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Posted by: Gordon on 3/24/2014

Cynthia Owen Jarrold, M.Div., Gamaliel Federal Policy Coordinator revised this piece into a blog post from a recent training.

The book of Numbers is one of the last places that I would typically look for inspiration or direction when preparing a sermon. I suspect that is also true for most of my colleagues.

However, when I was asked to frame the national political landscape at a recent Gamaliel of Virginia training—and to do it wearing my “preacher” hat—I immediately thought of the first chapter of the book of Numbers:

  1. The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
  2. Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually;
  3. From twenty years old and upwards, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company.
  4. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house.
  5. These are the names of the men who shall assist you . . . .

(vv. 1-5, NRSV)

This is the first census of the nation of Israel, and it is taken as they make preparations to depart the Sinai wilderness for what will turn out to be 39 additional years of wandering before they enter the Promised Land.  The text continues by designating a census-taker from each tribe of Israel . . . and Gamaliel is in the house. Gamaliel, the son Pedahzur, is the census-taker for the tribe of Manasseh. The chapter concludes with the final count (vv. 45-46, NRSV):

45. So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upwards, everyone able to go to war in Israel
 46. Their whole number was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.
Posted by: Gordon on 3/20/2014

Detroit Bankruptcy and Beyond

Local and national experts will consider the Detroit bankruptcy from a different angle — one more concerned with racial equity and preserving the city than making big investors whole and looking at how the same issues may play out elsewhere — on April 7-8.

The forum "Detroit Bankruptcy and Beyond: Organizing for Change in Distressed Cities” will feature keynote speakers Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation and Prof. Thomas Sugrue of University of Pennsylvania.

The conference will bring together organizers, policy makers, community members, and researchers from Detroit and other cities facing tough financial challenges.

The conference will feature presentations and discussion on topics such as:

  • What is municipal bankruptcy? 
  • How did Detroit get here? 
  • What are the options for cities facing bankruptcy & fiscal crisis?  
  • What are the racial justice & equity implications of municipal bankruptcy?
Posted by: Gordon on 3/14/2014
We Belong Together logoWe Belong Together map
A handful of people are blocking immigration reform, Beltway insiders say: there are more than 218 votes that would pass an immigration bill, if the house leadership would only call it to the floor. 

Gamaliel's Dream for All Civil Rights of Immigrants delegates in Hawaii, California and across the heartland are participating with the national group We Belong Together, women for common-sense immigration reform, in a wave of fasts and public actions across the country to make the breakthrough that can ensure this bill is fair and comprehensive, and to make sure this vote is allowed to happen.

Women across the country will be sacrificing food and taking action to protest the moral crisis caused by those who are blocking immigration reform, as well as the epidemic of deportations that are tearing our families apart. Gamaliel affiliated actions include the following:

March 16, North Bay Organizing Project, Sebastopol, Calif.
March 17, Indiana Organizing Project, South Bend
March 18, ESTHER, Fox Valley, Wisc.
March 19, Metropolitan Congregations United, St. Louis
March 20, Gamaliel of Metro Chicago
March 21, United Congregations of the Metro East, East St. Louis
March 22, Asamblea De Derechos Civiles, Minnesota
March 24, Metro Organization for Racial & Economic Equity, Kansas City
March 25, Racine Interfaith Coalition
March 26, Hawaii Coalition for Immigration Reform (HCIR)
March 27, Quad Cities Interfaith, Illinois/Iowa

Leaders in Michigan and Indiana will also welcome Fast for Families bus tour to their town to highlight some of the cranky congressmen holding immigration reform hostage, such as U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich, and U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.

This month of action is part of the next push by the pro-reform movement to bring a comprehensive immigration law to the finish line and stop the epidemic of deportations. As a movement, women together with the rest of the pro-reform movement are taking action to say:

  • House Republicans give us a vote on a fair reform bill now! 
  • Obama administration we say not one more! Take action now to stop deportations for all 11 million undocumented immigrants!
In addition to Gamaliel, hundreds of women have already begun gathering to fast. A complete list is available from We Belong Together Web site.

