Posted by: Amelia on 11/25/2014

Tom Hoffman and PIIN leaders Rev. Ron Wanless and Tassi Bisers spoke at a rally this week before a hearing on charges stemming from July arrests 

Three months after an action at which Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network organizer Sue Thorn and three other leaders were arrested, the National Labor Relations Board weighed in on the side of workers seeking a living wage.

“This is a major victory and step in our journey towards holding UPMC accountable,” PIIN said in a statement. “We know that the fight isn’t over. And together we will continue fighting until UPMC does right by our city.”

The National Labor Relations Board issued a court order last week to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center or UPMC –Pittsburgh’s largest employer -- to reinstate four workers whom the company had fired after they advocated for a union inside the medical center.

One of the fired workers, Jim Staus, was receiving $11.81 per hour, just a bit over minimum wage, despite having worked for the company for 7 years. Working for below a living wage forced his family to rely on food stamps and second-hand stores for food and clothing.

“If your neighbor isn’t making a living wage, then that impacts everybody,” Thorn said. She said PIIN continues to support UPMC workers in their campaign.

One worker, Ron Oaks, was fired twice and rehired the first time after a settlement agreement between UPMC and the Service Employees International Union. He will be rehired for a second time and receive back pay in accordance with the court order from the NLRB. The three other fired employees will also be rehired and receive back pay.

The UPMC says it plans to appeal to the full Labor Board. They say they will also be exploring additional legal options. 

Yesterday's hearings resulted in 20 hours of community service for those arrested. The charges were dropped.

Posted by: Gordon on 11/24/2014

Rev Tracy Blackmon in Ferguson, by St. Louis AmericanFor there to have been insufficient evidence of abuse of power to indict Officer Darren Wilson is an indictment of the justice system. This decision allows biased policing to remain normative behavior amongst our law enforcement personnel.

We stand in support of our St. Louis region affiliates, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) and United Congregations of Metro-East, as they negotiate peaceful protests in the midst of a tinderbox of emotions.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable," the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. "... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

The people in Ferguson and the St. Louis region have been patient through this struggle, suffering through the memory of a young man lying dead in the street and the anticipation of justice.

Now they and we  are determined to remain dedicated in pursuit of justice for Michael Brown and every marginalized victim in Ferguson, and every town, city and village that resembles it. As we prepare to gather our national leadership in Florissant the first week in December in St. Louis, our hearts and minds are with the people of St Louis.

Photo courtesy of St. Louis American
Posted by: Mathew Bakko on 11/24/2014
Rev. Love
Rev. Dr. Bobby L. Love of MORE2 provided testimony to the commissioners in favor of Ban the Box

With testimony from MORE2 leaders, Commissioners of Kansas’s Wyandotte County have unanimously voted in favor of a “Ban the Box” ordinance that will prohibit criminal record check boxes from most city job applications.

Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas share one government structure, known as the Unified Government of Wyandotte County. The passage of Ban the Box applies both to Kansas City, KS (City) and Wyandotte County jobs.  This is the third metro area municipal government that has passed Ban the Box; MORE2 won the first Ban the Box in Kansas City, Missouri in April 2013.

While background checks will still occur, this ordinance prevents the automatic disqualification of those with criminal histories, which is a discriminatory hiring practice according to advocates of the ordinance.

Reverend Dr. Bobby L. Love, a MORE2 leader who provided testimony to the commissioners in favor of Ban the Box, said that this issue goes beyond helping those individuals with criminal histories have a fair chance to work. “It’s an issue that affects congregations and can tear the relationships between people apart.” Banning criminal record check boxes can help with larger economic issues such as unemployment and family support, said Love.

Nationwide, thirteen states have statewide Ban the Box laws, and 30 states have at least one city with the law. With their Kansas victory in tow, MORE2 will expand their Ban the Box organizing into other cities.
Posted by: Gordon on 11/21/2014
Today millions of our friends, neighbors, and family members have wakened to a new reality. Thanks to President Obama’s courageous action, they will soon be able to leave their homes for work, worship, and education without the fear of deportation.

This is not “the moment” that we have been waiting for because the president’s executive action is limited and temporary, but it is an important moment in our shared journey toward true reform of our broken immigration system.

President Obama has taken the first step. Now Speaker Boehner and soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must continue the work and pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill that prioritizes keeping families together and creating a just pathway toward citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows.

Today, Gamaliel staff, clergy and leaders join the president in Las Vegas for the signing ceremony, and we rejoice. Tomorrow, we get to work: implementing the Executive Order for everyone who had to hide over the past many years and moving Congress toward passage of moral immigration reform legislation.

