Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MAY DAY BRINGS THOUGHTS OF SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVES



(This is a revision of an essay which first appeared on May, 1, 2009 and was reposted on May 1, 2013).
Harry Targ

Sketching Today’s Global Political Economy

During the latest phase of monopoly and finance capital (1945- to the present) enormous changes have occurred in the global political economy. First, the United States emerged as a superpower and in an effort to crush the threat of socialism around the world committed itself to constructing a “permanent war economy.” This permanent war economy would create the military capacity to destroy alternatives to global capitalism, stimulate and maintain a high growth manufacturing economy, justify an anti-communist crusade to crush the left in the United States, and co-opt and/or repress working class demands for change. In addition, the permanent war economy would occasion the perpetuation of racism and patriarchy in public and private life.

As the years passed corporate rates of profit began to decline as a result of rising competition among capitalist states, over-production and under-consumption, an increasing fiscal crisis of the capitalist state, and rising prices of core natural resources (particularly oil). With a growing crisis, global corporate and finance capital shifted from investments in production of goods and services to financial speculation. Thus capitalist investment steadily shifted to financialization, or the investment in paper-stocks, bonds, private equity and hedge funds and other forms of speculative investment. Financial speculation was encouraged by state tax policies, “free trade” agreements, an expanded international system of indebtedness, and increased reliance on consumer debt.

Multinational corporations which continued to produce goods and services sought to overcome declining profit rates. This, they concluded, could only be achieved by reducing the costs of labor. To overcome the demand for higher real wages, health and other benefits, and worker rights, manufacturing facilities were moved from core capitalist states to poor countries where lower wages were paid. Thus, in wealthier countries millions of relatively high paying jobs were lost while production of goods increasingly moved to sweatshops in poor countries. Wealthy capitalist states experienced deindustrialization.

Finally, assisted by technological advances, from computers to new forms of shipping, financial speculation and deindustrialization fueled the full flowering of globalization, or the radically increased patterns of cross border interactions-economic, political, and cultural. Globalization and neoliberal economic policies (privatization of public institutions, downsizing the state sector, expanding markets, imposing austerity policies on workers, and shifting from domestic consumption to export promotion) transformed the world into one integrated global political economy.

In short, we may speak of a four-fold set of parallel political and economic developments that have occurred since the end of World War II, in which the United States has played a leading role: creating a permanent war economy, financialization, deindustrialization, and neoliberal globalization.

Should We Be Thinking About Socialism Today?

A rich and vital set of images of a socialist future comes down to us from the utopians, anarchists, and Marxists, the martyrs of the first May Day, and the variety of experiments with socialism attempted in Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Extracting from the multiple reasons why individuals and movements chose socialism one reason stands out; that is, that capitalism historically is and has been a cruel and inhumane system, a system borne and fueled by slavery, genocide, super exploitation of workers, tactics of division based on race and gender, and an almost total disregard for the natural environment that sustains life. Building a permanent war economy, financialization, deindustrialization, and neoliberal globalization are merely extensions of the cruel and heartless pursuit of profit which has been the fundamental driving force of the capitalist mode of production.

Drawing on the history and the images of a better future coupled with the brutality of the capitalist era, we might conceive of a 21st century socialist future that has four main dimensions.

First, we need to create institutions that are staffed by the working classes and serve the interests of the working classes. While scholars and activists may disagree about what “class” means in today’s complicated world, it is clear that the vast majority of humankind does not own or control the means of production, nor does it usually have an instrumental place in political institutions. Therefore, socialism involves, in the Marxist sense, the creation of a workers’ state and since most of us are workers (more than 90 percent of the US population for example), a state must be established that represents and serves the interests of the many, not the few.

Second, our vision of socialism is a society in which the working classes fully participate in the institutions that shape their lives and in the creation of the policies that these institutions develop to serve the needs of all the people.

Third, socialism also implies the creation of public policies that sustain life. Socialism in this sense is about good jobs, incomes that provide for human needs, access to health care for all, adequate housing and transportation, a livable environment, and an end to discrimination and war.

Fourth, socialism is also about the creation of institutions and policies that maximize human potential. A socialist society provides the intellectual tools to stimulate creativity, celebrate diversity, and facilitate writing poetry, singing and dancing, basking in nature’s glow, and living, working, and loving with others in humanly sustainable communities.

