Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Back Home Again in Indiana

[Ed. note: There’s a postscript to this post, but it belongs here at the beginning.

I sat on this post for a day or so. I was trying to decide whether it was too flame-thrower-y … or not flame-thrower-y enough. And until this morning, I thought to say to you, dear reader … “you can be the judge.”

Then, late this morning, the news broke, via WTTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS (April 2, 2015) – Standing among a group of Indianapolis business and community leaders, Statehouse leaders said they had fixed the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act that created a national outcry.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said they consulted with business leaders and members of the LGBT community to fix the bill.

Both said the law had been misrepresented and needed to be changed because of the perception that it could be used to discriminate against the LGBT community. A conference committee convened later Thursday morning to discuss the changes.

It was clear that the perception had to be addressed. Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,” Bosma said about the law, which created an outcry after Gov. Mike Pence signed it last week. “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

We’re clarifying what it doesn’t do today,” Long said. “I think the people standing behind us believe that we have [fixed problems with the law].”

Bart Peterson, a former Indianapolis mayor who now works for Eli Lilly, said public policy matters and words matter. He said lawmakers and community leaders had worked very hard over the past few days to reach a compromise.

The future of Indiana was at stake,” Peterson said. “The healing needs to begin right now. For the first time ever, the words ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ appear in an Indiana statute.”

Peterson said he had complete confidence that Indiana would rebound and that Thursday’s changes “showed the world what the people of Indiana are really made of.”

Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle came out strongly against the clarification:

Our position is that this ‘fix’ is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.”

Now, twenty-four hours after I very nearly hit “publish” on the piece you’re about to read … well, we’ll see how different things are. Meanwhile, you can either imagine that it is still yesterday, and the Indiana state legislature has not yet acted to “fix” its Religious Freedom Restoration Act … or you can replace “Indiana” with “Maine” or “North Carolina” or the names of a few other states where similar bills are being crafted. And see how much of this essay still stands.

Again … and still … you can be the judge.]

 

 

Up till about a week ago or so, the concept of “Indiana” tended to make me smile.

 

I have always been a wand’rer / Over land and sea

Yet a moonbeam on the water / Casts a spell o’er me

A vision fair I see…

 

There are some US states about which I know very little; others, a ton. Some states’ first impressions have been marvelous; some, abysmal. None are perfect, but I’ve got my favorites.

I have friends and colleagues who grew up in Indiana. I have friends and colleagues who went to college in Indiana. They all are terrific folks, every last one, whether they inherited their terrific-ness from that state, or contributed some of their own to it. Either way.

 

The three times I ever set foot in Indiana, I came away with nothing but positives.

I traveled to Indiana more than twenty summers ago to attend the wedding of a friend of mine, who was marrying someone who grew up and went to school in Indiana. After renting a car at Indianapolis’ airport, I drove west to Terre Haute. Upon arriving in this city which had a perfectly understandable waffle-iron of a street layout, I found a CVS (or its local equivalent) and prepared to purchase some postcards, so as to prove to people back home that I’d made it to the Hoosier State. By the time I’d made my purchase, I’d conducted a fifteen-minute conversation with the cashier, who was all thrilled to welcome a Massachusetts native to town. So different from tight-lipped New England, I thought. And I suppose it could have been because my friend, the groom, was a fine and upstanding fellow who thereby attracted fine and upstanding people to him … and his new wife seemed capable of the same … but nobody I met at that wedding, or at that CVS, or at that airport, was anything but fine and upstanding.

A year later, I traveled – this time by bus, and in the company of about 250 college band members – to Indianapolis, to spend a glorious weekend at the Hoosier Dome and environs, participating in the national high school marching band championship tournament. I’ve written about that a little bit, in this space. While a lot of those wonderful memories were generated by a college band playing music from “The Wind and the Lion” and “The Little Mermaid”, anywhere else in town that we went, the people were right friendly.

A decade later, I traveled again – this time in the company of 29 college pep band members – to Indianapolis and the Hoosier Dome (RCA Dome; whatever), as the college we were representing was competing in the first round of a certain large basketball tournament. We didn’t spend long in Indy – the Marquette University men’s team saw to that – but aside from a slightly idiosyncratic bus driver (who was, nonetheless, right friendly), it was a terrific 18 hours.

My first, second, and third impressions of Indiana built a pretty solid foundation, on top of which I felt able to say, “that would be a great place to go back to, I think.”

 

Fancy paints on mem’ry’s canvas / Scenes that we hold dear

We recall them in days after / Clearly they appear

 

And then, late last week, it all came crashing down, seemingly.

 

Some folks who are charged with making law in Indiana decided (or, perhaps, had it decided for them) that it would be a great idea to enact a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (I lost track: did someone go repeal Religious Freedom, such that it required Restoration?)

Forgive the metaphor, but … all hell broke loose.

True, the reason that all hell broke loose has a little something to do with the wonderfully viral and vocal qualities of social media, which sometimes even thwarts the capacity of the national, corporately-owned, ratings- and money-driven media for downplaying the import of certain events when it suits the needs of the media to do just that. Shiny keys! Crying piccolo player!

