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Historic advance in struggle against racism

WW in 1978: 35,000 march to ‘Beat back Bakke!’

Published Jul 19, 2008 9:09 AM

Workers World is in its 50th year of publication. We reprint this article from the April 21, 1978, issue of the paper as part of our special archival series.

By Jaime Veve

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15—In one of the most militant and massive demonstrations held anywhere in the United States since the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, over 35,000 people, the majority Black, Asian and Latin youth, came to Washington, D.C., today to voice their total opposition to the racist Bakke case now pending before the Nixon-packed U.S. Supreme Court.

Chanting “We won’t go back, send Bakke back,” the angry voices of thousands of youth from the oppressed communities demanding the overturn of the notorious Bakke decision, an end to racism and upholding of affirmative action programs were undoubtedly heard in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court and the White House.

Three hours before the march was to begin, people were already arriving at the assembly site, reflecting the tremendous response among the oppressed youth to this demonstration against racism, called by the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision. Buses and carloads of demonstrators began arriving from places as distant as Detroit, Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, North Carolina, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Rochester and Newark.

Over 100 buses came from New York City, including 35 from the various campuses of the City University of New York. In no time, the Ellipse became a sea of people holding up hundreds of bright yellow banners and flags made by the NCOBD with slogans that proclaimed “Say no to racism, overturn the Bakke decision,” “Bakke—apartheid in jobs, housing, and education,” “Fight for education, overturn Bakke,” and “If Bakke wins, we all lose.”

At the assembly point, the crowd enthusiastically waved their flags in the air as Dennis Serrette, chairman of the New York NCOBD, and Belinda Lightfoot, co-coordinator of the Washington NCOBD, chaired the first rally, which heard from a number of individuals active in the struggle against racism and the Bakke decision. Some of the speakers represented were Alice Jennings, co-chairwoman of the Detroit NCOBD; Arthur Kinoy, progressive constitutional lawyer; Frank Schaefer-Corona, a member of the Washington, D.C., School Board; Odette King of the Asian Focus of the NCOBD; and Bernard Hughes, East Coast regional coordinator of the NCOBD.

Finally the march surged out of the gathering site led by a contingent from the Black community of Washington, D.C. The contingent was composed of students from local high schools and colleges, such as Howard University, and trade unions, especially the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Government Employees, both of which have many Black members.

Chanting “We’re fired up, send Bakke back,” the marchers moved 10 to 15 abreast slowly down Pennsylvania Ave. in a massive procession covering over 20 city blocks with a continuous chorus of chants such as “Up with Soweto, down with Bakke,” “We say no, we say no, we say no to racism,” and “Reverse discrimination is a sham, affirmative action is our demand.”

As the marchers passed the offices of the reactionary Supreme Court, their angry voices rang in unison with the chant of “We’re gonna beat back the Bakke decision.” One could sense in the uninterrupted enthusiasm and spontaneous chants of the demonstrators that they knew their protest marked a significant advance in the struggle against racism.

“We say no to racism, we say no to sexism, we say no to Bakke, we say no to Carter!” With these words Jimmy Garrett, co-chairperson of the Washington, D.C., NCOBD, greeted the marchers as they gathered at the steps of the Capitol where the final rally was held.

Hilda Mason of the Washington, D.C., City Council opened up the rally by voicing the feelings of everyone present at today’s historic march. “Today we are marching, we are marching for justice. We are marching to stop the oppression against minorities, against the denied, against the have-nots.”

Bill Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union and secretary of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, denounced the Bakke decision as a racist offensive against affirmative action. He added, “We will continue to march until we get what we were promised—equality and justice for all.”

Antonio Rodriguez of CASA-General Brotherhood of Workers, a Mexican workers’ organization based in California, said, “There is no greater proof that the people make history, make social change, than today here in Washington, D.C. We say that affirmative action, we say that special admission programs are the only concrete ways toward those goals when they talk about equality in the abstract.”

Other speakers at the rally were Grantland Johnson from the NCOBD, Aimee Cruz of KDP, Digna Sanchez of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, Betsy Gimbel of Disabled in Action, Reverend Bob Pruitt, Joe Malloy, a coal miner and member of the United Mine Workers Union, and Claudette Furlonge of the Women’s Focus of the NCOBD.

‘A Turning Point in the Struggle’

Larry Holmes, New York City mobilizer of the NCOBD, received a tremendous cheer as he opened his remarks with the chant “Down with Bakke, up with Soweto.” He then went on to express the sentiments of all those participating in today’s demonstration when he said, “Today we have a meeting of organizers, a meeting of anti-racist activists. We have to be about continuing the struggle. Our presence here today is making history, making April 15 a turning point in the struggle to liberate the oppressed people.”

Today’s action was a revival of the spirit of struggle on the part of oppressed youth. This was reflected in the tremendous outpouring of people to today’s demonstration with a determination and militancy which have not been seen since the struggle of the 1960s which culminated in many gains, including affirmative action and special admissions programs.

This point was not lost on the powerful ruling circles behind the racist Bakke offensive, as evidenced by the boycott by the capitalist press of this significant event. The struggle against Bakke goes to the heart of the struggle against racism in this country, racism which is such a divisive weapon against the whole working class.

The tremendous success of April 15 was due to the fact that those most affected by the Bakke decision, the oppressed from the Black and Latin communities, did not boycott the event and instead came by the thousands to participate in a historic march which has contributed to moving the struggle against racism forward.