Affirmative action supporters to launch campaign at MLK anniversary march

Lora-Ellen McKinney, whose late father Samuel B. McKinney, was the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, holds up a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., as the church bells toll in honor of civil rights leaders who have died. (Photo by Rahwa Hailemariam.)

A statewide coalition plans to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington with a kickoff to gather signatures for an initiative to restore affirmative action in Washington state.

More than 40 community leaders and organizations are part of Seattle’s Martin Luther King Commemoration Committee (MLKCC). The committee announced that will hold a commemoration event on Aug. 28, exactly 55 years after Martin Luther King Jr. led a historic march on the nation’s capital and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The local event will include a march, the renaming of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Memorial Park and a show of support for NFL players who have participated in public protests of police shootings. The coalition also will gather signatures for Initiative 1000, which aims to re-establish affirmative action in this state.

“A lot of people often ask, particularly since the last election, ‘What would Dr. King do in these situations?’” said former State Rep. Jesse Wineberry at a press conference on Tuesday. “We are exemplifying Dr. King’s spirit, strategies, and actions by taking actions on issues that are important to us,” Wineberry said.

“But on August 28th, we will begin the journey to reclaim those rights once and for all,” he said later.

The coalition says Initiative 1000, which would be sent to the state Legislature, would redefine and expand affirmative action to provide equal opportunities in education, employment and entrepreneurship for women, veterans, minorities and people with disabilities.

The initiative would counteract Initiative 200, which ended affirmative action in the state when voters passed it in 1998.

Wineberry said that I-200 uses the term “preferential treatment” as a scare tactic to make state and local governments veer away from using affirmative action to hire women and minorities.

Supporters agreed.

“I think affirmative action needs to be redefined to be affirmative to the power of all the people, not affirmative of our ability to be equal to white people,” said Robert Upham, a Native artist who lives in Seattle. “White people haven’t shown themselves to be the keeper of the earth, justice, children, or the most incarcerated people in the world.”

Wineberry said the campaign aims to collect 300,000 signatures across the state by January.

“We’ve been living in a 20-year nightmare that has to come to an end this year,” Wineberry said.

This is the second attempt this year to put affirmative action back into consideration. Supporters had less than two months to meet an earlier deadline to qualify for the November ballot, and had only collected 90,000 signatures, Wineberry said.

“We are not going to shut the doors on another generation of young people just because a memo came from Jeff Sessions,” Wineberry said.