Too Little, Too Late
The recent passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative (Proposition 209) is a threat to affirmative action policies everywhere. It will undoubtedly result in an even more extreme polarization between affirmative action's supporters and opposition. Furthermore, it threatens to represent real setbacks for what up until now has been positive progress towards equality in the public sector. It is a concept at the very heart of the debate of what exactly equality entails and how it can be achieved.
Even those who support Proposition 209 must concede that beyond its passage it remains a topic worthy of discussion, especially on a college campus where all of our lives are touched by affirmative action, however indirectly. That this community finds Proposition 209 a topic of interest for a wide spectrum of political beliefs was apparent at the debate on Monday, sponsored by the Conservative Union at Dartmouth, and at the protest on Wednesday, sponsored by the newly formed Dartmouth Coalition for Equal Access and Opportunity.
This protest in front of Collis on Wednesday in reaction to Proposition 209 demonstrated the depth of emotion surrounding the issue and the strength of its opposition by this community. Unfortunately, that's just what it was -- a reaction. The speakers were moving; the turnout, impressive; the timing, ironic. Where were the members of DCEAO -- and the rest of us -- a year ago when Proposition 209 was first proposed? Where were we when it was put on the ballot? Where were we throughout the campaign?
So rarely on this campus is there a visible collective awareness of anything that occurs outside the bubble that is Dartmouth life. So in this respect the protest was in many ways reassuring. And yet, it was typical of the Dartmouth way of dealing with things: wait until there is a serious problem, and then react with anger and indignation.
I do not intend by any means to betray the cause or diminish the efforts put forth by the DCEAO. While I applaud the organization, I lament its timing. Adamant protest occurring after the proposition has passed opens protesters up to criticism, threatens to make a mockery of the passion that drives their protest and lends a hollowness to their argument.
Basically, all of us who care about affirmative action and what is stands for dropped the ball. It's too late for California. Our only option is to educate our community about the realities of Proposition 209 while we wait and see what happens on the west coast and strive to prevent similar courses of action in our own states. If we use it as an impetus for real discussion that continues when the microphone is off and the crowds have gone home, then maybe Proposition 209 will serve as a real lesson of the dangers of inattention.