Is it Possible to Legislate Dignity? (My Voice, by Kim Fidler)

Happy spring! Now that the legislative session is over, it is time to discuss what was and was not accomplished. My friends, I am sorry to say that this will not be a positive list. Yes, it was a short session. Yes, there were hundreds of bills filed. However, I am struggling to point out what was the biggest positive of this session. Instead, I have no problem pointing out what was one of the biggest negatives of this short legislative session of 2016. That, without a doubt, would be the failure to pass a law to add civil rights protections for our LGBT community members. There were several bills proposed in the House and Senate to address the fiasco that RFRA has become. However, in the end, nothing happened.

I had the opportunity to read an absolutely incredible article recently. The article was written by a very insightful lady by the name of Emma Lindsay. The title of the article was “Trump Supporters Aren’t Stupid”. Before you rush to agree or to disagree, please allow me to tell you why this article was “spot on”! The real topic of the article focused on how America “incentivizes” racism in working class white people. It also touched upon our front-running presidential candidates and why their supporters do, in fact, support them. None of these supporters are stupid. More importantly, very few of them are actually racist at heart.

We already know that people generally discriminate due to their upbringing, due to fear, and due to ignorance. But, could there also be a financial reason? Could people possibly discriminate for their “own best interests”? I believe that people fundamentally really want only a few things. They want to feel safe, be loved, and feel as if they matter. They want dignity. Dignity just may be the most important “best interest” of the next election. And that, my friends, is absolutely okay and even more understandable!

Most people like to give and to share. They get a sense of pride from helping and/or supporting others, especially their family. When legislation takes that away from people, they want someone to fight for them to get it back! According to the author of the article, dignity is more important for most than finances! The sad fact is that nobody wants to occupy the “last place” in society. As long as racism and discrimination exist, others are not guaranteed to be “last place” in society.       Racists/Discriminators often want to “look good” to others in their social/peer groups. This is not an excuse. I am not saying that racism or discrimination is acceptable for any reason. BUT, perhaps if we can understand why people behave in this manner, we can begin to fix it. How do we do that? How do we make sure that people feel appreciated and heard? Could it possibly be accomplished, at least in part, by not passing laws that harm certain groups (RFRA, Right to Work, Repeal of the Common Construction Wage, Anti-Public Education laws…)? Why not use the legislature to celebrate diversity, to give people satisfying jobs with a living wage, and to get government out of public education and social issues??

At the end of the day, I ask myself, “Is it possible to legislate dignity?” Why not? We certainly spend much time and effort in Indiana legislating laws that remove the dignity of the working class. Think about this, please. What if we elected legislators who wanted to recognize the good things that are going on in public schools rather than testing students and teachers to their breaking points? What if we elected legislators who honored love and voted to protect the civil rights of members of the LGBT community? What if we had legislators who would forgo their own pay and benefits to be able to raise the minimum wage to a living wage? What if we had legislators who voted to do whatever it took to make Indiana a welcoming place to all? What if we had legislators who were not worried about the interests and money from out-of-state companies that are funding and making the decisions for Indiana?

Yes, I believe that we can have an uplifting legislature that works for (not against) the working class. We can stop the attacks. I am not proposing legislation that is simply welfare, or handouts. I certainly know that we have people in unfortunate situations who need those programs. No! I am talking about legislation that will allow working class people to have dignity by earning a living wage, by being respected in their workplace, in their marriage, and in every aspect of their lives.

We can instead, work together to make Indiana what it should be for everyone here! If we can legislate disrespect and hatred, we can certainly legislate dignity and respect. We begin this process by voting.