Statement of Ralph Neas at March on Tallahassee Rally

MARCH FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Good morning!

My friends, I am here to say that affirmative action is an American success story.

Because of affirmative action, women and people of color, by the millions, have gained rightful access to opportunities in employment, education, housing, voting, and government programs.

Affirmative action is all about fairness and access. I just recently became a father for the first time – and when I hold my baby daughter, I feel what every parent feels. What Katy and I want for our Maria – and what we all want for all of our nation's children – is for the world to be fair. We want a world that welcomes them and lets them develop their talents and follow their dreams wherever they may lead. We want the playing field to be level. That's what affirmative action does.

The polls show that a strong majority of Americans support affirmative action -- as long as it does not mandate quotas or preferences that make race or gender the only determining factor in the decision making process. That is our position. It should be the position of every elected official.

While America has made much progress, we have a long way to go to remedy centuries of injustice. That is why it is so troubling that right now – thirty-five years after the historic march at Selma, Alabama - certain leaders here in Florida and nationally are attempting to undermine our nation's commitment to equal opportunity.

In the Republican primaries, we have the two frontrunners competing for the votes of the far right.

Governor George W. Bush refuses to take a position on the confederate flag in South Carolina. And he takes three weeks to apologize for speaking at Bob Jones University without condemning its policies forbidding interracial dating and insulting Catholics and people of other faiths.

Senator John McCain refuses to fire a $20,000 per month top campaign adviser who as a magazine editor has written articles criticizing Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, commending voters who supported former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and downplaying the evils of slavery. Believe it or not, his magazine's merchandizing arm actually sells T-shirts celebrating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Both candidates pander to the Radical Religious Right, albeit to different factions. George W. Bush bows to Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell. John McCain embraces Gary Bauer and James Dobson. Every one of them practices the politics of intolerance.

And, perhaps most threateningly, both candidates state that Clarence Thomas, who President Bush put on the Supreme Court, is a model for their choice of a Supreme Court Justice. As we know, just one more Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court would mean that affirmative action and so much else would be held unconstitutional. And the next president might have the opportunity to place three or four more Clarence Thomases on the Court. We cannot allow that to happen.

Here in Florida we have another Bush – Jeb. When he was asked as a candidate in 1994 what he would do for African Americans, he said, "probably nothing."

Six years later he has done something worse than nothing. He has unilaterally, without action by the state legislature, overturned affirmative action in the state of Florida. And until the courageous actions of Tony Hill and Kendrick Meek, he wouldn't even agree to talk about it. Well, Governor, there are a few of us here today to talk about it.

My friends, we must fight for affirmative action at the state and national level. And we must hold accountable those state and national politicians who seek to undo the bipartisan consensus on civil rights that has existed for several decades. That consensus has brought about a second American Revolution in which the dreams embodied in the Constitution have been given some measure of reality.

Finally, we must fully understand that everything we care about, everything we believe in, everything that we have fought for, is at risk this election year. Today MUST be just the beginning. We've got a lot of work to do.

Thank you very much.

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Links to more information on Affirmative Action

An article entitled The Origins of Affirmative Action from NOW

Summary of The Shape of the River, the book defending race sensitive policies in college admissions. Includes links to interviews with both authors

Would Martin Luther King really be against affirmative action?, article by historian Eric Foner in Slate

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