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Who are the Civil Rights Activists of Today?

When we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s tempting (particularly for the privileged, who don’t deal with the prejudice people of color face on a daily basis) to forget that true equality is still a goal to be striven for. But, as long as the college graduation rate of African American students is significantly lower than that of white students, as long as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is raked across the coals for “prejudice” (when all she did was have the decency to admit that one’s personal background will necessarily define one’s worldview), as long Tea Party members in Tennessee are advocating for significant changes in public school curriculum so that “[N]o portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership,” we, as a nation, clearly still have a long way to go.

The internet is a hugely influential and easy-to-navigate meet-up for people of all ages and interests and persuasions, but it serves more noble causes than sleeping kitty Tumblrs and MemeGenerator–advocacy groups have found the internet is ripe territory to effectively get the word out, to build a grassroots following, and to fundraise during a time when everyone is pinching pennies and a typical $X-a-plate dinner isn’t the way to go.

Below, three activist groups who are working towards a more equal future:


In the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the relative lack of support for its many African-American victims, James Rucker founded Color of Change. The group’s mission statement, in part, is to “”¦empower our members – Black Americans and our allies – to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.”

Color of Change explains the “for everyone” modifier and its importance thusly:

[W]hen we work to protect Black lives and interests, we do the same for all who have been left behind in political silence.

From net neutrality to censuring  racism in politics (most notably from Glenn Beck and the Tea Party), Color of Change takes a holistic approach to civil rights issues.

One of the organization’s biggest victories to date has been raising over $250,000 to pay the defense bills for the Jena 6, a group of African-American teens whose beating of a white teen resulted in initially high charges of attempted murder, then public outrage and cries of justice miscarried. The Jena 6 case reached a resolution when the men were allowed to plead “no contest” to a misdemeanor battery charge.


In the on-going struggle to convince Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants the option to earn citizenship through military service or college education, Presente has risen to the forefront of online communities committed primarily to organizing Latinos around specific political issues.

Presente urges visitors to sign a pledge, which explains the organization’s raison d’etre:

We, the undersigned, call for an end to immigration policies that divide families, deny educational access, and exploit workers. We agree to stand up and be counted on the issues that matter to Latino communities. With a unified voice we can’t be ignored. Together we will become a powerful online community that promotes justice and holds our leaders accountable. We will be Presente.

Past Presente campaigns include a pledge to avoid spending money in Arizona as long as SB 1070 (otherwise known as the “legalized racial profiling” bill) is legal. The most recent campaign, for which Presente collaborated with other organizations, “Trail of Dreams,” followed three undocumented (and one recently undocumented) young Latinos as they walked the 1,500 miles from Miami, FL to Washington D.C. in an effort to campaign for the DREAM Act.

With the DREAM Act defeated and no current plans for a re-vote in place, Presente is gathering surveys from its visitors and deciding what tack to take next in the battle for immigration reform and increased opportunities for citizenship.

3. Education Equality Project

EEP is a self-described civil rights movement, which seeks to “eliminate the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education.” Because EEP’s first statement of principle is far more eloquent than any paraphrasing I might do, I’ll just paste it here:

Fifty-six years after Brown vs. Board of Education, forty-two years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and twenty-seven years after the publication of a Nation at Risk, we must confront a shameful national reality: If you are an African American or Latino child in this country, the probability is high that our public education system will fail you, that you will not graduate from high school, that your ability to function successfully in the twenty-first century economy will be limited, and that you will have no real prospect of achieving the American dream.

EEP’s site features a host of information (much in the respectable forms of research and statistics) that breaks down how deeply ingrained the gap between wealthy and poor schools are, and just how significantly students’ progress up though high school effects their future earning potential and quality of life.

I greatly respect EEP coming right out and acknowledging the correlation between poor schools and minority students–it’s a reality that a lot of people choose to politely ignore, but one that has an impolite, utterly rude and unfair effect on the lives of schoolchildren.

EEP has received a bevy of high-profile support (my senator, Michael Bennet, has signed an EEP statement endorsing their statements of principle, as have many school superintendents and officials with close ties to the education system), which is encouraging in that it bodes well for the significant changes the public school system needs to embrace in order to provide the same level of education for all its students.

8 replies on “Who are the Civil Rights Activists of Today?”

Thanks for posting, Meghan. Thanks to tumblr my education has been revived and reinvigorated about political and social issues.

I am an acivist with a little a, not capital A, mostly armchair activist I confess. I do what I can in my own little corner to make changes. Little changes build upon each other to make big changes. I applaud the Activists of the world.

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