Photohgraph by Bailey Loosemore

Bloomington laborers carry a symbolic coffin outside the Bloomington Convention Center where Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke to a gathering of the Chamber of Commerce. They held a mock funeral to commemorate the death of the middle class at the hands of Midwestern Republican governors like Daniels, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio.

Jean Smith holds one end of a 7-feet-long poster that first entered the protesting scene five years ago. It should be a third longer, she said.

“It’s the cost of I-69 expressed in millions,” the longtime opponent of the Interstate 69 extension from Evansville to Indianapolis via Bloomington said, looking down at the small numbers. “When I printed this, the state said it cost $1.8 billion, but we estimated that it cost $3 billion. The state now admits that it’s $3 billion."

Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR) has calculated the cost to be $4 billion, so the poster should be longer.

Smith and around 60 other protesters demonstrated before the Convention Center Wednesday as members of the Chamber of Commerce entered the building to hear Gov. Mitch Daniels speak.

Members from Jobs with Justice, the I-69 Accountability Project, White River Central Labor Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) came to represent their causes.

Photograph by Bailey Loosemore

In addition to union members, opponents of Daniels' plan to spend $4 billion on I-69, one of the nation's largest pork-barrel projects, while gutting education and human services.

“Today we’re out here because of an unemployment bill that passed in the House,” said Carven Thomas, the General Electric IBEW president. “It talks about when you have a week with a return to work date, you’re not allowed to draw unemployment. We had 17 lack of work weeks last year where we would not be able to draw benefits.”

It’s the recent unemployment insurance bill, House Bill 1450, that Jackie Yenna said the White River Central Labor Union was protesting.

“It cuts people’s unemployment when they need it the most,” he said. “We’re here to let him know we’re fighting every step of the way.”

Closer to the Convention Center’s doors, a coffin lay across two chairs.

“What time should we do the funeral?” someone asked. “We’re going to walk around the hotel until they shoo us away, but we don’t want to miss the funeral.”

Joe Varga, a member of Jobs With Justice, said the funeral commemorated the death of the middle class.

“The new Republican majority is trying to kill the middle class,” he said. “We’re going to raise up the corpse.”
"Save the working poor."
Around 11:30 a.m., as members of the Chamber of Commerce milled about in the center’s hallway, Varga and a group of protesters lifted the coffin from its resting place and carried it to the window.

“Save the middle class,” they chanted at the people inside.

“Hey hey, ho ho. Teacher bashing’s got to go.”

Inside, the Chamber members glanced out the window and continued on their way.

Outside, Varga and the other protesters smiled as they chanted.

“Save the working poor.”

Bailey Loosemore can be reached at