Also, Ana Garcia-Ashley from Gamaliel will join in a 48-hour fast of 100 women in Washington DC from April 7-9. These women will be joined by the caravans from the National Fast for Families bus tour, arriving in Washington, D.C. on April 9.
Posted by: Gordon on 3/7/2014

2015 budget iconAt Gamaliel and our campaign arm, Transportation Equity Network, we have found much to praise in President Obama’s 2015 budget request.

Realistically there is a long way to go to get these ideas enshrined in law but if nothing else at least the highest officials in the land are talking about the right things. Here is our take on the highlights:

More Workforce Development Investment

The proposal includes a $400 million workforce development program over four years to support and enhance the size, diversity, and skills of construction workforce through partnerships with the U.S. Department of Labor, states, and other key stakeholders.

One thing we wish the budget request contained was continued funding for the program that supports Women Apprenticeship in Nontraditional Occupations, WANTO. National Women's Law Center has already blogged about this, noting "Women account for just 8 percent of the 179,000 jobs added in the construction industry last year, despite comprising 13 percent of the industry in January 2013."

We continue to believe that greater participation in construction and trades work by women is part of the way forward to building a stronger economy, and to urge that federal contracting regulations get dusted off and updated for the first time since 1980.

Nonetheless, the budget proposal is a solid win that supports the sort of workforce development ordinances and community benefit agreements that Gamaliel affiliates have pushed for some years, and we believe this definitely responds to the needs identified by leaders across the country.

Improved Transit Funding and Access to Jobs and Education

The proposed budget would greatly expand existing transit programs that help to create ladders of opportunity for all populations. It includes $2.2 billion for a new bus rapid transit program that will link people to job and educational opportunities in fast growing areas. It will remove barriers to local workforce training and hiring efforts. And it will implement a new performance element in the Federal-aid Highway program to ensure future investments connect communities to jobs, training, and education.

We were also pleasantly surprised to see an increase for transit funding overall. The FY 2015 request includes $48.6 billion for the Federal Highway Administration and $17.5B for the Federal Transit Administration. "This represents a 73.5% / 26.5% split," an administration staffer told us -- a departure from the historic "80/20 split" between highways and transit that reflects a historic bias toward subsidizing car travel. We thought it looked a little different!

To be clear: our understanding is the Highway Trust Fund will still be split 80/20, but that other funds (to be made up form new taxes on businesses) would shift the ratio. While it may not sound like a big percentage change, because we're talking big numbers that could actually lead to hundreds of millions more for mass transit.

This is great news for affiliates such as MOSES that is pushing for funding for the Detroit RTA it helped to create and other groups, like MCU and Esther who are pushing for bus rapid transit as well as more buses and trains.

Back to reality -- how much of this will Congress pass? Will they vote on any of it? Maybe what matters most about this budget is that its aspirations are more in the right place than any time we can recall from the past several years, and that's something to celebrate in itself. We have shifted the public debate, and that's a good start.

Our friends at PolicyLink had a great takeon the budget. As they point out on their Equity Blog  this is a budget that recognizes that "America is rapidly becoming majority people of color [and] we need to provide ladders to opportunity in the places where people live, learn, and work."

Posted by: Gordon on 3/5/2014

This piece is re-posted from Rooflines, the community blog site of Shelterforce magazine. You can also read all of Laura Barrett's columns on organizing and social justice on Huffington PostBrothers Keeper smiling young men

photo via Zimbio.com

Many applauded when President Obama announced his new initiative, My Brother's Keeper. According to the White House: "By the time they hit fourth grade, 86 percent of African American boys and 82 percent Hispanic boys are reading below proficiency levels -- compared to 54 percent of white fourth graders reading below proficiency levels." The plan includes lining up millions from private foundations, such as the Ford Foundationthe Atlantic Philanthropies and the Annie E Casey Foundation.

It's a laudable effort, but how about we add some secret sauce? The $200 million that ten foundations are planning to invest could back not only innovative service programs, but also cutting-edge community organizing.

