WASHINGTON – As civil rights veterans gathered in Birmingham, Ala., May 3-4 to celebrate their victory 40 years ago over Police Chief Bull Connor’s attack dogs and fire hoses, a report released by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) warns that the Bush administration seeks to roll back the gains they went to jail to win.

Rev. Calvin Woods, pastor of Birmingham’s Shiloh Baptist Church, was arrested, beaten by police and spat on by Ku Klux Klansmen in 1963. He was one of an estimated 2,000 who attended the civil rights reunion.

“It was inspirational,” Woods told the World in a phone interview. “It engendered a sense of revival to continue to press for the rights of all people.

“Our gains have lulled us into complacency,” Woods said. “Nothing has been handed to us on a silver platter. It took marching. It took hard work. If we are not vigilant, a lot will be lost.”

Today, he said, the main line of defense is the ballot box. “We need to register people to vote all the time, not just when elections roll around,” he said. “We need to continue to meet the same as we did when we were engaged in direct action.”

Rev. Woods’ warning is echoed in the LCCR report titled “The Bush Administration Takes Aim: Civil Rights Under Attack.” The report, recently released by LCCR Executive Director Wade Henderson, rings with anger against the extremist right-wing Republicans.

It cites the pro-segregation statements of Mississippi’s Republican Sen. Trent Lott as proof that “civil rights remains the unfinished business of America. The nation’s historic march toward equality is not completed.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, “civil rights progress has faltered,” the report says. “The Bush administration has quietly engineered a pattern of civil rights reversals … Meanwhile, the war on terrorism itself threatens the principle of equal protection.”

Bush, his appointees, and the GOP leadership of Congress “are using the rhetoric of the so-called “states’ rights” movement to undermine Congress’ ability to promote progress on civil rights issues,” the report declares, calling states’ rights a “code phrase for racial segregation.”

The Bush administration has displayed outright hostility to pending legislation to bar hate crimes, racial profiling, and employment discrimination against gays and lesbians, the report charges.

Bush tax cuts and multi-billion-dollar increases for the Pentagon have squeezed resources for civil rights enforcement and other domestic priorities, the LCCR document says. “Civil rights are illusory in a society without quality public education, decent housing and affordable health care for all citizens,” it continues.

The report contains a bill of particulars of Bush administration attacks and maneuvers aimed at undermining civil rights:

* The Brennan Center for Justice filed suit against Florida charging state authorities with violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in denying the vote to 31 percent of Black adult males on spurious grounds they are “ex-felons.” The lawsuit charges that “racial animus” motivated the 1868 Florida law stripping former felons of their voting rights. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft filed a brief in support of the Florida law. “Tellingly, Florida is represented by some of the same Washington lawyers who represented then-candidate George W. Bush in Florida following the 2000 election, an election in which felon disenfranchisement probably ensured Bush’s disputed margin of victory,” the report says.

* Ashcroft has filed briefs supporting two lawsuits against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policy. The LCCR charges that the Bush administration’s opposition to “the benign consideration of race as one admission factor among many, calls into question his commitment to longstanding civil rights goals.”

* Ashcroft joined with Pittsburgh officials in terminating a 1994 consent decree aimed at rooting out police brutality and other Pittsburgh police misconduct, over the objections of the NAACP and other civil rights groups.

* Ashcroft has reversed Department of Justice (DOJ) policy by backing an aerobic test designed to exclude women from jobs in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and has also reversed DOJ policy that threw out a hiring test meant to exclude African-American and Latino workers from law enforcement. Solicitor General Ted Olsen has filed a brief supporting narrowing rights protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

* The COINTELPRO spy program was used by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap, photograph and “generally hound” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others on the White House “enemies list.” Now, the report warns, Ashcroft is resurrecting this tactic “that leaves racial and religious minorities at risk of 1960s-style harassment.”

* Bush has stripped DOJ and Homeland Security Department employees of union representation. The report cites American Federation of Government Employees President Bobby Harnage’s comment calling Bush’s action “union busting with a respectable cover.”

The LCCR is the nation’s broadest civil rights coalition with affiliates including the NAACP, AFL-CIO, National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a dozen other groups with tens of millions of members.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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