By Margaret Martin Barry and Penny Berger

Make no mistake – the so-called “Civil Rights” Initiative currently on Nebraska’s ballot has only a negative connection to the Civil Rights Movement in our country.
The initiative is intended to put an end to what remains of affirmative action. Discrimination and exclusion on the basis of race and gender have made a mockery of our democratic ideals. Affirmative action has been the principle means of achieving the inclusion that was the goal of the Civil Rights Act.

Affirmative action as a tool to achieve equality is admittedly an imperfect instrument. It is also the only tool that has shown any capacity to address the issues of racism and gender discrimination across America.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented progress toward the goals of our democracy, most people understood that the new law, by itself, could not achieve racial and gender equality. Specific steps were needed to change the habits and institutions of discrimination and exclusion. Affirmative action became an enforcement mechanism designed to give meaning to the Act. It required employers and educational institutions to act in ways that would ensure participation and acceptance of minorities and women.