Outside, a 'Fight for Equality'

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Chanting slogans and waving signs, thousands of demonstrators -- mostly high school and college students and teachers -- gathered yesterday on the steps of the Supreme Court to support the use of race in programs to maintain school integration.

Demonstrators from as far as California, along with students from Washington area high schools and universities, braved the breezy, 40-degree weather and gathered on the court steps as early as Sunday night to protest a case that the demonstrators said could reinstitute school segregation. Then, holding signs saying "Fight for Equality" and chanting "by any means necessary," they marched down Independence Avenue for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

Inside the court, the justices considered arguments in the case, which challenges school diversity programs that take into account the race of students. The demonstrators agreed with attorneys for schools in Seattle and Louisville, who argued that race remains a necessary tool.

On the steps of the memorial, student leaders defended affirmative action policies in public schools and demanded school improvements. Three busloads of students from the District's Ballou Senior High School called for better facilities.

"We want better computers," said Brenda Bell, 15, a Ballou sophomore. "No dripping ceiling. We have broken water fountains. We have mice. Our schools should be as nice as schools everywhere else in this city."

Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard Law School professor and one of the organizers of the march, said the biggest difference between yesterday's demonstration and previous marches was the role of teenagers and young adults.

"Young people were leading this effort to preserve opportunities for the children of tomorrow," Ogletree said. "This wasn't the usual suspects. It was the youth who saw this as such an important effort that they had to mount this movement. And they did so in a very impressive way."

Organizers estimated that as many as 5,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court, but the number declined as the day wore on. By the time the march reached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at noon, about 1,000 remained.

Students wearing paraphernalia from Howard University, Hampton University, the University of Michigan, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and other colleges raised their fists and chanted, "Give kids good schools."

About 30 students from Hampton University left their campus in Hampton, Va., at 5:30 a.m. on a chartered bus to arrive in time for the demonstration. "We wanted to support the cause and make sure our voice was heard," said Hampton student Dominique Green, 18.

Dozens of people camped out on the steps of the Supreme Court to be among the 50 or so members of the general public to receive tickets to hear the arguments in the courtroom. Anurima Bhargava, 30, an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund lawyer, said she and her mother, Ranjana, 60, arrived at 9:45 p.m. Sunday and waited through the night, wrapped in sleeping blankets, to get tickets for the arguments for her father, Vijay.

At one point, the steps between the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool were transformed into a church scene. Speaker Rodney Jeremiah Reynolds, a freshman at Yale University, said he hoped that one day the nation would not need affirmative action, "but that day has not come yet."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company