Today something strange is happening in
the state of Michigan. An out-of-state black man named Ward
Connerly is sending out canvassers, press releases, dinner-party
invitations and belated Christmas cards, all in order to ingratiate
himself with our fellow residents. He is telling our state that he
has something we want: the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which
will amend the state constitution to end race-conscious programs
once and for all. And, in a way, he’s right. According to the
Detroit Free Press, roughly two-thirds of Michiganders say they
support the initiative. To be sure, the University opposes it; the
Daily’s editorial page opposes it; I will even go so far as
to say most people of a well-cultivated conscience will oppose it.
But the rest just need a little spooking: Tell them that
“equality” is at stake, say buzzwords like
“preferential treatment.” That’s Connerly’s
plan, and he’s going to succeed. The rest of the state just
won’t know what they’re signing, and they’ll ruin
higher education.

Kate Green

I say it’s strange, not only because it is a complete
upheaval of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but because it represents a
remedial version of popular democracy, something like
kindergarten’s “heads down, thumbs up”
referendums where every child has equal say, whether they can write
their letters or not. In a sense, you might say that it is a
movement of the people that seeks to bring everyone into the
process. But when I think of a popular movement for civil rights, I
don’t think of a state ballot initiative for reinstating
segregation. I don’t think of anything inside mainstream
politics, really. What I think of is BAMN and other radical groups
— the people who get derided all the time for being too
extreme. Real change on civil rights will not be welcomed by the
majority, because it will put all kinds of privileges at risk.

What Connerly offers with the MCRI is the opposite: a comfort to
all the baby-boomers who still reminisce about removing their bras
in the ’60s, but who would now rather watch an
“American Dreams” episode than stop to consider what
was really asked of them 40 years ago. These people are tired of
wondering whether their underachieving son will get into college,
and they are convinced that a minority student will take the spot,
not another white student who happens to be smarter than their
kid.

But enough of that. The important question is how to oppose a
ballot like this. It’s such a sneaky process, but the end
result will be an amendment, and those things don’t go away.
Alright then, BAMN is always on the cutting edge of opposing
things; what would they do? “Defeat Ward Connerly —
Protest on Jan. 19.” Well what good is that going to do? Oh,
but they’re doing something today, too: “URGENT! Picket
at Anti-Affirmative Action Ballot Initiative Press
Conference.” That sounds more promising; maybe they’ll
get on camera on a few news stations.

But this is a statewide thing, and we have to consider how
things might be perceived by a snowmobile repairman and his
arts-and-crafts-dabbling wife in Alpena. Remember, everyone can put
their thumb up this time. A mob of angry minority students
won’t convince these people; that’s what they’re
scared of in the first place. The Daily has recommended that the
University advocate against the ballot. But that won’t
convince these people either. They won’t listen to Mary Sue
because they don’t like the University. It’s full of
liberal sodomites.

Poor us! Is there room for reasoned debate on a knee-jerk ballot
initiative? Can a struggling state institution gather enough funds
to counter Connerly’s millions invested in the campaign? Will
the Channel 2 Problem Solvers come to the rescue? My guess is no,
maybe, and no. That two-thirds statistic seems rock solid. With
other kinds of issues — the environment, for instance —
activists can make change by ignoring popular opinion and simply
solving problems themselves through smarter design. Science beats
social norms every time. But with the issue of race, it is all
socially constructed; the people cannot be ignored, because the
people are the problem. If there is any opportunity for smarter
design, it is in the admissions process, and maybe the University
can come up with a miracle in that regard. But otherwise, it will
just be about the money and the repetition of the message. Maybe
General Motors and other companies will make their advocacy of
affirmative action better known in the coming months. Maybe BAMN
and other activists will sound elegant and reasonable. Or maybe
we’re all screwed.

Cotner can be reached at
“mailto:cotners@umich.edu”>cotners@umich.edu.

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