[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the Covid-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]
Three groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) strengthened their networks during the pandemic and developed innovative strategies that will likely persist after the virus is controlled....
“The pandemic has lifted a veil,” Josephine [Lopez-Paul] says. “The number of people who are living in poverty” is in our face, she says.
“The need is there. You can’t ignore it. Poverty is not a secret in our city anymore.”
She adds, “DAI’s approach is still rooted in relationship, and that hasn’t changed. Clergy and leaders have been there for one another as part of a community.”
DAI is an affiliate of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). It has 33 congregational members with approximately 300 active leaders. DAI conducts weekly virtual meetings for clergy to share concerns and potential solutions. At one meeting early in the crisis, a pastor reported that half of 30 participants contracted COVID-19 after an unmasked choir practice. In response, celebrants of the weekly televised Mass from the diocesan cathedral began to use the final minute of the broadcast to urge compliance with masking and socialdistancing recommendations.
Like others, DAI has moved many activities, such as organizing and training programs, online. Josephine says this will continue beyond the pandemic, so that “imagination and vision” can be shared with isolated participants in rural areas, as well as with those who can attend in person.
[In photo: DAI Leaders and organizers meet with Dallas Police Commanders, including then-chief U. Renee Hall, following a meeting as DPD Headquarters.]
The Post-Pandemic Path Ahead, Catholic Campaign for Human Development
In the face of impending evictions in Oklahoma, ACTION and VOICE-OKC leaders organized city councils from OK City, Tulsa, and Norman to urge the governor to expand the eviction moratorium in July. Governor Stitt responded by allocating $10 Million in state funds for a rental assistance grant program ($5 Million for Tulsa and $5 Million for Oklahoma City).
In Tulsa, ACTION was the first organization to go to the county with the idea for rental assistance, and leveraged $15 million for local residents. When the county attempted to claw back unspent funds at the end of October, ACTION leaders fought to keep $3.5 million for a brand new utility assistance program, which helped over 6,000 families.
In Oklahoma City, VOICE-OKC leaders were critical players in the fight for Oklahoma County to use $1.5 Million in CARES Acts funding for rental assistance. In combination with funds drawn down from the state, more that 5,200 families (estimated 17,368 people) were assisted.
Pastors and lay leaders from both organizations leaned into the fight to keep families sheltered, ultimately protecting tens of thousands across the state.
[Photo Credit: Video/ACTION Tulsa]
Rental Assistance, Small Business Relief Programs Announced, The Oklahoman [pdf]
Tulsa County Organization Provides Rental Assistance, News On 6 [pdf]
Greg R. Taylor: Love Your Neighbor, Don't Evict Him, Tulsa World [pdf]
Good News Week 2021, ACTION Tulsa
In less than two weeks, One LA - IAF leaders launched a pilot effort to vaccinate close to 900 senior citizens and essential workers in the hard-hit South LA community around St. Brigid Catholic Church. Originally planning to vaccinate 600 people, the two-day event accommodated hundreds more who were eligible as word spread in the community.
"The issue is vaccine access," said Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center in an interview with ABC National News. "Most people in South LA have not had access to the vaccine. There's not hesitancy- people have questions of course, but people want to get vaccinated. The issue is that there was nowhere for them to go."
Nowhere to go, that is, until One LA leaders began organizing. After months of advocating for a more equitable vaccination campaign targeting hard-hit neighborhoods, One LA leaders secured a partnership with Supervisor Holly Mitchell and medical partner St. John's Well Child & Family Center to bring the vaccines to the neighborhood around St. Brigid Catholic Church.
"Unfortunately, it is one of the least vaccinated areas in Los Angeles," said Fr. Kenneth Keke, Pastor of St. Brigid Catholic Church. "One in five residents have had Covid-19, and only 1 in 18 have been vaccinated. We are going to change that. We don't want anybody left behind."
Over the course of four days, One LA leaders went door to door, passed out flyers and called 4,000 households. The targeted approach shielded the vaccine supply from out-of-the-area "vaccine chasers," but more importantly reached people who otherwise wouldn't be able to access the vaccine at all.
Meaghan Myrtle, a 90 year old resident of the neighborhood, had been trying for months to secure an appointment. Ms. Myrtle had no access to transportation or the internet. "This church called me back. Nobody else called me back."
One LA leaders are now working to duplicate the pilot in other hard hit communities, and to work with LA County to add these neighborhood-based pop-ups to the many methods needed to vaccinate the whole county.
"A year into this pandemic, we refuse to stay at home anymore," said Phaebra Croft, a One LA leader with St. Brigid and teacher with LAUSD. "Don't let anyone try to convince you that our communities don't want this vaccine. Demand is high and will only get higher."
[Photo Credit: Rafael Paz]
Group Gives Help to Vaccine Candidates, NBC 4 Los Angeles [video]
Fight for Vaccine Equity, ABC News National [video]
A Los Angeles Pilot Program Will Vaccinate Hundreds Within 2-Mile Radius of a Catholic Church, Religion News Service [pdf]
Churches in LA's Working-Class Neighborhoods Urge: 'Bring the Vaccine to the People', Religion News Service [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]
Months of hard work by Marin Organizing Committee leaders paid off as San Rafael, Novato, and Marin County enacted rent increase moratoriums in areas most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. MOC advocated for a freeze on rent increases since last summer, when it became clear that the economic effects of COVID-19 would leave renters saddled with thousands of dollars of debt. With statewide protections on the verge of expiring, MOC leaders redoubled their efforts after the new year. On January 18th, 200 MOC leaders assembled on Zoom with a Marin County Supervisor and two San Rafael City Councilmembers. During the meeting, MOC leaders asked these officials to commit to working with MOC around the issue of rent freezes.
