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Prop 256: Lazy plagiarism of Republican policy by leading Indy Democrats

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Indianapolis Hope Packages organizer Everland Wells addresses protesters at Lugar Plaza, July 11, 2022.

Zach Adamson might not be stupid, but he certainly thinks the people of Indianapolis are.

Dozens of people representing mutual aid organizations across Indianapolis assembled for a demonstration on Lugar Plaza July 11 condemning Proposal No. 256, an ordinance Council Vice President Adamson is co-sponsoring with Council President Vop Osili and failed State Senate candidate Kristin Jones. Speakers from multiple groups addressed the gathered crowd, asserting the right to assist victims of capitalism in our collectively shared spaces. Afterwards, many protestors went inside to confront the Council directly as they introduced the proposal.

The scene of angry masses rejecting the Council’s war on the poor has played out before in Indianapolis, over Prop. 291 in 2020 and “Sit-Lie” Prop. 357 in 2018. The previous attempts at criminalizing the poor and those providing assistance came from the Council’s Republican minority. Former council member Mike McQuillen, who authored Sit-Lie in 2018, lost his seat the next year to Ethan Evans, a former Democrat who left the caucus out of disgust in early 2022. Michael Hart sponsored Prop. 291 in 2020, which was voted down with gusto by the same Democrats behind Prop. 256.

Breaking down Proposal No. 256: Why to oppose this new attack on the poor

Proposal No. 256 takes all of the bad parts of Hart’s 2020 proposal without any of its possibly redeeming qualities. The barriers to distribution are still there: forced registration with the City (under threat of up to a $500 fine, a draconian measure that even Hart agreed to remove in 2020) and 48-hour notice before distributing aid required with no exceptions (preventing emergency aid distribution in the wake of a natural disaster, mass shooting, or simply rescheduling for weather). 

The Democrats’ proposal is more restrictive: where in Hart’s proposal registration could only be revoked if not renewed once a year, the Democrats have created pathways for anyone to stage and “document” litter following aid distribution in complaints to OPHS, leading to revocation. Furthermore, IMPD can revoke registrations by filing a report alleging serious injury during or following a distribution. This appears to be cynically using the death of Taylor George, someone who actively benefited from and gave back to homeless aid efforts, to provide a mechanism for IMPD to extort with fines or outright end similar efforts to provide aid to people who need it.

At the root, this is a battle over the commons and who has a right to it. Do we the people have the right to exist in our public spaces, the places we own collectively? We assert that we do have the right to public spaces without illegitimate restrictions on how or when we can help our fellow human beings. At the same time that the political far right is moving to restrict individual freedom in abortion bans, the political center in Indianapolis sees an opportunity to restrict collective freedom in Prop. 256. We reject both. We have the right to make decisions about our own bodies, and we collectively have the right to the commons without restrictions or threats.

Adamson, Jones caught out copying Republican homework, try to gaslight public

After the Council meeting, Adamson told WRTV, “[Prop. 256] is a supported proposal that actually has additional measures to support the proposal. There are bathrooms associated with this. There are cleaning stations associated with it. [The Department of Public Works] and cleaning companies will help keep the areas clean. That didn’t exist before.” Responding to the charge from the grassroots that Prop. 256 is “more or less the same” as Prop. 291, Adamson told RTV, “It is the exact opposite.” Jones defended Prop. 256 to IndyStar, who wrote “there’s a ‘clear distinction’ to her when it comes to the way the city now provides charitable distributions, as well as the more ‘punitive’ nature of the previous proposal.”

But is it really “the exact opposite”? What “clear distinction” exists? Organizers dug Hart’s 2020 proposal up and compared it to the Democrats’ offering. While Dems fluffed up the proposal with over a thousand words (with not one mentioning DPW or the bathrooms and cleaning stations Adamson alleges are part of Prop. 256, but are actually part of a totally separate proposal) and removed a section that would have directed the Office of Public Health and Safety to “make opportunities for food-safety or food-handling training, and other educational materials or resources, available to donors,” they reintroduced the $500 fine and kept around 400 words copied directly from Hart’s Prop. 291.

If these councillors were back in school, they’d be failed for plagiarism—not allowed to dictate the terms and conditions of providing aid to the thousands of working people who, because of the failed pro-corporate politics of Democrats and Republicans at the local, state, and federal levels, are in desperate need of that help. It’s the dictatorship of the wealthy, where rich party controllers call the shots from smoke-filled back rooms like mafiosi, that allows this to happen.

Democrats: Opportunists at best, outright defenders of corporate rule at worst

Citing her faith as a source of her opposition, Kristin Jones (D-16) said of Prop. 291 in 2020, which created fewer barriers than hers: “I know that there’s gonna be churches, organizations, and families who are gonna be hindered by these barriers and these regulations that we’re here discussing and trying to make as an ordinance tonight. And I don’t want any barrier that I’m responsible for as a Councillor to put up as feeding our homeless and our poor and our most vulnerable.”

Hammering home the threat of fines for violating Prop. 291, Leroy Robinson (D-1), Chair of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, asked a lawyer for the city, “You’re telling me that an organization that’s feeding the homeless could possibly be before the Marion County Prosecutor?” When the attorney said yes, he replied, “That’s alarming. . . . Here we are, a few days before Thanksgiving, we’re debating a proposal that penalizes and regulates organizations who are trying to feed the homeless. We’re better than that, Councillors!”

While most Democrats opportunistically attacked Hart’s proposal, Dan Boots (D-3) praised it. “I think it really contributes to the overall strength, the safety, and the cleanliness of downtown, to keep the core of our city vibrant and attractive. I’ve been downtown over 30 years. It is currently the worst condition of my lifetime, and I see very little progress being done to immediately impact that situation. I see this as a positive step in that regard, and for that reason I will vote for the proposal and encourage my fellow councillors on the committee to vote for it as well.”

Only radical action will address homelessness, violent crime

The only way to end homelessness is to house people. There is no other solution. Masses of people who have nowhere else to go are not “vibrant and attractive” to the landlords and business owners of downtown Indianapolis, who refuse to solve the problem by housing them. Homelessness is itself a violent crime against humanity caused solely by greed. There is ample housing in Indianapolis if the speculators and landlords seeking profit had their assets seized to house the people who are forced to live with friends or family, in cars, or directly out on the streets because housing is treated as another commodity to bid on in the market.

But while Proposal No. 256 would be most detrimental to people experiencing homelessness, it would also restrict efforts to help the community regardless of their housing situation. Mutual aid organizations like Indy Hope Packages and No Questions Asked Food Pantry distribute aid in public, without means-testing, to people who need it. These organizations do this without corporate or city funding, while Democrats and Republicans alike pour funds into IMPD’s coffers as the people suffer.

When human beings have safe and dignified housing, education, healthcare, and a job that pays a thriving wage, the root causes of most interpersonal violent crime—based on deep-rooted drive to survive in a world that currently does not care if humans survive—will be addressed. No one imagines the Republicans would advocate that. But with this offering from leading Democrats, let no one be deceived into imagining that they would fight for that future, either.

Only by continuing to build the network of organizations of popular power—socialist parties, unions, mutual aid groups, issue-based organizations, community organizations, and so on—will we beat back the march of fascism coming from the red- and blue-carpeted halls of corporate power. Let’s fight for an Indianapolis that guarantees the basic human rights of all its residents! Join us in saying “No to Prop 256!”