Common Ground Bursts Onto the Political Scene in Vallejo, Engaging County, City Officials and Police
It wasn’t a phone call left for a city or county official that may or may not be returned. Or a call to police dispatch that said there are 15 calls for service already on hold.
Tuesday night’s gathering at St. Basil’s gymnasium gave the community — at least 250 individuals, anyway — a chance to voice their concerns face-to-face with the Vallejo City Council, Solano County Supervisors, and law enforcement.
The... event, [organized by the seven year old IAF affiliate] Common Ground went well, with topics including homelessness, rising rents, and school safety.
“We were thrilled with the success of the evening,” said Common Ground member Cheryl Gewing.
“I think it was impactful to hear people’s personal stories and troubles they’re facing and trying to understand the process available to them,” said Councilmember Pippin Dew.
“I liked the sharing of the stories … that the community is involved and wants to work with us,” added Councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga.
Mayor Bob Sampayan said city officials were already aware of most of the issues presented, but it was positive to sit at a table “and hear the personalized stories.”
“I think it was awesome to have such a wide representation of people of the faith community, schools system, law enforcement, city and county leaders,” added Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan, calling the event “anything but warm and fuzzy. It was the cold, hard truth about what’s happening in the community.”
Co-host Tazamisha Alexander said the packed room was indicative that the community and officials are willing to work together....
[Note: Common Ground is part of the Bay Area IAF. In collaboration with the Bay Area IAF, an interfaith delegation of clergy and seminarians from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific participated in the action as part of an intensive course on community organizing.]
In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse.
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers. When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break. Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).
In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city. They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.
"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.
[Image Credit: KVEO footage]
Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio Express-News
More than two years after Hurricane Harvey flooded St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Kathy Gabriel’s home, she finally celebrated the holidays this past November and December in her home that had to be demolished and rebuilt....Sherry Dunlap, [is] a fellow parishioner who took it upon her faith in action to help those families.
“Thanks to training through TMO (The Metropolitan Organization), I became the de facto Harvey Disaster Case Administrator for the church and our parishioners and others around the city,” Dunlap said.
Even St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church itself was inundated with water and the subsequent problems of mold and other issues that the Archdiocese helped to resolve.
TMO and Gulf Coast Leadership Council (GCLC) representative Gina Reynoso said the nonprofit organizations acted as a conduit to connect people in need after the hurricane with the multitude of agencies attempting to help.
With contribution from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, GCLC organized meetings with churches and their congregations impacted by the hurricane as being places of trust among the flurry of contractors and others trying to get a piece of the work. Reynoso said, “In the last two years, GCLC has held outreach sessions reaching more than 2,000 people....
[Photo Credit (left): James Ramos, Herald; (right): St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church]
A Renovated Home for the Holidays: St. Francis of Assisi Parishioners Mark Second Christmas Since Harvey, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
As part of an immigration strategy initiated in collaboration with Valley Interfaith, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, St. Eugene Catholic Church in Brownsville, TX began issuing parish ID cards.
Held on a Saturday, the ID Fest was organized to make the identification cards available to immigrant parishioners in need of a way to identify themselves to local law enforcement.
“ID cards can only be used for identification purposes, it is not a government issued card and cannot be used to vote, does not take place of drivers license,” said Jose Hinojosa of Valley Interfaith. So far, leaders have negotiated with the Police Departments of McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg, San Juan and Brownsville to recognize parish IDs.
Said Nancy Cruz, St. Eugene and Valley Interfaith leader, “No one should feel afraid to report a crime for lack of an ID.”
[Photo Credit: (top and bottom right) St. Eugene Mazenod Catholic Church; (bottom left) footage, KVEO]
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish ID, Interfaith Education Fund
137 leaders from 33 member institutions of Nevadans for the Common Good gathered at Green Valley United Methodist Church to ratify their "2020 Vision" for the year and hire a new Lead Organizer, Anna Eng. According to NCG, "the room was full of Energy, Ownership, and Power."
Back in 2017 as hundreds of elderly Nevadans were on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, Natalie Eustice and her friends at Nevadans for the Common Good learned the state was spending just 27 cents a meal for the program.
It was the lowest rate in the country -- by far -- and Eustice, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Henderson, near Las Vegas, knew it was time for the state to boost funding so the long list could be pared down.
So when the state Legislature, which meets every two years, began considering Nevada's biennial budget, Eustice agreed to testify on behalf of Nevadans for the Common Good, which had mounted a campaign to build grassroots support. Eustice had two minutes. She told the legislators it was important that Nevada do a better job of supporting seniors so they could maintain their independence.
"It was very scary because I had never done anything like that before," Eustice, now 71, recalled in an interview with Catholic News Service ahead of Poverty Awareness Month, which is observed in January.
