A Coalition Working for a Common Purpose: ‘Full Equality for All’
with Maya Wiley of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition of more than 200 organizations that differ in size, scope, and structure.
Maya Wiley, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share ways that the diverse groups work together to demand an inclusive and fair democracy that works for all Americans.
January 30, 2023
Anderson: In 1950, the civil rights movement was in its infancy, but social pressure to end segregation was gaining momentum. That year, social justice leaders A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Its mission is to get legislation passed by Congress that would protect the civil and human rights of all Americans. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The Leadership Conference is a coalition currently made up of more than 200 civil and human rights organizations working together to promote full equity for all. Now called the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the coalition is led by Maya Wiley. She is president and CEO. Maya, welcome.
Wiley: It's wonderful to be with you, Tetiana.
Anderson: So, what are some of the achievements that the organization has made over the years?
Wiley: Our achievements have been incredibly important for our democracy, which is everything from voting rights, from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to every single step we have taken to preserve those protections for people to go to the ballot in every year since. But it's much more than that. Everything from being able to get a job without being discriminated against because of your race or because of your religion, or women's rights is an incredibly important area for us as well. Even access to healthcare. There's really no issue that hasn't been important for our ability to take care of ourselves and our families and participate in our democracy that we haven't worked on.
Anderson: A lot of the work you do is about coalition building. Tell us about some of the organizations that you do partner with.
Wiley: Yeah, they're -- Fortunately for us, they're more than I can name, which is a part of our strength, but it really encompasses all the groups that we have in this country, everything from labor unions like Service Employee International and American Federation of Teachers, but every racial group and religious group. You know, we have Native American organizations, we have Sikh, as well as Muslim, as well as Jewish, as well as Christian. We have women's rights organizations. We have lesbian, gay, and trans organizations. We really cover the gamut, in addition to the traditional organizations most people know about, like Unidos and the NAACP. And what's so important about this is when we're talking about saving our democracy, having an America that lives up to our ideals, which is our mission, it means we have to have a coalition that can together confront hate and the hate that is driving the dangerous erosion of our democracy. Too many political leaders, pundits, and just regular people trying to drive wedges between us rather than understanding the strength of our country is that we are all these amazing, wonderful things. And that is embodied in who our coalition is.
Anderson: You mentioned hate and bias. Why did the organization need to focus so intently on that?
Wiley: Yes, sadly, we've seen an incredible rise in hate crimes and bias crimes across our communities. But as we know, after COVID, the incredible rise in anti-Asian violence. Important part of our coalition are many Asian organizations. And we were able to use our coalition -- as I said, all religions, all races -- to say, "No, this is all of us." And when expansion of hate crimes and more work to prevent hate crimes and prosecute hate crimes, that was an important coalitional win for us that protects all of us.
Anderson: And a lot of this work is about legislation, right? You're asking Congress to do a few core things, one of them legislating more fairness in courts. Can you share an example of why that's a priority, why something like that rises to the top?
Wiley: Well, let's go back to voting rights, right? There's nothing more fundamental to democracy than all of our ability to say who leads us and who's making decisions about our priorities and what problems to solve. But as we have seen with the incredible retrenchment, the pushback, the undermining of people's lawful ability to go and cast their ballot that we've seen in this country, that is because courts have made decisions to ignore the rights and remedies that our Constitution has promised us. So, making sure we've got judges who understand that the rule of law needs to be the rule of fairness, needs to be the rule of justice for all of us is a big part of what we do. And we know it makes a difference when someone walks into a courtroom if they have a judge that knows and understands the lived experience of what that case represents, what's real versus what's fiction, is incredibly important.
Anderson: And you've got a number of goals. You talked about voting rights. You talked about the importance of judges. And it's not just judges, but it's who is on the bench, right? Talk to us a little bit about that priority.
Wiley: Well, I'll just say three words. Ketanji Brown Jackson. [ Laughs ] Who's an example of a major victory, I think, for a system, for our judiciary, that says we have to have a judiciary that not only looks like all of us, that understands what it means to be thoughtful about the rule of law and what it means to people. But I actually want to also go and turn to, it's not only legislation in the courts, it's also educating the public. Because we don't have a democracy, we don't live up to the ideals that this country stands for and our Constitution stands for, if we're not also making sure our people, all of our people know and understand their rights, know and understand what decision-makers are talking about and how it will impact them, and know and understand what, why it makes a difference who sits on the bench, why it makes a difference whether they show up at the polls, and on what policy issues, like whether or not they're going to be safe in their communities, not just from crime but from police violence. All of these things are on the education side of what we do as well.
Anderson: So, the Leadership Conference has a history of great achievements. You have recently taken over. What do you want your legacy to be?
Wiley: Well, you know, we live in a time, sadly, where our democracy is -- is under attack. And it's under attack from everything from threats of violence, to public servants who show up just to make sure they're administering our elections fairly and neutrally. We've seen it in the form of hate and bias. We have seen political leaders work actively to divide us and drive wedges between us, whether it's based on religion or race. These are the kinds of things that undermine the very rule of law, the very democracy, the very steps we have won so far to be a more unified nation. This is job one. This job is also about understanding it's in the states and that it is about all of us. Because what I have been working so hard to help all of us see, what we have been working on, is to say we are a majority of this country, we care about the Constitution, and we care about the fact that we're diverse and that that's our strength and that we have to go back to realizing that's our American ideal and winning it back.
Anderson: It's important work. I know people are going to want to know more. What's your website? Where should they look?
Wiley: Well, I hope they go to civilrights.org, but also social media. You know, we have a Facebook page, we have civilrights.org on Instagram. There are so many ways to interact with us. I hope folks will go to all of them.
Anderson: Maya Wiley of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, thank you so much for being here.
Wiley: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.