high-school student activist Desiree McLean:
"I'm fighting for my life--literally, my
life." (Photo by Teresa Stern)
Misunderstanding Gratz's true competitive
position exemplifies what O'Melveny & Myers attorney
Goodwin Liu calls "the causation fallacy."
Writing in the Washington Post last April, Liu reminded
us that in selective admissions, the competition is
so intense that even without affirmative action, the
overwhelming majority of rejected white applicants
still wouldn’t get in. After looking at the
numbers, Liu’s statistical analysis led him
to conclude: "Because the number of black applicants
to selective institutions is relatively small, admitting
them at higher rates does not significantly lower
the chance of admission for the average individual
in the relatively large sea of white applicants."
The New Civil Rights Movement
As America’s schools resegregate and rightwing
organizations present continuous challenges to affirmative
action in higher education, a movement is growing
to fight for integration and equality. Activists refer
to this groundswell as the "new civil rights
movement." Like the 1960s civil rights movement,
high school and college students make up the majority.
Unlike the first wave, however, this movement is thoroughly
integrated and stands for equal rights for all people--
minorities, women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and
transgender people. The common interests of all minorities-African
Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Arabs-- are a critical
point of unity.
Significantly, many leaders now are
A leading organization in the new
movement is a group called BAMN--an
acronym for By Any Means Necessary. They have brought
out thousands of students for demonstrations and rallies
on the UM campus and established a powerful presence
at the affirmative action trials. In December 2001,
when the case went to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
in Cincinnati, hundreds of students marched in freezing
rain and packed the courthouse. For the first time
in its history, the court found it necessary to set
up an overflow room with audio feed to accommodate
the large crowd that came to hear the proceedings.
When the April 1 Supreme Court hearing
date for the Michigan cases was announced, campus
activists began organizing students to go to Washington,
D.C. for a show of strength outside the court that
BAMN and United for Equality and
Affirmative Action (UEAA), the umbrella organization
for the student defendants in the Michigan cases,
held a press conference at the National Press Club
on February 7 to announce the march on Washington
to "Save Brown v. Board of Education,"
and claimed that students and young people from over
100 university and college campuses and high schools
are hiring buses for the national civil rights march
and rally at the Supreme Court. Given the tight security
lockdowns hampering recent peace marches, they may
run into trouble if the turnout is large.
What's at stake
In the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education
case, the Supreme Court decided that separate can
never be equal. Yet American schools are more segregated
today than they were in 1970. As courts either failed
to implement desegregation plans or dismantled them
after a number of years, residential segregation has
become more entrenched than ever, creating racially
separate school districts.
Every major urban school district
in the U.S.-- with the exception of Salt Lake City,
Utah-- is predominantly African-American and Latino.
The consistently lower standards of urban schools--
by virtually every measure-- ensure that minority
students are not receiving an education nearly equal
to that of their white counterparts.
"If the case loses at the Supreme
Court," said Janee Moore, a student at Detroit's
Renaissance High School and an activist in the new
civil rights movement, "there will be a lot of
uproar and reaction. The country will go backward
and become even more segregated. Without affirmative
action, it will just get worse." For high school
students like her, dismantling affirmative action
processes will mean less hope for their futures.
Next year will mark the 50-year
anniversary of Brown v. Board ofEducation.
The growing civil rights movement intends to see that
historic promise fulfilled.