Why organizing? It can stop further severe cuts in basic government services, like food stamps. It can win the restoration of previously-slashed services, as VOICE-Buffalodid by securing more day care dollars for low-income parents. It can hold public officials accountable, as MICAH did by bringing a lawsuit to force Wisconsin transit officials to include transit in their highway planning. And it can help make sure that when we increasingly rely on private entities for functions formerly performed by governments (like public private partnerships, P3s), that these ventures remain accountable to voters. 

 Young men of color need good, old-fashioned basic government services as well as innovative programs. Take just one example: transportation.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and others are saying that there is"zero" chance of a transportation bill passing this year. But young men need transit to access jobs, schools and worship. My Brother's Keeper should support transportation organizing.

Or take quality public schools. Here in Missouri our legislature is very unlikely to fully finance its own formula to help local school districts. The same is true in many states. Additional support for organizing that seeks to reclaim, refund and reform our public schools would be an enormous help to African American and Latino boys.

If My Brother's Keeper invests in quality community organizing, it could pay long term dividends, by helping to make sure that the community is involved in the program from the outset. It could also teach minority men and boys the arts of community organizing - tools that will help them to better advocate for their self-interest.

Barack Obama became president in part because he learned organizing techniques. He should make sure his bold new initiative uses - and spreads - those same methods.

Posted by: Gordon on 3/5/2014

Re-posted from U.S. Catholic, http://www.uscatholic.org/blog (you can also find this and all of Ana's previous columns on immigration, organizing, and faith-based social justice on Huffington Post. The image is from U.S. Catholic, by Angela Cox; Flickr photo cc by UK in Holy See; Flickr photo cc by aflcio.

Pope Francis and President Obama

By Ana Garcia-Ashley

Ever since I read that President Obama and Pope Francis will meet at the Vatican later this month, my hopes for the year have been rising.

Not just for the two of them—although as a Catholic and as director of the group where Obama learned to be a community organizer I feel a connection to both—but for all of us who see this as the year that social justice comes roaring back.

The two have more in common than appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone. These are two people who wish they could do big, big things in the world. They are both being handcuffed by their own systems to some extent, President Obama by Congress and the pope by his Curia. Most importantly, just by speaking out with the most mild of critiques of corporate capitalism—and by taking baby steps to remedy the same problem, such as raising the minimum wage for federal contractors—the pope and the president have put social justice back at the top of the agenda, where it belongs.

When they meet, it would be easy for the two of them to mouth platitudes at each other. But I hope and pray they don't. I believe that when the pope and the president get together, they are going to have a radical conversation.

The most important thing they should discuss is immigration. Pope Francis should urge President Obama to cut the deportations—well, the pope would probably not use that kind of language. It’s time to stop dividing families; the president knows it, and the pope should tell him to take action now.

Deportations lead to poverty, desperation, and death. Recently, I traveled home to the Dominican Republic, where I had the opportunity to talk to both Dominicans and Haitians. While these countries are not uniformly desperate, contrary to what we hear in U.S. news media, there are few opportunities for deportees who have been forced to return with no places prepared nor safety net to catch them. This leaves aside the many who languish, awaiting deportation (and draining U.S. finances) in our private prisons.

President Obama should encourage Pope Francis to continue to speak out on the dignity of work and workers rights and the need to curb the worst excesses of corporate capitalism. He can help the pope stay strong on these issues. I recently heard an advocate point out that the head of a major bank earns $9,500 per hour. Which means that in the first two hours of the first day of the year, that bank head made more than a minimum-wage worker in the United States will earn in an entire year. That just does not make sense.

Together, the two men can be affirmed that the majority of the people in this country, like the majority of Catholics, support livable wages and safe and fair migration. They can push the discussion further, if they will, when they meet together.

It seems like during the past several years social justice has taken a beating from economic conservatives in the United States who seem to want to keep all the money for the 1 percent, as well as from social conservatives in the Catholic Church who seem to want to stifle the strong imperative to social justice in church teachings. At last we are starting to turn the tide and while we can continue to organize at the grassroots to win real victories, it sure helps to have leaders talking about the issues that matter. When these leaders come together, we can expect real change to follow.


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