I was born and raised in Indiana. Specifically, in a Rust Belt city called South Bend. But a lot of times, South Bend doesn’t have much in common with the state it’s a part of.
Indiana is notorious for embarrassing public policies. We’re the state that elected Mike Pence as our governor, who caused an HIV outbreak when his government shut down women’s health clinics in more rural areas. We’re home to the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Most recently, a bill to finally legalize CBD oil was rewritten into a gun rights bill.
Yet here in South Bend most citizens shake their heads—or fists—at the garbage that comes out of our state legislature. South Bend is liberal hotspot. The mayor’s office has been filled by a Democrat since 1972, and the Republican before that was a one off. There have only been three Republican mayors since 1926.
Currently, the mayor is the wildly popular Pete Buttigieg, affectionately called Mayor Pete. He made national news a couple years ago when he came out of the closet—while the rest of the country was watching the RFRA debacle unfold in the state legislature.
His open sexuality did nothing to harm his popularity. He ran for reelection largely unopposed (aside one nutjob who took 20% of the vote).
The LGBTQ Resource Center is a major organization in the community. As is La Casa De Amistad, a Latino immigrant advocacy and education group. There’s a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. downtown, hand in hand with the former president of Notre Dame University.
We have an active arts and music community that is actively hosting charities to benefit refugees, gun control groups, and the ACLU. My band even played a protest show on the night of the Inauguration that was packed (our county went to Clinton).
Yet outside of the city limits, you start to recognize what state we’re in. MAGA hats and Trump bumper stickers are common. Every room of a hundred or more has at least three handguns. The KKK headquarters is located in Osceola, just ten miles away.
The juxtaposition has led to a lot of tense interactions. I stopped going to my barber after he loudly declared that white men are the most oppressed people in America. A local band was blacklisted from a certain promoter after one of the members shared a racist meme. One family left my church after the pastor said from stage, “we know black lives matter, right? We know that shouldn’t be a controversial statement?” Apparently not.
But in the midst of deep red and deep blue ideologies clashing, we’ve found a strange sort of peace.
Because despite the different names on our campaign signs, we’re still neighbors. And it takes far more energy to constantly fight than to find common ground.
And as we live side-by-side, every once in a while, someone might recognize that their LGBTQ neighbor or their immigrant neighbor or their Black neighbor isn’t what they thought. And they might pick up a little empathy. And as that empathy builds, it can change political worldviews.
And so, while the rest of the country seems to be locked in a battle of Red State vs. Blue State, South Bend is here in Indiana, trying to change our state, one neighbor at a time.