Resolute defenders of affirmative action from across the country rallied in Ann Arbor this weekend to support what they have designated as the new civil rights movement.
In a culmination of the weekend’s events, hundreds of high school and University students marched with public leaders across campus and into the Chemistry Building where speakers, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) addressed the crowd.
Shanta Driver, event moderator and national organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, introduced the discussion saying racial division in the United States results from a failure by previous generations.
“The leaders of my generation failed you. We shut down the movement. We stopped organizing,” Driver said. “We pretended that it was enough for a few of us to get a job (and) to move out to the suburbs. Our failure has come at a high price.”
Jackson, who was the keynote speaker, called on the crowd to take action in swaying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the upcoming hearings on the University’s admissions policies. He said the Court is composed of real people, not inaccessible icons.
“They also read papers, they also listen to the radio, they also watch TV, they also have wives and daughters and relatives … who say ‘Do the right thing.’ Public opinion matters,” Jackson said.
In her speech, Stabenow criticized Bush and promised to defend civil rights through her position in the Senate.
“We are going to do everything possible to stop the erosion of civil rights that affects all of us,” Stabenow said. “I’m very distressed that the president has tried to play politics and divide people on this important issue.”
In response to the rally, the student organization Young Americans for Freedom held a counter-protest that marched in front of BAMN supporters.
LSA senior and YAF member Elnora Priest said even though she is a black woman, she is against race-based admissions.
“What we need to do is start giving opportunities to children, giving money to inner city schools, and I feel like what the government does is say, ‘We messed up, so we’re going to give you this handout and then call it even,’ but that’s not helping anybody,” she said.
U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) who spoke at a pro-affirmative action rally on Friday, said there is a huge social problem that affirmative action can help alleviate.
“We have a problem on our hands. We do not yet have full opportunity for our people. We have to achieve it. We have to find the fairest tools possible to achieve that great end,” Dingell said.