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255 with Silicon Valley Spons Comm. Engage with City Officials for Street Safety Around School

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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.

Campbell Readies to Rally for Pedestrian SafetyPatch [pdf]

Neighbors March for Safer StreetsCampbell Union School District [video]


Together West Michigan Expands with Addition of Westminster Presbyterian Church as Member

[Excerpt]

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]

PC(USA) Churches Are Changing the WorldPresbyterian Mission [pdf]


CCG & Union Partnership Results in Healthier Food for Jeffco Public School Students in Colorado

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:

[Excerpt]

“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]

Educators, Parents Team Up to Bring Healthier Food to Cafeteria, NEA Today [pdf]


Rabbi John Linder of VIP Reflects on Pilgrimage to Meet Pope Francis

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[Excerpt]

We live our respective faiths most deeply by being in covenantal relationships with one another, bound by our shared humanity. For me, this was never validated more powerfully than during a recent, unexpected trip to Rome. I was invited to join a delegation of 20 interfaith leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) to meet with Pope Francis for a conversation in his residence in Vatican City...I embarked with the blessings of the leadership of Temple Solel, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center and the Central Conference of American Rabbis....

As we shared our community organizing experiences, we were all struck by how carefully Pope Francis listened. His humility profoundly moved me. He listens lovingly from a place of curiosity, openness and humor. He loves to smile and laugh! The Pope was just fun to be with!...

The Pope, though just learning about us, remarked that the IAF is “Good news for the United States.”

What profound validation for the local work of the Valley Interfaith Project (VIP), our IAF network affiliate. I feel great pride that Temple Solel has been a member of VIP for 15 years, acting together within a broad-based interfaith organization to carry the words of Torah into the real world....

At the conclusion of our conversation, I presented Pope Francis with a leather-bound and gold-leaf Hebrew Bible. I said to him, through a translator, “Your Holiness, I have never been more certain that we stand on common ground.”

The Pope got a kick out of it when I told him that my (almost) 94-year-old mother-in-law inscribed the book the night before my flight to Rome.

I think about the unlikely paths that brought each of the 20 members of the IAF delegation together — paths paved by the common values of our sacred texts, which merged into a collective pilgrimage to Rome, to be touched by the presence and soul of this magnificent man, all of us recognizing that the ground upon which we stand as brothers and sisters is, indeed, holy ground. Now back home, we are strengthened by one another, interconnected through our respective faiths, emboldened and blessed by Pope Francis to continue our sacred work, channeling the words of Micah, to “do justice, love goodness and walk humbly with your God.

[Rabbi John Linder is a leader with Temple Solel and Valley Interfaith Project (VIP).]

Pilgrimage to Meet with Pope FrancisJewish News


Bastrop Interfaith Defeats Chapter 313 Tax Break Proposal in Elgin, Texas

Bastrop Interfaith and Friends of the Land, a farmland preservation coalition, worked with local Elgin residents and landowners to defeat a 10-year Chapter 313 corporate tax abatement at the Elgin ISD School Board last night by a unanimous vote. Solar Proponents, a startup owned by an oil and gas hedge fund, would have clear-cut over 2,100 acres of trees bisected by Little Sandy Creek to build an industrial solar farm. While the community had been testifying monthly since May at the school board meetings against the project, last night was the first time the public got to hear from Solar Proponent about the project. Speakers argued the project endangered Greenbriar Community School and neighboring homes with water runoff in an area already prone to flooding with an already diminishing refuge for wildlife.

“In these past six months, we haven’t heard a single person speak in favor of this project. Compare that to more than 1100 signers of our petition to stop this project and all the comments here you have so patiently listened to since then,” said Skip Connett, a leader with Bastrop Interfaith and founder of Friends of the Land at last night’s school board meeting.

“We spoke for our communities and our trees. Our school board listened,” Connett said after the vote.

This past May, Bastrop Interfaith and Friends of the Land, one of its member institutions, opposed the initial Chapter 313 application which would have given the company a 10-year school property tax abatement from Elgin ISD. Chapter 313, Texas’s largest corporate welfare program, costs taxpayer $1Billion/year to fund these tax breaks, money which could be going to public schools.  Chapter 313’s reauthorization was killed last legislative session by Bastrop Interfaith and the Texas IAF along with allies. However, the program doesn’t expire until this December, and there has been a rush of nearly 500 applications by companies looking to get tax breaks before the deadline.

