What backers are calling Initiative 1000 would change Washington state law to allow the government to use “affirmative action that does not constitute preferential treatment” to remedy discrimination in public employment, education and contracting.

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Supporters of a state initiative that would boost affirmative action plan to kick-start their campaign later this month at an event celebrating the 55th anniversary of the March on Washington, they said Tuesday.

A number of community activists gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle to announce the Aug. 28 event, linking this year’s initiative effort to the 1963 march in D.C., during which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The commemoration will include a march to Mount Zion, where King spoke in 1961, and a bell-tolling ceremony.

“This is a significant event given the current political landscape,” said activist Eddie Rye Jr. “It is essential that we stand unified.”

What backers are calling Initiative 1000 would change Washington state law to allow the government to use “affirmative action that does not constitute preferential treatment” to remedy discrimination in public employment, education and contracting against veterans and historically disadvantaged groups, such as women and people of color.

Directed at the Legislature, I-1000 would define affirmative action as providing equal opportunities through recruitment, hiring, outreach, training, goal-setting and other methods designed to increase diversity.

It would define preferential treatment as selecting a less-qualified candidate based solely on a characteristic such as race or gender.

I-1000 is aimed at negating Initiative 200, a measure approved by Washington voters in 1998 that changed state law to prohibit the government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any person or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

“I-200 was action by the extreme right to take our rights away from us,” said Jesse Wineberry, a former state representative.

Since I-200 became law, businesses owned by women and minorities have lost billions of dollars in work they would otherwise have been awarded, said Hayward Evans, another activist.

“The results have been horrible, devastating,” added Nat Jackson, who worked for affirmative action years ago under then-Gov. Dan Evans and is now an architect of I-1000.

Lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills to re-legalize affirmative action, without success. This past session, a version passed the Senate’s government committee.

Defenders of I-200 say everyone should be protected from discrimination in the same way and assert the will of the voters should stand; affirmative-action backers argue the state must do more to achieve equity for historically disadvantaged groups and say studies have shown I-200 has hurt people of color.

They filed an initiative to the people in May, hoping to qualify for the November ballot and winning an endorsement from the Washington State Labor Council. But they had less than two months to collect voter signatures and weren’t able to gather enough.

They now are advancing I-1000, also filed in May and endorsed by the Labor Council, and they have until Jan. 4 to submit at least 259,622 valid signatures.

“Voters have accepted the principle that the government should treat everyone equally, without different rules for different races,” said Tim Eyman, the anti-tax crusader and serial initiative filer who helped pass I-200.

The Labor Council intends to support the I-1000 signature-gathering effort, spokesman David Groves said Tuesday. The campaign plans to write to more than 90,000 people who signed earlier this year and ask them to sign again, Wineberry said.

“We’ve been living in a 20-year nightmare … and we’re not going to wait on the politicians,” he said. “We’re taking our future … into our own hands.”