A year of surprises; a year of sadness. Julia Carson passed away Dec. 15, Aletra Hampton on Nov. 12, her sister, Virtue, on Jan. 17, and Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most beloved writers — anywhere — died on April 11. Together the four of them they totaled 329 years lived. The Colts won the Super Bowl, Bart Peterson lost the mayoral race and this was the year everyone started talking about being “green.” Let’s just hope it wasn’t too late.
For Indianapolis Public Schools, 2007 is ending on much the same note as it began. School officials are outwardly expressing hope that actions the administration is taking will change the direction of a district that appears increasingly in decline. Eugene White was named IPS superintendent in 2005 and retains a tremendous amount of respect throughout the city among public officials and business and community leaders. His tough-handed, determined approach to academic improvement is heralded as a welcome change.
But test scores in the state’s largest district remain well below both state and national averages and have shown little improvement. Enrollment continues to decline, schools will be closed and jobs likely lost as the district tries to eliminate a $20 million budget deficit.
Add to this that Indianapolis in 2008 will see a new mayor whose understanding of and support for public education is an unknown. What is known, however, is that newly elected Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, has praised White, but the GOP traditionally has supported issues like charter schools and vouchers that many contend undermine public education.
IPS has a major initiative to curb its dropout problem, including offering alternative schools for troubled students. However, this year five high schools were named as “dropout factories” on a national survey of schools with high dropout rates.
In all but one of the last 20 years, enrollment in IPS has dropped; enrollment is 20 percent lower today than it was 10 years ago. In November, the Indianapolis Public School Board voted to close eight schools and redraw district lines for the next school year. “Obviously, what we were doing needed tweaking,” one board member said.
Board President Mary E. Busch said the changes are needed due to the enrollment decline and the need to reduce the budget gap.
There was good news, of course. Rousseau McClellan School 91 was among eight schools in Indiana nominated by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed for a National Blue Ribbon School Award. Reed said the school “demonstrated a commitment to student success.”
Ballard says there needs to be a change in the 150-year-old model of education in the city. And needed or not, it is not likely to occur in 2008.
Last July 15, when I covered the so-called “Black Sunday” property tax protest on the Circle and at the Statehouse, I realized I was experiencing a growing movement with profound implications. It was a déjà vu moment that took me back to another time and another cause that galvanized people to take to the streets and demand change.
During the late ’70s, I was a young hippie activist living in Washington, D.C., during the time when Nixon was in the White House and the Vietnam War was at its peak. It was a heady time for the peace movement and massive demonstrations against the war were the norm. Because I lived on Capitol Hill, many of the protests were practically in my backyard, so I was always present. What struck me back then and on that humid Sunday this past July was even though the protests were peaceful, the anger and frustration expressed by the crowds of both eras was palpable. Also similar was the feeling in the air that ordinary citizens taking to the street could really affect change — that “Power to the People” was much more than just an empty slogan.
Another strong impression I carried away that sultry afternoon last summer was the depth of scorn and abuse heaped on every politician who tried to speak and who were shouted down or booed by the protestors, many of whom were baby-boomers like me, who made it clear they were in no mood for self-serving rhetoric. There was one politician, however, who claimed he was an outsider, and the only politician present to escape the crowd’s derision.
His name was Greg Ballard, the candidate running for mayor who told the crowd he wanted to cut spending and abolish the property tax.
Considering all that has happened since, the irony and prophetic nature of all I witnessed on that now historic day is inescapable.
In 2007, the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors proved the truth of the Margaret Mead quote — “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — by changing (or, in this case, preventing change to) the local landscape. The alliance succeeded in persuading the Metropolitan Zoning Commission to deny a petition to rezone 70 acres of woods and wetlands owned by Crown Hill Cemetery to allow retail and residential development.
For their efforts, the alliance — a group of individuals, neighborhood associations and environmental organizations dedicated to preserving the Crown Hill-owned land at the northeast corner of 38th Street and Michigan Road — was recognized as Outstanding Civic Organization by the Indiana Urban Forest Council for “promoting the principles of urban forestry in Indiana,” and was named the Outstanding Grassroots Organization of the Year by the Hoosier Environmental Council for its “dedicated efforts to preserve and protect the natural areas at Crown Hill Cemetery.”
