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Clergy Urges Support for March Highlighting Array of Social Causes

Affirmative action: Organizers hope that momentum will fuel effort to take back ground lost to Proposition 209.

January 31, 1998|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Members of Los Angeles' large and diverse religious community are being urged to pray with their feet and join a Feb. 23 march to protest a laundry list of perceived social ills, particularly the assault on affirmative action.

Slated for the waning days of Black History Month, the march is the third in a series of demonstrations held statewide over the last several months and dubbed "Save the Dream," in memory of the goals and ideals of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Organized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Brotherhood Crusade, the campaign, organizers say, seeks to create a political force in California mighty enough to battle "objectionable" ballot initiatives and candidates.

If organizers get their wish for a turnout of more than 10,000, it would be one of the largest marches in recent Los Angeles history. A strong turnout by the religious community is seen as crucial to the success of the march, which will begin at 8 a.m. at the Coliseum and end at the Ronald Reagan State Building.

"It's the wall upon which we must hang our hopes," said Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade.

The presence of the religious community means the march has "moral suasion," said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, who also is helping to organize the rally.

"The clergy's involvement is the answer to indifference. All of the great marches in history have had the religious community involved," Jacobs said.

The growing list of march co-sponsors reads like a 1960s press kit. Returning is the familiar combination of labor, Jews and blacks. Some, like Jackson and the Revs. James Lawson and Thomas Kilgore, marched with King during the civil rights struggles.

Added to the list this time are Hollywood activists, including Ed Asner, Steve Allen and Alfree Woodard; women's rights activists, including the Feminist Majority Foundation; death penalty foes, including actor Mike Farrell's group, Death Penalty Focus of California; and a raft of politicians ranging from Compton Mayor Omar Bradley to new Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

With so many groups backing so many causes, Bakewell acknowledged that to some extent the protest will be a "self-interest march, [with] everybody coming to get their issues raised."

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But the event's main rallying cry, backers said, will be: Don't give up the fight for affirmative action.

"The whole purpose is to make sure that we do not lose sight and lose hope," said Bakewell of the stepped-up efforts to undo what he calls the "violence" caused by Proposition 209.

He pointed to dramatic drops in enrollment at some schools in the University of California system and a decrease in government contracts to women. The changes followed passage of the initiative banning consideration of race or gender in college admissions and the awarding of government contracts.

"It is a wicked thing to close school doors on these youths . . . who have traditionally been locked out," said Jackson.

Bakewell said: "We have to try to roll back this very, very unethical, unscrupulous proposition."

Both Jackson and Bakewell acknowledged that the recent U.S. Supreme Court rejection of a challenge to Proposition 209 essentially ends broad-based efforts to have the measure overturned, though civil rights attorney Tracy Rice said it can still be challenged on a case-by-case basis.

Bakewell said the group's current tack is to try to draft a new ballot measure to take back some of the ground lost with the passage of Proposition 209.

The march, Bakewell said, is part of an early effort to generate enough energy to ensure passage of such a measure. He could not say if the group will move quickly enough for the November ballot, adding: "We're trying to strategically decide. We have attorneys looking at that right now."

One of the most concerted efforts to generate support for the march is taking place within the black community. Many of the area's most prominent African American ministers are talking up the march and distributing newsletters and fliers in their neighborhoods.

"Dreams must have legs," said a key organizer, the Rev. Cecil "Chip" Murray, pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church. "The legs will mobilize the head and the heart."

Ministers this time are mindful of what some saw as a lackluster effort by the church to defeat Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration measure approved by voters in 1994.

"We were late getting out of the gate and late in really organizing against that one," conceded the Rev. Ronald Wright, pastor at Emanuel AME Church in Los Angeles.

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The reasons stemmed, in part, from misunderstandings and "hurt feelings" over issues such as displacement of African American workers, the fight to oust former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and other perceived transgressions, he said.

"Some of our people became resentful," Wright added. Today, he said, "people in a leadership position have to inform our people that the problem is not Latinos. We don't need to develop this war against one another."

He called the education effort "ongoing", and said he was heartened by the level of black/Latino cooperation he has seen for the upcoming march.

That coming together of old and new allies--blacks, Jews, labor, Latinos and others--is what Jackson said he finds most encouraging.

"What excites me is to see our coalition of conscience coming together again," Jackson said. "We're seeing a real revival here."

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