Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Letter from the Region: Keeping it local

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 11:38 AM

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If all politics, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, is local, politics up in Northwest Indiana’s Michigan City is also microcosmic.

Take, for example, the coarsening of political discourse that’s been on rambunctious display during this year’s election cycle. On May 18, Michigan City’s local paper, the News-Dispatch, reported that “politics may have been at the root of an alleged altercation” that saw a 55-year-old woman arrested and charged with battery after her roommate was hit in the forehead with a cup of coffee, requiring 13 stitches.

The incident was apparently sparked by an argument over whether Barack Obama was president when stimulus checks were issued, as the arrested woman maintained, or whether George W. Bush was president at that time — the position favored by her roommate.

It seems that in the course of this debate, the roommate splashed Obama’s advocate with cold tea and then flung the can, at which point, the Obama supporter let the woman arguing for George W. Bush have it with her caffeinated drink of choice, coffee, plus the cup used for its conveyance.

The News-Dispatch story helpfully provided the answer to this question, the fact that might have saved both women a whole lot of trouble: the checks were issued after the Economic Stimulus Act of February 2008, when G.W. Bush was president.

I guess this is why we have Google. So we can look up stuff before we start throwing things — or beverages (coffee beats tea!) — at one another. It might be helpful if more of us (voters, that is) took a little time to check assertions made by candidates, especially in a year when campaigns are likely to be remembered for bombast and fear-mongering.

Fear, of course, has played like elevator music during much of this campaign season. This has been particularly true in the wrangling over what constitutes U.S. responsibility in the case of Syrian refugees.

Now Michigan City is a relatively small town, with less than 40,000 people. And, like so many Midwestern communities, it has struggled with the complicated challenge of reinventing itself as structural changes to the economy hollowed out its traditional reliance on manufacturing.

But this didn’t keep over 200 citizens from buying benefit tickets and showing up in a local church basement for a dinner to support Zakat Foundation efforts to bring food and supplies to Syrian families displaced by their country’s civil war.

As it happens, Michigan City has a history of Syrian and Lebanese settlement; its mosque, dating back to 1914, is one the oldest in the country. In March, Michigan City’s Common Council passed a resolution condemning violence, bigotry and hateful speech toward Muslims. The recent benefit in the church basement raised over $10,000 for Syrian relief efforts — that’s a significant sum here.

You can Google the Zakat Foundation, by the way. It’s an Islamic charity, based in Chicago. You’ll find a predictable dose of paranoia among the many, many glowing reviews of its work. We live in a big and scary world, for sure.

Which is why keeping things local makes sense. It may not keep somebody from dousing you with coffee, but it keeps the world in scale.


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David Hoppe

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