Today we remain terribly far from any of these dimensions of socialism. But paradoxically, humankind at this point in time has the technological tools to build a mass movement to create a socialist future. We can communicate instantaneously with peoples all over the world. We can access information about the world that challenges the narrow ruling class media frames about the human condition. We have in the face of brutal war, environmental devastation, enduring racism, and super exploitation of workers  mass movements of workers, women, people of color, indigenous people, and youth who are demanding changes. Increasingly public discourse is based upon the realization that our future will bring either extinction or survival. Socialism, although it is not labeled as such, represents human survival.

Where do we who believe that socialism offers the best hope for survival stand at this critical juncture? We are weak. Many of us are older. Some of us have remained mired in old formulas about change. Nevertheless we can make a contribution to building a socialist future. In fact we have a critical role to play.

We must articulate systematic understandings of the global political economy and where it came from: permanent war, financialization, deindustrialization, and neoliberal globalization. We need to articulate what impacts these processes have had on class, race, gender, and the environment. In other words, we need to convince activists that almost all things wrong with the world are connected and are intimately tied to the development of capitalism as the dominant mode of production.

We need to take our place in political struggles that demand an expanded role for workers in political institutions. We need to insist that the working classes participate in all political decisions.

We need to work on campaigns that could sustain life: jobs, living wages, single payer health care, climate change etc. Our contribution can include making connections between the variety of single issues, insisting that participants in mass movements take cognizance of and work on the other single issues that constitute the mosaic of problems that require transformation. We must remember that in the end the basic policies that sustain life require building socialism. Most struggles, such as those to achieve living wages or a single payer health care system for example, plant the seeds for building a broader socialist society. We can incorporate our socialist vision in our debates about single issues: if we demand a living wage, why not talk about equality for example?

We need to rearticulate our belief that human beings have a vast potential for good, for creativity, and given a just society, we all could move away from classism, racism, and sexism. We could pursue our talents and interests in the context of a sharing and cooperative society.

By working for institutional incorporation (empowerment) and life-sustaining and enhancing policies we will be planting the seeds for a socialist society.

“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.
For the union makes us strong”

From “Solidarity Forever,” Ralph Chaplin lyrics, 1915.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

WORKERS' MEMORIAL DAY, 2014: WHAT WORKERS NEED



Harry Targ

The stench is vomit-making as never before. The fat and plucks, the bladders and kidneys and bungs and guts, gone soft and spongy in the heat, perversely resist being trimmed, separated, deslimed; demand closer concentration than ever, more speed. A helpless, hysterical laughter starts up. Indeed, they are in hell; indeed they are the damned.  Steamed, boiled, broiled, fried, cooked. Geared, meshed.

In the hog room,108 degrees. Kerchiefs, bound around their foreheads to keep the sweat from running down into eyes and blinding, become saturated; each works in a rain of stinging sweat. Almost the steam from the vats seems cloud-cool, pure, by contrast. Marsalek falls. A heart attack. (Is carried away, docked, charged for the company ambulance.) Other hearts pound near to bursting. Relentless, the conveyor paces on.

Slow it, we got to slow it. (Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties, 1974)

American workplaces from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the recent past were living hells for workers. Novelist and essayist Tillie Olsen described working conditions in meat-packing plants in the 1930s. Others have written about auto assembly lines, mines, textile assembly plants, and food-processing plants. Analysts such as Harry Braverman, in Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), pointed out that employers have usually sought to control the minds and motions of workers. Profit-making has been seen as tied to controlling every movement of workers, the speed-up of production, and cutting costs for health and safety. After years of labor mobilization, the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970 to begin to address the problem of how dangerous it was to go to work each day.

Every April 28, workers across North America assemble to remember those workers who died or were injured on the job. Workers’ Memorial Day, initiated in the United States by the AFL-CIO in April, 1989, celebrates the inauguration of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1970). Workers’ Memorial Day is about remembrances, reviews of progress toward safety and health, and re-commitment to making the workplace safer.

In April, 2013 the AFL-CIO issued its annual data-based report, “Death on the Job: the Toll of Neglect,” to review the current state of worker health and safety, given the administration of OSHA rules initiated over forty years ago.  “Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as workplace tragedies continue to remind us.” These tragedies have occurred in mines, oil refineries, fertilizer plants, meat-packing plants, manufacturing facilities, and on construction sites.

