....We were an interfaith group of 20 lay leaders, clergy and professional organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, a representation of a decades-long tradition of community organizing in the United States, of which Catholic communities and parishes have played a major role. Parish-based organizing began in earnest with the founding of Communities Organized for Public Service in San Antonio 50 years ago.
“People are not used to listening, and that is what true catechesis does—listen and teach listening.”
What ensued was a dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish, filled with humor and back-and-forth engagement... We shared stories of organizing to bring running water and basic services to over a million people along the southern border, about working to combat human trafficking, of creating efforts to move poor families into living wage career paths and of helping to develop leadership among the immigrant community in our parishes. Our leaders spoke to their development as public persons, worthy of recognition in civil society and local democracy.
Not long into the conversation, Pope Francis interjected, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar.’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (“You frequently used the words ‘to see’ and ‘to listen.’ I am impressed that none of you start from a theory. No one says, ‘I read a book and that interested me.’”) Then he added, “el peligro a veces es intelectualizar el problema.” (“The danger sometimes is to intellectualize the problem.”)
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to one’s reality, emphasizing amor concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he saw our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result....
The Day Pope Francis Welcomed Community Organizers Into the Papal Residence, America: The Jesuit Review [pdf]
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, is a longtime supporter of his area's West/Southwest IAF affiliate, El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO)/Border Interfaith.
"They've developed a process of attentive listening over the years, talking to people about their lives and identifying the needs of a particular group," said Seitz. "When we were trying to create a process for the synod, it occurred to me it was exactly the approach they'd long taken."
[In photo, a synod training session is held by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) at a parish in the Diocese of Monterey, California. COPA community organizers trained around 500 Catholics to conduct synodal listening sessions in the region.]
For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community Organizers, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
"A massive corporate tax-break program in Texas expired in 2022, but before Dec. 31, state officials said an “extraordinary number” of companies tried to apply. Now, it could be up to the state legislature to deal with the stack of pending applications.
Over the years, critics argued certain requirements were whittled away and some companies were bringing few or low-paying jobs with little benefits. Some, including a coalition of interfaith leaders with The Metropolitan Organization, Central Texas Interfaith and Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations, have called out the program as “corporate welfare” and for leaving the rest of the Texas taxpayers to essentially “make up the difference.”
“We pay our taxes. Parents, teachers, grandparents, alumni pay taxes towards our school districts and towards the state. So, we feel that that is something that every body is responsible for,” said Reverend Minerva Camarena-Skeith of St. John’s Episcopal Church."
[Photo Credit: KXAN]
Organizers who worked for years to pass police oversight are optimistic that it will start the process of reforming one of the more violent police departments in the country.
The Vallejo Sun spoke with several members of Common Ground, a non-partisan group of religious and non-profit organizations in Solano and Napa counties, about their thoughts on the ordinance aimed at holding accountable a police department which has killed 19 people since 2010.
“When you listen to the residents, you hear people say they started this process 20 years ago,” said Renee Sykes, a member of Common Ground. “If you look at 20 years ago, and if you look at now, we now have something in writing, we have something concrete.”
....The city council is expected to officially establish the three-prong oversight approach, including outside investigations of serious police incidents, a Community Police Oversight Accountability Commission, and a police auditor.
Central Texas Interfaith
[Excerpt from FOX 7 Austin]
"The Austin ISD school board has voted against a multi-million dollar tax break for NXP, a semiconductor company...
"It is not fair that those who have the greatest ability to pay are the ones who don't want to pay a dime," Rev. Minerva Camarena Skeith of Central Texas Interfaith said.
The tax break called the appraised value limitation, or 313 agreement, lets potential businesses build property and create jobs in exchange for a 10-year limit on the taxable property value for school district maintenance and operation.
"We want more dollars for AISD and for every school district in this state. We want every child to have every opportunity they need," Rev. Miles Brandon with Central Texas Interfaith said."
NXP Fails to Gain School District Tax Incentives for Possible Factory Expansion, Austin Business Journal
With Weeks to Spare, Austin ISD to Vote on NXP Incentives, Austin Business Journal
Central Texas Interfaith Commends AISD Board for Rejecting Chapter 313 Deal with NXP, Central Texas Interfaith [pdf]
Dallas Area Interfaith
[Excerpt from Dallas Morning News]
"Amid pressure from community advocates, the Dallas schools administration pulled a vote to approve a property tax break for a manufacturing company just before trustees were to weigh in on it Thursday night.
The Texas Economic Development Act – commonly referred to as Chapter 313 based on its position in the tax code – will expire at the end of the month. Companies across Texas are rushing to get deals approved with school districts and lock-in tax abatements ahead of the deadline...
“Does it make sense to continue to grant certain large corporations these huge tax breaks?” Dallas Area Interfaith leader Bill deHaas said ahead of the meeting. “We already know that we have a crunch on educational spending.”
Two parishioners from Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart in Ankeny collaborated with others to move bureaucratic mountains to create a plan that helps children suffering mental health crises.
Jan Brown and Sue Murphy said their faith plus a passion for helping people in pain fueled their drive to fill a gap in health care in the Des Moines area....
