With the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative likely to appear on the 2006 ballot, groups across campus and the state have mobilized to build opposition for the proposal. BAMN has emerged as the most visible and out-spoken proponent of affirmative action, but its marginalizing tactics have crowded out other pro-affirmative action groups like Students Supporting Affirmative Action. BAMN has a long history of putting shock value before substance, and SSAA and allied groups must emerge as the new face of affirmative-action support on campus.
Last Thursday provided a sharp contrast between the emotion-charged BAMN rally on the Diag and the calmer “Breaking the Silence” event sponsored by SSAA and the NAACP that piggy-backed on BAMN’s publicity. Despite their coordinated timing, the difference in tone highlighted the disconnect between BAMN and other affirmative-action supporters. After the rally on the Diag, many proponents of affirmative action decried BAMN’s event as an inaccurate representation of the message they are trying to send to the campus community. It is encouraging to see the NAACP condemning the rally as a another step away from BAMN.
BAMN’s rally on the Diag last Thursday was rambunctious and at times out of control. The event was well-attended and the speakers were impassioned, but the rally did little to win over people to the case for affirmative action. BAMN pulled more than 1,000 middle and high school students out of class to bus them in for the rally, but rather than demonstrating support for affirmative action among youth, their presence detracted from the rally. The inappropriate and offensive behavior of some teenagers – ranging from name-calling to spitting on opponents – suggest a lack of appreciation for the delicate nature of the debate, and their actions were sufficient to turn off even the most enthusiastic affirmative-action supporters. Thursday’s rally was just another example of BAMN’s alienating and inflammatory tactics and drew negative attention to the case for affirmative action.
The “Breaking the Silence” event, although overshadowed by BAMN’s rally, was a far more effective means of promoting discourse. Participants spent the day wearing gags to symbolize the voices that would be lost without affirmative action. They then gathered in the Michigan Union that evening to hear speakers and remove their gags. The event displayed a dignity reminiscent of the sit-ins that characterized the civil rights movement but failed to generate the attention that BAMN’s rally received.
Affirmative-action supporters should realize that BAMN’s militant approach is too often the only face representing them, and they should organize to find their own place in the spotlight. BAMN’s actions, arguments and rhetoric will marginalize, rather than unite proponents of affirmative action and could jeopardize the fight against MCRI should it continue to be the most-vocal representative of their cause.
Last Thursday’s events in support of affirmative action presented two options for future discussion – the loud, boisterous, screaming matches seen on the Diag or the presence of gag-wearing students. The efforts to defeat MCRI must focus on educating the public about the proposal’s language and what will be lost if Michigan voters pass it – a message that cannot be conveyed through spitting and yelling.