Sharpton also calls during his speech Friday to N.M. lawmakers for civility in political debate
SANTA FE — Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton appealed to New Mexico lawmakers on Friday to boost public education and shield governmental workers from unfair budget cuts.
In a speech to the Legislature to celebrate African-American Day, Sharpton said public employees shouldn’t be the main target of budget cuts because they didn’t cause the economic downturn that hurt state finances.
“We cannot blame those that were victims for the economic conditions that we have,” said Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, a New York-based civil rights organization.
State lawmakers are considering a budget-balancing proposal that would cut the state’s contributions to public employee pensions while workers make up the difference by paying more — a move that would reduce their take-home pay.
Sharpton also said the nation must focus on improving public education and boosting student performance in reading and mathematics.
“We cannot continue to ignore that this country has gone backwards in education,” said Sharpton.
In New Mexico, there’s an educational achievement gap among ethnic and racial groups. White and Asian students typically fare better in tests than Hispanics, American Indians and blacks.
“We cannot sacrifice public education and the rights and needs of every child to learn,” said Sharpton. “If there is a civil rights issue today and if there is a bias today, I would say that the racism of the 21st century is low expectations where we have designated large groups of our children as throwaways — can’t learn and can’t be something. I say to the young people today, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you what you can and cannot be.'”
Sharpton called for civility in political debate.
“We cannot tell the children to not engage in youth gang activity when they see adults and public officials gangbanging in legislative halls,” he said.
Sharpton also offered a piece of advice to legislators.
“When you’re in this chamber every day you should not look to what is popular,” said Sharpton. “People don’t make history by playing to what is popular. They make and change history by standing up for what’s right.”
Watch the video here.