CINCINNATI Huddled under a rainbow of umbrellas and clutching soggy posters, hundreds of affirmative action supporters converged on downtown”s Fountain Square, one block from the courthouse where nine judges were preparing to decide whether universities are breaking the law by considering race in college admissions.
Persistent rain hampered the turnout at yesterday”s rally. Cincinnati Police Lt. Kurt Byrd said between 300 and 400 people attended the events, including a march from the University of Cincinnati campus into the city.
The march led to Fountain Square, where a rally featured keynote speakers Jeff Johnson, national director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People youth and college division, and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a vocal Cincinnati civil rights advocate.
“Affirmative action matters to me, and I will go wherever affirmative action is being attacked,” said RC junior Monique Luse, co-founder of Students Supporting Affirmative Action and co-chair of the Minority Affairs Commission on the Michigan Student Assembly.
“I”m a student at the University of Michigan, and my school is being attacked, and I want to express my voice with my presence.”
Rackham student Jessica Curtin, a member of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, said the weather only helped participants realize the reason for being at the rally.
“I”m proud of the determination and the energy and the sense that the protest was a real historic step,” she said.
Not everyone at the rally was there to protest some came merely to observe.
Police officers lined the perimeter of the square, hiding under skywalks to keep dry while monitoring the crowd. Byrd said the only confrontation came around 1 p.m., when James Justin Wilson, an LSA junior who opposes affirmative action, joined ralliers on the skywalk where the stage was set up. Byrd said Wilson told police that protesters grew angry at his arrival, ripping the sign from his hand and threatening to throw him over the edge of the balcony.
Police closed off the balcony following the incident but said Wilson decided not to take any legal action against the demonstrators.
“He has every legal right to be here, holding that sign. He”s exercising his rights like everybody else,” Byrd said.
Standing in the thick of a group of people in the square was Jon Cramer, a 2001 University graduate and Cincinnati attorney.
“This is like a little piece of the Diag in Fountain Square,” he said. “I was following this issue at the University of Michigan and I wanted to see what it was like here, especially in such a different atmosphere.”
Some of the people donning ponchos and enduring the rain were not part of the movement but came to the rally as a learning experience. “I can see there”s real passion. I”m definitely sympathetic,” said Eastern Michigan University sophomore Katie Belamucki, who traveled to Cincinnati with a class.
Others shrugged off the weather. “If it was hot, cold, snowing, you still gotta fight,” said University of Cincinnati sophomore Jayson Robertson. Robertson added he could see some of the points of some of the opponents of affirmative action.
“To a degree affirmative action is racism, but it”s the lesser of two evils,” Robertson said. “We had to fight for everything we wanted. If we didn”t have the system, we would literally have nothing.”
Students at Purcell-Marion High School in Cincinnati attended the rally on a school field trip. Megan Ware, a high school junior, said her history teachers have been discussing the merits and limitations of affirmative action in her classes.
“We told our teacher that we need affirmative action,” Ware said. “We have to fight for it and then we can fix all the little quirks.”
An older generation of activists seemed to see the torch being passed to a new generation.
“It”s great to see a new group of people who are, I hope, committing themselves to a fight that defines the highest principles of democracy,” said Chester Grundy, director of African-American student affairs at the University of Kentucky. Grundy said he drove to Cincinnati with about 20 University of Kentucky students and faculty.
Recalling a quote by author Franz Fanon that every generation must find its mission and either fulfill or betray that mission, Grundy said, “I hope this is a generation finding its mission.”