Many of us are familiar with the story of President Franklin Roosevelt saying at a policy meeting he held with labor leaders shortly after his election, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” I think there is little question that the immigration movement made President Obama do it--and that's a testament to our hard work.

Thank you for everything you have done, and will continue to do, to expand opportunity not just for immigrants but for all women, people of color and lower income people in this country. Let's keep winning for all of us.

Note: Understanding who qualifies and what resources are available will be key in the coming days. The Heartland Alliance Immigrant Justice Resource Center and Service Employees International Union and others' iAmerica websites provide resources, referrals and advice.
Posted by: Gordon on 11/19/2014
Rally in May 2013 at Senate Judiciary Committee
In May 2013, Gamaliel leaders gathered in Washington. D.C. as the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up one of many attempts at immigration reform. See pictures from 5 years of immigration-reform actions here. 

It's here at last. Executive action on immigration reform is not the victory we imagined when we began fighting for this 10 years ago, but this is an historic victory for our movement. Millions of people’s lives will be changed, yet we will continue fighting for those left out until we achieve a path to citizenship for all 11+ million.

We’re honored that our contributions are being recognized by having three of our key leaders with President Obama in Las Vegas Friday. Leaders of our affiliates – 43 organizations in 16 states – are already mobilizing to educate our officials, particularly those of us in Republican-led districts, on why they should support this action, not undercut it.

We need action, not the status quo. We agree with our colleagues at Alliance for Citizenship: President Obama is finally doing something to fix our broken immigration system, it’s what the American people want from their elected officials—to take action and solve tough problems, and everyone agrees our immigration system is broken.

The President’s action will improve our economy. If undocumented immigrants become registered and documented taxpayers, that’s good for our economy. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, if undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least five years are eligible to apply for work permits, these workers would add $6 billion more in payroll taxes in the first year of the program alone. Over five years, these workers will contribute $45 billion in payroll taxes to the U.S. economy.

We're not done... but we're on our way.
Posted by: Gordon on 11/19/2014

Alex Reagan's doodles from NLT 3 2014
“I knew I needed a thicker skin,” recent training participant Alexandra Reagan, 29, says. “I just didn’t know how to get it.”

Reagan works at Environmental Council of Sacramento and is president of Feminist Democrats of Sacramento. She had heard about Gamaliel through her work several months ago and then after meeting John Shaban and Michelle Pariset from affiliate CROP, decided to attend weeklong training.

Alex took 35 pages of notes—but she also found time to doodle and draw illustrations of some of the key themes that come out during training. “Doodling helps me listen,” she says.

Learning to spend more time listening than talking during one to one meetings and how to have effective meetings – for example, having a clear purpose for each meeting – stand out as her lessons from training.

“I’ve heard active listening explained before, and while I don’t think that phrase was even used during training, I think the concept [of listening more than you talk during a 1 to 1 relational meeting] was explained well,” Alex says. 

Did she get a thicker skin? The day after the training, she went to a meeting with a friend who also attended the training. Her friend reported to the group that she had committed at the Gamaliel training to donate $15 per quarter.

Instead of sitting quietly when the group met the commitment with silence, Alex used her new thicker skin to push: “Who can match that?” Alex asked the group. “Raise your hand if you can match it.” Several people agreed to contribute—and Alex made sure their names got recorded in the meeting minutes. That – and two pages full of pretty cool doodles – are what a thick skin, and leadership, look like.

Posted by: Amelia on 11/14/2014

Senator Andy Manar speaks at a news conference in Springfield on October 14

The leaders of Faith Coalition for the Common Good have gathered hundreds of signatures in support of increasing federal hiring goals for women and people of color. 

On the 49th anniversary of President Johnson drafting an executive order to outline those goals in October, Faith Coalition leaders also held a news conference at the site of a construction project connected to their city’s planned high-speed railroad. 

Initiatives to encourage economic development and job creation as part of the construction project that have been spearheaded by Faith Coalition have been in the works for nearly five years, when they first began drafting the Community Benefits Agreement. 

Federal labor guidelines only require that 4.5 percent of those hired in projects such as the high-speed railroad implementation be minority workers and only 6.9 percent be women. But FCCG campaign organizer, Irma Wallace, describes these numbers as being “low and unacceptable” due to the fact that Congress has not revisited such guidelines since 1979 under President Carter.  

The numbers haven’t changed, but the face of Springfield has, according to Wallace, and dramatically so, reflecting a more racially diverse city than ever before making these guidelines “shameful to be that low.” 

The event received significant news coverage:

Posted by: Gordon on 11/7/2014

Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it's not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way.

The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won't. It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

Who said that? You did, Mr. President. We hope those words still have power to inspire you, because we have arrived at perhaps the most important make-your-mark moment on immigration of your administration.

