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Interstate 69 meeting degenerates into farce

By Scott Tibbs, August 21, 2007

I attended the "Interstate 69 community planning meeting" at Bloomington High School North this evening. The meeting was not intended to be a discussion of the merits of the I-69 project itself, but a workshop to offer information about grants and resources communities can use to plan for the eventual construction of the interstate highway.

Highway opponents were there too. I had seen a few e-mails go across an e-mail list dedicated to opposing the highway, so I thought it would be interesting to see what transpired. I assumed that highway opponents would raise policy-related points during the question-and-answer session and try to "rally the troops" against the highway. Policy arguments, of course, would be out of place in a meeting that is not about policy, but would not be unexpected.

The planning meeting was to be held in the cafeteria. When I arrived, I found an empty table and sat down. I soon moved to the table behind me as the body odor of nearby highway opponents was nauseating. The first speaker got up to explain the agenda for the evening, and a couple boos could be heard in the background. I was preparing for a very boring meeting when he stood up.

A highway opponent started screaming at the speaker, yelling at the top of his lungs about how these grants were meant to bribe communities to stay quiet. Not satisfied with disrupting the meeting, he made an even bigger fool of himself by climbing up onto a table and continuing to screech anti-highway slogans.

Soon, a second instigator joined in. The two worked together to stir up the activists present into chanting anti-highway slogans. The second instigator was right up in the face of one of the men working to con duct the meeting, screaming at him to "get out of our community." Both instigators screamed that the meeting was over and that everyone should go home, and a woman commandeered the microphone to speak against I-69. Highway opponents began chanting "shut it down", and in the chaos I saw what appeared to be someone throwing a chair.

I was fearful for my safety because it was clear that the anti-highway activists were out of control. I left soon afterward, less than 20 minutes into the meeting. Emotions were running very high when I observed a state trooper standing in the back of the room. I did not want to be in the middle of what could have easily became a scuffle between protesters and police.

I called 911 on my way back to my vehicle, but apparently I was not the first. As I drove home, I saw three police cars driving toward North, including a Sheriff's deputy with his lights flashing. It was comforting to see them going to the scene, but I think it was rather foolish not to have a police presence at the meeting to discourage this kind of thuggery from starting in the first place.

The thugs who disrupted the meeting are not much different from the extremists from Campbellsburg who come to Bloomington to chant "God hates fags" and "AIDS cures fags." This kind of behavior does nothing to convince people that Interstate 69 should not be built. Instead, it turns off people who might otherwise be inclined to oppose the highway.

Imagine for a moment that abortion opponents behaved this way when the Bloomington City Council voted earlier this summer to give a grant to Planned Parenthood for the ninth consecutive year. Imagine if an abortion opponent stood on the table where the staff sits and tried to shut down the meeting and incite a crowd of emotional abortion opponents. The people opposed to the grant would have been crucified in the newspaper, and justifiably so.

There are legitimate concerns about the impact of I-69, and there will be negative to the project. It is unfortunate that some people will lose their homes to eminent domain, even though they must be compensated under the law. There will be some negative environmental consequences to the highway. However, all of those legitimate arguments are drowned out when thugs shut down a non-policy planning meeting regarding the interstate.

Shutting down a legitimate meeting is clearly not the way to conduct civil political discourse or effective opposition to the I-69 project. The thugs who shut down the I-69 planning meeting should be ashamed of themselves, but they are probably proud of shutting the meeting down. I call on highway opponents (specifically Andy Ruff, Tom Tokarski and Mark Kruzan) to denounce this inexcusable behavior and call for reasonable, rational discussion of the I-69 project.