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]
After forty-three years of organizing, I stepped down as co-director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) six months ago.
When I started in 1976, I had two big questions about organizing. The first was whether one could have a normal family life while organizing professionally. The second was whether organizing could really work. Could it have impact that lasted and that reached significant scale? Thankfully, over the course of my career I found the answers were yes to both: I was able to have a full family life, and our organizations figured out how to create real change that could be sustained over decades and across regions.
I saw firsthand the extraordinary courage of African American civil rights leaders in Chicago, but I also saw the power of the Cook County Democratic machine. But I didn’t anticipate a development that troubles me as I shift gears: that the large-scale and long- lasting impact of our organizations would not be recognized by the mainstream media or by the vast majority of academics and analysts who study and document these trends. Howard Zinn once lamented, “The obliteration of people’s movements from history is one of the fine arts of American culture.” Apparently, longer-lasting people’s organizations are overlooked as well.
About six weeks ago, the New York Times ran a very long, positive account of Project Quest that covered the Economic Mobility Corp Study. Mark Elliott, president of the Corp described the results as "stunning" and noted that Project Quest has the “largest sustained earnings impact" he had "ever seen" among work-force development programs. Deep in the story, the writer devotes two sentences to its history: “Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio. . . . Community groups created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.”
The two groups the Times refers to anonymously have names: Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) and Metro Alliance. The primary midwife of Project Quest also has a name, Sr. Pearl Cesar. She worked closely with IAF senior organizers in Texas—Ernesto Cortes, Jr., Arnie Graf, and the late Sr. Christine Stephens. And they uncovered remarkable community leaders like the late Andy Sarabia and the late Fr. Albert Benavides. I list these their names not only because they earned recognition many times over, but also because there is no way to understand why Project Quest succeeded if you don’t appreciate the deep and longterm relational work, the leadership development, and the evolving power analysis that build the foundation for Project Quest’s success. The Times story makes no mention of these efforts. Nor does it mention that almost every cent raised for Project Quest was, and continues to be, a product of the power and leverage and non-partisan, political savvy of COPS and IAF.
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation [pdf]
In Texas, government programs are out of reach for those without legal status, with a few exceptions such as emergency care. Alternative paths to medical care have existed for many years.
Many unauthorized immigrants use clinics and health fairs because they fear going to hospitals because their information could be placed in a database that might eventually link to federal immigration agencies.
Faith groups also are stepping up with health fairs to respond to the growing need. Medical students frequently pitch in with free services.
This summer, organizers for Dallas Area Interfaith held a trio of free health fairs at Catholic churches, a trusted safe space for families, and the fairs drew hundreds, said Socorro Perales, an organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith.
[Photo Credit: Brian Elledge, Dallas Morning News]
When the October 2019 gubernatorial election yielded a voter turnout of only 46%, clergy from Together Louisiana grew concerned. Their concerns only grew when they learned that turnout from low income and predominantly minority neighborhoods was 17% lower than in 2016.
Says The Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim, pastor of the First Grace Methodist Church in mid-city New Orleans: “When major blocs of people aren’t participating, that worries me. Whatever their reasons, it’s not good for the country, it’s not good for the state, and it’s not good for New Orleans.”
Reaching out to pastors from diverse denominations, he convened a meeting to decide what to do. Congregations in Baton Rouge, Alexandria and Shreveport held similar nonpartisan gatherings.
With help from Together Louisiana and the Power Coalition, the ministers put together envelopes to give to institutional leaders that held the names of about 30 voters who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election but didn’t participate in the previous month's primary. Leaders were commissioned to personally reach out to each of those voters and ask them to participate in the November election.
This nonpartisan strategy appears to have been effective at increasing voter turnout. Turnout on the first day of early voting yielded the highest ever -- about 2,500 more than in 2016. Overall turnout across the state increased from 46% to almost 51%, ensuring that more citizens were involved in choosing who would be governor. In Shreveport, Alexandria, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, voter turnout increased by an even greater amount (see right graphic above) with green circles indicating increased precinct-level turnout between the runoff and the election, and the size of the circles indicating the number.
Turnout increases were leveraged face-to-face and conversation-by-conversation -- between Together Louisiana leaders and citizens who don't always vote -- with extraordinary results.
[Photo Credit: (left) Bill Feig, The Advocate]
Turnout Increase Map, Together Louisiana
Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino, of All Saints Episcopal, point out the effects of state action on homelessness in Austin.
This Thanksgiving, most of us will sit down with our loved ones for a feast in a cozy home. Outside, hundreds of our neighbors experiencing homelessness in Austin will be scrambling for a place to escape from the elements, both literal and political.
We of Austin’s faith community have frequent contact with our unsheltered neighbors, and they have taught us a great deal. They have shown that too many of us are just one or two paychecks and a run of bad luck away from the same fate. Our homeless neighbors have also taught us that we have a shared humanity that transcends circumstances.
Austin is at a critical moment in our fight to end homelessness. Recent attempts to revise the city’s old ordinances, which effectively criminalized everyday activities, brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. It was hard to miss that our neighbors were suffering.
The response of the governor was to order the dismantling of encampments under state highways and provide a vacant lot off U.S. 183 as an alternative campground, far from the city’s social service and transportation hubs. As a result, many of our unhoused neighbors have been forced back to the woods, out of sight....
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for Homeless, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
At the 2019 General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, the outgoing chair of the Committee on Migration (and Catholic Bishop of Austin), Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, concluded his report with "good practices for helping immigrants." Topping the list was the IAF parish identification strategy.
Parish identification emerged as a strategy in Dallas after passage of Texas Senate Bill 4, which allows law enforcement officers to ask residents about their immigration status. With no access to state drivers licenses, undocumented immigrants were concerned that otherwise benign traffic stops could result in deportation. Police departments were worried their officers would not be trusted in immigrant communities. As a way to address both concerns, 1,500 Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and their Bishops negotiated acceptance of parish ID cards with five North Texas police departments.
The parish ID strategy soon spread to Baltimore in collaboration with IAF sister affiliate Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and, most recently, to the Diocese of Brownsville (along the US-Mexico border) in partnership with Valley Interfaith, Catholic Charities and the police departments of Brownsville, McAllen and Edinburg.
Bishop Vasquez recognized the Catholic (Arch)dioceses of Baltimore, Dallas and Brownsville for "fostering a sense of belonging & security." So far in Dallas, 12,000 identification cards have been issued through DAI member congregations, fortifying family connections to congregations and strengthening parish collections in the process.
Remarks by Bishop Jose S. Vásquez, US Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly Remarks
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Notes]
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Webinar]
On a cloudy November day, EPISO/Border Interfaith celebrated the initiation of a $13 Million project that will provide 816 Montana Vista residents with water and wastewater services in a colonia far east of El Paso. El Paso Water Utilities publicly recognized the organization for its leadership in ensuring that residents have access to these essential services.
For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.
The city-parish’s efforts to address food deserts in north Baton Rouge and other parts of the city has reached what Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called a major milestone through the launch of the Healthy Food Retail Initiative...to provide incentives to grocers to set up shop in some of the city-parish’s underserved communities.
Broome was joined by an array of community partners during the announcement Tuesday, one being Together Baton Rouge, which has been working to bring more affordable, healthier food options to parts of the city where grocery stores are scarce.
Edgar Cage, a spokesman affiliated with the faith-based organization, said 23% of the parish’s population live in areas with little choice for healthy food. The national average is 7%, he said.
Together Baton Rouge claims the most vulnerable residents affected by the parish’s food deserts are 19,000 children and 7,000 seniors.
“Early on we knew there needs to be infrastructure created to make things happen,” Cage said.
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]