Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
National Asian-Pacific Bar Association
November 23, 1997
It's a real treat to be here in San Francisco, which is so rich in Asian-American history.
For so many of us, this is where it all began.
And this is also the birthplace of Napaba.
So in many ways, being here is a wonderful celebration of our roots.
It's also a special pleasure to be here tonight among fellow attorneys.
Like many of you, I went to college during the height of the anti-war and civil rights movements, and I participated in the protests.
Those were tumultuous times -- times when the struggle for equality and justice became a part of the very identity of a whole generation.
I came away from my college experiences believing law to be a more effective long-term vehicle for change than riots and violence.
The American dream was -- and still is -- the dream of hope and opportunity for everyone.
And the legal system is the most effective tool for ensuring that the promises spelled out in our constitution are achieved.
Tonight, we have a great deal of progress to celebrate.
Asian-Americans have overcome so much.
In the 19th century, Chinese immigrants were the victims of a whole series of laws that prohibited non-citizens from doing business in California.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese immigration, contributed to the climate of anti-Chinese hysteria that led to the murder of hundreds of Chinese, and to anti-Chinese riots in cities all along the West Coast.
It wasn't repealed until 1943, after decades of discrimination and hardship among Asian immigrants.
Lawyers played a pivotal role in securing all these gains.
The role of lawyers was most recently demonstrated during the long struggle for redress for Japanese-Americans interned during WWII under Executive Order 9066 --
-- First, in documenting and quantifying the losses of the Japanese-American internees, and the absence of any military justification for internment.
-- Second, in overturning the conviction of Gordon Hirabayashi.
Indeed, many of those attorneys who volunteered thousands of hours on those cases are with us tonight.
And one of the national leaders for redress is with us tonight -- former Congressman Norm Mineta.
More than 40 years after Executive Order 9066, the United States finally issued an apology.
On these and a host of other legal issues ranging from the right to public education to the right to own land, civil rights groupss teamed with lawyers have been the vanguard in our community's progress toward full citizenship and full equality.
And it's important to note that these efforts have benefited Americans of many races -- not just our own.
But our progress towards equality has been cyclical: a period of great change and advancement has most often followed by a period of backlash and backsliding.
We would like to think that eventually, our society will advance beyond this cyclical pattern of two steps forward, and one step back.
It would be nice to believe we've come to that point -- but in our hearts, we know we're not there yet.
And there's pretty clear evidence that right now, we are in the midst of the backlash portion of our cyclical progress on civil rights.
We have two recent examples.
First, every Asian-American community in the country has felt the chill of the national campaign finance scandal that suddenly made suspect any political donor with an Asian name.
Very few of us are surprised by the anti-Asian bias that has been drawn to the surface by the campaign finance scandal.
But what really worries me about this latest, campaign-related wave of prejudice is that it may cause people in our communities to withdraw from the world of politics and public policy.
We mustn't let that happen.
We have earned the right to participate in this country's politics, and to be at the table.
To do anything less would betray the hard work of our immigrant parents and grandparents, who scrimped and saved and denied themselves even the smallest luxuries so that we could get a good education, and become full participants in American society.
The second example of the backlash on civil rights issues is the debate on affirmative action.
If you doubt this, ask Bill Lan Lee.
Bill has become the living national emblem of this country's struggle over affirmative action.
He's been appointed by President Clinton to be the Assistant U. S. attorney for Civil Rights -- a position that requires him to be the chief advocate for civil rights.
And because he supports the federal laws he would be called upon to enforce, he is being refused even the opportunity to have his confirmation voted upon in the U. S. Senate.
What do his opponents want him to do? Say he doesn't believe in civil rights?
"I, Bill Lan Lee, do solemnly swear that I will defend and uphold the constitution but not the laws of the United States of America."
What's next? To be head of the FAA must one say he/she doesn't believe in air safety?
In my own state, we may also face an initiative calling for an end to affirmative action.
The state of Washington has always prided itself on being a moderate, progressive state.
In fact, there's a great group of Washington lawyers in the back of this room tonight.
In the primary election last fall, there were 16 Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor, and two of us were people of color -- myself, and Norm Rice, the Mayor of Seattle, an African American.
The population of Washington is about 95% white, but Norm Rice and I together received 43% of the total vote.
That -- and my election last November -- are pretty strong evidence that the majority of the people in Washington state are truly willing to judge candidates by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
But I worry that even in our state, the campaign against affirmative action is going to be divisive and deceptive, and that there is a real danger that it will take us backwards.
