Youth of color rally to defend affirmative action

By Julie Fry, Workers World, 24 April 2003

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 1 heard oral arguments in two cases that could decide the fate of affirmative action at universities and colleges throughout the country.

Outside the court building, more than 50,000 demonstrators, primarily Black and Latino youth, gathered to defend affirmative action and fight for their right to quality education.

The demonstrators—college and high school students, union members, teachers and professors—came from all around the country. Some of the largest delegations came from states that have already experienced the effects of eliminating affirmative action, such as California, Florida and Texas.

Students from these states spoke about the devastating impact on youth of color. Erica Dowdell, a student at UCLA's law school, spoke about the alarming drop in student-of-color enrollment at the top universities in California since the implementation of Proposition 209—the state referendum banning affirmative action.

She explained that as a result, only two Black students are graduating from the UCLA School of Law this year. Black students now represent less than 1 percent of the student body. According to BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), the organization that initiated the demonstration, Black students accounted for 10.3 percent of students at UCLA law school in 1996, the year before the proposition was instituted.

At Boalt Hall, the elite law school at UC-Berkeley, Filipino enrollment has drop ped from an average of 13 students per year to just three. The number of faculty women in the entire UC system has fallen by 22 percent since Proposition 209.

The elimination of affirmative action in other states has had similar effects. Latino enrollment at the University of Texas law school has dropped by half. The results were the same in Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush banned affirmative action.

Racism: alive and well

Some of the most disturbing speeches at the April 1 rally were from the few students who have managed to gain access to institutions where affirmative action is now banned.

They spoke about the racist isolation and harassment many of them face at their schools. The elimination of affirmative action has apparently been used as a license for racists to openly bully and har ass the remaining students of color. Lacking a support network, many of these students have dropped out. Others have been too discouraged to enroll.

Black and Latino high school students at the rally spoke about the institutional racism they are subjected to at their schools. Students from Cass Tech, a high school in Detroit—in one of the poorest and most segregated school districts in the country—described a rat- and roach-infested building with ancient books and crumbling walls. Yet the overwhelmingly white suburban schools nearby are among the richest and most highly regarded public schools in the country.

The University of Michigan recruits more of its Black students from Cass Tech than from any other high school. Right now, U of M admits about 80 students from Cass Tech every year. University officials predict this number will fall to 16 if they are forced to eliminate affirmative action.

Fighting racism—here and abroad

The ANSWER coalition, which has been organizing large anti-war protests, sent a contingent to the April 1 demonstration that was very well received by the demonstrators.

Many recognized that the elimination of affirmative action would force even more youth of color into joining the military and fighting racist wars.

Protesters carried signs with messages such as Send us to school, not to war and Must I kill for Uncle Sam to get an education?

As George Bush proceeds with his racist aggression on the Iraqi people, he has also found time to get involved in the racist assault on affirmative action, sending his minions at the Justice Department to the Supreme Court on April 1 to support the law suit against the University of Michigan.

But the people's movement is capable of fighting on two fronts, as well.

A decision is expected in this case by July. The anti-war movement should be prepared to take up this struggle and fight the racist agenda of the ruling class at home and abroad.