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IndyCAN works for a better Indy

November 10, 2015 | IndySTAR | Link to Article

Two nights before last week’s local election, a group of people are sitting at folding tables in a hall connected to Bethel AME church in Downtown Indianapolis. Between quick sips from Styrofoam cups filled with ice tea and lemonade, they talk intently on their phones.

The callers come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and faith denominations. They include pastors, immigrants and ex-offenders. Their phone calls are aimed to turn out the vote, and they share an intense interest in the outcome of the election.

But, later that week, after the election, no one in this group would join the local Democrats celebrating at Union Station. They would not be commiserating with the Republicans at Prime 47 restaurant.

That is because these folks are members of Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, known as IndyCAN, a faith-based coalition dedicated to social justice and equal opportunities. And IndyCAN folks are concerned with issues beyond party affiliation and campaign rhetoric. Whether the winners are Republicans or Democrats, IndyCAN is looking for leaders who will bring real change to our community.

For the past several years, IndyCAN has been urging local politicians to embrace alternatives to mass incarceration, especially the hugely disproportionate treatment of young men of color. When African-Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than whites, even though whites are shown to use drugs as often and sell them more, entire generations and neighborhoods are affected. So IndyCAN advocates for proven crime prevention strategies such as living wages and mass transit, and for jail diversion programs such as treatment for addiction and mental illness.

It is a powerful message in a community like Indianapolis, where we endure frightening levels of violent crime alongside massive inequalities in opportunity. It is a message that inspired IndyCAN’s grassroots opposition that helped scuttle the proposed $1.75 billion criminal justice facility.

And it is a message that is embraced by IndyCAN volunteers ranging from Catholic Archbishop Joseph Tobin to families struggling with poverty. “In this election, IndyCAN united a beloved community of those most likely to vote with those least likely to vote,” says Kenneth Sullivan, Jr., pastor of New Direction Church. “We were inspired by Pope Francis’ call to end a ‘throw-away’ culture. Our young people do not deserve to be thrown away.”

This fall, IndyCAN launched a 40-day “Pray-Act-Vote” campaign that began with a jail prayer service, in emulation of the pope’s own visit to a Philadelphia jail. IndyCAN members then went door-to-door and congregation-to-congregation. They conducteda town hall meeting and multiple phone banks, all the while repeating the straightforward slogan of “Jobs Not Jails.”

In the end, IndyCAN reached close to10,000 committed Indianapolis voters, an impactful number in a low-turnout election. “We made a conscious choice to make this election about reaching out to those who feel most overlooked in our society and to working families,” Sullivan said. “Our message was, ‘Your lives matter. Your vote matters.’

“Now, we have a new mayor and a new council. And we need them to hear this message, too.”