Michigan Civil Rights Initiative: Will Democracy Fail?
July 21, 2005

How will white Michiganians have to respond if the opponents of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative manage to keep it off the 2006 ballot? If we are prevented from using the normal tools of democracy, what are our options? Will we have to resort to armed insurrection simply to secure equal rights under the law and equal treatment by agencies of the state? I certainly do not advocate "armed insurrection," but a recent development forces me to conclude that it is now time to bring the imagery of it into our discussions.

A great virtue of democracy is that political conflicts can be settled at the ballot box. The great conflict of our times concerns the issue of civil rights. Should the state and public schools and universities be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race and gender, or not? Supporters of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative say, no, the state should not discriminate on those bases.

There is an interesting history to this issue. The U.S.A. took an official position with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The state was not allowed to discriminate. But, in the decades that followed, concepts such as "affirmative action" and "disparate impact" and "diversity" transformed "civil rights" into the notion that the state should give preferential treatment to "women and minorities."

The "recent development" I mentioned above is this: "During an emotion-charged meeting, the four-member Board of State Canvassers could not agree on how to handle signatures gathered by the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative." (Affirmative action ban proposal appears headed for court, AP, in Detroit Free Press, July 19, 2005). There is no doubt in my mind that the MCRI people have submitted much more than enough valid signatures to get the issue on the ballot. MCRI opponents, however "said an undetermined number of signatures were gathered through misrepresentation, with many black people tricked into signing a petition they thought would protect affirmative action and civil rights."

There may be some faint basis for their objection. In some ways, the MCRI leverages the semiotical shifts in "civil rights" in order to subvert policies legitimized by them. A would-be petition signer thinks, "Ah, 'civil rights.' More benefits for my people!" and then he signs. A totally honest seeker of signatures would have to say, "Would you like to sign for an initiative which would take the distorted current meaning of 'civil rights' as a means of asserting group privilege and restore it to the original meaning of equal treatment by government regardless of race or gender?" Nonetheless, I'm sure most petition signers, black and white, understood the plain meaning of what they signed. It is not right for the Board of State Canvassers to thwart the democratic process based on hypothetical misunderstandings. When such thwartings are part of a large pattern, some of us are forced to conclude that "democracy" just isn't working any more, and that we have nothing to gain by pretending that it is working.

My earlier mention of "armed insurrection" is also motivated by the name and character of one of the key groups opposing the MCRI. I refer, of course, to the infamous Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action & Integration, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, generally known by its quaint acronym, BAMN. (The 'N' is silent.) I won't recount any anecdotes of their incivilities, or the incivilities of earlier cohorts of racial radicals, but I will say that honest, respectful dialog is not exactly their cup of tea. Obviously, any group that proclaims a willingness to pursue its goals "by any means necessary" has proclaimed a profound disdain for democracy. Thus, the question. Only a question at this point. If they are allowed "any means necessary," by what means might we oppose them?

This brings us back to the basic issue. The choice might boil down to this: civil rights or civil war. Many decent white people felt America was at that kind of a decisive point in the '60s. Acting on the best wisdom we had at the time, we opted for civil rights. "Bliss was it in that dawn," yada yada yada. But in spite of all the absurdities and outright horrors that have transpired since that great transformation of our nation, I still believe American white people made the right decision. I follow and post on a forum where many fellow posters would disagree with that position. Time might prove them right and me wrong.

At this very moment, I am being proved wrong by those who would keep the MCRI off the ballot. If the concept of "civil rights" is merely a tool to justify state discrimination against white people, then I have no use for it. The opponents of the MCRI are facing their own decisive moment. Many of them enjoy luxurious lives as they dwell in houses built upon racial and especially gender preferences. They have the true-believing radicals of BAMN and other outfits to call on for street-level support. Actual "equal rights," actual equal treatment by government units and schools would put an end to their wealth and privilege. Their shibboleths would not gain them passage across the river.

They have much to lose. Our society has much more to lose if they get their way. I demand this much: The MCRI must appear on the ballot in 2006. If those who oppose it can convince a sufficient number of our fellow citizens to vote against it, then I will grant that they have won a fair contest and I will respect that result of a democratic process.

If they and their allies in our courts and government boards prevent the MCRI from appearing on the 2006 ballot, then I will devote my life to helping my fellow white citizens understand that we are living under a regime dedicated to denying our basic rights and that we must begin the agonizing process of discussing appropriate means for correcting the situation.

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Addendum, August 13, 2005:

OpinionJournal recently published an article, Michigan Meets Malcolm X, by S.D. Melzer (Aug. 11, 2005), which discusses BAMN's role in the effort to keep the MCRI off the ballot. There is a spin-off article, Democrats Against Democracy in the archives of a web site called "Discriminations." The American Renaissance web site has a discussion thread on BAMN and the MCRI based on the OpinionJournal article.


Addendum, 2 Jan 2006:

I might be faulted for focusing my effort on issues like the MCRI, "diversity," etc., when there are much more serious issues that need to be addressed. Specifically, the Bush administration is a much more serious threat to democracy and to our future than the bozos of BAMN and the Clowns on the Board of Canvassers.

But, to use the tagline from the excellent movie Syriana (2005), "everything is connected." Rather than trying to draw all the lines right now, I'll simply link to two excellent articles that describe the dangers we face: "SpyGate"--What Were The Bushbots Looking For? by conservative writer Paul Craig Roberts, and The Hidden State Steps Forward by progressive Jonathan Schell.


Addendum, January 14, 2006:

There is a paragraph in a recent article Metro Times Detroit article (Wham BAMN by Ben Lefebvre) which seems to validate some of my initial thoughts about the "misrepresentation" issue:

"Did you understand what you signed?" the students would ask. Did the petitioner state clearly that the petition advocated banning affirmative action, or did he or she merely ask you to sign something "for civil rights"? They were looking for evidence of fraud in the signature collection process for the measure that, despite its name, seeks to abolish affirmative action programs in government employment and contracting, and university admissions.
The charge of "misrepresentation" holds up only if "civil rights" and "affirmative action" mean the same thing. They don't, period. The quote also presumes that "affirmative action" and racial preferences are the same thing. There is, indeed, a fair amount of overlap according to common uses of the terms, but there are, in fact, forms of "affirmative action" that do not involve actual preferences. Interestingly, ten or fifteen years ago, it was typically supporters of "affirmative action" who made that point.

Also of interest is a Michigan Daily editorial from January 6: Voters must defeat flawed ballot inititive. I disagree with just about every point they make, but at least they are willing to let the issue be decided by the voters.


Addendum, November 12, 2006:

The MCRI did appear on the ballot and, despite a highly organized and well-financed opposition, it won by a large margin. Instead of commenting on the results with a bit of intelligence and perspective, University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman gave a hysterical speech the next day from the steps of the Hatcher Library. I found it hard to read on account of all the weird insanity in it, but it is very much worth reading for the insight it gives into the character of Mary Sue Coleman and of the university over which she presides. For some excellent commentary, see the American Renaissance discussion thread on Coleman's speech.

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