Michigan's affirmative action saga continued its long, strange journey last week at Cadillac Place in Detroit. At a nearly three-hour public hearing called Wednesday by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, about two dozen people testified that they believed the signatures gathered by Ward Connerly's deceptively named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative were collected fraudulently.
The testimony, along with roughly 180 affidavits submitted to the commission during the hearing, all made essentially the same claim: Signature gatherers asked people to sign a petition "for" civil rights or "in support" of affirmative action. Problem is that the initiative the MCRI seeks to put on the November 2006 state ballot that would, if approved, ban public institutions from using affirmative action practices in hiring.
While the wording used by some of the collectors may have been at best vague and at worst fraudulent, there is as yet no idea what measures could be taken if evidence of wrongdoing is found.
"The commission is going to have to take a look specifically at questions like that," says Harold Core, spokesman for the commission. He says the purpose of the hearing was for commission members to hear specific examples of alleged fraud and not just "swirling rumors." Another hearing in the same vein is to be scheduled in the coming weeks, he says.
Typical among those testifying was Martha Cuneo, a Warren attorney and board member of the National Lawyers Guild who said she signed a petition handed to her outside a Royal Oak post office. "I was never informed that the aim of the petition was to ban affirmative action," she told the commission. "I implore you to take my name off this petition. It's an embarrassment to me."
In a statement that echoed the sentiments of many of the people who spoke, Ruthie Stevenson, president of the NAACP's Macomb County branch, told the commission she believes that institutional racism was one of the reasons the claims of petition fraud were not being looked into until now. "If it had been any other proposal, [allegations of fraud] would already have been investigated," she said.
The crowd of about 300 people attending the meeting included a who's who of the leftist set: heads of unions and civil rights groups. Also there was Debbie Dingell, wife of Democratic congressman John, who, if we recall correctly, just celebrated his 133rd year in the House, or something like that. Representatives of the MCRI declined to attend. About half the crowd were students from Detroit's Cass Tech High School and Malcolm X Academy, bused in by the group By Any Means Necessary, which had originally asked for the hearing. One unfortunate student vomited after the testimonies started. Whether it was because of the room's high heat or a general commentary on the alleged petition fraud isn't known.
Now, because we're infused with the holiday spirit, News Hits thought we'd pass along this snippet from an e-mail message we received Monday from Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU:
As the country reflects on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I urge you to take just a few moments to help protect the hard-won gains of Dr. King's fight for equal opportunity.
1. Please send a short letter today to your local newspaper opposing the ballot initiative to end affirmative action in Michigan.
2. Then, join our statewide Media Action Team to help deliver the message to voters throughout the state that we must advance, not roll back, equal opportunity.
Michigan voters need to know exactly what's at stake when they vote on the so-called "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative" in November. Letters to the editor lots of them are important, free tools for educating a community on the real impact of a ballot measure like the MCRI.
The always-helpful Moss goes on to suggest a few "talking points" to include in that letter to your favorite local newspaper which, in our case, would be the Observer & Eccentric, but only because we think it has a cool name. (Not to quibble with you Kary, but since we're sending all this off in a letter, shouldn't they be writing points?)
As she notes, though the measure pretends to prevent discrimination, "in reality it would harm programs that encourage girls to enter the fields of science and technology, summer job programs for minority teens, and potentially even college outreach programs to encourage men to enter fields like teaching and nursing."
"We've come a long way since the '50s and '60s when women and people of color were routinely denied housing, jobs and education. But we haven't come far enough," she says. "Let's honor Dr. King's memory by doing all we can to spread the truth about this initiative."
Sounds good to us. There's just one thing: News Hits refuses to join the Media Action Team.
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