The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,
supported by Ward Connerly, is a ballot initiative designed to end
“preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex” in
public education, employment and contracting in Michigan. Groups
such as the College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom are
circulating petitions throughout campus in order to gain enough
signatures to propose a new amendment to the state’s
constitution. This amendment would be targeted at the
University’s admission policies. BAMN, in opposition, has
filed suits and organized anti-petition movements, arguing that the
language of the petition is misleading.

Kate Green

Ironically, both groups use very similar language in attracting
support for their causes. The MCRI uses quotes from Martin Luther
King Jr. in order to convey that individuals should be judged by
the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
BAMN also uses King’s rhetoric, calling its opposition to the
ballot “Operation King’s Dream.”

While it is impossible to know for certain what would be
King’s position on the University’s race-conscious
admissions policies, it is known that King supported affirmative
action programs during the 1960s. Furthermore, King’s family
has successfully filed suits against anti- affirmative action
groups in California that misrepresented King’s legacy and
ideals.

With affirmative action advocates and those in opposition using
similar rhetoric, it is more difficult for people to be fully aware
of what they are signing when approached by an MCRI petitioner. The
term “civil rights” appeals to a majority because of
the ideas and beliefs that were fought for during the civil rights
movement in the ’60s. Upon seeing a petition with the label
civil rights, many students might feel that the ballot initiative
is in support of affirmative action.

Ballot initiatives often cause controversy because they tend to
be vague and often fall short of articulating their purpose. The
same is true of this initiative. It is obvious that Connerly and
his supporters are trying to put an end to the University’s
admission policies, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision
last April. However, this is not obvious on the petition or within
the text of the initiative, which states that they seek to end
discrimination and preferential treatment

It is important that students make sure that they know exactly
what the clipboard reads before they jot down their signature.
Reading before signing, and asking questions if something seems to
be unclear or misleading is always necessary. While it is easy to
associate with King’s beliefs and the ideals of civil rights,
it is still important to know that a sign with King’s image
is not necessarily indicative of a group’s purpose.

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