Local policy leaders and activists prepare for 2017 

Prepping for the political apocalypse

click to enlarge The Indiana Statehouse - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The Indiana Statehouse
  • submitted photo

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will stand in Washington D.C., raising his hand to a sea of thunderous applause, announcing the top items on his presidential to-do list.

And Indy organizers will be ready with a list of their own.

Local activists (who are already weatherproofing their respective organizations) will be prepared for the 2017 legislature. So far, it's expected that legislation will cover everything from criminalizing abortions to restrictions on which bathroom a transgender person can use.

Earlier this month on Organization Day, when new legislators are sworn in and sketch out the next legislative session, Freedom Indiana wasted no time. The group presented a petition to Republican Governor-elect Eric Holcomb, asking for the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights code in the hopes of preventing hate crimes (which have gone up 6.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the FBI).

"We can't see Indiana move backwards," says Chris Paulsen, executive director of Freedom Indiana. "... We could have been North Carolina. Our bills were very similar."

Paulsen told NUVO that during the 2017 session there will likely be similar bathroom bills to the one that passed in North Carolina [in 2016] targeting trans individuals — which has cost the state $700 million so far.

Editor's note: Paulsen penned an op-ed for NUVO this week on page 4.

"Anything negative that happens in human rights ... drives people away, drives business away," says Paulsen.

The economic argument will be one of the key talking points for Freedom Indiana this session. Right now though, Paulsen is working on educating people about transgender issues.

"It's not about bathrooms and wedding cakes, it's about people's lives," says Paulsen.

Freedom Indiana will likely follow similar strategies that they used in the fight for marriage equality — getting constituents to call their legislators and physically going to the Statehouse.

"It's a representative government; we need to be there representing ourselves if the legislators aren't representing us," says Paulsen.  

Their phone calls last year resulted in 140,000 voicemails being left for lawmakers.

"Normally, if a legislator gets 10 phone calls, that's huge. We were filling their voicemail boxes every night," says Paulsen.

The work was not without reward. Last year the two bathroom bills were halted along with a "super RFRA." However, the passage of HEA 1337 — one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the nation — was monumental. Especially for Patti Stauffer, the vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.

Stauffer worked for Planned Parenthood in the mid '80s and returned in 2012. During her first stint with PP, she saw what appeared to be a deliberate placement of pro-life candidates in the community that would eventually lead to the state capitol.

"They didn't start out with taking statehouses," says Stauffer.

According to her, it began with folks who are now lawmakers (who are also adamantly anti-abortion) sitting on school boards, civic advisory groups and simply talking to people. Today, she hopes to do the same — find volunteers who can be spokespeople in their communities and identify organizations that have memberships (like business groups and faith leaders).

"It has to do with relationship-building," says Stauffer. "And that takes a lot of on-the-ground hard work. It can't be a centralized effort. It has to be decentralized."

Stauffer adds that right now, new lawmakers "need to hear from their constituents that there is a large segment of people living in their districts who do not believe that way and really feel that there needs to be compromise and dialogue with their issues."

Stauffer, like so many working to change public policy, is in limbo with newly elected Donald Trump.

"Some things that we do know is that President-elect Trump has never held an office before," says Stauffer. "He has never had a chance to show his hand on how he might move forward with public policy."

He has made it clear that he will rely on Pence.

"That is problematic to us," says Stauffer.

Stauffer is preparing for the worst — a slow chipping away in the courts at Roe vs. Wade.

"We are expecting a race amongst states to put forth legislation that then ultimately works its way up the federal court system to be the challenge to Roe."

Stauffer notes that there are around 100 federal judge positions waiting to be filled along with the SCOTUS seat, all of which are positions that can forever change women's rights in America.

Planned Parenthood isn't alone in prepping for inauguration day.

"We will see what a Trump/Pence administration will attempt to do," says Jane Henegar, executive director of the ACLU in Indiana.

The ACLU already successfully contested the ban that Pence placed on Syrian refugees entering the state. Today, they are preparing for an immigration ban based on religion.

"We believe that would be a violation of the establishment clause, disadvantaging a particular religion," says Henegar.

"Across the country, we are preparing the arguments [against immediate deportation promised by Trump]," says Henegar. "... It's an outrageous claim that he could do it immediately"

She stated that the ACLU's first step, if that happens, is getting an injunction to halt dragnets and racial profiling.

At the end of the day, all three of these organizations are not only preparing for the worst, they are searching for volunteers and community leaders to step up.

"You need to be involved," says Paulsen. "Not just outraged, but take that anger and use it for good."


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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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