In Pursuit of Unhappiness

by Joe Peters | 11/27/96 6:00am

Consider this a post-mortem of the Proposition 209 debate.

I don't know how others viewed the protest at Collis last Wednesday -- probably as an inspiring, pro-active gathering, or perhaps as a demonstration of solidarity. But to me, it was none of the above. In fact, it was a feeble attempt to give the appearance of action against the problem of discrimination. What none of the people assembled could quite bring themselves to admit was that the very piece of legislation they were protesting had taken more concrete steps towards the goal they claimed to be fighting for: equality under the law.

The first sentence of Proposition 209 states: "The state shall not discriminate against, nor grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin." This begs the question -- What exactly were those protesters at Collis, and elsewhere in the nation, so angry about? Apparently, it seems, they prefer discrimination or preferential treatment to equality of opportunity.

Protest generally is meant to initiate discussion, not to take the place of it. But the opponents of 209, both here and elsewhere, have used their platform not to advocate change, but more as a means to establish the superiority of their position. Protest has taken the place of informed thought, simply because it is so much easier to gather up a mob of people to yell catch-phrases and obscenities than it is to learn about the issues. I wonder how many of the protesters had actually bothered to read the document they were protesting?

People who only define themselves by what they are against have trouble establishing who they are when their "mission" changes, which was the case with the opponents of Proposition 209.

They had a unique opportunity to support a bill which tried to establish the same environment envisioned by the pioneers of the civil rights movement -- equality of treatment and opportunity under the law. Instead, they reflexively chose to defend the status quo, deciding that whatever altered affirmative action must necessarily be counter to civil rights. By doing so, they exposed their willingness to keep up the appearance of action without actually making any movement. Proposition 209 would take a great step towards treating the cause of discrimination, but its opponents appear to be quite content with treating the symptoms.