BIRMINGHAM, Ala.: Fighting to preserve desegregated schools

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has joined with hundreds of African American parents and others in the Vestavia Hills School District, just south of here, to halt school board efforts to overturn longstanding, court-ordered school desegregation.

“The long journey to desegregation has been too slow and too arduous for there to be a change,” said the Rev. Jonathan McPherson, chairman of the local chapter of the SCLC, at a press conference where he was surrounded by other civil rights leaders and activists.

The school board spent taxpayer dollars to go into court to rescind the desegregation order. The case will be heard in federal court Oct. 25.

The SCLC has also demanded that the district’s sports teams drop their name of “Rebels” and bar the use of Confederate flags during athletic events.

DETROIT: Voting to defend affirmative action

Michigan is ground zero in the fight to preserve affirmative action. On Nov. 7, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to bar any consideration of race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin in state contracting, education and employment.

The language is deceptive because the effect of the measure would be to gut affirmative action measures aimed at promoting equality.

The ballot initiative, known as Proposal 2, is a clone of California’s Prop. 209, which narrowly passed in 1996. Prop. 2’s backers include many of the same people who backed the California measure, including Ward Connerly of the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Institute.

One United Michigan, a large coalition of groups, is working to convince voters to say “no” to Prop. 2.

On Sept. 15, One United Michigan convened the Michigan Women’s Summit to educate and mobilize women to oppose Prop. 2. Through a satellite hook-up from the Shriner’s Auditorium in Southfield, over 600 women in Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Marquette participated in discussions on affirmative action and its impact.

Dr. Dorothy Height, a civil rights icon, addressed the summit, as did Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Sen. Debbie Stabenow – both Democrats, Republican state Sen. Laura Toy and columnist Desiree Cooper.

“The passage of Proposal 2 asks us to turn our backs on the proud history of diversity in Michigan and in this country,” said Granholm. “There is no question that the elimination of affirmative action programs in our state would be a devastating blow for Michigan women.”

NEW YORK: Civil rights lawyer gets 28 months

So many people showed up in U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl’s courtroom Oct. 16 that reporters had to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television in a room nearby.

Koeltl was about to sentence attorney Lynne Stewart, 67, whose career has included defending Black Panthers, antiwar activists and hundreds of poor people. She was convicted in 2005 for helping her client, Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric, communicate with his followers. Abdel-Rahman is serving time for conspiring to blow up several New York landmarks and to assassinate Egypt’s president.

Bush administration lawyers, citing federal guidelines in terrorism cases, demanded she be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Defying the guidelines, Koeltl imposed a sentence of 28 months.

While condemning Stewart’s conduct in this case, Koeltl cited her 30 years of defending poor, disadvantaged and unpopular clients, saying, “Ms. Stewart performed a public service, not only for her clients but to the nation.”

The case provoked widespread concern that the administration is trying to intimidate lawyers who defend terrorism suspects. Al Dorfman, a retired lawyer, said, “It’s not just Lynne Stewart who is a victim; it’s the Bill of Rights — that’s the victim.”

Stewart, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, remains out on bail during her appeal. Mohamed Yousry, an Arabic interpreter who assisted Stewart, was sentenced to 20 months, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who was charged with working with militants overseas, received 24 years.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich.: U.S. guns to ‘light up’ Great Lakes

Normally, the only sounds that punctuate this small community are the salmon jumping in Lake Michigan. That is about to change. In the name of fighting terrorism, the Bush administration has ordered the Coast Guard to arm its boats, used primarily for rescue operations, with machine guns and use a stretch of water at least five miles offshore as a live fire shooting zone. The order applies to 33 Great Lakes ports, including Cleveland, Rochester, Milwaukee, Duluth and Gary.

“You know exactly what’s going to happen with this,” said Grand Haven resident Bob Foster. “Some boater is going to inadvertently drive through the live fire zone and get blown out of the water.”

Serious environmental concerns about the program have also been raised.

LAKE WORTH, Fla.: Green Party focuses on local races

While the U.S. Senate and House races are garnering headlines, the Green Party has focused primarily on running for local office, often successfully. A case in point: the June election of Cara Jennings, 29, to a seat on the Lake Worth City Council.

Jennings, who received the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club and NOW, received 61.7 percent of the vote, even though her Republican opponent, the head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, outspent her 3-1.

The Greens are running about 390 candidates nationwide, including many in the South. In the 2002 midterm elections, they were successful in 81 races for 80 types of offices.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (