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Civil Rights Summit Day 2

Michael Barnes

Four young people demanding an end to deportations of immigrants chained themselves to each other around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the University of Texas campus Wednesday afternoon. During a protest attended by about 30 people — timed to the Civil Rights Summit nearby at the LBJ Presidential Library — the protesters said they would stay as long as the university allowed them. Frustrated with a delay in reforms, they told personal stories about friends or family members who had been deported. They directed their shouts and songs at President Barack Obama, who is expected to speak at the Summit Thursday. “It’s time for Obama to listen to our voices,” shouted immigrant activist Patrick Fiero, one of the chained four. The others were Emily Freeman, Alex Gomez and Juan Belman, each associated with United We Dream or its affiliate University Leadership Initiative. “I’ve been following this movement,” said Terri Givens, a LBJ School of Public Affairs professor, who stood nearby. “It will be the subject going forward, since we can’t get comprehensive immigration reform. This will be the focus of activism.” The protest was part of a week of action, said event spokeswoman Greisa Martinez, that will include a rally at the UT Tower at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. UT student Deobrah Alemu acknowledged the irony of placing chains around the image of the civil rights leader. Nevertheless, Alemu said: “We must protect Martin Luther King’s dream.”

About 40 students, mostly from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, gathered Wednesday evening at the University of Texas Thompson Center to watch a broadcast of President Bill Clinton’s speech from next door at the LBJ Library. Some of the students had attended earlier live sessions that included civil rights pioneers. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to ask about what was said and was not said,” said Will Payne, president of the Graduate Public Affairs Council. “Listening to legends sitting around talking about what they did in their twenties, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.” As the televised event began, about half the crowd divided their attention between the big screen and their digital devices. One older man read a book. But once Clinton spoke, they were fully engaged. They laughed easily, especially when Clinton misspoke and quickly regained balance: “President Clinton … I knew that guy.” When his relatively short speech ended, LBJ School professor Angela Evans addressed the room: “What is the civil rights movement going to look like for you?” The first speaker pointed out there was not a lot of diversity in the room. Student Matthew Drecun said the segment of society least included at the table were the Hispanics in Texas. “They don’t have a lot of opportunities,” Drecun said. “How do we do what President Clinton talked about and practice the politics of inclusion?” Student Justin Sykes noted the parallels between the early civil rights movement and recent efforts for marriage equality. “I din’t realize that laws against interracial marriage were so recent,” he said. “This is a good way to highlight that we are not there yet.” “The great legacy of the guy after whom our school was named was civil rights,” said student Noah Wright of the Summit in general. “This is a stunning reminder of that legacy.”