David Hoppe

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:: Indiana’s date with destiny

HJR-3 more than we bargained for

by David Hoppe

Ongoing demonstrations by fast food workers demanding higher pay, along with the renewed effort to raise the federal minimum wage beg a much larger question: What are people for?

Work has been the traditional answer to that question in the United States. Work is the heart of our social contract. It’s through work that we define who we are, create the basis for a better life and, most important, take responsibility for ourselves.

So, after the initial sticker shock of hearing, for example, that McDonald’s workers want $15 per hour, it’s possible to understand where these folks are coming from. Like anybody else, they want a decent life. They’re willing to work for it — being on your feet eight hours a day isn’t easy.

And decent isn’t cheap.

The press has been full of stories about fast food workers being on the job for eight, ten years and making less than $9 an hour. A recording went viral of a McDonald’s worker being told by a corporate rep to supplement her income with tax-supported programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

A study released by a group of labor economists from U.C. Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana found that 52 percent of fast-food workers rely on public assistance. According to the study, those supplemental benefits cost the government about $7 billion a year. McDonald's Employee Help Line Advises Food Stamps Not Wage Increase Since McDonald’s showed profits of $5.5 billion in 2012, you could argue that the federal government makes fast food’s business model possible.

But hold on. That business model was based on being able to hire high school students and housewives who needed a little extra money. Nobody thought that working at McDonald’s might constitute a “career.”

Yet that’s what’s happened as our economy has gotten harder to break into. There are fewer and fewer jobs for unskilled or inexperienced workers, and the skill sets required in many jobs are getting more and more specialized. People today can consider themselves lucky to land a job flipping burgers. No wonder, then, these folks want to make enough money to live on. From their point of view, they’re trying to be loyal employees. They think their experience — dealing with the public, knowing what it takes to make things run smoothly and, yes, taking responsibility when required — ought to count for something.

The trouble is, whatever happens to fast food pay, it’s likely those jobs, and many more like them, will eventually be eliminated by technology.

Let’s face it: One thing people are is a hassle. That’s why employers replace us with machines wherever and whenever they can. And guess what? Productivity keeps going up in spite of high unemployment and stagnating wages. The stock market is booming, which is a good thing for retirees — people, that is, who don’t have to work anymore.

Look, we don’t even trust ourselves to drive. According to a new poll, 82 percent of Millennials want self-braking cars. Poll

What are people for? Not as much, apparently, as we think.

Here we go…

The people of Indiana will almost certainly be given the chance to vote on whether or not to make the state’s constitution a sign that tells some of us to Get Lost.

That’s what’s going down with HJR-3, the proposal that would amend Indiana’s constitution to make marriage solely between a man and a woman.

That proposal has recently been amended in the state’s House of Representatives to allow for civil unions, but that just makes this exercise in discrimination more transparent.

HJR-3 only exists in order to codify the belief among some — perhaps many — Hoosiers that homosexuals are citizens of another, second, class.

This notion, that some of us are more equal than others, flies in the face of America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Remember that? Here’s a pertinent line (you can practically hum it):

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Unless, that is, you live in Indiana. And are gay.

In that case, your pursuit of Happiness could be constitutionally circumscribed to exclude the possibility of your ever being able to stand before your community and vow to love, honor and cherish someone you love.

There’s been a lot of dizzy speechifying going on around the Statehouse in the last week in an effort to justify this bald-faced bigotry. It’s ranged from the biblical (it’s what God wants) to business practice (similar bans in other states haven’t hurt their bottom lines, so don’t worry about it).

In the end, what’s clear is that the calculus driving HJR-3 is really political. The amendment was first hatched prior to the 2004 elections, when Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove made demonizing gays a rallying point for the base of his party. It worked — and here we are.

Which brings us to a looming referendum, which could happen this November (if the ban on civil unions is reinstated) or in 2016 (if it isn’t).

At the beginning of this session it seemed there were some who hoped our state legislators would take the high road and save the state from itself, killing HJR-3 before it went to the public ballot box. No such luck.

Indiana will not be spared a date with its destiny. There will be a vote, and when it comes it will say a great deal about whether this state is capable of acknowledging its increasingly urban, culturally complex and ever-more worldly self, or whether it is bound to remain anchored to that part of the population that sees the future as our biggest threat.

I have no crystal ball. I don’t know how this vote will go; I doubt anybody does. But there can be little doubt that the battle to come will be bitter, strident and often toxic. We may be about to learn more about where we live than most of us ever bargained for.