The campaign for passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative ("CCRI"), also known as Proposition 209, was one of the toughest public battles I've fought. The opposition stopped at nothing. They ran television commercials telling the public that KKK leader David Duke supported CCRI and that CCRI would take away such things as women's maternity benefits. Actress Candice Bergen, rocker Bruce Springsteen, and television's Ellen DeGeneres were featured in misleading radio ads for the No-On-209 campaign.
One can imagine my eager anticipation of election day and my return to a quiet family and business life in Sacramento, California. However, as election day neared it became clear to me that --even with the passage of Proposition 209-- there was work left to be done.
So on January 15th of this year, I announced the creation of the American Civil Rights Institute, a new, national civil rights organization aimed at educating the public about the problems with race and gender preferences. With the passage of Proposition 209, California voters proclaimed the sanctity of the American principle of equal treatment for all. The American Civil Rights Institute will carry this message of equal opportunity to other states and to Washington, D.C.
Some in the pro-preferences crowd criticized me for daring to make the announcement of ACRI's creation on January 15, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My response was, what better day to unveil a new organization dedicated to achieving a colorblind society --the kind that Dr. King dreamed of-- than Dr. King's own birthday?
The truth is that our modern day "civil rights leaders" like Jesse Jackson don't want a colorblind society. They want a color-conscious society. At one time, our country rejected the notion of "separate but equal"; today, so-called civil rights leaders seem to embrace that concept as they defend separate graduation ceremonies, separate dorms, even the "separate" language of ebonics.
ACRI will openly challenge the organizations and people in our nation who believe that equal opportunity means equal results. We will work with people in all 50 states who share our belief that government should treat all people equally.
Initially, ACRI will focus on three areas of activity: 1.) Assisting organizations in other states with their efforts to educate the public about racial and gender preferences; 2) assisting federal representatives with public education on the issue of preferences; and 3) monitoring implementation and legal action on Proposition 209.
One of the American Civil Rights Institute's first formal actions was to join in an amicus brief filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice to defend Proposition 209 against the ACLU's legal challenge. We wanted to be a party in the legal defense of CCRI, helping the defendants argue their case in court and to the public.
The legal challenge to Proposition to Proposition 209 is still working its way through the courts (as Hans Bader explains in the Litigation Corner column nearby). While we were dismayed by Judge Thelton Henderson's self-selection in the case, we were cheered by the panel of appeals court judges assembled to hear the defendants' appeal of Henderson's preliminary injunction. The panel seems well grounded in reality when it comes to constitutional rights. Who can argue with Judge Andrew Kleinfeld's commentary that Henderson's activism seems to have replaced government "by the people" with government by the people "with the highest LSAT scores?" Or with his view that this is not "Serbia or Algeria where first the have elections, and then they decide whether or not to honor them?"
One of ACRI's top goals will be to educate our federal representatives about the need for a federal CCRI. Considering the number of preferences and set-asides contained in federal programs and policies, our quest for equal treatment under the law will not be complete until our federal government takes action. Unfortunately, it does not look like Capitol Hill leadership is ready to take on the pro-preferences crowd yet. In a recently released list of the House Republicans' top twelve priorities, ending racial preferences was not among them.
But ACRI's mission will be broader than just working to end racial and gender preference. It is time for all Americans, including black Americans, to reject the "race matters" mentality that so many people and institutions in our country have adopted. We must focus on our commonalities as Americans, rather than always relating to one another on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender.
As more Americans marry across racial and ethnic lines, the racial and ethnic categories dictated by affirmative action and other race-conscious governmental policies are becoming increasingly meaningless. We need to move race relations forward in America by uniting as Americans rather than allowing special interest groups to divide us along racial, ethnic and gender lines.
It is time for Americans to get past race, and to see each other as humans, as Americans; not as black, white, yellow and brown. We must give a helping hand to people based on economic need, not on skin color. Most of us have raised our children telling them that race does not matter; ACRI will work hard to ensure that we as a nation live up to our words.
Mr. Connerly is the chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and a member of the University of California Board of Regents. ACRI can be contacted at P.O. Box 188350, Sacramento, CA 96818.