The next day, the San Rafael City Council unanimously voted for a moratorium on rent increases in the Canal neighborhood through the end of 2021. The following week, the Novato City Council followed suit, voting unanimously to approve a rent freeze through 2021 in three city census tracts hardest hit by the pandemic.
On February 9th, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a ban on rent increases in parts of unincorporated Marin County, thereby including those who reside outside city limits who would have been left unprotected by the Novato and San Rafael ordinances.
These emergency measures will provide thousands of families much-needed time to recover from the devastating financial impacts of the pandemic. MOC leaders will continue to fight for expanded emergency protections and an equitable and smooth distribution of rental assistance funds to renters and landlords.
[Photo Credit: Ethan Swope/Special to Marin Independent Journal]
Marin Activists Seek Rent Freeze During Coronavirus Crisis, Marin Independent Journal
San Rafael Bans Rent Hikes in Pandemic-Stressed Canal, Marin Independent Journal
Novato Enacts Limited Rent Freeze for Pandemic Relief, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin County Weighs Pandemic Rent Freeze in 2 Census Tracts, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Voice: County Supervisors Should Approve Rent-Increase Moratorium-by MOC's own Sami Mericle and Marta Villela, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Leaders from the Southside Independent School District and COPS/Metro announced their new working relationship at a Dec. 3 physically distanced press conference.
Together they plan a listening tour, including monthly gatherings where district officials can get direct input from learners, their families and other residents about local educational needs.
There also would be what COPS/Metro calls “civic academies” as part of the collaboration.
Estela Sanchez, a COPS/Metro organizer and SISD mother, said she looks forward to partnering with the district to empower other parents, getting them and neighbors more involved in school-community initiatives.
Another COPS/Metro member and SISD mom, Montserrat Amador, said the importance of education can’t be stressed enough.
“Just a year ago, I was not allowed to enter the school premises for not having an American ID. Today, I am where the decisions are made and I will work with the district’s administration and Superintendent Ramirez to improve the quality of education of my children,” Amador said.
She added, “We don’t have to conform with the minimum. Our children from the South Side deserve the same education as children in the North (Side) of San Antonio.”
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo]
The violent incursion at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6 disrespected, demeaned, and threatened the right of every citizen who peaceably engages in the democratic process in our country.
Deliberation, debate, argument, compromise, deal-making; these are the means to advance interests in a democracy. The leaders and organizations of the West/Southwest IAF teach and practice these political skills every day; vigorously engaging on the issues that impact our families and traveling regularly to state Capitols, City Halls, and decision-making chambers to advance these issues. That the buildings and halls of power belong to them is made self-evident in their consistent and persistent presence throughout years of effort. Their work is carried out through hundreds of conversations full of respectful dissent, concession, and sometimes victory; in other words, democratically.
What happened yesterday at the U.S. Capitol not only endangered the officials, staff members and public safety officers who were present, but endangered our democratic institutions by introducing violence to what has, until now, been a tradition of a peaceful transfer of power in our national leadership. To arrive at consent at the point of a gun is the weakest form of power, and our nation was weakened on January 6 by the use of violence in place of political debate.
As a network of religious, labor, education and community leaders from all walks of life and all political persuasions, we condemn the acts of insurrection and violence in Washington, D.C., and recall the words of Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address at the conclusion of the Civil War: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
Cortes: To Arrive at Consent at Point of a Gun is Weakest Form of Power, Rio Grande Guardian [pdf]
In Wake of Capitol Attack, Leaders Urge Rejection of Division That Lead to Violence, Catholic Sentinel [pdf]
Listen to Lincoln: 'With Malice Towards None; With Charity For All', Arizona Republic [pdf]
Statement, West/Southwest IAF
Recently, Jeffco’s program has been under fire from leaders in the faith, nonprofit, service and education communities. A virtual forum was held Dec. 9, 2020, hosted by the group, Coloradans for the Common Good (formerly Colorado IAF). Pastor Reagan Humber, House for All Sinners and Saints, led the meeting. Taking the District to task for what he considered inadequate access to the program for families in need, Humber called on Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh to meet with representatives from the group to discuss changes. In a separate interview, he said the CCG coalition’s main concern was what they perceived to be deficiencies in Jeffco’s program in comparison to similar programs.
“Denver and Cherry Creek are open every day for kids to be able to get hot lunch,” Humber said.
While he agrees the recent expansion of hours and locations is a step in the right direction, his group is still concerned about distances between pick-up points creating long walks for kids who have no other transportation options to pick up meals.
Regarding the newly launched bus delivery routes, Humber said his group is thrilled the District has begun this pilot program, and delighted to know their efforts in highlighting the issue paid off.
He also sees issues with meals the district provides that require reheating, pointing out the need for ready to eat options for families who are homeless or living in cars.
As for the meeting between Schuh and the CCG folks, Humber said the Interim Superintendent has tentatively agreed, but no date has been set.
[Photo Credit: Glenn Wallace/Golden Transcript]
Jeffco Schools Pivot — Expand Grab and Go Food Program, Golden Transcript [pdf]
Jeffco Schools Pivot — Expand Grab and Go Food Program, Arvada Press [pdf]