April 3, 2003

Rally Backs Affirmative Action

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As shots rang from both sides in the Supreme Court on Tuesday in the first round of the ongoing affirmative action debate, approximately 50 University students and staff members joined thousands of others from across the nation in support of the University of Michigan’s policies.

Participants in the “Civil Rights March to the Supreme Court” demonstrated outside the Supreme Court, marching to the Lincoln Memorial LATER in the afternoon. Figures including Rev. Jesse Jackson, National Organization for Women (NOW) president Kim Gandy and Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the NAACP, spoke to the crowds in both sessions.

The first arguments in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, which contest Michigan’s policies, were presented to the Court during the morning session of the rally.

President-elect Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, current dean of the University of Michigan Law School and one of the named defendents in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, praised the amount of students who showed up in support of the defense.

“Our belief that meaningful integration is part and parcel of an excellent education is shared by universities across the nation, and we were very pleased to see so many students of all races taking the time to speak out in support of our position,” Lehman said.

Although police reports indicate that between 5,000-7,000 people attended, it was announced during the rally that the numbers peaked at 50,000, according to Funa Maduka ’04, president of the Ivy Student Coalition.

Maduka said that people participating in the rally made posters and started chants to display their devotion to the cause. According to one report, poster statements ranged from “400 years of slavery is worth 20 points,” a direct reference to Michigan’s disputed point system, to slogans such as, “They say Jim Crow, we say hell no.”

“A lot of people were talking about how we continue to move forward and not move back to a time where it was segregated,” Maduka said.

The march represented a vast number of people from across the nation. The group included contingents from California, Texas, Florida and Maryland, and students from colleges such as Boston University, Michigan State University and Columbia University were also present.

Maduka, who also provided the opening speech for Rev. Jackson, said that one of the most striking features of the group was the number of high school students who attended the rally.

“It was encouraging as a junior to see so many high school students there who are going to continue the movement,” Maduka said. “One of the major parts of my speech was that even if we win the battle, it will not help the people who are disadvantaged. [The march] showed that there is a whole younger generation who is willing to take the mantle.”

The rally was not limited to younger individuals. Many organizations, including people “in their sixties,” also supported the cause, according to Dolores Higareda, administrative assistant in the Office of Minority Educational Affairs (OMEA). Higareda and Ken Glover, director of Ujamaa Residential College, were the two staff members on the trip.

“It wasn’t just college students,” Karon Phillips ’04 said. “The fact that people from the nation came together for one cause, it was really incredible.”

Higareda said that the “speeches were really good and really rallied up the people.” She added that the organizers of the event, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), advanced a message of their own.

“They made a big call [for everyone] to go back to where they came from and tell others that [affirmative action] is important,” she said.

Phillips and Higareda said that they did not see any anti-affirmative action protesters. According to one Associated Press report, there were a few opposing individuals, although some were taken away by police after being surrounded by marchers.

Higareda said that even though approximately 80 students were projected to represent the University, just over half showed up. She said that many backed out because of various commitments. On the other hand, Maduka said that about 20 University alumni came to join the contingent in Washington.

After talking to students who went to the rally, Higareda said that many enjoyed the experience.

“There was a large turnout from the freshman class. A lot of them were proud of themselves and excited that they were there,” Phillips said.

Even with the immense pressure of speaking to thousands of people, Maduka said that the crowd support made speaking at the rally easier.

“You look out to a sea of faces and they believe the same things you do. It’s inspiring to you as an individual,” Maduka said.

Back in the courthouse, Lehman said that there was a steady, well-informed debate, and felt that his side made a positive showing.

“The Justices were all extremely well-prepared and thoroughly engaged,” Lehman said. “I was very pleased with the way our attorneys responded to the questions, clarifying our arguments and responding to those of our opponents.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao