Thursday, August 31, 2017

REVEREND BARBER AND THE POOR PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN VISIT MILWAUKEE

Harry Targ

Reverend William Barber and his co-workers in the emerging Poor People’s Campaign visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 28, at the Saint Gabriel’s Church of God. After inspirational singing, introductory remarks by Rev. Liz Theoharis, head of the Kairos Center in New York City, and testimonials representing Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis, and the Fight for Fifteen, and Veterans for Peace in Milwaukee, Reverend Barber gave an uplifting speech announcing the forthcoming Poor People’s Campaign.
Moral Mondays Campaigns

Reverend Barber was instrumental in working with North Carolinians for over a decade to build a multi-national, multi-generational, multi-issue movement to oppose racist, exploitative, and sexist policies that became law when reactionary forces gained control of the government of  North Carolina in 2012. He and his co-workers also helped launch Moral Mondays movements, modeled after the North Carolina struggle, in several other states in the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest. In Indiana, that state’s Moral Mondays movement adopted an agenda to advocate for policies endorsed in North Carolina. These included:
Securing pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;

Providing well-funded, quality public education for all;
Standing up for the health of every Hoosier by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;

Addressing the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensuring equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
Protecting and expanding voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.

In his Saturday, September 20, 2014 speech to the 400 people rallying at the Indiana State House, Rev. Barber said he was told by his son, an environmental physicist, that if he ever got lost in mountainous territory he should walk to higher ground. This is necessary, Barber reported, because in the lowlands snakes congregate but if one climbs above the “snake line” snakes, being cold-blooded creatures, cannot live.
Referring to the snake line metaphor Barber declared:

There are some snakes out here. There are some low-down policies out here. There’s some poison out here. Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line. Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line. Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line. Stomping on poor people just because you’ve got power, that’s below the snake line. Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line.
Rev. Barber urged the newly formed Indiana Moral Mondays coalition to “go to higher ground,” where poverty is ended, everybody can vote, children can be educated, the sick can be healed, and everyone is respected.

Moral Mondays campaigns in various states, including Indiana, achieved some successes. They mobilized multiple constituencies: white and black, gay and straight, men and women, young and old, religious and non-believers to fight back against emerging reactionary Tea Party/Koch Brothers policies and politicians. In his home state of North Carolina, Moral Mondays campaigners were able to oust the reactionary governor in the 2016 election. And Reverend Barber, himself, has gone on to become a national spokesperson for progressive policies.
Theory and Practice of Moral Mondays

Barber has grounded the Moral Mondays movement in history and theory. As to the former, Barber has talked about three reconstructions in United States history. The first, after the US Civil War, was based upon a vision and practice of Black/white unity and the struggle for democracy and equality in the nation. It was crushed by the resurgence of the white supremacist planter class in the South, their political collaborators in the North, and the institutionalization of racial segregation. The second reconstruction began metaphorically with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and spanned the decade of successful struggle against segregation in the South in the 1960s. It too was sidetracked, this time by candidate and President Nixon’s so-called “southern strategy” to bring white supremacy back to the South and the nation. We are living through the third reconstruction, Reverend Barber suggested, signified by the two elections of Barack Obama president and the emergence of social movements to finally create racial and economic justice in America.

Today, 2017, he said, the struggle has reached a pivotal stage, with an ethical crisis so deep that a national moral campaign based on fusion politics is needed. Fusion politics, the theoretical underpinning of Moral Mondays, argues that all the issues and policies that have inspired action against the exploitation of workers, institutionalized racism (Black, Brown, Muslim, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant), patriarchy, homophobia, environmental devastation, and war are interconnected. The struggle against one is and has to include the struggle against all the others. Fusion is a conceptual tool that requires thinking about the interconnection of issues and a mobilizing tool that sees the interconnections of social movements.
The Twenty-First Century Poor People’s Campaign

The twenty-first century Poor People’s Campaign, around which Barber and his co-workers are organizing, takes the Moral Mondays campaign to another level. Moral Mondays was about state level issues. It concentrated on domestic policy. It awakened progressives to the critical idea that most of the anti-people policies of the last decade supported by reactionary billionaires like the Koch Brothers, were instituted at the state level. Therefore Moral Mondays began, appropriately, as a series of state campaigns. Now, Barber suggests, there is a need to take the struggle to the entire nation. Local, national, and international issues are connected. Anti-racist, antisexist, anti-worker policies at the state level are connected to similar developments at the national level. AND, all these issues have global dimensions as well.
This new necessity led naturally to reflections on the last project initiated by Dr. Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968, a Poor People’s Campaign. This was a national campaign organized by and for the poor in America, today representing about 40 percent of the population. The specific program was to organize a march/rally/occupation of Washington D.C. to demand an end to poverty in America. Dr. King, in his famous speech at Riverside Church one year earlier articulated the fundamental interconnections, the fusion, of three primary structural problems in America: poverty, racism, and militarism.

Sixty years later, Reverend Barber is calling on progressives to join in a common struggle, led by the poor and oppressed, to challenge these three evils. Rev. Barber, therefore, has been traveling across the United States beginning a conversation about and training for a 2018 Poor People’s Campaign. He is calling upon 1,000 people from each of 25 states and the District of Columbia to commit to train for and engage in civil disobedience to bring the triad of evils to the attention of the public. And he emphasizes repeatedly that the campaign is not just about changing attitudes but changing institutions and policies.
The optics of the rally at the Saint Gabriel’s Church of God reflected the movement Reverend Barber is building. Attendees were Black and white, young and old, women and men, and religious and secular. As to the latter point Barber cited scripture for the religious and the better parts of the US constitution for the secularists.

Finally, Reverend Barber's speech on August 28 emphasized that there cannot be freedom without equality. There cannot be human rights without access to health care and education. And there cannot be economic justice at home while there is militarism overseas.
The twenty-first century Poor People’s Campaign grounds today’s struggles in history; links democracy to economic change; connects social and economic justice; and connects a humane future in the United States to an end to war and the preparation for war. As Barber has written:

The fights for racial and economic equality are as inseparable today as they were half a century ago. Make no mistake about it: We face a crisis in America. The twin forces of white supremacy and unchecked corporate greed have gained newfound power and influence, both in statehouses across this nation and at the highest levels of our federal government. Sixty-four million Americans make less than a living wage, while millions of children and adults continue to live without access to healthcare, even as extremist Republicans in Congress threaten to strip access away from millions more. As our social fabric is stretched thin by widening income inequality, politicians criminalize the poor, fan the flames of racism and xenophobia to divide the poor, and steal from the poor to give tax breaks to our richest neighbors and budget increases to a bloated military
(William J. Barber II, “Rev. Barber: America Needs a New Poor People’s Campaign,” thinkprogress, May 15, 2017.

 


.



Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE KOREAN WAR NEVER ENDS: A 60 YEAR COVERUP: a repost

(originally posted: July 22, 2010)

Harry Targ

"We continue to send a message to the North. There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North," Mrs. Clinton said alongside Mr. Gates on Wednesday, as they stood just feet away from leering North Korean soldiers stationed across the North-South border. "But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Korea." (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2010).

In a political about-face, a South Korean commission investigating a century of human rights abuses has ruled that the U.S. military's large-scale killing of refugees during the Korean War, in case after case, arose out of military necessity.

Shutting down the inquiry into South Korea's hidden history, the commission also will leave unexplored scores of suspected mass graves believed to hold remains of tens of thousands of South Korean political detainees summarily executed by their own government early in the 1950-53 war, sometimes as U.S. officers watched.

The four-year-old Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea probed more deeply than any previous inquiry into the country's bloody past. But a shift to conservative national leadership changed the panel's political makeup this year and dampened its investigative zeal.
The families of 1950's victims wanted the work continued. (Charles J. Hanley and Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press, July 11, 2010).

Back to Korea

I keep coming back to the Korean War. Maybe it is an occupational hazard of those who teach foreign policy. Perhaps it is because virtually every administration since World War II has made their narrative of the events on the Korean peninsula a centerpiece for justifying United States foreign policy. And, from the standpoint of those of us who view United States foreign policy from a critical perspective, the Korean War represents a model of what that policy continued to be ever since the 1940s.

I wrote recently about “our forgotten war,” the Korean war, arguing that the U.S. commitment to “defend” the Korean regime south of the 38th parallel militarily opened the door to massive increases in military spending, the unquestioned commitment of the United States to a global anti-Communist agenda, defense of the reactionary Chinese on the Formosa Islands, the total funding of the French effort to crush Vietnamese anti-colonial forces, and the rapid expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Also, with the Korean War, domestic repression of dissent was broadened and deepened, unleashing the FBI, Congressional and state legislative investigative committees, and moves to standardize American popular culture.

I thought I had written enough on Korea for a while until I read a July 11 wire service story announcing that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission established five years ago in South Korea was terminated. The Commission was created to investigate charges that the U.S. puppet government in South Korea before and during the war was responsible for the rounding up and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of anti-government dissidents in the South (with U.S. military support). Also the Commission was to examine claims by historians that South Korean president Syngman Rhee may have slaughtered 100,000 or more of his own citizens in the early stages of the Korean War because they were deemed unsympathetic to the anti-Communist regime in Seoul.

Then on July 21, Secretaries of State and Defense Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates visited the 38th parallel which has divided the Korean peninsula for over 60 years. Photo images of Clinton peering North with binoculars underscored the definition of North Korea as mysterious and demonic. To support the imagery she announced that sanctions against the “Stalinist dictatorship” would be escalated. The North, she claimed, was responsible for the destruction of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, on March 26, killing 46 sailors. She accepted this interpretation from official South Korean government sources.

The Hidden History

I had read many books over the years on the Korea War but just recently took I.F. Stone’s The Hidden History of the Korean War off my shelf. As one of the first definitive studies of the onset of the Korean War, published by Monthly Review, in 1952, it tells a story of how that war started that is radically different from the official story: “the evil communists in the North invaded the democratic South on orders from the Soviet Union and China.” Even for me, the I.F. Stone narrative was shocking about Korea then (and now). Most troubling were the suggestions about how lies, deceit, messianic ideology, and personality disorders along with imperial structures and processes may have affected United States foreign policy in general. Reflecting on these foreign policies led me to realize that their impacts have included the deaths of millions of people, mostly people outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

Stone’s narrative highlights the interests, behavior, ideologies, and personalities of a handful of players who had most to do with creating and prosecuting the Korean War. Most central was General Douglas MacArthur, commanding officer of the U.S. occupation of Japan, headquartered in Tokyo. MacArthur saw himself as the future leader of all of Asia, bringing Christianity, capitalism, authoritarian democracy and his own historic destiny to the region.

His partners including John Foster Dulles, key Republican spokesperson on foreign policy, former representative to the United Nations and U.S. negotiator of the Japanese Peace Treaty which welcomed back that country into the “family of democratic nations.” Dulles had a long legal career, working with corporations and banks that did business with Nazi Germany. He regarded the rise of Communism as a manifestation of the anti-Christ.

Other partners in the Korean War drama were Syngman Rhee, dictatorial president of the South Korean regime who was on the verge of being ousted from power after his party lost parliamentary elections and Chiang Kai Shek, leader of the anti-Communist forces who were defeated by the Chinese Communists in a thirty-year civil war. Chiang’s Koumintang was forced to retreat from the mainland of China to the Formosan islands and he was desperately seeking a commitment from the United States to defend his beleaguered armies on the islands.

The narrative, of course, includes defense department officials and military contractors who remained, even in 1950, under the yoke of fiscally conservative legislators. They wanted a justification for massive increases in military spending such as those recommended in the secret document National Security Council Document 68.

In addition, Republican politicians were looking for an issue to finally end the twenty year domination of the Democratic Party in national political life. Issues such as the “fall of China,” “the spread of Communism,” the “lack of attention to Asia,” and “subversion inside the State Department” became part of their public agenda. And President Truman, his Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and other key advisers saw the need to expand U.S. military reach to Asia as well. With “the fall of China” Japan and the Korean peninsula were central to the geo-political expansion of US empire and the institutionalization of vibrant capitalist systems in Asia to challenge Communism.

Everybody Has an Interest in War

After describing the central characters in the Korean War drama, it becomes clear that they all would benefit from a massive and irrevocable U. S. military commitment to the anti-Communist regime in South Korea. Such a war would cap the distinguished military career of MacArthur, bring Christianity to Asia, shift foreign policy influence to missionary Republicans such as Dulles and others who wanted to expand U.S. domination to all of Asia, and would save the faltering political fortunes of the dictators in South Korea and Formosa who lacked support among their own people. Last, and not least, a Korean War would institutionalize, militarize, and globalize a United States foreign policy that would bring capitalism and democracy to the world.

The story Stone then tells is of lies and deceit designed to threaten and entice the North Koreans into making war on the South, changing the United States/United Nations response from defending the territory below the 38th parallel to expanding the war to the North, and doing whatever could be done to scare the Chinese into entering the war in full combat. Stone’s narrative shows how desperately the Chinese resisted all-out military response and how MacArthur’s headquarters at every turn resisted peace overtures.

The Stone narrative is long and complicated. Of course many have written about the Korean War since. But what so impacted me reading the book almost 60 years after its publication was the plausibility of the descriptions about how broad economic and political forces shaped and encouraged key decision-makers to act in despicable ways to serve their own interests, as well as United States empire. I am afraid that the United States approach to the Korean peninsula and foreign policy in general has not changed much since.

Any Way Out?

The best alternative to current U.S. foreign policy toward Korea and the world was recently expressed by the Veterans for Peace President Mike Ferner in a press release remembering the 60 year anniversary of the Korean War:

The recent unfortunate sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, should not be used as an excuse by any parties to renew the armed conflict that the armistice was supposed to address on July 27, 1953. Rivers of blood, mountains of pain and a permanent war economy in the U.S. are the true costs of this conflict. This sad anniversary renews VFP's commitment to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

The press release concluded:

As we observe the 60th anniversary of the Korean War of 1950-1953 today, it is time to end this tragic war, not re-ignite it. We urge all concerned parties in the Korean War--both Koreas, the United States, and China--to begin negotiations for a peace treaty and an official end to the war.







Sunday, August 6, 2017

REVISITING "AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM:" HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI


Harry Targ

Continued study and research into the origins of the folk music of various peoples in many parts of the world revealed that there is a world body-a universal body-of folk music based upon a universal pentatonic (five tone) scale. Interested as I am in the universality of (hu)mankind-in the fundamental relationship of all peoples to one another-this idea of a universal body of music intrigued me, and I pursed it along many fascinating paths. Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, 1959.

America’s destiny required the U.S. “…to set the world its example of right and honor…We cannot retreat from any soil where providence has unfurled our banner. It is ours to save that soil, for liberty, and civilization….It is elemental...it is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” Senator Albert Beveridge, Indiana, Congressional Record, 56 Congress, I Session, pp.704-712, 1898).

In these early August days we reflect on the decision to drop atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. The official explanation for the use of these horrific new weapons was that they were required to end the World War in Asia. But subsequent historical research has indicated that the United States chose to drop the bombs to threaten the former Soviet Union and as a result to facilitate the United States construction of a post-war world order that would maximize its economic and political vision.

United States foreign policy over the last 150 years has been a reflection of many forces including economics, politics, militarism and the desire to control territory. The most important idea used by each presidential administration to gain support from the citizenry for the pursuit of empire is the claim that America is “exceptional”. 

Think about the view of “the city on the hill” articulated by Puritan ancestors who claimed that they were creating a social experiment that would inspire the world. Over three hundred years later President Reagan again spoke of “the city on the hill.” Or one can recall public addresses by turn of the twentieth century luminaries such as former President Theodore Roosevelt who claimed that the white race from Europe and North America was civilizing the peoples of what we would now call the Global South.  Or Indiana Senator Beveridge’s clear statement: “It is elemental….It is racial.” From the proclamation of the new nation’s special purpose in Puritan America, to Ronald Reagan’s reiteration of the idea, to similar claims by virtually all politicians of all political affiliations, Americans hear over and over that we are different, special, and a shining example of public virtue that all other peoples should use as their guide for building a better society and polity.

However, the United States has been involved in wars for 201 years from 1776 to 2011. Ten million indigenous people had been exterminated as the “new” nation moved westward between the 17th and the 20th centuries and at least 10 million people were killed, mostly from developing countries, between 1945 and 2010 in wars in which the United States had some role. In addition, world affairs was transformed by the use of the two atomic bombs; one dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 instantly killing 80,000 people and the other on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 killing another 70,000.

Comparing the image of exceptionalism with the domestic reality of American life suggests stark contrasts as well: continuous and growing gaps between rich and poor, inadequate nutrition and health care for significant portions of the population, massive domestic gun violence, and inadequate access to the best education that the society has the capacity to provide to all. Of course, the United States was a slave society for over 200 years formally racially segregated for another 100, and now incarcerates 15 percent of African American men in their twenties.

Although, the United States is not the only country that has a history of imperialism, exploitation, violence, and racism US citizens should understand that its foreign policy and economic and political system are not exceptional and must be changed.

Finally, a better future and the survival of humanity require a realization, as Paul Robeson suggested, that what is precious about all people is not their differences but their commonalities. Exceptionalist thinking separates people and facilitates decisions like the dropping of the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sharing what we have in common as human beings, both our troubles and our talents, is the only basis for creating a peaceful and just world.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF INDIANA; THE STATE VICE PRESIDENT PENCE LEFT BEHIND a repost

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Harry Targ


Social and Economic Wellbeing Survey Shows No Progress

A flurry of newspaper stories appeared the first week of February in The Wall Street Journal and several Indiana newspapers reporting on data from a “health and wellness” national survey about the performance of the 50 states. Indiana according to several measures was ranked as the fourth “worst state” in the country. The national survey consisted of data from 177,281 people interviewed by the Gallup and Healthways organizations. Data included responses to questions about feelings of community support and pride, physical health, and financial security.

