On Oct. 14, around 20 members of the Bloomington Homeless Coalition gathered for their weekly meeting at Switchyard Park to discuss short-term and long-term housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness as they head into the cold, winter months without affordable housing.
Among them was board member Janna Arthur, a long-time Bloomington resident and write-in Monroe County Council candidate. She is running as an independent candidate for one of three seats up in November.
“As a board member of the Bloomington Homeless Coalition, my greatest concern about housing stability is that there are women, children, elderly and physically or mentally, medically frail individuals that will be staying on the streets tonight,” Arthur said in the 2020 General Election Questionnaire. “The county continues to build newer, bigger and more expensive housing to accommodate the wealthy while poor and working poor residents cannot obtain shelter.”
Arthur is decidedly not a politician, but rather a concerned resident who poses a strong threat to the status quo.
Given the current political and social climate, she realized she must do more to create substantial change for historically marginalized people in Bloomington. Her public advocacy transpired after George Floyd’s murder in May, where popular protests in response to persistent, racist, police killings culminated in an occupation of the Monroe County Courthouse lawn. There, she witnessed our community come together, grieve and fight for justice.
After Sheriff Brad Swain evicted protesters, Arthur recalled spending a night imploring law enforcement to investigate the events leading up to the death of IU student Joseph Smedley before making a bed for herself on the sidewalk.
“I met a lot of folks and saw a different kind of people caring for people beyond what social services typically provide,” Arthur said. “Despite this, law enforcement met protesters with aggression — people of color especially. The folks experiencing homelessness joined us and were thought of as sub-human.”
Arthur has since helped spearhead a safety community response team, a collective of volunteers that work to ensure the safety of protesters and protect their First Amendment rights at protests. They also act as a crisis line for people experiencing homelessness should they feel unsafe or find themselves in dangerous situations.
Arthur’s county council platform mirrors her activism and investment in the people of Bloomington, offering greater representation to those most damaged by systemic racism, harmful policing and inadequate access to community resources.
According to the General Election Questionnaire, she demands reduced policing and funding to law enforcement agencies in order to redirect funds toward local social services already committed to serving the community. Further, she calls for an end to Sheriff Swain’s cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the immediate release of non-felons in the Monroe County Jail amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and reports of dangerous facility conditions.
Other candidates fully endorse law enforcement and increased funding for police, giving detached solutions, such as more training on mental health issues and anti-racism or to merely raise awareness about bias.
“Further cuts in their budget and manpower would leave the community at risk,” said one candidate, Larrin Wampler. “Look at some of the cities that are currently attempting defunding. They are in a state of civil unrest, with rioting, looting and increased violence.”
Meanwhile, the proposed 2021 Bloomington Police Department budget includes a request for a total of $21,000 for gas masks and less-lethal weapons like tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets following the mobilization of anti-racism activists who took to the streets of Bloomington this summer. BPD’s misguided efforts reflect the persistent demonization and anti-democratic suppression of Black Lives Matter protesters by the current administration.
“Bloomington is not some sort of bubble where these things do not occur,” Arthur said. “We are not meeting the needs and demands of people most at-risk in our community.”
Arthur was one of the many who found a voice, a home and a family at the courthouse. She, like the revolutionaries she surrounds herself with, is a threat to systems of oppression, regardless of the office she holds. She is part of a larger national movement, reimagining a future free from policing and fueled by the amplified voices of the poor and people of color.
We, the people of Bloomington, can agitate the system from the ground up by writing-in Janna Arthur for Monroe County Council in the local election.
Peyton Jeffers (she/they) is a senior studying human development and family studies and human sexuality. She is a member of Camp Kesem at Indiana University.