Thursday, April 5, 2012

Save Affirmative Action in Oklahoma!

On yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the Citizens' Rights Rally sponsored by the Oklahoma City Martin Luther King Coalition and the Oklahoma City Branch of the NAACP. The rally followed the annual Tree of Life Ceremony commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on April 4, 1968. My topic was Oklahoma State Question 759 (SQ 759). What follows are my remarks to those attending the rally:

Thank you to all who have joined us today!

Despite attempts to re-write history, people of color and women have historically and systematically been excluded from their share of the American Dream. Fifty years ago President Kennedy created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandated that projects financed with federal funds "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment practices were conducted without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. Although not enforced until 1973, women were integrated into the law beginning in 1967.

Sadly while much progress has been made, the glass ceiling still exists and in 2011 the average unemployment rate for persons of color was more than double the rate for non-minorities. Two generations after President Kennedy’s admonishment for the government to take “affirmative action” to uphold equal opportunity, the EEOC received 100,000 employment discrimination complaints and obtained $455 million in damages for employees in 2011!

In 2012, our children are still being gunned down in our streets—“walking while black or brown!” In 2012, the “War on Women” is raging & it is cliché to offensively label young women when they stand up for their rights! Yet an ultra-conservative Oklahoma Legislature has dismantled our Human Rights Commission & declared that in the 21st century the need to take affirmative actions to uphold equal opportunity in Oklahoma is UNnecessary!

Republican State Senator Rob Johnson, the Kingfisher legislator who drafted the language of SQ759, believes that affirmative action programs are doing more harm than they are good! Republican Representative T.W. Shannon, an African American legislator from Lawton who is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation, led the fight against affirmative action on the House floor! Mr. Shannon emphatically believes that affirmative action has failed and that it’s time to get rid of it!

To add insult to injury, in order to push their right-wing agenda, Senator Rob Johnson and other conservative politicians have co-opted the words and DREAM of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! They have sabotaged Dr. King’s famous quote about judging people based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin and insist that this implies that Dr. King was opposed to affirmative action!

The misrepresentation of Dr. King’s teachings for political advantage continues to gain momentum. There has been added impetus since the election of our first African American president in 2008. Fueled by media reports that President Obama is Dr. King’s Dream realized, radical conservatives vehemently proclaim that President Obama mocks Dr. King’s legacy with policies and actions that judge people by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character!

As the leading advocate of social justice and equality in the 20th century, Dr. King systematically worked to alleviate the economic inequality that denied too many Americans a fair chance in life. He promoted affirmative action not as preference for race over race (or gender over gender), but as a preference for inclusion, for equal opportunity, for TRUE democracy. Conservatives like Ward Connerly, Senator Rob Johnson, Representative Shannon and Oklahoma City’s most infamous legislator, Representative Sally Kern, ignore the entire context of Dr. King’s work and use Dr. King’s words to attack his dream of full equality.

If we allow the far right to destroy the policies, the programs, the laws—the gradual processes by which equality is achieved—then we allow them to destroy the dream itself. We cannot sit idly by and allow self-absorbed politicians to undermine Dr. King’s words and deeds simply to draw conservative voters to the polls on Election Day. Together we CAN defeat this irreverent attempt to strike a blow at Dr. King’s DREAM!

We can stop this mockery as WE march to the polls on November 6th. On Election Day, we can and we WILL cast our votes for state & federal policy makers that will vote our interests, our concerns! On Election Day we will stare bigotry in the face and successfully emerge; an unstoppable force united in a common cause—EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL!

So how do we do this! First, we need inspiration! Dr. King’s words have always motivated me—got me off the couch, out & about, with my mind stayed on “the least of these!”

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”      

If we are committed to the goal of defeating SQ 759 in November, we must each commit to doing SOMETHING! It’s as uncomplicated as contacting your immediate circle—your family, friends, co-workers, the leadership of your church and other organizations you belong to. Talk to them about SQ759, share YOUR stories about affirmative action and equal opportunity, make sure they are registered to vote, & commit to getting them to the polls on Election Day! Host a gathering and invite someone from our speaker’s group to attend. We are available to attend neighborhood meetings, your Greek, Masonic, & church functions, picnics; we need to spread the word and we are available!

If you want to do more, then there is more to do! We will be walking & calling & mailing & all of the work required to defeat this major initiative. We have seven months to reach like-minded voters in 77 counties and make sure they understand that should SQ 759 become law, Oklahoma will adversely change! We must be committed to changing minds and ensuring that Oklahoma voters understand how the provisions of this state question will negatively impact municipal and state employment, the education of our children, and contracting opportunities for our minority and women owned businesses.

We need to make sure that everyone going in that voting booth on November 6th understands that the State of Oklahoma has no minority or women set-asides, no preferences for women or persons of color, no quotas. Tell them that SQ759 is a bamboozle created by conservatives to spread distrust and fear! It is a deception with an underlying goal of electing and/or re-electing conservative legislators, who have NO regard for “the least of these!”

We need to let Oklahoma Voters know that affirmative action is not discrimination; it is the answer to discrimination and we need it now more than ever. Although we’ve made progress, we still have a long way to go. Affirmative action—equal opportunity—is one path toward that progress. YOU voting to protect it is another. Still another is YOU spreading the word! This is a major voter education effort and we need YOU!

Although President Kennedy was the first to reference affirmative action in regard to equal employment opportunity, it was President Johnson who breathed life into affirmative action on June 4, 1965 at Howard University.

Two months from today on Monday, June 4th, we will commemorate the occasion of President Johnson’s declaration with a comprehensive march & rally dedicated to defeating State Question 759. Save Affirmative Action Sunday, will be the preceding day and other events will be coordinated throughout the state leading up to our June 4th events.

Lots of work, lots of volunteers required. If you are passionate & dedicated to defeating SQ 759 or if you are passionate & committed to maximizing voter turnout on Tuesday, November 6th, we need your name & contact information. Please sign-up with one of our volunteers before you leave today.

 In 2008 the NAACP and ACLU successfully defeated the attempts of Ward Connerly and his ultra-right financial backers.  Last session Connerly & Company had key members of the Oklahoma Legislature in their pockets.  Let us stand together and let the Oklahoma Legislature know that we consider it wasteful and offensive for them to continue their crusade to fix imaginary problems at our expense. Let’s stop them in their tracks and send Ward Connerly and his cronies packing on Tuesday, November 6, 2012!

Thank you for this opportunity. Let’s get busy! Vote NO on SQ759!