Affirmative Action Case at the Supreme Court

by Jill Moss Greenberg, Executive Director , National Association for Multicultural Education

April 2, 2003

    

      I'm never sure how much in Washington, DC, gets covered in the rest of the country, so I wanted to share my experience of yesterday with you while it was still fresh for me - and hope that you will bear with me.

     Yesterday, ironically on April Fool's Day, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the arguments about Affirmative Action from both sides and the Justices questioned the presenters.  Hopefully, you heard some of this on C-Span or NPR.

     As most of you know, NAME joined in an Amicus (friend of the court) Brief in support of the University of Michigan, lending our support to the case FOR affirmative action.  In addition, NAME passed a Resolution supporting Affirmative Action (see copy below).  We released this Resolution to the media on April 1 - to coincide with the Supreme Court deliberations.

     Meanwhile, what went on outside of the Supreme Court was even more moving than what was going on inside.  Hundreds of students and others held a vigil at Howard University the evening of March 31, and then marched through the streets of Washington to the Supreme Court. In the early morning, thousands of others began to join them- me included - to support affirmative action and civil rights.  I was proud to be one of the people representing NAME at this event which exemplified the mission of our organization.

      The media could not possibly capture what was going on.  The crowd kept growing, despite the early morning rain, and reached tens of thousands of people.  While a majority of those who participated were African American, there was tremendous participation of Latino, Asian, Native American, and European/White folks.  The diversity - by race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, socioeconomic level, - and region -  was incredible. Seeing whole families, with children in strollers, carrying signs and chanting, was tremendously moving.  The streets were filled to overflowing, yet people maintained a positive, determined interaction.  They would not be stilled.

     A large number of students and educators participated.  Groups such as the NAACP, NEA, NOW, Urban League, AFT, fraternities and sororities, student organizations- from high schools and colleges - and other organizations were out in substantial numbers.  One group, wearing the long, colored graduation caps and gowns of their varied universities, carried a banner that spanned the entire street.  The banner said "Law Professors for Justice."  Big contingents of students came from HBCUs and from Michigan.  When questioned about why they would participate when they were at a HBCU, several students from Howard and Bowie State University said that they wanted their college enrollment to be their own choice, not due to legal segregation or resegregation.  They were so articulate and passionate.

     As NAME is working hard, with other organizations, in planning observances of the 50th Anniversary of the Brown Decision, it was heartening to see many hundreds of people chanting and carrying signs that said things like "SAVE Brown vs. Board of Education: BUILD The New Civil Rights Movement" and "Coalition for Defend Affirmative Action & Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary." Individuals carried signs saying "Latinos for Affirmative Action," "Asian Americans for Affirmative Action," and "Jews for Affirmative Action and Social Justice."  One white woman carried a large sign that said "The United States Preaches Equality, but Practices Privilege."  Lots of signs addressed affirmative action in "How Did You Get Into Yale, President Bush?" or "How Do You Think You Got on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas?"

     Most especially, I was overwhelmed and encouraged by the strength, vision and advocacy of the young people who participated.  One of the articles in today's Washington Post started with the following:

       The young people - black, white, Asian and Latino - said they came because they  couldn't imagine their lives or classrooms without racial diversity. They called it the First March of the New Civil Rights Movement - and it felt like it.  For many students, it seemed to be the first time that they realized that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't over, wasn't just something from us "old folks" from the sixties, but something alive and vital - and fragile.  There was a spirit and activism that was inspiring.  They were beautiful.

     The day began with rain and later, as people walked to the Lincoln Memorial for a rally and speeches by people like Kweisi Mfume and Jesse Jackson, the sun came out - and began shining on a true rainbow of people - willing to take to the streets and to enter the governmental rooms of our nation's capitol to stand for social justice. When everyone sang "Lift Ev'ry Voice" it felt like a transfusion for all our souls.

     Whatever decision the Supreme Court makes, this case - and perhaps other decisions by our country's current national leadership - will serve to galvanize people to work together for equality and justice. With this outcome, no matter what the Court decides, we cannot lose.

                           Jill Moss Greenberg, NAME Executive Director                                   

April 2, 2003

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