So, instead of being razed to make way for yet another strip mall and an enclave of million-dollar estates cheek-by-jowl with more than 250 condos and cookie-cutter single-family housing, the land remains a sylvan home to a vast array of birds, insects and creatures with four or more legs. And, if local environmental groups have their way, the site will remain a natural resource. Spurred by the alliance’s success, an ad hoc coalition that includes the Central Indiana Land Trust, the Indy Parks Foundation and the Department of Natural Resources is talking with Crown Hill about ways to preserve the land. Check the alliance’s Web site at www.allianceofcrownhillneighbors.org for updates.
2007 was the year that Indianapolis won the Super Bowl and then collectively turned its palms upward, cursing Larry Bird and the basketball heavens for sending us 50 Cent’s entourage as a starting lineup for the Pacers. The Indians, after holding Minor League Baseball’s best record for the first half of the season, lost a record-setting 9,000 games after the All-Star Break, and Indiana’s lonely hope for baseball in September went out the window.
But more importantly, the Colts won the Super Bowl. “We’re world champions!” they exclaimed at the RCA Dome, following their victory parade. World champions? That’s like James Naismith declaring himself Basketball Champion of the Universe in 1891. They may as well have declared themselves Football Presidents of the Milky Way Galaxy. Crafty terminology by the media distracted Americans from the fact that we got our asses kicked in the World Baseball Classic and embarrassed ourselves in international basketball. But I’m a cynic — let us hyperbolize being the best in the world at a sport that less than 1 percent of the world’s sovereign nations participate in.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve loved the Colts since Jack Trudeau was throwing meatball sandwiches at Shawn “No Contact” Dawkins, and we were losing 15 games a year. I waited in the freezing rain with my dad at 6 a.m. for playoff tickets like half the city. But let’s keep this thing in perspective … we were so hung-over on the Colts, even in August, that the city thought we wouldn’t notice a 900 percent increase in property taxes. And they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling Patriots.
Lost in the hype of Super Bowls and drunken pistol fights at strip clubs are a couple of important unsung successes in Indy sports this year: IUPUI is having its best basketball year in school history, and Butler is looking the same. After this weekend, both teams have credible wins to complement the pre-season accolades and starry-eyed predictions of Indianapolis hoops fans.
Butler cross-country won their conference for the 10th time in a row this October, and Marian started a new football program — which, in one of the most uncelebrated sports miracles of the year, won a game. I say that with all sincerity — a first-year collegiate football program has about as much chance at success as Tinsley taking a clean piss at the clinic. Congratulations to coach Karras and the bold crew of freshman pioneers at Marian that went out every week facing 40-point spreads and still showed up every day, just for a chance to play the game they love. You are the World Champion of First-Year Collegiate Football Programs Coached by Someone Named Ted Karras!
Whether you’re an optimist — all years are good, some better — or a pessimist — all years are bad, some worse — objective evidence shows that all years are pretty much the same.
Long ago, so long as to be 1864 or, I guess, 1964 — some century before this one — presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson said that if elected, he would not escalate the Vietnam War. His opponent sounded militant about it and a peace-loving electorate gave Johnson a landslide win.
In 1965, when the promising season had passed into the alibi-ing season, LBJ plagued our country with perfidy and thousands of young human beings, American and Vietnamese, were slaughtered and maimed in the broken bargain. Why the ghastly 180? Because big, tough-sounding Lyndon was scared number-twoless of war-wimps. His routine included regular weekly phone calls to wealthy war hawk publishers. He imagined they could prolong his popularity. Did it work? Hardly. His perfidy plunged him from the pinnacle of the polls to the bottom.
2007 produced something similar, probably because the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.
By 2006, a large majority of Americans had had a bellyful of the sanctimonious deceit of patriotic-er-than-thou politicians whose toy soldier computer-game fantasies had brought about the slaughter and maiming of thousands of young Americans.
