Social Justice

March 7, 2010

No news is good news, as the saying goes, but when it comes to the legal case of Hugh Farrell and Gina "Tiga" Wertz, no news is ambiguous.

Farrell and Wertz engaged in peaceful protests against the I-69 highway, and the State of Indiana has charged them with felony racketeering and several misdemeanors.

Wertz is charged with intimidation, a class A demeanor, two counts; conversion (unauthorized use of someone else's property), a class A misdemeanor, two counts; and corrupt business influence (racketeering), a class C felony. Her bond was set at $10,000.

March 7, 2010

This is the time of year when classroom responsibilities overwhelm my journalistic passions, and my writing tends to be more reflection than exposition. And let me tell you, nothing spurs reflexive contemplation like finding yourself in polar opposition to someone whose life work has profoundly influenced your own.

In my case, that someone is Dr. Philip J. Landrigan from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, whose research at the Children's Environmental Health Center there first caught my attention in the late 1990s when I was a senior environmental writer at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). When I began exploring the links between toxic pollution and autism 17 months ago, a 2006 study Landrigan co-wrote titled "Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals" was the first link that Google produced when I searched for "autism and environment."

Nearly a year and a half later, I am persuaded that mercury and/or other chemicals in vaccines are among the industrial chemicals that caused the autism epidemic of the past two decades. I do not believe that vaccines caused the epidemic, but my work has convinced me that neurotoxins in them contributed to it. And in some children, they did cause autism. The question for them isn't whether, it's how, and it demands an answer.

February 21, 2010

If they saw Alice's suffering close up, I think that WellPoint executives, Republican members of Congress and conservative pundits would help her.

Alice is one of my Indiana Legal Services clients, who lives alone in a town in eastern Indiana. Several years ago, she was crushed in a gruesome car accident, which left her with injuries severe enough that she was quickly declared fully disabled by the Social Security Administration.

But, like many other Hoosiers with devastating illnesses and injuries, Alice has been told by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration that she does not meet our state's standard for being disabled and thus does not qualify for Medicaid health insurance coverage.

February 21, 2010

Marty Pieratt's awareness of autism began when the 1988 movie Rain Man was being filmed in Cincinnati, a year or so before his son, Carter, was born. Pieratt worked as a reporter on local television, and his editors assigned him stories on autism, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. In the movie, Hoffman plays an autistic savant, Cruise his long-lost brother.

"I can remember doing stories on autism," Pieratt said. "But little did I know that I'd personally be faced with the quintessential autism story."

Carter was born on "12-11-87," Marty says lyrically, and for the first three years of his life, "He was perfect, a mouthy little toddler." But soon after the family purchased a small farm in Walton on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River Valley about 20 miles from Cincinnati, Marty noticed his son had an unusual fascination with the grass after mowing. Carter also ran wind sprints, over and over again.

February 7, 2010

It is the question that puzzles many of us when we hear about the tragic conclusion of a domestic violence relationship. Why doesn't the victim simply look at herself in the mirror, decide it is time for a change, and head out the door?

Perhaps, though, it is we who need to look in the mirror. Are our communities doing enough to make sure that door is not barred shut?

January 10, 2010

We live in an age of attacks on human and civil rights -- for instance, jailing people indefinitely without charging them with a crime and combating protestors violently, such as at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh a few months ago. People who dissent or engage in left-wing activism are right to worry about being charged with a crime despite not doing anything the Constitution doesn't allow.

To prepare activists for visits by federal law-enforcement agents, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has republished If an Agent Knocks, a 47-page booklet that it's distributing to the public free of charge. Originally published in 1989, the booklet was revised and updated this past September.

CCR describes its mission as follows. "The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization [and public interest law firm] committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."

December 27, 2009

On a bench outside the First United Methodist Church, John Hammond, 52, sits clutching a black lighter and a slowly burning cigarette. Across the street, people mingle at the bus stop, their hands shoved into pockets, their faces downturned against the cutting November wind. An empty Styrofoam cup drifts down the sidewalk, colliding with the skittering leaves left over from fall.

The sound of buses makes the otherwise quiet street sound monstrous. Groans of engines and the screech of brakes echo against the stone face of the church. Women in business suits pass by, walking quickly and avoiding eye contact. Men in shaggy coats nod and say hello.

Hammond's bright blue eyes see it all from below the brim of his red and white baseball cap. "I worked all my life," he says. "My background is psychology and business management from IU, with 25 years' management experience. You wouldn't expect to find somebody like me down here. But it can happen to anybody."

December 13, 2009

Private suffering, especially by the poor and the sick, does not often become a political issue. Usually, our powers-that-be are transfixed by property taxes, corporate concerns and electoral power struggles, where well-connected folks with a few dollars in their pockets can make their voices heard.

But in the spring of 2008, the pain of Hoosiers hurt by the privatization of Indiana's welfare program slowly transformed into a hot topic. Governor Daniels' $1.34 billion contract with IBM had led to a rash of incorrect denials of food stamps and health care assistance. In many Indiana communities, emergency food pantries began running out of stock, and private charities found themselves under siege.

In response, simple handbills were circulated to announce a public meeting in Anderson about the privatization, and a handful of people were expected to exchange views. To the surprise of the organizers, a crowd of 200 packed a union hall. Five hundred more went to a subsequent meeting at the convention center in Muncie, many lining up for hours afterward to get a few minutes to share their problems with a state agency representative.

"The Muncie hearing was a game-changer," says John Cardwell, a longtime Indiana health care activist and lobbyist. "After that, I had legislators coming up to me and saying, 'This is the real thing, isn't it?'"

November 1, 2009

Small Box, a new opera set in a death row visiting room, will have its world premiere in Bloomington next month. The opera will be performed for one night only on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

With music by Herman Whitfield III and a libretto by Bruce L. Pearson, the one-act, hour-long opera takes a serious look at the death penalty without arguing either for or against.

"The opera," Pearson said in a phone interview, "offers a fairly typical cross-section of those who find their way to death row." With Small Box he hopes to "make people think by presenting a realistic view of prison life." The raw material, Pearson said, "is from getting to know the guys on the row."

August 9, 2009

This has been a most interesting week for us, what with all the boy scouts in town. In case you missed it, there were over 7,000 Order of the Arrow boy scouts and their leaders on campus and about town dressed in various quasi-military uniforms and sometimes Native American costumes. Seems like they would have been difficult to miss, but admittedly our offices are located in the heart of campus in an area that also served as base camp operations for the troops.

Maybe we are just suffering from testosterone overload, but it was our sense that their presence stimulated a variety of emotions that led to public discussion, community dissension in some instances, and yet there was a camaraderie that was visibly shared by boys and men of all ages and difficult to ignore. And, we are pleased to say, the community didn't entirely ignore their presence. In fact, a panel discussion titled "Order of the Arrow: Racism, Homophobia, and Religious Appropriation in Scouting?" was held at Rachael's Cafe.

Sponsored by the Bloomington Committee Against Racism and Homophobia in Youth, the Native American Community Center of Bloomington, Inc., OUT, Ohio Valley Two Spirit Society and bloomgOUT, the panel drew a sizeable crowd for summer in Bloomington and was a mixture of community members, IU faculty, students, high school students, native Americans, scouts and members of the LGBTQ community and friends who came together to discuss the various charges of homophobia and racism leveled at the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

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