Her testimony and the voices of others at the hearing and hundreds more in writing convinced the Legislature and the governor to boost Meals on Wheels funding by $3.4 million. During this year's four-month legislative session, Nevadans for the Common Good secured an additional 50 cents per meal on top of the funding increase two years earlier....
[In photo: NCG leader Barbara Paulsen, at right with microphone, listens as a gubernatorial candidate agrees to support the organization's agenda at a 2018 accountability assembly. Her story is also covered in the articles below.]
Nevada Religious Communities Unify to Magnify the Voices of the Poor, Intermountain Catholic [pdf]
Encore: Nevada Religious Communities Unify to Magnify the Voices of the Poor, Catholic News Service
....Jewish wisdom teaches that if you don’t know if you are selling weaponry or the materials to make weapons to people who are known to be safe or people who have a history of violence, then you may not sell. American Law responds to this wisdom with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). When someone goes to buy a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), that FLL (a.k.a. the seller) contacts the NICS and the NICS staff performs the background check on the buyer.
But, if the seller doesn’t get an answer from the NICS in three business days, he can sell without a completed background check. In addition, there are no required background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales. Resulting from this loophole, the shooter in Midland-Odessa was able to purchase his gun from a private seller, though he had previous failed a background check and been denied a gun purchase from an FFL.
Addressing these loopholes is the exact topic of two bills, HR1112 and HR8, respectively. Each passed by the US House at the end of February, and each were read twice in the Senate in March. It is time to urge Senator Cornyn to take action to prevent gun violence and save lives in Texas! As a senior member of the Senate he can help pass these two bills to close these loopholes.
Central Texas Interfaith is calling on Senator Cornyn to act. We are gathering thousands of postcards from Texans like us to send to Senator John Cornyn, showing that we stand with our brothers and sisters in El Paso in the fight for gun violence prevention through national policies. When you sign and return one of these post cards in person or online you are adding your voice to the call...
Rabbi Rebecca Reice: Gun Owners Can — And Should! — Work to End Gun Violence, Hill Country News [pdf]
Two years ago, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) persuaded the Sheriff of Caddo parish to become the first local official in state history to use newly granted local authority to reject an industrial tax exemption request. Since then, Caddo Parish, the City of Shreveport, and the Caddo Parish School Board rejected $11.5 Million in property tax exemptions -- effectively clawing back those dollars for human infrastructure and safety including schools and law enforcement.
At one point, according to KTBS:
"Caddo Parish was giving away more money than the entire state of Texas....That is why [Caddo Sheriff] Prator reviews each potential tax break thoroughly. He even sends his chief deputy to examine the company in person. He can do that now because two years ago, Together Louisiana along with North Louisiana Interfaith, a citizen's group, pushed lawmakers and the governor to fix the problem by making changes to ITEP.
Now, Caddo parish is faring better.
[Photo Credit: KTBS footage]
Fiscal Impact of ITEP Reform in Caddo Parish, North Louisiana Interfaith
NCLI Effort Leads to First Local Rejection of Industrial Tax Break, The Advocate & More (2018)
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting in El Paso, EPISO / Border Interfaith launched a campaign to "Stand Against Fear," mobilizing an assembly of 300 faithful and kick-starting a campaign for gun safety legislation. Leaders have facilitated various listening sessions at their institutions and, after hearing the needs of their community, collaborated with local mental health providers to train and certify leaders in Mental Health First Aid.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz soon wrote a Pastoral Letter “Night Will Be No More” calling the shooting “La Matanza” (The Slaughter) and reminding the faithful of the historic and systemic nature of racism in the American Southwest.
Leaders are now incorporating the letter into the listening sessions, unearthing stories of long-term trauma – of discrimination, racism and violence on both sides of the border, and, in contrast to trying to bring things 'back to normal,' are exploring what a better El Paso looks like.
Night Will Be No More: Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso (page 48), Catholic Extension [pdf]
Noche Ya No Habrá: Carta Pastoral al Pueblo de Dios en El Paso, Catholic Extension
At a special session on Austin's Land Use Code Revision, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called attention to real-time displacement happening in Northeast Austin and potential revisions in the land use code to prevent the displacement of hundreds of mobile home residents and precariously housed low-income families. Congregational leaders stood with mobile home park residents facing eviction as they delivered testimony in support of interventions to better protect residents.
In reference to gentrification and the displacement of low-income and people of color from Austin, CTI leader David Guarino "kicked off what would be a full day of public testimony with what he called the 'profound question.'
'Is the Austin we’re becoming truly the city we want to be?'”
Testimony by him and Francisco Martinez of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic called on the City of Austin to do better.
Testimony by David Guarino, All Saints Episcopal [video]
Testimony by Francisco Martinez, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic [video]