by Peter Burrows
The forum held Thursday night at the WNMU library, "Civil Rights Reloaded," was intended to examine whether, fifty years after Martin Luther King’s "I have a dream" speech, we need to replace "political social and economic systems that no longer function for the well being of all" with "a new civil rights movement."
While the five forum participants offered few specific recommendations, the general message was that even though great strides have been made in the last fifty years, much still remains to be done.
The moderator, WNMU Scholar in Residence Dr. Felipe De Ortega y Gasca, said that he does not think we are in a post-racial society, in spite of our first black president. He criticized Mayor Bloomberg of New York for defending stop-and-frisk, a form of racial profiling, something Dr. Ortega said he has experienced "many times." Dr. Ortega also said much remains to be done on equal pay for women, universal health care, privacy rights, same sex laws, and that perhaps poverty should become a civil rights issue.
The first forum speaker was Dr. Bronte Dashiell, WNMU Asst. Professor of Special Education. Although she was born after Dr. King’s March on Washington, her mother told her of the delays in integrating Maryland schools, thirteen years after Brown v. Board of Education. Even today, Dr. Dahiell said, America’s schools remain "profoundly segregated," some as much as 50 years ago. Her mother also told her of the bigotry of low expectations, something Dr. Dashiell has seen frequently in her 23 year teaching career.
Guadalupe Cano, WNMU graduate and soon-to-be candidate for Grant County Commissioner, spoke of the many laws, some 1400, that are enjoyed by traditional married couples but not same-sex couples. She thinks this is a violation of human rights as well as civil rights and noted approvingly of the number of same-sex marriage licenses being issued by New Mexico counties. She is optimistic about the New Mexico legal climate for LGBT rights.
Athena Wolf, a media consultant, most notably for the NBC series, The Great Southwest Voice of Native America, gave a brief history of Native Americans’ experience with the Dept. of Interior’s Department of Indian Affairs, essentially over 160 years of incompetence and corruption, continuing today. Wolf said, "The DIA was founded on the racist principle that Indians are not capable of taking care of their land or their money." Ms. Wolf called on people from around the world to help in "the dissolution of the DIA."
Linda Pecotte, a realtor and 2013 Chair of the Grant County Republican Party, reviewed fair housing laws, which also had their genesis in Martin Luther King’s civil rights activism. Today, New Mexico home buyers enjoy more protection against discrimination than most states, thanks to both New Mexico Laws and the Realtors’ Association Code of Ethics. She also mentioned the Supreme Court decision last June that struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because it was no longer applicable. It affected mostly Southern states, but also removed three counties in New Mexico from federal oversight.
The last speaker was Magdaleno Manzanarez, Professor of Political Science and VP for External Affairs at WNMU and Vice Chair of the Grant County Democratic Party. Dr. Manzanarez noted the under-representation of Hispanics in Congress, where only 5% of the members are Hispanic vs. 16.5% of the population. Furthermore, he noted that of the 52 million Hispanics, only 23.3 million are eligible to vote, and only 11 million voted in the last election. Since political power translates into policies that effect people, Dr. Manzanarez believes there is plenty of work to do before that becomes a reality for the Hispanic population. He also noted that the income of American Hispanics is greater than that of the nation of Mexico.
The forum was attended by approximately 50 people and is a monthly event sponsored by the WNMU Library, The Native American Club, MECHA, and the Grant County Democratic Party.