Kamala Harris went after Joe Biden in the first Democratic debate for his opposition to mandated school busing, bringing it back into the discussion. So let me just say: busing was an unmitigated disaster for America, and especially for its cities, and it has become for me the template for how not to pursue civil rights.
It is certainly true that in most American cities school district boundaries were drawn along racial lines. But the solution busing offered, randomly selecting tens of thousands of kids to be bused miles across town to unfamiliar schools, was awful. The results were: massive white flight to the suburbs (an economic and demographic hit from which some cities have still not recovered) and rocket fuel poured on the fire of the conservative reaction against the 1960s, leading directly to the election of anti-busing leader Ronald Reagan as president. This is an idea we should bring back?
If you're going to tell me, "but it was the right thing to do," I honestly don't care. When it comes to politics I am a follower of Vladimir I. Lenin: only the objective outcome of your actions matters. If the objective outcome of your integration strategy is schools that are in some cities (e.g. Boston) more segregated then they were in 1965, then you need a new strategy. If the objective outcome of your integration strategy is the election of a whole generation of leaders devoted to never letting it happen again — equally true of both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — then you need a new strategy. That is not the same as saying that we should never pursue school integration, but the busing story is a cautionary tale about how not to go about it.
My model of progressive politics is this: societies can only change so fast. You can only attack so many traditional practices at once. Therefore, you have to pick your battles.
Neighborhood-based elementary schools were absolutely the worst target activists could possibly have picked. This hit every sensitive American issue at once: race, class, parents' anxiety for their children, fear about homes losing value, fear of urban crime (not an exclusively racial issue; Victorian Londoners were obsessed with it), and so on.
A better model would have been to start with universities, which have been integrated with minimal trauma; then use magnet high schools for science, arts, business and so on to create some mixing; fiddle with district lines where they are obviously gerrymandered; hope for attitudes to change. Somebody might say in response, "The social science is absolutely clear that poor minority kids do better in mixed race, mixed income schools! You're condemning thousands of black children to stagnate in terrible schools!" Well, we had busing, the white families all left, and the black kids ended up in schools that were 98% black instead of 95%; who did that help?
If your super well-intentioned plan to help poor, black children helps none of them, you need a new strategy.