Empty Seats at Civil Rights Summit featuring President Obama and Three Former Presidents

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is one of the main themes of the Civil Rights Movement and of the 2014 Civil Rights Summit commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act.

The three-day event concluded today at the LBJ Library in Austin and featured civil rights panelists, as well as keynote speeches by President Barack Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

While we have made a great deal of progress from when the movement first started, there are still many issues that we must tackle today. Unfortunately, there were many empty chairs during the first day of the summit’s informative panels.

The summit’s participants primarily represent the two dominant political parties. The first panel was called GAY MARRIAGE: A CIVIL RIGHT? Participating were John Avlon, Editor-In-Chief of THE DAILY BEAST; Attorney David Boies; and Theodore B. Olson, Attorney and former U.S. Solicitor General. The discussion focused on marriage equality and why it is a civil right. It was an interesting panel because Democrat David Boies and Republican Theodore Olson agred that marriage equality is something that not only needs to happen, but needs to happen soon.

The second panel was PATHWAY TO THE AMERICAN DREAM: IMMIGRATION POLICY IN THE 21ST CENTURY. Brian Sweany, Senior Executive Director of TEXAS MONTHLY, moderated the discussion between Haley Barbour, former Governor of Mississippi, and Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio. Once again, the panel was bipartisan. If you are a person who is not familiar with the immigration issue or wanted to learn more about it, this is a must watch discussion in the archives on the Civil Rights Summit website.

According to Gov. Barbour and Mayor Castro, part of the immigration problem is that when many people talk about immigration reform and securing the border, they ignore the fact 4 to 5 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are people referred to as “Overstayers.”

Overstayers are visitors who legally enter the U.S. with a visa, be it for work or school, but then remain in the country after the visa expires. When asked if comprehension immigration reform will happen this year, both seemed optimistic, saying that they believe it could still happen this year but if it doesn’t it will occur before the 2016 presidential election.

The dominant theme seemed to be that there is no reasonable way to reform immigration law without providing a path to citizenship, rigorous though it may be.

According to Gov. Barbour, most Americans are in favor of reform that includes allowing visitors who enter the U.S. legally and then stay beyond permitted time to pay a fine and then participate in a years-long process to become citizens. He said it is not economically viable to deport 11 million people back to their countries of origin.

The final panel was MUSIC AND SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS. Bob Santelli, Executive Director of the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live, was the moderator. He was joined on the panel with Mavis Staples, Grammy Award-winning singer and activist, and Graham Nash, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter. The panel made clear that music plays a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. Music inspires and encourages people to get involved. Ms. Staples stole the stage of the summit Tuesday.

Staples said The Staples Group R&B hit, “Why am I treated so bad?” was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite song. Pop Staples got the inspiration for the lyrics from the experience of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine students of Little Rock High School in Arkansas who integrated the public school in 1957. Watching a police officer use his baton to block a young woman from boarding a school bus, Pop wondered “Why are they treating her so bad?”

Wednesday’s panels included one, SPORTS AND RACE: LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD, in which Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell discussed using professional sports status to raise awareness about civil rights.

In February, soulciti covered the Black History Month book-signing by Olympian John Carlos, who took a similar approach during the 1968 Olympics when he and fellow medalist Tommie Smith gave an African Diaspora Unity symbol on the Olympic podium. Carlos’ book, THE JOHN CARLOS STORY, also addresses university academic and social provision for the welfare of athletes who generate millions in revenue for the schools.

This topic is again at issue, with University of Connecticut basketball star Shabazz Napier recently stating to the media that there are nights he goes to bed hungry because he doesn’t have money to buy food.

The many empty seats during these informative panels called into question the first-come, first-served free ticket distribution, with all tickets being allotted within minutes of offering. It’s unclear whether people who most wanted to join the discussion in person genuinely had a chance to get tickets.

You can re-watch the streams on the Civil Rights Summit page.


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