People’s Press Conference spotlights substantive problems and real solutions to pandemic

by Connie Thompson

The day after Indianapolis’ shelter-in-place order was lifted, a broad coalition of progressive organizations coalesced for the People’s Press Conference on the lawn of the Indiana Statehouse. The May 19 event was a counterpoint to Governor Eric Holcomb’s press conferences. Although Holcomb speaks to the press for hours each week, he has minimized or ignored the most substantive problems. The People’s Press Conference, by contrast, spotlighted the issues that affect working-class Hoosiers–both their root causes and how the pandemic has exacerbated them–and announced activists’ plans for the future.

“We have always been undocumented, and we will continue to be undocumented until the pandemic is over,” said María Luna, a representative of Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance (IUYA). “The difference now is that the sleeping giant has awakened, and this country will no longer get away with using our bodies as disposable items during this pandemic.”

Riley Bove, president of the IUPUI Initiative for Disability Education, Advocacy, and Support (IDEAS), brought attention to disability justice, an especially important issue during the pandemic, yet one that does not receive much attention.

“With social welfare programs like SSI, disability, and food stamps, they are very restricted on who can access these benefits, and they often ask a multitude of questions to determine ‘eligibility,’ and what happens a lot of times is that people are denied these benefits, and that can lead to eviction, loss of income, and diminished healthcare,” they said.

During the press conference, several new initiatives and events were announced. The Indiana Climate Coalition (ICC) unveiled its brand new Indiana Green New Deal. The 10-point program specific to Indiana’s environmental issues includes achieving 100% renewable energy and a just transition to a worker-led energy industry.

The New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP) announced its campaign to address the police killing of three people in seven hours over May 6 through 7. They’re organizing to fire the officers involved (with no severence pay), to prohibit IMPD officers from carrying lethal wapons, and to re-name Michigan Rd. to “Dreasjon Reed Rd.” Reed was murdered near the intersection of Michigan Rd. and 62nd St.

IDOC Watch, which is working to mitigate the death toll of incarcerated people from the pandemic, announced a new campaign to compel the Indiana State Department of Health to investigate all individual COVID-19 cases in prisons and, relatedly, the governor’s and IDOC’s management of the health of inmates during the pandemic. While testing is extremely limited in IDOC facilities, over 300 incarcerated people have tested positive for the disease, with 150 of those in Westville Prison alone.

Labor issues also took center stage. The Maple City Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), for example, pointed out how the state’s re-opening plan is guided by business interests at the expense of workers’ health and safety. The Tyson Foods plant in Logansport recently reopened, despite having over 900 of its employees test positive for COVID-19.

While the deepening impact of the pandemic creates widespread insecurity and fear, it also reveals that many progressive demands, which the state routinely dismisses as “impractical,” are incredibly realistic. Derek Ford, of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), highlighted the moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, which were implemented without massive protests. “The government has shown us that it has the power to implement these changes. Our task now is to make them permanent and expand their scope,” they said.

We stand with these local progressive groups and are committed to supporting their collective campaigns. ANSWER Indiana will join the coalition for a protest to cancel all rent and mortgage payments for tenants, homeowners, small landlords, and other small businesses on May 30.

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