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
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
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
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
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
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