The initiative to end affirmative action in Michigan recently
received a dubious and opponents say, symbolic endorsement from an
anti-civil rights organization.

The Mystic Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — a nationwide
white supremacist group — recently pledged support for the
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. The MCRI is waging a campaign to
amend the state constitution to end the use of race in public
education, employment and contracting.

Grand Kleagle Phil Lawson of the KKK’s Michigan chapter
recently condemned in a written statement what affirmative action
opponents call “racial preferences.”

“To let a lesser-qualified minority into college over a
better scoring White student (is) an injustice to all
people,” Lawson said. “We want to do away with
preferential treatment for minorities. The hypocrisy of affirmative
action shines bright as ever in the case (of) Jennifer Gratz. We
must outlaw affirmative action once and for all,” he said,
referring to a plantiff in the University’s admissions
lawsuit.

In the statement, Lawson urged members to collect signatures for
the initiative. MCRI needs 317,757 signatures by July 6 to put the
question of racial preferences on the November ballot.

MCRI campaign manager Tim O’Brien said he was surprised
about the endorsement, unaware that it had been posted. “It
is news to me,” said O’Brien, who added that he has not
received any requests for petitions from the group. “They can
say whatever they want on their website. I have no control over
it.”

Receiving support from a group that opposes civil rights has
raised questions about MCRI’s commitment to the ideals of
equality.

MCRI asserts that the purpose of its ballot initiative is to
guarantee equal protection under the law, regardless of race,
ethnicity or sex. For this reason, the group presents itself as a
civil rights initiative, heralding the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. In numerous interviews, O’Brien has invoked the
activist days of the ‘60s. He has often quoted King’s
idea that “individuals should be judged not by the color of
their skin but by the content of their character.”

MCRI’s connection to King is evident in its mission
statement and its petition methods. “Our goal is to finally
realize the promise made four decades ago with the signing of the
1964 Civil Rights Act,” the statement reads.

“It should be unconstitutional to discriminate,”
O’Brien said.

But the KKK does not regard the civil rights era with such
esteem. The group’s website contains a picture of King
overlaid by a red line. The picture links to a website urging
members to protest King’s birthday, claiming that the civil
rights leader was a “womanizing promoter of race-mixing and
100 percent communist.”

It is ironic, then, that this organization would support MCRI,
O’Brien said. Though he is unsure of their intentions, he
said he respects their right to civic participation.

For BAMN members, however, the reason is not so elusive.
“It’s not surprising at all,” LSA senior and BAMN
organizer Kate Stenvig said. “We know that they’re
lying when they call it a civil rights initiative.”

MCRI’s commitment to these principles of civil rights has
been continually disputed.

Two weeks ago while petitioning in the Michigan Union, the Young
Americans for Freedom, a nationwide conservative group, faced
opposition by BAMN. Part of the YAF’s display included an
image of King along with a quote. MCRI supporters said these images
coincide well with both groups’ intentions.

“We believe that racial preferences are wrong and are
inherently racist. So we’re supporting Mr. (Ward)
Connerly’s initiative to end all racial preferences in public
education, hiring and contracts,” YAF co-chair Laura
Davis.

Although YAF’s display was not an official MCRI poster,
opponents say the campaign has co-opted the civil rights
leader’s message, reducing its meaning to demagoguery.
Opposition groups like BAMN say affirmative action provides access
for minorities and women who have experienced societal inequalities
for decades.

“It makes all the more duplicitous their hiding behind the
picture of Martin Luther King,” BAMN co-chair and national
organizer Shanta Driver said.

But in some ways, O’Brien claimed, the KKK and BAMN are
similar. They both believe that “people should be treated
differently based on what color they are,” he said.

Portraying both BAMN and the KKK as extremist organizations,
MCRI co-chair and state Rep. Leon Drolet (R-Clinton Twp.) said he
doubts that this endorsement will affect their campaign.

“Any reasonable person would repudiate the Klan, as we
would repudiate anyone who advocates against human equality,”
he said.

MCRI’s campaign, which began in January, has persisted
despite opposition in the courts and on the streets. The group has
sent out about 20,000 petitions, O’Brien estimates, though it
has received few signatures. He said that since it is only
February, people do not feel a “sense of urgency” in
returning the forms. The group is 38 days into its 180-day petition
drive.

O’Brien would not comment on the group’s financial
position. He approximated that 500 to 1,000 people — mostly
young people — have volunteered to collect signatures. MCRI
has yet to hire petitioners.

Groups like BAMN and state leaders like U.S. Rep. John Dingell
(D-Mich) have opposed the group since the start of the campaign.
BAMN has launched a “Decline to Sign” campaign and
promises to protest anywhere petitioners are collecting
signatures.

MCRI is also facing two lawsuits. One suit was filed by BAMN,
represented by the law firm Scheff and Washington and joined by
Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and the Michigan
Legislative Black Caucus. The lawsuit questions the legality of
MCRI’s petition form.

The other lawsuit, initiated by two lawyers represented the
University in the Supreme Court, questions the legal premise of the
proposed constitutional amendment.

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