” he said. “This is probably one of the best events of my life, I say that with all my heart. Affirmative action is the only way I’d get to go to college or the work force.”
Other high school student attendees echoed their appreciation for the conference. Tristan Taylor, also a senior at a Detroit public school is a BAMN member and organizer. He led a workshop entitled “Building Youth Leadership, Moving the Establishment Civil Rights Leaderships Forward,” said he came to the conference to build student leadership and move toward the Supreme Court. “Students felt really empowered. From the look on their faces, you could tell that they knew that they could be part of change.”
Aleobua said that they are grateful Detroit students are willing to stand up to the challenge of building a new civil rights movement.
“It takes young people to lead a social movement for change. This conference is a real opportunity for the leaders of this movement to gain the political clarity necessary to lead the nation to Washington D.C and the Supreme court,” Aleobua said.