Because of the efforts of American Civil Rights Coalition Chairman Ward Connerly, the voters of the state of Michigan – not the U.S. Supreme Court – will decide whether or not the University can use race-conscious admissions in the future.

Louie Meizlish
Department of Public Safety forcibly escort BAMN organizer Agnes Aleobua off the Diag for not cooperating with officials at a speech by University of California Regent Ward Connerly. (NICK AZZARO/Daily)

“I am pleased to join others to announce that we the people hereby assembled will begin a campaign to place on the November 2004 ballot what will be commonly known as the Michigan Civil Rights Act,” Connerly said during an event in the Diag on Tuesday hosted by The Michigan Review.

The act, if passed, would place an amendment on the Michigan Constitution to outlaw the use of race as a factor in hiring and college admissions. In order to put the issue on the ballot, the initiative’s supporters have to gather signatures from 10 percent of state voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Connerly is a University of California, Berkeley regent who led successful ballot initiatives that ended the use of affirmative action in California and the state of Washington. His announcement came only a few weeks after the Court’s landmark decision in the University’s admissions lawsuits. Because the decision does not mandate the use of race-conscious admissions, but merely says it can be used, a successful initiative would bypass the rulings.

On campus, supporters of affirmative action vocally expressed their opposition to initiative.

During Connerly’s speech, protesters, mostly members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, held signs and sang chants to express their dissent.

“When we heard about it we knew we had to do something,” BAMN member and Education senior Agnes Aleobua said. BAMN is calling for a boycott of all businesses, corporations, and institutions that support the ballot referendum. Many of the organization’s members loudly denounced Connerly’s statements during his speech. Three BAMN members were led away from the event by Department of Public Safety officials after having been warned twice to cease heated protests during the speeches.

Students Supporting Affirmative Action member and LSA senior Clair Morrissey said although there are no specific plans to combat the initiative, her group is holding a conference in conjunction with the United States Student Association next weekend to address the issue of organizing in a post-decision environment. The USSA is a national group that advocates for students’ rights.

Despite vocal opposition to Connerly’s visit, Review Publisher and Business junior Michael Phillips said Connerly got his message across effectively. “I feel like the event overall was what was needed to kick off the initiative,” he said. Phillips said The Review has not publicly endorsed the initiative. But he said there has been speculation that conservative students on campus may form a group to back the campaign.

While campus opinion seems to have divided along party lines, Connerly’s initiative has drawn criticism from both Democratic and Republican politicians.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) sent a clear message of disapproval in a letter he sent to Connerly on Friday.

“The people of Michigan have a simple message to you: go home and stay there. We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists,” he said in the letter.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betty De Vos said in a written statement that the proposed initiative is divisive and counter-productive. “What we need now, and what would be best for our state is to commit ourselves to reducing racial tensions and focus on policy objectives that unite us as Americans,” De Vos said.

Future presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) had similar views. “This is, in my opinion, a divisive and destructive act and people of all political persuasions should condemn it as such,” Lieberman said. He said the act would set back the social justice movement in America. “This kind of inequality is not going to go away with wishful thinking … we have not achieved the colorblind society we are meant to be.”

Connerly said that he and his supporters plan to start local organization of the campaign, including recruiting volunteer and paid staff, developing a fundraising campaign and recruiting local support. The signature gathering process will begin on September 1, and will be concluded by early next year.

Connerly added his group would attempt to launch the initiative in other states. “Our crusade will not end with the state of Michigan,” Connerly said. “The time has come for America to break free from its obsession with classifying and dividing her citizens by race. And the popular revolt will begin in Michigan, where a national effort must be mounted to prohibit (the University) and all other entities of government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any American citizen because of race, ethnic background, sex or national origin.”

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