The AFL-CIO report indicated that 4,693 workers were killed on the job in 2011 (13 workers per day). Over 3.8 million work-related injuries were reported with unofficial estimates of such injuries doubling or tripling that total. Particular sub-groups, such as Latino workers and those born outside the United States, experienced excessively high injury rates, presumably because of their fears of raising safety concerns within the workplace.

The report indicated that workplace inspections had decreased over the years because of budget constraints limiting the hiring of inspectors. Given the numbers, federal OSHA employees could be expected to investigate a workplace once every 131 years and state OSHA inspections can be expected every 76 years. Penalties for workplace violations also are inadequate to deter violations.

The Report indicated that budget allocations for OSHA must be dramatically increased, more laws must be passed to regulate the complex reality of workplace dangers, and worker rights to protest dangerous conditions at the workplace must be strengthened.

This year, Workers’ Memorial Day events will highlight demands to address contemporary issues of concern such as

-defending the OSHA process from political campaigns to reduce workplace regulations.
-requiring employers to establish work-site safety and health programs with worker participation to address enduring hazards.
-adding safeguards against respiratory diseases from silica, combustible dust, and Black Lung.
-protecting workers who seek to challenge workplace safety hazards, particularly for immigrant workers.
-passing more legislation such as the Protecting America’s Workers Act to expand protection for workers not yet covered by OSHA rules.
-increasing worker voices on the job including creating an environment that would allow workers to freely choose to form unions.

Earl Cox, Community Services Liaison, Northwest Central Labor Council, Indiana AFL-CIO,  concluded as he announced the 2014 event that legislators must be made aware of workplace health and safety “…so when a vote comes up to slash funding for OSHA, they vote to protect workers and not corporate interests.” The AFL-CIO believes that “safety laws and regulations don’t kill jobs—but unsafe jobs kill workers.”

(For those living in Tippecanoe County, Indiana Workers’ Memorial Day events will occur April 28, Inside the Depot, Riehle Plaza, Lafayette at 5:15 p.m.)












Sunday, April 20, 2014

JAZZ: PERSONAL AND POLITICAL CONTEXTS



A Presentation Celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month

Harry Targ

Autobiography

Probably the first music I remember as a child is jazz music. My household was not a musical one but somehow I got a mini-portable phonograph and some 10 inch long playing records. I think one of those was a collection by Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. Something about the music electrified me. I think I was attracted to the beat, the horn harmonies, the passion, and how all this stimulated my senses when turned up good and loud. Later I remember being so moved by early Klezmer music, what one might call Jewish jazz. Samples of Jewish jazz appeared in choruses embedded in spoof songs presented by the Mickey Katz orchestra.

Later on my musical listening gravitated to the New Orleans musical revival of the early 1950s, foregrounding not only Louis Armstrong but such younger imitators of the original jazz music, “Dixieland,” by such groups as the Dukes of Dixieland and Turk Murphy’s band. Other artists from the past such as Jack Teagarden became visible again. Popularizing of the jazz genre occurred as a result of Hollywood biopics about Glenn Miller (with Jimmy Stewart) and Benny Goodman (with Steve Allen). I have a vague recollection of the melding of live music and biopic when I saw a stage show of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars followed by the movie about Red Nichols, The Five Pennies, with Danny Kaye in the lead. The stage show and movie appeared at the old Chicago Theatre on State Street.

Later in the 1950s my friends and I came across the LP collection of Benny Goodman’s band playing at his famous Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938. Along with the jazz/klezmer renditions of Bei Mir Bist Du Shein and The Angels Sing, my friends and I were electrified by the awesome rendition of Sing! Sing! Sing! including Gene Krupa’s booming drums, a great trumpet solo by Harry James, and a totally unplanned piano riff by Jess Stacy, wrapped around a loud and driving finale with drums, horns, and clarinet.

Somewhere around this time, I think I was a senior in high school, I took a speech course. The final assignment was a researched, well-prepared speech. I signed up to present on the history of jazz. While I had been doing some reading, the teacher called on me to give my speech on a Friday, three days before I thought I was to give it on Monday. Totally freaked I got up and gave a lecture on the initiation of jazz and its spread across the North American continent, from New Orleans to St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago to New York, and then the world. Everybody said the best part of the speech was I did not appear to have any notes, speaking extemporaneously (perhaps like jazz itself). Nobody knew that I was going to prepare over the weekend and when I stood up at the podium I was just making stuff up.

