It's a brisk October day, and the Hoosier Hikers Council is carving a trail out of a hillside as cold wind whips the trees overhead.
The council works on trails every 3rd Saturday, "no matter what the weather, even snow," said Ruth Barnhardt, a retired occupational therapist. "The state doesn't have the money to maintain the trails," she said. "But trails are a big interest for a lot of people."
Led by Suzanne Mittenthal since 1994, council members have volunteered their time in response to that interest. Mittenthal and the council have stepped in when Indiana budgets fell short, maintaining old trails and building new ones. But there's one project they just can't seem to finish.
Suzanne Mittenthal, founder and executive director of the Hoosier Hikers Council, was pursuing a doctorate in sociology when she dropped everything to write a trail guide for the Baltimore Sierra Club more than 30 years ago. "I finished the trail guide before my thesis," she said, wryly, hacking into a hillside with a hatchet as October winds tossed her white hair.
After years of moving from state to state to further her former husband's career, raising her two children, and battling cancer, 62-year-old Suzanne has once again taken her dedication to hikers and the environment off the back burner. She is, on behalf of the council, negotiating with local landowners for land or easements to join the Knobstone and Tecumseh trails in a continuous footpath. Forty-eight miles of land, worth millions of dollars, and lack of interest on the part of the Department of Natural Resources have slowed, but not halted, her progress.
"I don't do anything by halves," she said fiercely. "The Swiss in me gives me the anchor, the strength to persevere no matter what. The Irish in me gives me the gift of blarney."
As if we hadn't already redefined national hypocrisy for the rest of the world, our Commission of International Freedom has given Bush license to take the moral high ground with Saudi Arabia because of "severe" internal issues with religious freedom, as well as "its propagation and export of an ideology of religious hate and intolerance throughout the world."
I don't necessarily disagree with that designation. I just think that the American pot is calling the Islamic kettle black. Hasn't Bush done more so far than any president in recent memory to legislate his religious beliefs into law? And didn't one of his hand-picked hunks, Lt. General Boykin, recently make comments denigrating Muslims as idol worshippers, while promoting American Christianity as the one true religion? I really don't know how anyone from Bush's camp can take communion without choking on it.
I was on the wrong end of religious intolerance last week, when an acquaintance showed up at the church where I sing two services every Sunday. He usually attends a different church, but had to settle for our services because he had some car trouble. "I'm pleasantly surprised to see you here," he said.
by Lisa Golda
Forced proximity temporarily bridged the schism between pro and anti-war Americans on September 11th at the Memorial Circle Monument in downtown Indianapolis. A military-oriented rally and World Trade Center memorial began at 11 a.m. on one side of the monument, while an anti-war exhibit, "Eyes Wide Open," was simultaneously presented by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) on the other side. Approximately 75 people were in attendance of the pro-war rally, while about the same number roamed the exhibit.
Fervor, faith, and support for the troops dominated the pro-war side of the rally, where featured speakers were Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Major Ronald Westfall of the US National Guard, and Richard Oslow, an Indiana fireman deployed to the World Trade Center immediately after the attacks. Many observers carried flags, pro-Bush signs, or wore T-shirts referring to their enlisted children. The rally was occasionally punctuated with chants, yelling, and applause.
The mood on the other side of the monument at the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit was contemplative. "Eyes Wide Open" has toured more than 40 states since March of 2004. It featured a pair of combat boots for every soldier killed in Iraq. One thousand and seven pairs of combat boots were arranged with military precision on the steps of the monument, each pair tagged with the name, rank and number of the soldier killed. One thousand civilian shoes were also placed in a nearby area, although it is currently estimated, according to the AFSC, that over 16,000 Iraqis have been killed as a result of the ongoing conflict.
by Lisa Golda
She got up with a sheaf of anger and despair that she called poetry and read to the small audience crowded in the back room at the Soma coffeehouse in a testimony no jury could have ignored. She called her poem "Bloomington Rapist."
"I'm feeling rather naked and vulnerable in front of you all," she commented before beginning. But this was a poetry reading, not a trial. She did not bear the burden of proof or guilt. The poet simply poured out her pain, and was heard, as were all the poets who brought their rage and their love to the Matrix open mic reading on Wednesday.
Most poets want their voices to be heard. Poems and authors only come to life when words reach an audience. Public readings provide emerging artists with the opportunity to showcase their work and receive feedback from other poets and audience members.
Police call on activists who have mobilized community members to register to vote and intimidate citizens who have expressed concern over election procedures. Government agents question citizens who declare their plans to demonstrate against the ruling political party.
Criticism of the current leader is declared a security threat by a TV channel that represents the head of state. Citizens who do not adhere to the religious beliefs promoted by the government are regarded as inferior, even evil. Anyone can be held without legal representation indefinitely, even tortured and killed, if suspected of being a potential threat to that government.
This mystery country is not Communist-era Russia, Inquisition-era Spain, Chile under Pinochet, or any countries currently under despotic rule. It is the United States of America in 2004. Did anyone recognize it?
Editor's note: Today's is the first installment in a new series by Alternative contributor Lisa Golda called "Activism Spotlight," through which she will explore the personalities and activities of Bloomington's activist community.
"Some people say it's preaching to the choir. I say, absolutely, and I will continue to preach to the choir."
Nate Johnson has committed to educating voters in Bloomington, like-minded or otherwise, through Reel Democracy, a local organization that hosts free screenings of politically oriented documentaries at least twice a month. This weekend, Reel Democracy, with sponsorship by the Cinemat, presented multiple screenings of "Outfoxed; Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," the latest Robert Greenwald documentary. Outfoxed demonstrates that Rupert Murdoch and his network, Fox, are anything but "fair and balanced."
The recent bombing of five Christian churches in Iraq by Muslim extremists is but another example of the way fundamentalist religion is used to justify violence. Shiite Muslim clerics in Iraq condemned the bombings, just as many international religious leaders have condemned the war in Iraq. Yet the killing is sure to continue, and the supposed faithful will use their God to condone and motivate it, even as their leaders plead for a return to the tenets of the faith. Just what are fundamentalists faithful to?
American members of the religious right can, unfortunately, be put in the same extremist category as the bombers in Iraq. Bombings and killings have been committed in the name of religion in the United States. Religious extremists condone violence committed against sinful "unbelievers." American fundamentalists are also eager to support laws that limit individual rights, particularly women's.
The Bloomington Women's Equity Committee (BWEC) put Monroe County Prosecutor Carl Salzmann on trial Friday afternoon with a protest on the Justice Building steps for his alleged failure to aggressively prosecute perpetrators of violence against women.
The protest followed Salzmann's June 18 plea agreement with Lamon Smith, who was being tried for raping an IU student in July 2001. As his trial was underway, Smith pled guilty to felony burglary, and prosecutors dropped charges of rape, obstruction of justice and being a habitual offender.
I received a comment from a reader last week in response to my piece on birth control that provided me with some valuable and perplexing food for thought. The reader pointed out that I, like many other progressive commentators, had fallen into the semantic and psychological traps that continue to dog our political candidates.
I approached my issue from a logical, fact-oriented standpoint, expecting the public to agree with me after having been presented with a reasonable argument. And I did nothing in terms of my language to couch my cause as appealing or superior to that of the Right, thinking that such manipulation is the province of political swindlers. Having since begun to look at my writing in terms of its propagandistic appeal, I'm at a loss as to how to proceed in the future.