By Jorden Giger
The emergence of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, the ascendance of Donald Trump to the Presidency, and the boldness and novelty of the Women’s Marches across the U.S. have thrust many more women into political life. Since returning home to South Bend, Indiana just over two years ago now, I have seen the impact of these phenomena. Yet, throughout the 2018 Midterms, political organizing amongst women in my area has reached uncharted heights. Or, to be fair, at the very least it has reached such heights that I have not seen in my lifetime.
Since September of 2017, I have been actively involved in three electoral campaigns throughout Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District. In each campaign, women have played immeasurably important roles in driving them forward, shaping their progressive policy platforms, and challenging the boundaries of our political conversation in Northern Indiana. My first campaign was for Yatish Joshi’s congressional run during the Democratic primaries. Joshi’s campaign was the most diverse and progressive of the lot in his race. His was the only campaign that hired and paid women and women of color to hold key staff, management, and advisory positions. Women worked as his key advisors; lead his speech writing and coaching efforts; shaped his campaign policy positions; arranged and prepared him for each private meeting; and pressed him in ways that he had not been pressed before as a person who never thought of running for office until recently.
This campaign brought together women across various ethnicities, religions, languages, genders and sexual orientations, and general walks of life. For Indiana, it was about as intersectional as any campaign you will find in this state. Throughout the course of this campaign, we intentionally grappled with the rhetoric and meaning around terms such as ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life.’ Ultimately, we decided that focusing on what it meant for Joshi to be a ‘pro-woman’ candidate was most important. We understood that fair and equal pay was an important issue for women. We recognized and engaged in very deep and thoughtful conversations with black women staff members and supporters about the stigma around abortions and its origins in the Black community, which informed his policy. Immigration was a central concern, so we supported efforts by women to stop the construction of an immigrant detention center in Elkhart, to raise awareness about illegal deportations in our area, and to lobby for drivers and professional licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Though the Joshi campaign was incredibly inspiring and unlike any congressional campaign in recent memory, we were not able to win the primary as he split progressive votes with five other progressive candidates. The only moderate candidate in the race won. Since that campaign ended in May, I have volunteered for two women candidates, Oletha Jones (South Bend) and Michelle Livinghouse (Marshall County, Indiana). The former is running for local School Board and the latter for State Representative. Both are two remarkably progressive candidates. Oletha serves as the Education Chair for our NAACP branch and Michelle is a former Plymouth City Council member who participates in immigrant rights organizing efforts in Plymouth.
I have been organizing with Oletha around education reform for two years and have seen her blossom into a bolder and more confident political figure since announcing her candidacy. She sees her campaign as a major step towards making the public more aware of the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black children. And in her capacity, she has done well in doing just that. Michelle’s campaign has helped lift up the voices of high school DACA recipients and immigrant rights activists in Plymouth. Almost all of these organizers are young women ages 16-18 years old. These women were spurred into action after experiencing intensified racism in school after Trump was elected. For them, Michelle’s campaign represents a rare opportunity to push pro-immigrant policies in the Indiana State Legislature.
In Indiana, the Land of Mike Pence, a state Trump won by double digits, women wholly define the resistance. Electorally and otherwise. I believe these midterm elections represent a watershed political moment in this area. The enthusiasm and level of participation shown by women at this moment will change the course of Northern Indiana politics as we inch closer the 2020 Presidential elections.
Here in Northern Indiana women are leading the way in reshaping our political landscape. Women are running for offices, staffing campaigns, registering voters, holding public forums drawing audiences by the hundreds, and pushing our area’s historically moderate, center-left politics further to the left.