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Standing Against Fear, EPISO/Border Interfaith Charts Path Moving from Grief to Action

Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.  

“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso.  “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”

Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.

“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture.  "You all are about accountability.  We have to be accountable with the people who use language that  inspires hate." 

Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns.  “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.” 

The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?"  Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.  

Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos. 

Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts.  He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools.  City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services.  School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.   

[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]

Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass ShootingEl Paso Times [pdf

Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso ShootingFOX News

What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting AftermathAmerica Magazine [pdf]


'Working Together Jackson' On the Ground in Wake of ICE Raids in Mississippi

[Excerpts below]

Likening the use of about 600 federal agents in an immigration raid carried out Wednesday in seven Mississippi chicken processing plants to an “invasion,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz, who heads the Diocese of Jackson, said some of the families affected by the action appear “traumatized.” And though about 300 of the roughly 680 people who were arrested were released on Thursday, Aug. 8, the bishop said the effects of the raids will only intensify in the coming weeks.

“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hard-working people.” He said he was bewildered that authorities would choose to carry out the operation as these Mississippi communities began the first day of school.

....

Chevon Chatman, who heads up Working Together Jackson, a network of community groups including Mississippi parishes, said...“The kids who were left behind on their first day of school came back to no one,” she said. “There have been some reunifications, but it’s still a work in progress. There are a significant number of children who have not been united with their parents.”

Ms. Chatman said that many companies in Mississippi count on immigrant labor....

[Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP Photo]

After ICE Raids in Mississippi, Catholic Charities Prepares for Long-Term ImpactAmerica Magazine [pdf]


San Antonio Express-News: South Side community Finally Getting Paved Roads

[Excerpt]

...When developers platted Highland Oaks in 1959 there were no rules or regulations in place regarding roads. County officials rejected pleas from residents to have the roads fixed. Officials said the streets had been improperly built and were never properly deeded to the county, making the roads private. The county maintained that position even after a 2015 Express-News Editorial Board investigation revealed the county had accepted the roads as part of a settlement in a lawsuit 30 years ago.

In 2016, after continued media scrutiny and intervention by COPS/Metro Alliance and the Southside Independent School District, county commissioners had a change of heart. Commissioners decided to inventory all roads in the county that might be in a similar situation to begin tackling the problem.....

South Side Community Finally Getting Paved RoadsSan Antonio Express-News [pdf]


Standing Up to Fear, EPISO/Border Interfaith Organizes a Response Rooted in Hope

[Excerpts from America Magazine below...]

The Rev. Pablo Matta was one of a number of priests who visited El Paso hospitals in the hours after a gunman with a high-powered rifle opened fire Aug. 3 in a Walmart massacre that took 22 lives....“I saw a lot of the people that died,” Father Matta said....

“There’s a lot of grief,” [Dolores DeAvila] said. Ms. DeAvila, a leader with El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization/Border Interfaith, has spoken with many who lost loved ones in the shooting or were in the vicinity. She described the panic that ensued in nearby restaurants, including one where people hid in a walk-in cooler. “We say we’re prepared [for a mass shooting], but we’re not,” she said.

EPISO/Border Interfaith is organizing a community event on Aug. 8 at St. Paul Church, where Father Matta is pastor. In addition to fear, Ms. DeAvila said there is a lot of anger around assault weapons.

“This is a community that was attacked and they understand that,” Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a network of community organizations, said of the attack.

“There is incredible grief, and it’s starting to turn into anger. People are starting to look for someone to blame for this,” Mr. Rubio said. “The church can take part in helping to shape people’s reaction to this. Not just by having a vigil, but in a way people can create public accountability for who bears responsibility for unleashing this kind of destruction and hate.”

Mr. Rubio believes there should be an organized response supporting restrictions on assault rifles and background checks for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. “There’s a prophetic role for the church to play in this conversation,” he said. “We’re going to either proactively save people or they’re going to pay with their lives.”

What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]


Statement on the Mass Shootings in El Paso & Dayton

FIGHTING AGAINST FEAR
Our Neighborhoods, Our Strength

We are deeply saddened by the horrific shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the past 48 hours.  Our hearts go out to those murdered, those injured, their families and these entire communities.  We also stand in support of our IAF sister organization EPISO/Border Interfaith and its workforce training organization Project ARRIBA, whose work has been deeply embedded in the El Paso community for decades. 

This Thursday, August 8th at 7pm at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, EPISO/Border Interfaith (BI) leaders will assemble to demonstrate that this hate-filled act has no place in El Paso.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders representing 19 local institutions from all walks of life will stand united to grieve and rebuild the bonds of trust to overcome fear and hate.

Because El Paso is the largest US city on the border, and among the safest in our country, EPISO/BI leaders will not let this senseless act of violence define its border community.  This week EPISO/BI recommits to its long-term political work of building vital public relationships, rooted in trust. 

The story of the Good Samaritan challenges us all to see the humanity in those we have been taught to despise and to practice neighborliness, not to be divided by senseless acts of violence.  We urge all people to reach out to those who might feel isolated or fearful and seek fruitful relationships not just in the coming days and weeks, but for the long term.  Those kinds of efforts can lay a foundation for relationships with people who are different, and collaborative strategies for long-term solutions.

We must do all we can to combat the culture of violence and hate which contributes to tragedies like these.