But it’s got at least as much to do with the number of commercial interests that chimed in, and not in a very supportive way, regarding the potential negative impact upon their business. Decisions not to expand companies into Indiana. Decisions not to hold association meetings in Indiana. Decisions by other state governments not to encourage their personnel to travel to Indiana. The NCAA may not end up moving its Final Four event out of Indianapolis (the logistics alone would make your head hurt – I’ve experienced the craziness of preparing for The Big Dance when you do know where it’ll be held).

Simply put, the commercial interests got the very real sense that the money that could have been flowing in toward them … might not be doing so after all.

Follow the money, is the rule. You knew that, right?

Sad that the money aspect is what, as usual, drove certain otherwise unlikely institutions to come down on the side of inclusion and common decency and Constitutional protections and not being jackasses.

Including, astonishingly, … the leadership of the NASCAR organization.

A moment, please, while I catch my breath about that.

Hmm. Whatever works, I guess.

 

So, in the spirit of the thin end of the wedge … in the spirit, perhaps, of seeing a door crack open just a tiny bit, and in the spirit of seeing a little bit of light peek out from the other side of that door, and in the spirit of jamming one’s foot into that crack in the door with as much desperate force as one can muster, knowing that such opportunities won’t come around too often and one should metaphorically strike while the iron is hot …

I guess what I’m doing with this … is making a suggestion to the good people of Indiana, in the spirit of comradeship, and yes, love. And I know that the good people are out there, because it’s statistically unlikely that an entire state can be entirely full of people who would let this stuff go on … can it?

That suggestion, in contrast to what has led up to it, in this space, is brief and punchy:

C’mon, Indiana. Get it together.

Rise up. Fight. Fight the crazies. Fight the crazies who have taken control of your state’s image, at least, via its governmental constructs.

And that means screaming and yelling and waving signs and otherwise challenging the political-money-driven infrastructure that has been set up, not just in your state but nearly everywhere, set up largely in the service of the needs and wants and desires and greed and utter selfishness of a few already-obscenely-wealthy people.

It means loading up your tiny little slingshot and whipping little rocks at the giant, over and over again, until somebody gets the idea – even if it’s only other little people with little slingshots. You gotta start somewhere. Foot in the door. Hot iron. A push on that wedge.

Yes, I’m suggesting this even to those Indiana folks who are good-and-Christian and apt to think that somehow their religious freedom is in peril … even if up to this point, the Christian faith has held nothing but a stranglehold upon the title of “dominant religion in American history”, and honestly shows no signs of being dislodged.

War on Christmas”, my ass. Has it occurred to you yet that major financial backers of major politicians in your state and in this country don’t give a wet slap about Christianity? That they are playing you and your perception of faith for suckers, that they are using you to get themselves to their particular Promised Land?

At the very least, this is a moment in which your state holds in its hands the opportunity to determine a public reputation that will last a long time. Are you in favor of the slippery slope of legalized discrimination of one specific group of people (and who knows what other groups could be discriminated against next, using this statute? Talk about striking while the iron is hot!) … or are you in favor of being thought of as a welcoming state?

‘Cause right now, the “Indiana” that is on display is a punchline.

Spread the word, Hoosiers: it may not have been your crazy to begin with, but it is now. These people in the halls of your state government have managed to sully the reputation of your state – possibly without a lot of your active cooperation; but possibly because you may not have bothered to vote much, or because you believed the crazies when they told you they really weren’t crazy, and they were lookin’ out for you, the great people of the great state of Indiana – or whatever bill of goods they sold you … when in fact they were looking out for themselves only, and how best they could maintain their levels of campaign financing. And now they’re entrenched, and it’s going to take one hell of a push to get them out, and to return a little sanity to the world of Indiana public service.

 

And if logic and reason won’t convince you, maybe this will:

Y’know that law that your legislature just passed, and your governor just cheerfully signed into law? The one that, in spite of the wounded protestations of its creators that it wasn’t at all meant to legalize discrimination, and particularly not discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, really does do just exactly that, and was never intended to do otherwise?

It’s got one unintended consequence in particular that you ought to know about.

There’s that wonderful tune (and I mean that sincerely and unequivocally), “Back Home in Indiana”. It’s not the official state song of Indiana – that falls to the similarly-wonderfully-early-twentieth-century “On the Banks of the Wabash”. But it may be better known, thanks to its performance before the beginning of, oh, what’s that car race in May every year? They go around the track a few hundred times…

That tune, every year from 1972 till a couple of years ago, has been performed by one particular fellow, a guy whose unconventional looks and wide recognition as the character “Gomer Pyle” at first might have belied the presence of a rich, semi-operatic baritone voice.

Jim Nabors. Yeah! That guy.

He’s 84 years old, and a couple of years ago he got married. It was only in 2013 that he was finally able to make that happen, due to one thing and another.

Mr. Nabors is married to someone called Stan Cadwallader.

So, if this legislation stands, Indiana businesses could … don’t have to … but have the legal right to … tell Jim Nabors that no, sorry, they won’t serve him.

Think hard.

Then raise your voices – baritone or otherwise.

 

Back home again in Indiana / And it seems that I can see

The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright / Thru the sycamores for me …

The new mown hay sends all its fragrance / From the fields I used to roam

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash / Then I long for my Indiana home

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April 2, 2015 - Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Absolutely brilliant-loved the Jim Nabors tale! Who are all these idiots in Indiana?

    Comment by Joseph McCoy | April 2, 2015 | Reply


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