On Jazz 

Looking back on my youth and connections with jazz I suppose that a number of elements of its appeal to me then and now include the following. First it was a loud and passionate music. Later on I grew to appreciate music that was not loud such as that of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis for example. 

There was something about the rhythm and the sound that spoke to me, that made me in my na├»ve way feel this music was a “people’s” music. Of course the conscious framing of a people’s music would come to me much later but something about the proud and joyful trumpet of Louis Armstrong and the rhythm of Krupa’s drums resonated at the level of my emotions.

I had learned from my off-the-cuff speech that this was a music that came from the South. I did not know at the time that it came from Africa.  I had a vague awareness that New Orleans jazz somehow was connected with slavery and the fundamental interconnections between the formation of the United States out of the sweat and blood of people with dark skins. The music, I intuited then, was a cry for freedom and an assertion of the humanity of those playing the new music. Ironically, the music also spoke to white audiences (and future white musicians) many of whom had some vague awareness of the history of racism and exploitation. Some in their own lives would share the passion for freedom and personal empowerment as well.

In addition, as I grew up with jazz I noticed that the playing of the music (whatever form it took: New Orleans or Swing, or Be Bop), was comprised of diverse ways of acting: soaring bouts of individual spontaneity coupled with a collective voice of the band members together playing in harmony. They played with improvisational freedom and thematically, that is according to script with notes on a page of sheet music. In other words, the jazz band represented individuality and freedom and community, the hallmarks of a just and good society. Even as the music reflected personal agony and pain, the performers acted as members of a community who shared their suffering and worked collectively to express it.

Jazz and Politics

I want to connect two academic narratives to suggest additional ways in which jazz is “political.” I have implied already that jazz is about passion for freedom, an artistic expression of outrage against oppression and racism, and presents in performance an alternative to alienation and powerlessness.

Michael Denning, in a book called The Cultural Front, analyzed how the mobilizations of the 1930s were among the most effective in U.S. history to bring about social, political, and economic change. He chronicled the massive uprisings around worker rights in that decade, focusing on the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the new labor federation which was committed to organizing industrial workers. Protests against violations of worker rights, including the right to form unions, spread across the South and the North. In 1934 alone there were general strikes in Akron, Ohio; Minneapolis; San Francisco; Seattle; and many other places. Millions of workers mobilized to protest their lot. Factory workers were joined by agricultural workers and clerical workers as well. The base, or substructure if you will, was the working class in motion in the context of the Great Depression.

Denning points out that the Communist Party USA (and other left parties) provided much of the organizing and the strategy and tactics designed to inform and mobilize workers. Socialist organizers mattered (and many of the more conservative trade union leaders knew this). Above these layers of labor and Communist militancy was a broad diverse “popular front” of activists, educators, cultural workers and artists. Painters, photographers, poets, novelists, journalists, folk singers, and jazz performers gave their support to movements of social change. Jazz performers did their share, whether it was playing benefit concerts to raise money for labor organizing, or performing powerful music with messages such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” or giving their talents to integrate their performances and by virtue of that making a statement against America as a racist society. Jazz was integral to the popular front.

A second historical moment, connecting the Cold War to jazz, is recounted in Penny Von Eschen’s book, Satchmo Blows Up the World.  Von Eschen reminds us that the United States after World War II was engaged in an ideological struggle against the former Soviet Union. The world saw a United States that was among the most racist of societies in the world. But out of this racism came a musical form that had the same appeal worldwide that it had at home. To change the worldwide image of the United States, the U.S. State Department came up with a program to send U.S. jazz artists all over the world to display its primary indigenous art form and to convince dubious audiences that the US was not the racist autocracy that the Soviet Union claimed it was.

Great jazz artists like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, knowing full well that they were being used as U.S. government propaganda tools, chose to embark on the worldwide State Department tours to promote their music all across the globe. Von Eschen points out that for the jazz artists their music was international representing the migrations of people everywhere even from the U.S. Ironically the jazz tours spread the imagery of international solidarity at a point in time when anti-colonial movements were reaching success. The jazz tours spread the message of international solidarity, not the need to defeat communism on the world stage. 