“It wasn’t charity, it was justice,” Brown said.
Brown and Murphy along with representatives of AMOS... did research, talked to families, visited with hospital officials and legislators and built the political will to figure out a new system...
Now they’re trying to ensure that it has long-term funding and that there are counselors who can meet the need of the community including refugees and immigrants who call central Iowa home.
Brown said: “That’s our goal is to listen to concerns of families and improve the communities we live in.”
“While we want economic development and good jobs in Central Texas, these agreements prohibit school boards from enacting high living wage and worker safety standards as part of these agreements, unlike city and county incentives, in which good job standards can be negotiated,” said Carlota Garcia of the Central Texas Interfaith organization.
Garcia said these agreements are “Texas’ largest corporate welfare program, which costs taxpayers over $1 billion annually—money that could be going to public schools and other public needs. The state must replace the revenue that the corporations get out of paying in property taxes for 10 years by collecting more taxes from all Texans.”
“We’re not anti-economic development,” said the Rev. Miles Brandon of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church and member of Central Texas Interfaith. “We believe that all of the dollars we can possibly put together in this state should go to educate our children.”
-Austin Business Journal
“We are a part of the AISD community,” Brandon said. “We implore you to choose your advocates and partners over corporations. It makes certain there will be $100 million less to fight for. It is in our children’s best interest now and in the future.”
-Austin American Statesman
[Photo Credit: Community Impact]
Possible Chapter 313 Agreement Between Austin ISD, NXP Draws Criticism, Community Impact [pdf]
Austin ISD to Vote on NXP Semiconductor's $100M Tax Break, Austin Business Journal [pdf]
Time Ticking for Austin School Board to Vote on Proposed Tax Breaks for NXP Semiconductors, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
In San Jose and Campbell, Silicon Valley Sponsoring Committee(SVSC) held an action with 255 people after the tragic death of Jacob Villanueva, a 3rd grade student at Castlemont Elementary School. Beginning with a mass in a San Jose neighborhood, and then a march to St. Lucy's parish in Campbell, the action culminated in an assembly inside the church to which the family belonged.
SVSC has been organizing for over a year in the Cadillac-Winchester neighborhood to address issues of safety including street lights and basic infrastructure. In the assembly, leaders gained the commitment of current City of San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmember-Elect Rosemary Kamei to work on getting stop signs installed around the school and street lights fixed in the neighborhood.
This was the first action with officials in the City of San Jose and SVSC looks forward to an on-going working relationship.
Neighbors March for Safer Streets, Campbell Union School District [video]
Tired of nothing seemingly happening to better God’s world, the 1,300-member Westminster Presbyterian Church, located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided it was time to join ranks with other churches and organizations through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)...
[IAF affiliate] Together West Michigan, comprised of 20-plus organizations seeking to create substantive change in the greater Grand Rapids area, was exactly what Westminster wanted to get involved with.
According to the Rev. Lynette Sparks, senior pastor of Westminster, Together West Michigan — whose name was chosen for easy translation into Spanish — is about building relationships and encouraging people and institutions to come together to make change.
“Jesus was about building relationships across lines, and we are about building power and defining power as the ability to act. Power itself is neutral. How you use it is what matters,” she said, adding, “So many families don’t have a voice or the power to right the injustices they encounter, but churches and secular organizations do — especially when they join together for a common cause.”
[Photo Credit: Westminster Presbyterian Church]
In advance of 2021 School Board elections in Jefferson County, Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG) assembled over 300 people at Trinity Presbyterian Church for a non-partisan candidate accountability session. All six school board candidates were asked "yes or no" in regard to increasing wages for education support professionals and increasing access to healthy food.
All six candidates said yes. After the election, CCG worked alongside member institution Jeffco Education Support Professional Association (JESPA) to hold the recently elected candidates accountable to their commitment. The work resulted in higher wages for school workers and healthier food options for Jeffco students. Andrea Cisneros, a leader with JESPA and CCG, tells the story of how it happened:
“Some parents got ahold of our union and asked us how to get better food that’s more culturally relevant to what they eat at home....”
“Parents were upset and didn't know what steps to take. They joined us and the Coloradans for the Common Good, … and, together, we set up a game plan.” JESPA [Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association] is a member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a broad-based organization comprised of over 30 local institutions, including congregations, unions, non-profits, and neighborhood organizations, committed to the common good of all people.
The game plan was to grow their network of support among the community, partner with groups familiar with farm-to-table approaches, visit other districts that were serving healthy foods, and push their elected officials or any candidate running for office, at the time, to publicly support JESPA’s efforts.
JESPA ... successfully negotiated a pilot program that will replace junk food and highly processed prepackaged food with healthier, scratch-cooked options. Plus, menu creation will include parent and student voices and will have more culturally relevant options. The pilot will start in three schools: an elementary, middle, and high school.
While the menu is still in progress, Cisneros hopes to serve quesadillas, enchiladas, or homemade burritos, instead of frozen burritos in a packet.
“We realized that we have more power together, … and we couldn’t have done this without the support from our parents and community,” she adds.
[Photo Credit: NEA Today]