So the voters turned to the Democrats to pull the plug on the meat grinder and, just as in 1964, the new Democratic Congress became a latter day LBJ. They chickened out and free-fell in the polls. “Oh gee, the Right Wing Chicken Hawk politicians, yclept the Cheney Gang, not the voters, will say we’re for the terrorists if we keep faith with our mandate.”
And never mind the additional, senseless slaying and maiming of our faithful young soldiers and Marines, whose commander-in-chief fatally abuses their trust and willfully writes them off.
Even though the new Congress is at last making some clucking sounds about not prolonging the blunder, the more that stupid things change, the more they don’t.
2007 was the year that communities came together to agitate, educate and connect — as well as to sustain and nurture each other. From Zawadi Exchange’s listening ear to Justice for Janitors’ standing up for workers’ rights, Indianapolis saw a fair amount of organizing for empowerment.
Numerous activists paused in Indy thanks to local groups who organized events. Feminist theologian Mary Hunt joined local pastors in defending both choice and gay rights. Animal rights advocate Nathan Winograd brought his vision of a no-kill nation. Author/activist Naomi Wolf enumerated the Bush Administration’s attacks on civil liberties. Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon shared her wisdom at two Spirit & Place events.
Step It Up rallies called attention to the environment. Water for People revealed the scarcity of clean drinking water in many developing nations. Bread for the World raised awareness of America’s farm policy inequities. In these and many more arenas, individuals had a chance to belong, to matter, to make a difference.
And Indy residents did step up. Through their money and time and voices, they showed that they cared.
They joined the fight against the global water crisis on World Water Day. They wrote letters to legislators about the farm bill, seeking justice for rural farmers both at home and abroad. They shouted, “Si Se Puede!” with Justice for Janitors, pledging to continue organizing for a living wage.
Word became deed; action became solidarity. It was a solidarity not limited to humans, as many four-leggeds joined our species in service every day, and continue to do so: the horses of TherAplay lending their bodies to the cause of pediatric physical therapy; the dogs of ICAN giving prisoners a sense of purpose, then moving on to assist a disabled person or sniff out contraband at the airport.
In 2007, there was no excuse for complacency.
While Indiana agribusiness is enjoying a windfall of greenbacks from an emerging biofuels industry, Indianapolis residents have begun marching en masse down the greenway of eco-consciousness.
Being green in this city used to conjure images of Kermit the Frog crooning, “It’s not easy being green,” or “environmental wackos” (thank you, Rush) clad in Birkenstocks carrying cloth grocery bags and eating tofu. Increasingly, those “environmental wackos” may just as easily be clad in Red Wing work boots and eschewing tofu in favor of food produced on greener pastures, produced sustainably and closer to home.
Emboldened by this year’s reports from the United Nations panel of climate scientists or the summer’s drought that parched much of Central Indiana and beyond, Indianapolis residents are Stepping It Up to take action against climate change.
Indeed, 2007 was the year green went mainstream in Indianapolis, from the Indianapolis GreenPrint, which sets “a vision for a sustainable Indianapolis,” to a new magazine, Indiana Living Green that offers Hoosiers eco-friendly alternatives in the marketplace. Indy’s newfound interest in all things green included a victory to deny developers access to Crown Hill Cemetery’s green space, along with green roofs, green buildings (Casa Verde project and Ecology House) and even a proposal for a green Broad Ripple. Bike lanes have appeared on some of Indianapolis’ streets.
It’s as if Hoosiers suddenly donned green-colored glasses: Indianapolis green drinks, green maps, a green power option (courtesy of IPL), green sanctuaries (as in churches) and money for more miles of greenways.
Meanwhile, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful wants to green the city by planting 100,000 trees, and Purdue Extension is responding to growing interest in community gardens and green spaces.
Despite Indy’s green-ward motion, an Inconvenient Truth remains that the city has a way to go to become sustainable (the ultimate standard in being green). Case in point, the public transportation system, IndyGo, continues to be under-funded. Given the 11th Hour buzz around going green, perhaps new organizations, such as Sustainable Indiana 2016, will move Hoosiers closer to realizing a greener Indiana during its third century.