I think it’s safe to say at this point that people from every state know that Mike Pence is awful. He has made national headlines for his deplorable judgement when legalizing discriminatory laws, attempting to control women, and for becoming the running mate of one of the few men who rivals Pence in “phobias” and “isms.” But the worst thing about Mike Pence isn’t what he does, but what he fails to do.
For the past few weeks, the city of East Chicago has been undergoing an environmental crisis. High levels of lead found in the soil in 2014 have finally prompted state and federal officials to evacuate over 1000 residents from their housing complexes. Lead was also found in a local elementary school, which was promptly shut down and relocated to a non-contaminated area.
This contamination is tied to lead producing companies that previously called the area home. And though governor-hopefuls like John Gregg have visited the area, Pence is nowhere to be found.
Now I could make some long point about how politicians who have no investment in reelection begin to stop caring about the citizens they represent, but the truth, like Pence, is simple. It was only three weeks ago that Pence rushed back from the campaign trail to aid in the disaster relief for the citizens of Kokomo after an EF3 tornado ripped through the city. People applauded Pence for doing what many may consider his job, but for some reason, nobody is questioning his lack of interest in East Chicago.
Let’s compare the demographics of the two cities. The median household income in Kokomo was $37,791 in 2013 while in East Chicago it was $27,171, more than $10,000 less.
The biggest difference between the two cities, however, is the ethnicity of its citizens. More than 80 percent of Kokomo’s citizens identify as white while nearly 90 percent of East Chicago’s citizens identify as Black or Hispanic.
When considering these factors, as well as that the lead crisis in East Chicago was enabled by Indiana’s history of favoring industry over the environment, it is hard to deny that Mike Pence’s lack of acknowledgment isn’t a sign of a bigger set of problems.
Indiana is host to both natural disasters and man-made environmental crises, and I do not intend to claim that one is worse than the other. However, I will not shy away from making the claim that Mike Pence’s lack of attention to East Chicago is fueled in part by racism and classism, and in part by avoidance of shame.
Recognizing the crisis would also require recognizing the stark inequalities that still exist in this state, as well as recognizing the horrors that big industry has wreaked upon the environment and the health of Indiana citizens.
The crisis in East Chicago does not interest Mike Pence because East Chicago is an impoverished, non-white city that is suffering from the actions of the same type of industry that people like Mike Pence claim make Indiana great. Unfortunately, many Indiana politicians feel the same way as Pence. I encourage my fellow Hoosiers to pay great attention not only to the federal election, but also to Indiana’s. It may make the difference between surviving and suffering for our friends in East Chicago.