Coalitions mobilize to save affirmative action from “Civil Rights Initiative” in California

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Rightwingers in California arepromoting a deceitfullynamed Civil Rights Initiative(CCRI) that would destroy oneof the most significant gains of the CivilRights Movement: affirmative action,which opened up new educational andjob horizons for millionsof people of colorand women.

And as Californiagoes, the opportunity-bashershope, so goes the nation. Similarlegislation has been proposed on thefederal level and in 22 states.

Discrimination still thrives. CCRI,on the ballot for November, would barpublic agencies from using race, sex,color, ethnicity or national origin todiscriminate against anyone or give preferenceto anyone. Calculated to soundinnocuous, CCRI would ban outreachprograms, goals, and timetables designedto give people of color and women aboost in the job market and schools.

Governor Pete Wilson and the Universityof California regents have alreadypassed measures against affirmativeaction. CCRI, however, as a proposedamendment to the state constitution, is an attempt to permanently andcomprehensively wipe out affirmativeaction in the vast and influential publicsector.

Those who seek to end affirmativeaction preach that it is no longer needed.

In 1990, however, people of colormade up nearly half of California’s population,yet held only a quarter of itsmanagerial and professionalpositions. Andin 1989, women nationallystill occupiedonly a paltry 8.6 percentof jobs in the skilled trades.

Statistics like these prove that affirmativeaction should be strengthened,not dismantled.

Fancy rhetoric, sleazy reality. Thehigh-placed backers of CCRI, like GovernorPete Wilson, a primary force behindanti-immigrant Proposition 187,will admit to only the purest of motives.

But just like Hitler’s Nazis, these demagoguesare playing on ordinary people’sfears about the economy to build supportfor a program that is thoroughlyanti-working-class. They know that, CCRIor no CCRI, layoffs will continue to beepidemic while corporate profits continueto soar. Their point is to offer themasses scapegoats, not solutions.

Educate to win. The best antidote todivide-and-conquer poison is always asolid united front that reveals the powerof workers and students when they uniteacross lines of race and gender.

The movement to stop CCRI is growing.Campuses are already engulfed inprotest. Numerous groups are organizingto get out the vote against it. And inSouthern California, the L.A. AffirmativeAction Defense Coalition, made upof grassroots unionists and communityactivists, is planning a massive, broad-basedrally on September 28. (To contactthem, call 213-365-1792.)

For this effort to succeed where thecampaign against Proposition 187 failed,some important lessons must be noted:

1. The Democrats can’t be relied onfor help. They are not even pretendingto offer an unequivocal defense of affirmativeaction.

2. Don’t let our own camp be divided.Some liberals pursue the strategyof selling affirmative action as a boonfor women while downplaying the questionof color. This is not only racist; it’sstupid and self-defeating. It took a massmovement led by dark-skinned peopleto win affirmative action, and that’swhat it will take to keep it.

Oppressed people have had it withthe back of the bus. In fact, they’ve hadit with being passengers! With womenand people of color in the drivers’ seats,affirmative action can be saved.

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