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Rally Targets Ballot Measure

Speakers urge California voters to reject Proposition 54, which would restrict public agencies' use of racial data.

August 08, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

More than 100 educators, politicians, civil rights leaders and community activists rallied in Los Angeles on Thursday to voice opposition to a state proposition that would stop public agencies from collecting and using most kinds of racial and ethnic data.

Speakers at the downtown rally -- and at a similar gathering in San Francisco -- urged the public to vote no on Proposition 54, arguing that its passage would undermine school reforms, make disease harder to track and treat, and harm anti-discrimination efforts in the state.

"We'd all like to live in a society where race doesn't matter," Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles, told the small crowd gathered in the plaza behind the county administration building. "But this initiative will not do that .... It will not end racial discrimination in this state; it will only hide it."

The initiative, sponsored by University of California Regent Ward Connerly, qualified for the ballot some time ago and was expected to come before the voters in March 2004.

But with the special statewide recall election now set for Oct. 7, voters are scheduled vote that day on the initiative as well.

The measure would prohibit state and local entities, schools and public universities from classifying people on the basis of race or ethnicity. It has several exemptions, including for lawful medical research, some law enforcement purposes and where the data is required to comply with federal law.

Connerly and other proponents have said their aim is to help make California a colorblind society.

Connerly said Thursday that many of the same organizations against Proposition 54 also opposed Proposition 209, the successful 1996 initiative that banned racial and gender preferences for all public entities in the state. Connerly was a leading advocate of that measure.

"It's a very large group of interests that wants to preserve race consciousness in employment, contracting and education in this state, and in private entities that rely on government data" on race and ethnicity, he said in a telephone interview.

At the rally, activists chanted and carried signs urging the public to "Vote No on the Information Ban."

Among those attending were Los Angeles City Council members Antonio Villaraigosa, Eric Garcetti and Tony Cardenas, state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte). Organizations represented included teachers unions, the NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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