According to the survey The Times of Northwest Indiana, (February 8, 2017) reported, “31.3 percent of Indiana residents are obese, 30.6 smoke, and 29.4 percent don’t exercise at all.” Only 24.9 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree (one of the lowest percentages of any state).  The NWIT article indicated that median household income of Hoosiers was $5,000 less than the national median income.

As The Wall Street Journal put it: “Indiana is one of just a handful of states to rank worse in every category of well-being--sense of purpose, social life, financial health, community pride, and physical fitness--than most other states…”  On all these measures combined Indiana’s rank was only ahead of Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Previous Data on the Indiana Economy


The centerpiece of Indiana public policy since 2004 has been corporate and individual tax cuts and reduced budgets for education, health care, and other public services. Indiana was one of the first states to begin the privatization of the public sector, including transferring educational funds from public to charter schools. It established a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools. Also Indiana sold public roads; privatized public services; and recruited controversial corporations such as Duke Power to support research at the state’s flagship research universities. Meanwhile the manufacturing base of the state shifted from higher paying and unionized industrial labor (automobiles, steel, and durable goods) to lower paying service jobs and non-union work such as at the Amazon distribution center.

The narrative about Indiana economic growth presented by the former Governor Mike Pence varied greatly from data gathered between 2012 and 2014. For example, between 2013 and 2014, despite enticements to business, Indiana grew at a 0.4 percent pace while the nation at large experienced 2.2 percent growth.

Indiana’s economy historically was based on manufacturing but has experienced declines since the 1980s (with only modest increases in recent years).  However, newer manufacturing between 2014 and 2016 has been mostly in low-wage non-unionized sectors.   For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county paid wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (www.iiwf.blogspot.com).

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “…wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers,” and developing universal pre-kindergarten and programs to rebuild the state’s crumbling infrastructure. They may have added that declining real wages also relates to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas recommended in 2012 that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should have taken these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, introduced the concept of  Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-specifically, 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who have struggled to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, Roger.Frick@iauw.org).

Assessing these recent studies and the 2017 report cited at the outset leads to the conclusion that an evaluation of the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

Indiana Politics

Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions, then the state with the third highest union density. By the dawn of the second decade of the twenty-first century only 11 percent of workers were in trade unions. Recent legislation has disadvantaged Hoosier workers including passage of a Right to Work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Mitch Daniels/Mike Pence administrations (2004-2016) have used charter schools and vouchers to weaken teachers unions. In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order abolishing the right of state employees to form unions. 

In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Voters were required to secure voter identification photos. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ended voter registration in the state one month before election day. And polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 

Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. Nine solidly Republican congressional districts were drawn in 2000.  In 2014, of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested.  2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country. The Governor’s office has been held by Republicans since 2004 and Republicans have had majorities in both legislative bodies since 2010, when statewide redistricting was implemented.

Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, many legislators and the two most recent governors have been friends of or received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) funded by major corporations and the Koch brothers. 

With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has been able to initiate some of the most regressive policies in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation in the country. And as the data above suggests, the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state. Other data suggests that the quality of health care, education, the environment, and transportation have declined as well.

The political picture is made more complicated by the fact that Indiana is really “three states.” The Northwest corridor, including Gary and Hammond, are cities which have experienced extreme deindustrialization, white flight, and vastly increased poverty. Political activists from the area look to greater Chicago for their political inspiration and organizational involvement. Democratic parties are strong in these areas but voter participation is very low. 

Central Indiana includes a broad swath of territory with small cities and towns and the largest city in the state, Indianapolis. Much of the area is Republican, many counties have significant numbers of families in poverty, and some smaller cities have pockets of relative wealth. Democrats hold some city offices but the area is predominantly Republican.

The southern part of the state, south of Indianapolis, in terms of income, political culture, and history resembles its southern neighbor Kentucky, more than the northern parts of the state. The state of Indiana was the northern home of the twentieth century version of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, the KKK controlled Indiana state government. That reality, the institutionalized presence of overt racism, remains an aspect of Hoosier history that may still affect state politics.

In sum, the working people of Indiana enter the coming period with little economic hope, a politics of red state dominance, and the number two person in the White House who bears some responsibility for the economics and politics left behind. Social change in Indiana, as with the nation at large, will require a vibrant, active progressive program in the electoral arena, the 2018 elections for example, at the same time that mass movements direct their attention to improving the lives of the 99 percent.