And that's because the campaign against affirmative action is largely based on misinformation -- starting with a deeply distorted definition of what affirmative action is.
Affirmative action is not about quotas. It's really much simpler than that.
It's about who you know.
Millions of people get jobs based on who they know. And there's nothing wrong with that.
If you need a mechanic, the smart thing to do is ask your friends where they take their cars, and where they've gotten good service.
If you run a company, and you need an attorney -- or a marketing director, or a personnel manager -- it also makes sense to ask your friends if they know anyone who fits your needs.
And if you have a friend who's looking for a job, you would naturally let them know about it if you heard of a job opening they might want.
You can see where this leads.
It leads to books on "networking!"
But it also leads to an inherent disadvantage for women and people of color who aren't part of those networks, and who don't know the right people.
If the majority in the boardrooms of corporate America is mostly white male, then the who-you-know network of job connections will only work for mostly white males.
That's why it makes sense to reach beyond the network of friends and friends of friends.
That's why people who are hiring need to act affirmatively to bring women and people of color into the mainstream network.
Affirmative action is simply the opposite of passive inaction.
Affirmative action is about opening up and reaching out to include those who have been historically excluded.
It means a willingness to take a risk.
None of us wants to be hired or admitted to school to fill a quota if we are less qualified.
We want to believe that we're just as capable as the next person.
We just want to be considered.
I believe in affirmative action because I'm a product of affirmative action.
Being a verbose lawyer and a politician, it may be hard to believe, but I did not do very well on the verbal section of the SAT test.
On test scores alone, I probably would not have been admitted to Yale University.
But Yale had an affirmative action program for minorities and public school students and students from the West Coast.
Yale took a hard look at me and gave me a chance.
I still had to pass the same exams as anyone else.
And I can proudly say that I ended up doing well at Yale.
Because I am the beneficiary of affirmative action, I practice it.
Over one fourth of my senior cabinet members are people of color -- more than ever before in our state's history.
And I'm proud of their incredible accomplishments and energy.
Affirmative action means moving beyond passive inaction because passive inaction means that women and people of color will be frozen in place.
And that is tantamount to stopping this country's historic march towards equality.
It's my hope that in Washington state, we can clearly communicate this message about what affirmative action is, and why it's so important.
In fact, it's my hope that we can do this in both Washingtons.
There is just so much at stake.
And those of us who are attorneys -- those of us who understand the vital importance of a legal system that promotes fairness to every American -- have a special responsibility on this and other issues.
Just as economists and people like Alan Greenspan can affect whether a recession is long and deep or short and shallow, we can affect how long this period of backlash against progress on civil rights will be.
I know that many of you are in the thick of this struggle.
Some of you are working to combat hate crimes, or to protect the rights of immigrants, or to help Bill Lan Lee.
You are on the right side of history.
Each one of us can make a positive difference.
And we have a right to make a difference because over the past hundred and fifty years, Asian Americans have given their blood, sweat and tears to create the America of today.
Our parents and grandparents helped build our railroads and our cities.
They worked in the mines and the canneries, grew the vegetables, washed the laundry, and cooked the food that kept this country going.
Especially here on the West Coast, Asian-Americans can claim credit for helping to create America out of the raw material of natural abundance and out of the dreams of freedom, democracy, and a better life for their children.
Now it's up to us to make this country all that it can be in the 21st century.
It's up to us to keep the America dream alive for the next generation.
And it's up to us to promote that passion for justice that inspired us to enter the profession of the law.
Asian-Americans have surely earned the right to participate in this country's politics, to share in this country's prosperity, and to realize the American promise of freedom and equality.
And we must all continue to exercise our rights in order to protect, strengthen and extend them in the century ahead.
Two months before Emily was born, Mona and I attended President Clinton's state of the union address, and he said something I still think about when I play with Emily.
He pointed out that there were less than 1,000 days until the beginning of the next millennium.
He said "A child born tonight will have almost no memory of the 20th century. Everything that child will know about America will be because of what we do now to build a new century."
So Emily is truly a child of the 21st century.
When I hold my daughter Emily in my arms, I hope with all my heart that her life will not be marred, as ours has been, by discrimination and disrespect.
I hope that in the 21st century, we will be free of the fear of hate crimes, of divisiveness, and of racial prejudice.
In a sense, I'm glad she'll have no memory of this century, with all its turbulence and suffering.
But I hope that when she studies the history of our time, she will learn that her ancestors -- the people in this room -- made permanent gains, and genuine moral progress.
Thank you very much.