Last Monday, I found myself marching with Luke Massie, the co-chair of By Any Means Necessary. Well, walking, really. It’s my fourth year at the University, and I’d never attended a BAMN march. So when the group showed up to protest Proposal 2 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week, I felt obligated to check it out.
Massie, the impish Trotskyite who wears a red goatee, hoop earrings and a crazy gleam in his eye, led the marchers, shouting slogans into a loudspeaker. Hundreds of kids from Detroit schools filled out BAMN’s thin ranks. A marching band from Cass Technical High School made it impossible to hear anyone who wasn’t shouting.
Separately, right-wing counter-protesters were holding signs of their own and yelling at the BAMN marchers. With the election over, they weren’t really protesting so much as gloating. They seemed to enjoy provoking the crazies on the other side. One of them could barely contain his giddiness when Massie made an obscene gesture in his direction.
At the corner of State Street and North University Avenue, the conservatives realized they had lost a member and dropped out of the march. A couple whipped out cell phones. “Knowing Justin, he’s probably screaming in someone’s face somewhere,” said Clark Ruper, former deputy director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative campaign.
Ruper was referring to Justin Zatkoff, the Michigan Federation of College Republicans co-chair who embarrassed himself a few months ago when he claimed to have been beaten up by members of BAMN and/or gay activists outside an Ann Arbor party. It turned out one of his high school friends had broken his nose, cheekbone and eye socket in some drunken horseplay.
After retrieving Zatkoff – who was, indeed, screaming in someone’s face (“The people of Michigan have spoken!”) – the young conservatives hustled back to the front of the march.
I left them to talk with some of the Detroit students. Some just seemed bewildered, like Demarco, a skinny 13-year-old who walked tentatively along the sidewalk with a BAMN sign tucked under his arm while everyone else yelled at each other in the street. One, a Murray Wright High School senior named Christopher who carried the left side of a huge “Undo Prop 2” sign, turned out to be one of the plaintiffs in BAMN’s lawsuit. He had applied to the University earlier this month, and he said he might get in if BAMN’s request to delay Proposal 2 were approved.
After the march came the requisite Diag rally. It wasn’t that cold, but some kind of freezing rain had started frosting everyone’s hair. A string of speakers got up on the steps of the Grad to throw around demands and accusations. (BAMN, one speaker intoned, knew for a fact that Proposal 2 was intended to serve the economic interests of white racists.)
Standing at the back of the rally with the other counter-protesters, Jeremy Boguslawski, chair of Oakland University’s College Republicans, looked over the crowd with contempt. “It’s like the kid who is complaining because you stole the ball from him, and he wants it back,” he said.
Was he sure he wanted to put it that way?
Boguslawski backtracked and came up with a new analogy. It was like the last inning in a baseball game, with two outs and the center fielder had just made a catch. The game was over, but BAMN was arguing the out.
Pretty soon, the BAMN people moved to Angell Hall for another round of speakers. Just as they started, J. David Singer, a professor emeritus of political science, stepped out of an elevator, bemused. He had heard the rally from his sixth-floor office and come down to check it out.
At first, he told me he wished there were more people out here protesting Proposal 2. When he surmised that this was a BAMN event, though, he lost interest. “That expression – ‘any means necessary’ – that sounds like those idiots in the White House,” he said.
I’d lost interest, too, and we ducked outside so he could smoke his pipe. Singer, a reader of the Nation and Mother Jones magazines who is dashing and witty at 81, had been on faculty governing boards in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when administrators were first selling the idea of affirmative action to the faculty. Singer was an early supporter – “in the days when it wasn’t easy to be” – but now he didn’t see the logic in trying to defy the voters.
And Singer isn’t the don’t-rock-the-boat type. He’s been fired by University departments more than once for clashing with his superiors. He got his first teaching job, at a Navy officer training school, after getting kicked off his ship for defying the captain.
We took the elevator to Singer’s office, grabbing a cup of coffee on the way. (He stirred half a packet of hot cocoa powder into his.) After chatting for about an hour, we got back to affirmative action. He seemed confident that the University could find correlates of race that it could consider without breaking the law, and that more progressive economic policies would eventually make affirmative action less necessary anyway.
I didn’t know if he was right. But I made that cup of coffee last quite a while before taking the elevator back to the first floor of Angell Hall.
Donn M. Fresard is the Daily’s editor in chief. He can be reached at email@example.com.