Amid pockets of political polarization nationally, a nonpartisan organization is motivating liberals, conservatives and others to work together on a range of political issues, from health care to gun policy.
Bartholomew County Indivisible formed in January 2017 as an autonomous, self-governing part of a nationwide movement called Indivisible.
While the national group has openly battled President Donald Trump’s policies, local group leaders say they fight for issues, not for or against politicians.
Bartholomew County Indivisible has more than 300 people on its growing mailing list. The local organization has no official membership or dues.
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The entity began in Bartholomew County when a group of residents, conservative and liberal alike, began exchanging emails about what they could do in the wake of volatile national political rhetoric.
Jenny Heichelbech, now part of the group’s administrative circle, was among them.
“Many of us felt a sense of alarm over some of the things that were said on the (presidential) campaign trail,” Heichelbech said, referring to comments as “antithetical to democracy.”
Since that time, the organization has landed squarely in the middle of local discussions on topics such as immigration, redistricting, white supremacy and diversity.
Most recently, the group engaged in the topic of school safety and gun reform, as Bartholomew County Invisible and the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an affiliated group, held a rally Saturday on the steps of Columbus City Hall and marched once around the Bartholomew County Courthouse. Sixty people participated in the Columbus event, organized in two hours time when a snowstorm threw off plans to participate in the March for Our Lives rally at the Indiana Statehouse.
Just days before the event, supporters paid $1,300 for an electronic billboard at the Greenwood mile marker 99 of Interstate 65 supporting the Parkland, Florida high school students’ Never Again anti-assault rifle movement, local Indivisible supporter Michael Greven said.
The 30-day billboard that went up March 21 reads, “1,300 American children suffer gun deaths each year. They can never vote. You can! Vote!”
Participants say their focus is more on educational conversation rather than defensive debates.
“It’s political, but it’s not partisan,” said Laura Eftimovski, a member of the administrative group. “We’re not trying to make people side with us on an issue, but we are trying to create a dialogue.”
Indivisible is educating people about everything from the beauty of diversity to executive branch governmental accountability.
The Bartholomew County organization is one of 50 Indivisible groups that are active in Indiana, according to the Columbus leaders.
An estimated 6,000 Indivisible organizations are active nationwide — and that includes at least two for every congressional district in the country, said Terry Whittaker, formerly a member of Bartholomew County Indivisible’s administrative group, who just relocated to St. Louis.
“Some people may have looked upon us initially as a far-left-wing group,” Whittaker said. “But from the beginning, we have very purposely worked to be really inclusive. And we have worked very hard to be even-handed.”
For instance, a local Indivisible meeting and discussion on political redistricting was moderated by Sherry Stark, a well-known local Republican and community leader. State Sen. Greg Walker, a Republican office holder from Columbus, served on a panel for that discussion.
“I certainly applaud them for the efforts to have civic and civil discourse,” Stark said. “I think that is terrific.
“The more ways that we can encourage people to be informed about issues and the more ways we can encourage people to talk to others and learn their opinions and ideas is all great.”
Stark added that she was aware “of how carefully they were at the redistricting discussions that everyone’s voice could be heard and everyone was treated equally and with respect.”
Walker mentioned he thought the group handled things well at the meeting he attended.
“Anytime you can get people to pay more attention to issues, then I think that’s great,” Walker said. “I also think they seem to be really trying to educate.”
The senator added that in any group or organization, diverse viewpoints always will exist.
Whittaker said that even-handedness and balance is the local Indivisible’s aim.
“We certainly don’t have a litmus test for people (attending meetings),” Whittaker said. “We never ask anyone questions such as ‘Are you a Democrat or Republican or independent?’
“And people need to also know that we are not a group that is anti-Trump. In fact, his name rarely comes up, if ever. We are an issues-oriented group — and taking action on those issues.”
For instance, at a February rally supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students, Indivisible participants encouraged attendees to contact congressional representatives about making a way for the DACA immigrants to stay in the United States.
At the December public gathering for the Not In Columbus group opposing white supremacy, Indivisible members were the first and most vocal to tell attendees to contact state lawmakers about enacting hate-crime legislation in Indiana.
“We now have formed alliances with so many different groups across the city,” Whittaker said. “And this is all in just one year. I don’t think I have ever seen a group in as quick of a space of time earn such respect across the board for being nonpartisan and reasonable, yet still be very sincere about the issues which we feel strongly about.”
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Bartholomew County Indivisible is a grass-roots organization of individuals promoting policies and programs having a direct and positive impact on Bartholomew County’s residents.
It promotes policies in Bartholomew County that protect and enhance:
- The health and well-being of residents
- The health of the environment
- The rights of workers
- The human rights of all residents
- The strength and relevance of the public education system
- Transparency in government
- Traditional freedoms, including freedom of religion and freedom of the press
- Open and courteous dialogue among all residents.
- Active engagement with the public and private sectors of the community.
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Upcoming events coordinated by Bartholomew County Indivisible:
- Young Voices: Creatively Expressing What We Have No Words For; students in grades 7 to 12 express through music, art and drama their concerns for school safety, 4 to 6:30 p.m. April 4 at The Commons, 300 Washington St.
- Sensible Solutions for Safety: a Community Forum (on gun violence), sponsored by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Bartholomew County Indivisible, 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 5 at North Christian Church, 805 Tipton Lane.
- Local and state candidate forum sponsored by Bartholomew County Indivisible, the Sierra Club, and Energy Matters Community Coalition, 6:30 p.m. April 9 in the Red Room of Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St.
- Columbus Pride event, Erin Bailey senior project, featuring vendors, food and music, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 14, Fourth Street entertainment district.
- In the Voice of a Child: from Grief to Hope, featuring area elementary school choirs, the Columbus Children’s Choir and the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, as well as fifth- and sixth-graders who will express through poems and creative writing their feelings and concerns following the school shooting in Florida, 6 p.m. May 2 at North Christian Church, 805 Tipton Lane.
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Bartholomew County Indivisible meets at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Thursdays of each month at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2651 California St. in Columbus.
The meetings are open to all.
The administrative team consists of Terry Whittaker, Jenny Heichelbech, Laura Eftimovski, Michael Greven, Hanna Omar, Lee Shipman, Chris Waltz, Judy Summerville and Penny Shumard.
Information: bcindivisible.org and the Facebook page for Bartholomew County Indivisible.