Bastrop Interfaith Commends Elgin ISD Board for Rejecting Chapter 313 Deal

Friend of the Land, Bastrop Interfaith Oppose Dogwood Creek Solar 313 Application to ElginElgin Courier


West/Southwest IAF Delegation Visits Pope Francis

Delegation of West/Southwest IAF leaders and organizers stands with Pope Francis. [Photos credit: Rabbi John Linder]

Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.  

An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.

The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him.  What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement.  The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come. 

This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue. 

As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría.  Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’)  “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).

He stressed the importance of being with people and paying  attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood 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. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”

Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.

We teach that power recognizes power.  For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”).  Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering.  He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”

We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.  


Texas IAF Fight Against Corporate Welfare Featured in The Problem With Jon Stewart

Reverend Minerva Camarena Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church explains to Jon Stewart how Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF organizations fight corporate incentives that negatively impact public budgets, including schools.

“What’s happening right here, right now, very powerful.” -- Jon Stewart

In a Behind the Scenes Cut, Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith describes how communities can organize.  

Full episode and panel discussion streaming on Apple TV+.  


Corridor Interfaith Leaders Secure 10% Boost in Hays Co. Investment in Capital IDEA

In meetings with Hays County Commissioners, Corridor Interfaith leaders in Central Texas emphasized the importance of workforce development in one of the fastest growing counties in the county.  The Commissioners Court responded, increasing its public investment in long-term job training by 10% to $55,0000 in the upcoming fiscal year.  

Capital IDEA graduate Mary Helen testified, saying: "After working as a paramedic... I went back to college and earned my RN degree. I currently work as an ICU nurse at Ascension Seton Network and provided care to the first COVID patients in our region."


Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF Persists in Push Against Chapter 313 Corporate Subsidies at State Legislature Hearing

[Excerpt]

The Chapter 313 program, authorized in 2001, allows Texas school districts to cap the taxable value of a property for some new projects, saving companies tens of millions of dollars in taxes, or more. It is set to expire at the end of December, after a bipartisan coalition in 2021 stopped efforts to reauthorize the program.

Critics of Chapter 313 call it corporate welfare that deprives Texas public schools of funding....

The Rev. Miles Brandon of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Round Rock spoke in support of ending the program for good. He appeared on behalf of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation and Austin Interfaith, both community... groups.

"We draw a hard line at using school funding for corporate tax funding," Brandon said at the hearing. "In our minds, it is shameful to take money from school children to line the pockets of wealthy corporations. It seems like greed of biblical proportions. Economic development should never be a threat to the well-being, competitiveness and growth of our most precious, God-given assets. More precious than fossil fuels, more precious than green energy, more precious than electric cars, more precious than computer chips: our children, whose education and future are being bankrupted by Chapter 313."
[Image Credit: KVUE]

State Lawmakers Discuss Bringing Back Tax Incentive Program for School DistrictsKVUE [pdf]

Clock is Ticking on Texas' Chapter 313 Incentives -- and Major Projects May Miss OutAustin Business Journal [pdf]


Dallas Morning News Editorial Concurs with DAI: Texas Needs to Stop Paying for Subsidies

[Excerpt]

A section of the Texas tax code that is used by local governments as lucre to attract corporate relocations but that often ends up pitting city against city and school district against school district is set to expire.

Based on hearings last week, there will likely be calls to reinstate it in the next Legislature. That would be a mistake....

In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott complained that each job created by this program cost taxpayers $341,000. Using Abbott’s calculation, the Houston Chronicle updated the numbers last year: now every job created by a 313 incentive costs $1.1 million, the paper reported.

What’s more, a 2018 study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that 313 incentives were the deciding factor in fewer than 25% of relocations, meaning three quarters of the time, the relocation would have happened anyway. Taxing districts are leaving money on the table and cities are fighting cities in a game that actually hurts their residents and students....

in many cases, the choice is not between attracting a company to Texas or failing to do so. The choice is between attracting a company to Taylor or Round Rock; Sherman or Plano.

That highlights another problem: 313 favors districts where it’s easiest to acquire land and build facilities. In an analysis by Dallas Area Interfaith, the losers under 313 are large, urban school districts like Dallas ISD.

[Graphic: Dallas Morning News]

Sapped by Subsidies: 313 Deals Hurt Texas CitiesDallas Morning News [pdf]