WASHINGTON – Supporters of affirmative action swarmed the steps of the Supreme Court and the Lincoln Memorial yesterday as justices heard oral arguments over the University’s use of race in admissions. They marched, cheered and brandished signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Save Brown v. Board of Education!” and “Don’t turn back the clock!”
Marchers represented a variety of ages, races and political organizations.
While University students attended the protest by the hundreds, they constituted a mere fraction of the several thousand activists. They traveled from an array of states, including California and New York, to push the cases Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger as issues of national concern.
“This is only the beginning,” said Intea Deohields, a freshman at Baltimore’s Morgan State University, a historically black college.
“These are our brothers and sisters that will benefit in the long run, and us who will benefit from affirmative action,” she said, referring to the thousands of protesters gathered at the rallies that day.
Students commuted to Washington – some driving through the night – to arrive at the courthouse with activists from several university organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Coalition for Equal Opportunity and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
“Our group was the first bus to get here,” said Bianca Hutchinson, a BAMN rally organizer from Bowling Green State University, citing high attendance at the rally.
“It’s going really well. (BAMN) had a goal of 250,000, the same as the 1963 Martin Luther King speech. We’ve exceeded that and people are still coming.”
In addition to college students, the rallies included a multitude of social groups such as Angry White Men for Affirmative Action.
“Angry White Man” Allan Creighton, from Oakland, Calif., said his group supports using race as an admissions factor because it improves the quality of education.
“Denying affirmative action returns us to Romanic culture,” he said. “It makes our world smaller, mis-educates us, even lies to us.”
But after the protests shifted to the memorial in the afternoon, high school activists became particularly outspoken.
“If African Americans want to go to a good college, we won’t be able to get in if they drop affirmative action,” said Burry Bagwell, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington.
Bagwell added that his plans to attend the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. could be shattered if the court strikes down the University’s use of race in admissions.
“If they drop affirmative action, we could lose out on going to college,” he said.
Building on events of the 1960s, students said they saw their task of defending race-conscious admissions as the fruition of social movements begun by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“We must go beyond what the last Civil Rights Movement did,” Detroit Cass Technical High School student Liana Mulholland said. “We can do what they did not dare to do.”