Von Eschen refers to a Dizzy Gillespie tour of Southern Africa in 1992, over twenty years after the first State Department tours were organized, when the trumpeter met with Nelson Mandela who had recently been released from jail. Mandela told Gillespie how his music had sustained Mandela through his 26 years in jail. Von Eschen writes about this encounter: “The meeting of Gillespie and Mandela, more than two decades after the height of the jazz tours, speaks to the power of the international movements of jazz and the abiding power of a democratic vision with roots in an earlier moment.” 

Jazz music is entertainment. Consumers of the movement come to it for a variety of reasons. But part of its appeal is that it tells a story about America, critiques the racism deeply embedded in that history, and emboldens listeners to act both individually and as a community.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

DOES INDIANA NEED A MORAL MONDAYS MOVEMENT?



Harry Targ

The Emergence of Moral Mondays in the South

Moral Mondays refers to a burgeoning mass movement that had its roots in efforts to defend voter rights in North Carolina. Thousands of activists have been mobilizing across the South over the last year inspired by Moral Mondays. They are fighting back against draconian efforts to destroy the right of people to vote, workers’ and women’s rights, and for progressive policies in general. Paradoxically, many progressives in the South and elsewhere have not heard of this budding movement.

Moral Mondays began as the annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Assembly (HKonJ) in 2006 to promote progressive politics in North Carolina. Originally a coalition of 16 organizations, initiated by the state’s NAACP, it has grown to include 150 organizations today promoting a multi-issue agenda. In 2006, its task was to pressure the state’s Democratic politicians to expand voting rights and support progressive legislation on a variety of fronts. 

With the election of a tea-party government in that state in 2012, the thrust of Moral Mondays shifted to challenging the draconian policies threatening to turn back gains made by people of color, workers, women, environmentalists and others. Public protests at the state house weekly in the spring of 2013 during the state legislative session led to over 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience and hundreds of thousands of hits on MM websites. Similar movements have spread throughout the South (Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida) and in some states in the Midwest and Southwest (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Missouri). 

To kick off the spring 2014 protests, MM organizers called a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 which brought out at least 80,000 protestors. Rev. William Barber, a key organizer of the movement, has grounded this new movement in history, suggesting that the South is in the midst of the “third reconstruction.” The first reconstruction, after the Civil War, consisted of Black and white workers struggling to create a democratic South (which would have impacted on the North as well). They elected legislators who wrote new state constitutions to create democratic institutions in that region for the first time. This first reconstruction was destroyed by white racism and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation. 

The second reconstruction occurred between Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and President Nixon’s 1968 “Southern Strategy.” During this period formal segregation was overturned, Medicare and Medicaid were established, and Social Security was expanded. Blacks and whites benefited. Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign envisioned a defense and expansion of the second reconstruction.

Now we are in the midst of a third reconstruction, according to Barber. Political mobilizations today, like those of the first reconstruction, are based on what was called in the 1860s “fusion” politics; that is bringing all activists—Black, Brown, white, gay/straight, workers, environmentalists—together. Fusion politics assumes that only a mass movement built on everyone’s issues can challenge the billionaire economic elites such as the Koch brothers and their Wall Street collaborators with masses of people (the 99 percent). Fusion politics, he says, requires an understanding of the fact that every issue is interconnected causally with every other issue. Therefore, democracy, civil rights, labor, women’s, gay/lesbian, and environmental movements must act together (http://youtu.be/sOMn8jLjVLE).

At the February action in Raleigh five general demands were articulated as guides for their spring activism. While economic, political, and historical forces vary from state to state the demands can serve as a model for action elsewhere as well. The North Carolina demands are:
  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
  • Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
The MM Demands and the Situation in Indiana

As to labor rights, poverty, and economic sustainability, Indiana trends mirror the national decline in union membership to a 97 year low. Only 11.3 percent of the American workforce is in unions. Hoosier union membership was 9.3 percent in 2013, almost a 2 percent decline since 2011. Former Governor Mitch Daniels ended collective bargaining for state workers his first day in office in 2005 and signed a new Right-to-Work law at the end of his second term in 2012.

