The spray-painting of the Statehouse and the arrest of 24 activists at the June 4 protest against the expansion of a new terrain I-69 highway was only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a multifront battle over the future of I-69.
Sam Flenner displays a sign during the June 4 protest against I-69 that sums up the feeling of activists on how their concerns are being ignored.
The coming months are being heralded as the "Roadless Summer" by activists, which will feature a series of events designed to keep the issue of highway expansion in the public eye. It will include numerous training and educational events in June and July, and a week-long bike tour of the proposed I-69 route starting July 24.
On the legal front, charges against 21 of the 24 arrestees were dropped. The other three - including one authorities say was caught on tape spray-painting the Statehouse - face charges including felony criminal mischief, obstruction of justice and resisting law enforcement. Their next court appearances will take place in late July.
However, witnesses to the event state that Indianapolis Police Department officers used unreasonable force in making the arrests.
Longtime anti-war activist Cate Woods-Russo, of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center and plaintiff in two of the cases filed by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union against the IPD regarding police actions during the 2003 National Governor's Association protest, said that this was evidence local police require more oversight.
"This is just one more reason that Indianapolis area activists should band together to form a 'Cop Watch,'" Russo said. "IPD's 'Intelligence Division' truly believes it is above the law. And as long as it can successfully pit one faction of activists against another, it will continue to get away with creating chaos for the Roadless Summer plans - and all of our rights will continue to diminish."
On the political front, the opposition is focusing on the current survey of state legislators on budgetary priorities. The survey is due in by July 1, and organizers of I-69 opposition are encouraging citizens to make their voices heard to their lawmakers.
"This is the biggest key right now," said longtime activist Sam Flenner. "The biggest thing that can happen in favor of Indiana taxpayers is if we are able to get to those legislators and to their constituency so that they realize that the maintenance budget is busted solely because of the new terrain I-69, and that if it was eliminated all the maintenance projects could be fully funded."
Robin Tala, director of the Bloomington Circus Collective, said that civil disobedience and direct action are a result of a combination of "desperation and love," and stated that further direct action was likely.
"All the actions I have seen today were nonviolent," Tala said the day of the protests. "There was no living thing harmed in any of the actions. It's very easy for the media to frame something like this."
He pointed to the numbers from the public comment period on the I-69 expansion - 1,406 for, 20,467 against - as evidence that lawmakers from both this and the previous administrations were not listening to the people.
"I think that's one of the reasons that people are stepping up the actions, because they feel helpless," Tala said. "They feel there's no other way to get their message across to the state than to state their case in a more loud and direct way. This movement is growing and will be employing a variety of tactics. The actions here today show you that more and more people are increasingly upset about this and are willing to put their bodies on the line. We're closer now than we've ever been to stopping this."
For more information on contacting legislators: www.in.gov/legislative/contact/index.html
More information on upcoming I-69 awareness and activism events: www.roadless-summer.orgLook to future issues of NUVO for more coverage of Roadless Summer and the Statehouse vandalism case.