Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Civil Rights Conference
December 8, 2004
Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an historic occasion. You are part of the first statewide civil rights strategic planning conference in the history of Washington State, perhaps anywhere. I know you’ve been hard at work for several days. Thank you for your dedicated efforts.
I know many of you here today have been working decades on civil rights issues. Together, we’ve moved Washington state forward during the past eight years. I am proud that my appointments have increased minority membership on Washington state boards and commissions by more than 500%. And I am proud that my cabinet is the most diverse in our state’s history.
I am proud that more than 20 percent of the judges I’ve appointed to the various courts in our state have been people of color and almost 50 percent have been women. I am proud of the many “firsts” we have achieved with our judicial appointments, like Judge Frank Cutherberson and Ted Spearman, the first African American judges on the Pierce and Kitsap County Superior Court benches. And Ken Kato, first person of color on the Court of Appeals in Eastern Washington.
We have had other successes. We created a Ticket to Work Program that allows people with disabilities the chance to keep Medicaid benefits when they leave Supplemental Security Income to go to work.
I signed the Mental Health Advanced Directives law, which establishes procedures for persons with capacity to create and revoke mental health advance directives. This allows persons with mental health disabilities to have more control over treatment decisions at times when they may be unable to communicate their wishes.
I signed legislation providing severe penalties for human trafficking, especially in cases involving violence, sex, children or death. It also gave courts and law enforcement agencies tools to break up trafficking organizations and help victims.
There are other issues I am proud to have worked on, even though we have not yet seen success. I campaigned statewide to defeat I-200, the initiative to eliminate racial considerations in state contracting and admissions even though the polls showed strong support.
And I have repeatedly proposed and then lobbied for legislative passage of a civil rights bill that would prohibit discrimination based on employment, housing, sexual orientation and other services.
We have made progress. Yet as we mark a half-century since Brown v. Board of Education, the pace of this progress is disappointing.
It’s true that we have come a long way since the evils of segregation forced a seven-year-old girl to cross a hazardous rail yard every morning to a bus stop six blocks from her home, then to ride 21 blocks farther to a black elementary school. Even though she lived a safe seven blocks from a white elementary school. The case struck an important and lasting blow against the pernicious, inhumane and cowardly practice of segregation in our schools.
Yet today, fifty years later, we continue to struggle with a more insidious, more deeply institutionalized form of discrimination in our schools—the achievement gap. One of today’s most prominent inequalities in education is the wide disparity in achievement between low-income minority students and white students.
We have made great progress in raising academic achievement among the children in our state. Gains in our state for African American students, for example, are higher than the national average. But that is not good enough. Disparities remain even though the gap in achievement is narrowing.
Brown v. Board of Education ended the acceptability of physical segregation. But the achievement gap is a new form of segregation—the segregation of young minds and ultimately the segregation of future opportunity.
So the battles have changed since Brown. But the stakes remain the same, and they are very high. Equality in public education is a birthright. We must continue to fight relentlessly to end the achievement gap.
There have been calls to lower our standards, or to eliminate the WASL altogether, rather than face the underlying causes of the achievement gap. But that approach is wrong. It won’t serve the best interests of any of our kids.
The key is equality of opportunity. Comprehensive equality of opportunity that addresses the countless social, political, economic and cultural causes of today’s achievement gap. Every Washington resident, regardless of racial, religious or economic background, must be assured access to the benefits of our society, from housing to family wage jobs.
Brown made historic progress fifty years ago. Today we have an equally critical opportunity—and a moral responsibility—to advance the cause of equality in our schools. Let’s end the segregation of minds.
Last month, Mona and I welcomed our third child, Madeline, into the world. As with our daughter Emily and our son Dylan, we want for Madeline a better, more just, more equal society than the one into which we were born.
I pray that my children will never endure the humiliations and wrongs that too many of us have endured. I don’t want any of my children to be demeaned as I was, when my third grade teacher routinely smacked my wrist with a ruler for being “un-American,” because Asian foods eaten at home. I don’t want my children—or any children—to ever be treated that way.
We have not shattered the glass ceiling only to see it reappear in subtler forms, like the achievement gap. We must never become complacent. We must remain constantly vigilant against injustice. And this has never been more important than it is right now.
Those who question our government’s policies should never be called “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” Those who would silence such criticism have forgotten what democracy and patriotism truly mean. But we have not.
In response to 9/11, law enforcement and intelligence must be strengthened but we can’t abdicate our freedoms.
Too often, our First Amendment freedoms—the rule of law, the right to an attorney, and trial by jury—are glibly dismissed in the name of a new, misguided brand of “patriotism.”
We must stand together and raise our voices, loud and proud. We must make it crystal clear that we will never abdicate our basic freedoms.
This conference is a tremendous step toward uniting our voices for this important cause. The work you have done the past three days will echo around the state for years to come.
As I look around the room, I know that you will aim high and dream big dreams, and continue to work to restore the promise of America here in Washington.
At the site of the Dachau death camp from WWII, there is an inscription above a museum entrance. It reads: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Let us always stand together to make it clear that, “We have not forgotten the past.” And we never will.
United in heart and mind, we shall overcome. Let us continue to work together for a better and more just world—for ourselves, our children, and future generations.