The war on workers paralleled the increases in poverty and the decline in economic well-being in the state. Poverty rates in 2012 included 22 percent of children, 7 percent of seniors, 15.1 percent of women, and included 41 percent of single-parent families. The total poverty rate in Indiana was 15.6 percent with 13.5 percent of Hoosiers living with food insecurity, and 7.15 percent in extreme poverty (living on less than $2 a day). Low income families totaled 32 percent of all families with 24 percent of workers in low wage jobs.

To quote the Indiana Institute for Working Families:

“…more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty and 47 percent are low-income (more than all neighbor states, including Kentucky); more than 1 million Hoosiers over the age of 18 are in poverty and 2.24 million are low-income; more than 70% of Hoosier jobs are in occupations that pay less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – that’s less than $39,060 for the same family of three.... we have a larger share of jobs in occupations that pay at or below poverty wages ($19,530 for a family of three) and jobs that pay at or below minimum wage than all neighbor states, including Kentucky; and wages have declined for lower- and middle-income Hoosiers over the past decade, while worker productivity has soared.” (Derek Thomas, “Cato Study Disingenuously Presents Molehills as Mountains,” Indiana Institute for Working Families, August 23, 2013).

As to education, 87 percent of Hoosier adults have a high school education, 23.4 percent with a college degree, while high school graduation rates stand at 77 percent (ranked 31 of 50 states) and 64 percent of college students have debt averaging $27, 886. Indiana led the way in establishing charter schools and vouchers for attendees while budgets for public education have been cut significantly.

Highlighting health care, Governor Pence has refused to allow Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act leaving over 400,000 economically marginalized Hoosiers without any form of health care. In a recent report prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau, Hoosiers were more likely to be without health insurance than Americans in general (The Vincennes Sun-Commercial, September 25, 2013).

Indiana is a state that fails miserably in terms of environmental justice. Denise Abdul-Rahman, Indiana NAACP Environmental Climate Justice chairperson, reported on two coal-fired power plants in the state that produce unacceptable amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by federal government standards. She reported on an NAACP study finding that seventy-five of 378 such plants nationally were graded a failure, affecting some four million people with low incomes. Fifty-three percent of those exposed to the excessive emissions are people of color. Abdul-Rahman also pointed out that the state NAACP will be investigating coal ash storage from other states in Indiana, sewage overflow into surface waters, and the progress of recovery of Superfund sites. (Rebecca Townsend, “Confronting Environmental Justice,” Nuvo, July 17, 2013). 

An equitable criminal justice system and equality under the law have been on the national agenda for years. National data are replicated in each state. Evidence from 2003-2006 (Christopher Hartney and Linh Vuong, “Created Equal: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System,” National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2009) suggests that African Americans experience over twice the arrest frequencies as whites and higher in particular categories of crimes such as drug possession and violent crimes. People of color experience stiffer sentences, higher rates of incarceration, longer probation periods, and higher percentages of convicted criminals on death row. Rates of arrests, punishments, and incarcerations of Black youth exceed those of whites. Mother Jones investigated incarceration rates in the United States in 2010. The majority of the two million in jail are people of color. In Indiana, with an African American population representing 8 percent of the state’s total population, 42 percent of the prison population is Black (http://www.gibbsmagazine.com/blacks_in_prisons.htm).

Other forms of discrimination recently displayed in Indiana include laws prohibiting same sex marriage and efforts to add this existing prohibition to the Indiana constitution. In addition, state laws have been approved that are designed to shrink and eliminate women’s rights to control their own bodies, including defunding and over-regulating Planned Parenthood health care delivery everywhere in the state.

Finally, Indiana has been in the forefront in establishing voter suppression laws. The state established in 2005 one of the first laws mandating photo identification requirements for voter registration. ALEC model legislation has since spread all across the country, disenfranchising people of color, poorer voters, elderly citizens, and demographic groups more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for public office.

Indiana and a Moral Mondays Movement

The threats to economic, social, and political justice in Indiana are not unique. Some states have even worse records on economic and health indicators. Some states penalize people of color even more than Indiana in terms of education, rights and privileges, and the construction of safety nets for the most needy. But the record for meeting the needs of Hoosiers in a number of areas has been declining for at least a decade. And given the threat to democracy that is spreading all across the land, campaigns to fight back and to rebuild the dream for a better future must rise up in each and every state based on local contexts and coalitions of progressive political forces. 

The essay opened with the question, “Does Indiana Need a Moral Mondays Movement?” The answer is clear. It does.