Remembering Sr. Christine Stephens, the Organizer's Organizer

by Geoff Ripps, Texas Observer

[Excerpt below]

On the evening of July 25, about 400 people packed a large chapel at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio for the wake for Sister Christine Stephens. A sister with the Congregation of Divine Providence, Stephens spent her life teaching the poor and disenfranchised how to organize and lead within their communities.

Stephens, who died on July 18 at age 78, was co-director of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a community organizing nonprofit that has chapters in 14 states. In Texas, the network has been responsible for a litany of successes: bringing drainage projects to the drowning Westside of San Antonio, creating workforce development initiatives, fighting for education equalization funding, securing more than $250 million in state bond money to fund water and wastewater utilities for border colonias, and, in recent months, organizing undocumented immigrants to fight for their rights. Stephens’ organizing was integral to all those victories.

But the victories were not the focus of Stephens’ wake. Instead, speaker after speaker marveled at her compassion, her anger at injustice, and her drive to help people develop tools to build their own power. Over four decades, Stephens developed organizations by developing people. “Her body of work,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest IAF, “is us and so many others she left her imprint on.”  

Complete article in first link below:


Dallas Area Interfaith Parish Strategy 'Welcomes the Stranger' and Combats Fear

In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions.  Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, family health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.   

According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation. 

Trump's Anti-Immigration Rhetoric is Meant to Instill Fear, Not for Enforcement, Advocates SayAmerica [pdf]


One LA Ratifies Roadmap to Power in 2020

With standing room only, 300 delegates from One LA member and guest institutions convened on Sunday, July 21, 2019 at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills to set an ambitious agenda for 2020. 

"Our 2020 vision is a roadmap to building power," said Nancy Goldstone, Co-Chair of the assembly and member of Temple Beth Am. "I don't need to tell you that it will be a watershed year, nationally and locally. While many will be focusing on the presidential election, half of LA city council and half of LAUSD board members are up for election, and we have a major contest in LA County Supervisor's District 2. That is where decisions are made that affect us daily." 

Teams of leaders from across LA County shared stories about what is at stake around One LA's four issue campaigns: immigration, housing, human trafficking and mental health. "We need our state senators, county supervisors and city council members to do more to protect immigrants," shared Yadira Mireles, on the immigration team at San Gabriel Mission. "People need lawyers. They need good information. People coming out of detention need shelter and services. We can't just be a sanctuary city in name only. We want elected officials who will work with us so that Los Angeles will truly be a place that welcomes immigrants." 

State Senator Holly Mitchell and City Attorney Mike Feuer joined the assembly and reacted to One LA's vision for building power. When asked if she would join One LA leaders in a listening campaign on mental health issues, Senator Mitchell rose to the challenge and offered to co-host a session. City Attorney Feuer laid out specific ways his office would work with One LA on all four issue campaigns, encouraging leaders to contact his office directly in cases of immigration fraud, intelligence on human traffickers, and housing fraud. 

One LA leaders then caucused by region on specific strategies to build more power ahead of the 2020 elections, including broadening and expanding their constituencies through recruiting other institutions, and raising more hard money to hire and train organizers. "Hard money is our favorite kind of money," said Janet Hirsch of Temple Isaiah. "It is money that we control, and that lets us set our agenda on our own terms and our own time."  Leaders pledged $200,000 in hard money commitments for 2020.

Before adjourning, leaders unanimously ratified a proposal to organize candidates forums and conduct a robust Get out the Vote Campaign ahead of the 2020 elections. 

Money Matters: A Reflection, by Diane Vanette, leader of One LA and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills


Tulsa ACTION Leaders Tackle Student Debt

[Excerpt]

Dr. Gary Sims’ story [above] is one of dozens we have heard about student loan debt. Most of the stories come from public education teachers, social workers and other professionals who will never earn a physician’s salary.

While researching the topic of student loan debt, we have heard from people whose Social Security checks, disability checks and paychecks are being garnished. In response to stories like these and quantitative data, financial experts, economists and politicians are labeling student loan debt as a “crisis,” one that can no longer be ignored.

....

While it may seem overwhelming to think about change at the national level, there are actions that can be taken at the state and local level, and Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) is pursuing them. Using tools of broad-based organizing, ACTION teaches members to cross lines of race, ethnicity, class and religion to challenge social injustices facing families and communities.

ACTION has developed a presentation that is being given in Tulsa congregations and universities. This presentation provides guidance on student loan debt. ACTION is also studying how debt collectors engage with consumers. Forty percent of Oklahomans have at least one debt in collections, which can range from student loan debt to credit card debt and medical debt.

As Public Funding Dipped, Student Debt SoaredNonDoc [pdf]


COPS/Metro Fight for Child Safety Results in Demo of Dilapidated Building

[Excerpt]

Beacon Hill Academy parents and students gathered in a parking lot Wednesday morning to watch a dilapidated old school building on the campus fall to a demolition crew. Children donned pink and yellow plastic construction hats that hung low over their eyes and cheered each time “the claw” of an excavator punctured a side of the building.

The 1915 campus building designed by renowned architect Leo Dielmann has long been the bane of campus staff and San Antonio Independent School District officials.

The fate of the aged structure, located near the school’s present building, became the focus of a prolonged debate between SAISD and the city of San Antonio during the two decades when the building sat vacant. Over the last year and a half, Beacon Hill parents and community members teamed with COPS Metro Alliance and rallied to push the district to make a deal with the city to raze the structure, allowing the campus with growing enrollment more space.

Demolition Begins on Historic Beacon Hill Campus BuildingRivard Report [pdf]