Even during the Texas winter storm blackout, CTI leaders swung into action to support low-income families cut off from access to heat, potable water and food. Not only did they deliver direct assistance from their own pantries (and eventually much more in collaboration with the County of Travis) they participated in a Texas IAF press conference calling for structural reforms to the statewide power grid. In Waco, CTI furthermore helped support a local congregation that opened their doors to vulnerable residents needing warmth.
Profiled in the stories below are people and communities Central Texas Interfaith introduced to reporters, including from the Washington Post.
[At Pecan Park Mobile Homes] on the eastern edge of Austin, Kamel is struggling to plan out the next few weeks for his family. Business had already been slow for his pressure-washing company because of the pandemic, but the freeze has now damaged the equipment.
“We are not able to use anything. So we have like a zero income for now,” said Kamel, who must pay rent by the first week of March to avoid $75 daily late fees. “I’m nervous. I’m sure we are not going to be able to pay on time.”
Days earlier, he nearly lost his three children to carbon monoxide poisoning after they used a charcoal stove to warm their mobile home. He said he felt like a prisoner listening to his children cry from the painful cold during their five days without power. Fear tore through Kamel and his wife after their son began vomiting and they rushed to the hospital.
The hardship reminded Kamel of his own childhood in Iraq, but he said he felt less prepared than his parents, who were accustomed to surviving. The 41-year-old has endured much in his life, but he did not expect this in Texas. The power and weather crises are over, but the consequences for his family will reverberate for weeks.
Kamel applied for individual assistance from FEMA after learning through his kids’ school about the help. Organizers from Central Texas Interfaith have also helped his family with immediate needs, such as food and water.
“We’ve been through similar tough times, but this time it’s different because we have kids,” Kamel said of himself and his wife. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen like next week or like 10 days from here or a month from here, you know?”
Texas Storm Left Death, Devastation in Vulnerable Communities, National Catholic Report - Earthbeat [pdf]
Help On Ice: St. Alban's Serves as Warming Center, Act Locally Waco
In Tucson, Arizona, work at Pima County Interfaith began advocating for pandemic relief as the pandemic hit, seeing it as a natural outgrowth of its grassroots work.
Ana Chavarin, an organizer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development-funded organization, said its community leaders quickly advocated for rental assistance for people threatened with eviction. And, after weeks of activism, members were able to convince health care providers to bring vaccines to some of the most vulnerable communities Feb. 6.
She credited local leaders for their work in neighborhoods, parishes and church congregations. She said the effort is rooted in church teaching on solidarity and recognizing the dignity of each person....
Chavarin recalled that when coronavirus testing began in Tucson, the site was established far from low-income communities. For people with a vehicle, the trip would take 40 minutes. However, for poor residents it required riding on multiple buses on a trek that took several hours in each direction.
To prevent such inequities, Chavarin urged collaboration among low-, middle- and upper-income residents to develop solutions to community challenges. While such conversations might currently be pertinent during the pandemic, they could also lead to meetings on environmental issues, jobs and education, she said.
She cited the letter to the Corinthians for inspiration in understanding the importance of building such relationships: "When one part of the body is hurting, then the whole body is hurting."
"We need to understand," Chavarin said, "that we are one body in need of creating those connections and having those conversations to talk about specific goals."
[Photo Credit: Eloisa Lopez, Catholic News Service / Reuters]
To Overcome Economic Disparities, Turn to Papal Encyclicals, Panelists Say, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
In Light of Pope Francis' Criticism of Both Left and Right Populism, IAF's Community Organizing Offers a 3rd Way
Francis calls for nothing less than a Copernican revolution in our understanding and practice of politics, one in which ordinary people are not a hard-to-reach “periphery” but the center around which the rest of the firmament revolves....
In Let Us Dream, Francis urges the church to be more receptive to such popular alliances—accompanying them both practically and spiritually, without seeking to dominate. He identifies “labor” and “lodgings” as two of the key issues for grass-roots action. The success of the IAF’s Living Wage campaigns, and its renewal of whole neighborhoods in New York and Baltimore through the Nehemiah Housing program, demonstrates the power of institution-based organizing. If parishes and dioceses heed the pope’s call to engage with new vigor in this work, it can play a significant role in the civic renewal that is so urgently needed.
Community organizing has two crucial features that ensure the poorest citizens have agency. First, it is institution-based. Across almost a century of community organizing, both religious and secular organizers have found religious congregations to be the most resilient and powerful institutions on which to build what veteran organizer Ernesto Cortés Jr. calls “a graduate school to teach people how to participate in politics and shape their communities’ futures.”
As Mr. Cortés explained in an interview with Rev. Ritchie: “Citizens are formed through the process of organizing. It requires institutions which can incubate this process by passing on the habits, practices, and norms necessary for humans with different opinions and temperaments to flourish together: to compromise, to talk to and not just about one another, to act in the light of one another’s views and needs and not just unilaterally or selfishly.”
Second, community organizing is inclusive. Click below for the rest of the article.
[Photo Credit: Paul Haring/CNS]
Pope Francis has Criticized Both the Left and the Right’s Politics. Community Organizing Offers a Third Way, America, The Jesuit Review [pdf]
One way that ordinary people of faith can grow in the virtue of solidarity is to join a ministry or organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of those who Jesus called the “least brothers of mine.”
Take the Industrial Areas Foundation for instance. As one of the nation’s largest and oldest broad-based organizing networks, the IAF has its roots in the Catholic social tradition. By bringing together communities across the social, political and religious lines that usually divide, the IAF is effective at helping local faith and community-based organizations live out “their missions to achieve lasting change in the world.”
In May 2020, the IAF affiliates of California mobilized their networks to do just that. Although undocumented residents are vital to California’s economy, pay taxes and have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, early COVID relief legislation enacted by Congress prevented them from accessing critical economic aid.
Through the IAF’s organizing of an unprecedented statewide Zoom action that included 1,200 faith leaders, 10 bishops and several lawmakers, ordinary people of faith succeeded in persuading Gov. Gavin Newsom to include undocumented workers and their families in the state’s COVID relief measures.
Like the IAF, CRS understands that lasting change, both social and spiritual, often comes about when ordinary citizens work together for a just and peaceful world. Through the building of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” Christians can cultivate the virtue of solidarity while also giving witness to the radical communion that God desires for all of humanity and creation.
[Illustration by Catholic News Service; photo by Tyler Orsburn]
Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity Means Commitment to the Common Good, The Dialog/Catholic News Service [pdf]
La Doctrina Social Católica: Solidaridad es un Compromiso con el Bien Común, The Dialog/Catholic News Service [pdf]
"...lack of neighborhood patrols and 'collaboration' with the US Border Patrol were among issues discussed at a meeting earlier this week between a local grassroots citizens' group and members of the Del Rio Police Department.Read more