When the diverse group gathered Monday morning, March 25, at the Statehouse for the Indiana Poor People's Campaign legislative demand delivery, they put their priorities into practice from the start.
Before the official program began, Rev. Shonda Nicole Gladden, CEO of Good to the SOUL, invited those seated in the audience to join the speakers on stage.
“We're all in this together,” she said. “You're welcome to join us.”
The group, which is one of 35 state campaigns across the nation, was gathered to demand “a massive overhaul of voting rights, welfare and work requirements, living wages, health care, access to clean water, housing, ecological devastation and an end to endless war, to lift up the 140 million Americans currently living in poverty.”
Gladden said her first order of business was to dispel “myths” about the campaign and its purpose.
“It has been said that we are race-baiters, prone to public acts of civil disobedience, disruptors, unemployed people whose poverty is of our own doing,” she said. “It has been said that we are disgruntled liberal Democrats who are angered by everything and incapable of satiation to the point that no matter what legislative agenda gets passed we will not be satisfied.”
Gladden said their purpose for gathering extended far beyond party lines.
“We are a nonpartisan group of people who are gathered here today united because of our commitment to disrupt a distorted moral narrative,” she said. “We have been convicted that the insights and the struggles of the poor and dispossessed of Indiana, they're not all victims of their own self-inflicted undoing, but rather we are united because we believe we all find ourselves at the mercy of systems that support and sustain themselves on the backs of those who have insufficient resources to simply live. And so we are here today because somebody's hurting our people, and it's gone on far too long.”
Karla Jay, a Quaker who belongs to Latino Friends Church on the east side, referenced the history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
“This campaign was not something he could see come to fruition,” she said. “I feel saddened to still have to do this. I feel frustrated that I still have to march against the same injustices that this man that was killed decades before I was born marched for.
Imam Michael Saahir, of Nur-Allah Islamic Center, said one of the main threats to the poor people of Indianapolis was gentrification, which he said had taken hold during his lifetime.
“That canal over here that turns green on St. Paddy's day and over here by the Indiana Avenue, I remember Black businesses for a mile,” he said. “The canal was dirty, murky, stinky, but all of a sudden those who thinks they can write the moral initiative they want to move back downtown. All of a sudden that same water that was dirty, now there's a nice patio for jazz concerts, they're building condos around the neighborhood. That's immoral.”
Tim Watt, known as Harry the Homeless Hippie, told those assembled about his decision in October 2014 to live as a homeless person for at least a week in the county seat of all 92 counties in the state in an effort to raise awareness about the issue.
“You can't sweep me under the rug,” he said. “It ain't gonna happen. I'm too big. I'm too mean too ornery. … They're giving all the money to the rich and leaving nothing for the poor. And this is a very prosperous country. We have more than enough.”
Though the campaign itself did not name any specific pieces of legislation they were working for or against, Dr. Ivan Douglas Hicks, pastor of First Baptist Church North Indianapolis, did mention two bills by name.
Hicks said he was concerned about Senate Bill 279, co-authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, and Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis. The bill would reduce the age a juvenile could be tried in court as an adult from 14 to 12 for murder or attempted murder. Proponents have cited last year's school shooting in Noblesville West Middle School as one example of how the law could be used effectively. The bill has passed out of the Senate and has now been assigned to the House of Representatives’ Courts and Criminal Code Committee.
Hicks also spoke in favor of House Bill 1628, authored by Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, would allow low-income students to apply for state-funded preschool programs. That bill has now passed the House and has now been assigned to the Senate’s Education and Career Development Committee.
“Where there are vulnerable people in the society we understand that we can band together and we can make sure that heinous public policy does not come down the pike that hurts our children and keeps us from the resources that other people in this nation so readily and easily access,” said Hicks.
After the speakers finished their remarks, the assembled campaign members joined in song and delivered letters to all 50 senators and 100 representatives.