The elections have come and gone. Now it's time to move forward on the dream for all that Congress could not move in 2014. We not only urge, but we demand that you move on that promise of granting relief to 11 million aspiring citizens in the time frame you promised us just a few months ago.

Our families cannot continue the torture of separation any longer. Don't delay your promise one more day.  Thousands of families and mostly children suffer every minute you delay your promise to keep our families together, they too deserve the same respect and dignity that every human being deserves. 

Make your mark for millions. We have been patient and stayed committed. The real test is whether you, Mr. President will be hardened or shamed into inaction. Act now. Take the risk!

Posted by: Gordon on 11/5/2014

Genesis Rally last Saturday
In Oakland, young people joined the mayor and faith leaders to rally for a youth bus pass measure that won Tuesday

Today we found hope in reflections on yesterday's election from across our network. Here are a few of the best:

Measure BB passes after four years

A coalition of youth, families and their supporters organized to educate their community on the need for free bus passes for youth in Alameda County because the county school system does not provide transportation to school. Genesis, an Oakland-based affiliate of Gamaliel, helped train and support the group.

California requires a two-thirds yes vote for measures such as the bus pass initiative. In 2012, the youth group came within 721 votes of winning, out of 350,000 votes cast. Yesterday voters approved the passes with more than 69% of the vote and won--a victory that represent four years of hard work. Fifteen-year–old Octavia Moore, one of those Genesis helped train, had this reflection:

I go to the school of my choice, but I know teens in my community who couldn’t go to the school of their choice because the transit was a big chunk of their families’ income.

I feel that everybody should go to the school of their choice. I told my story to the Sierra Club of Alameda County. One of the leaders said to me, ‘I was going to vote no, but because of what you said tonight—I am voting yes.’ We won the endorsement of the Sierra Club AND last night, Measure BB passed!!  I think that giving youth opportunities is one of the most important issues in our community, because when youth thrive we all thrive.

With the Nuns on the Bus
Barb Pfarr, Stephanie Gyldenvand and the Bus
Election night, Sister Barb Pfarr of WISDOM reflected on her experience with the “Nuns on the Bus” for their last few days’ ride through Wisconsin as they finished months-long tour encouraging people to vote:

At every stop we were met by cheering crowds of faithful folks who have been doing the hard work of political engagement.  We would speak a bit to encourage and thank them. We invited people sign post cards that Network will deliver to our legislators in DC in January, reminding them that people back home are expecting them to make a difference for the poor and disenfranchised and we're paying attention to their progress.

We gave out buttons and invited them to sign the bus. Sometimes we would do a town hall event to give people a chance to talk about their concerns and dreams for our country.  Sometimes we would make phone calls to remind people to vote.

What is the hunger that brings hundreds of people out to see a handful of old nuns and a colorful bus?  I don't know but I'm enormously grateful to have been part of it and my heart is warmed, filled, inspired.

Stars in Pontiac

Kandia Milton of MOSES was getting youth involved in the election process yesterday:

We had four young teens walk in to Prospect Missionary Baptist in Pontiac to canvass yesterday who had never been involved in politics before.  They came in very apprehensive and shy as if they were going through the motions and simply there because their mom made them come.  MOSES Organizer Johnnie Turnage and I took them through a quick training that they seemed to resist.

We gave them a smaller turf to canvass to get them started, and to our surprise they finished it within 2 hours and returned to Prospect MB Church with a great deal of energy.  They talked about the number of conversations they had with folks in the community with a great deal of enthusiasm and taking pride in their work.  They spoke of a system of canvassing that led to them working together in an efficient way.

We gave them three contiguous turfs and they proceeded to devour them and returned with even more stories. They were the stars in Pontiac yesterday.

Keep pushing

Louisa PAcheco, Alma Carrillo and others on election dayLouisa Pacheco of VOICE–Buffalo took a couple minutes out of preparing for a public meeting Thursday evening to offer some upbeat reflections on the polls yesterday—including that turnout was really strong in her area:
Two years ago at our public meeting we pushed the State Legislators to raise the minimum wage...and we won!  However, we live in one of the highest cost of living states in the country, and we think an increase by the Governor would put more money into NY's economy.  We engaged voters to vote their values, and value their vote at the polls yesterday.

Alma Carrillo and I talked to hundreds of voters together last night, and what brought me so much hope is that Alma is a citizen of Mexico, and told me she is doing this because she sees an opportunity to talk to people about what is important to her and her family, sharing her energy to talk to total strangers about voting was exciting!

Our work is cut out for us

Ponsella Hardaway canvassed in Inkster, Michigan, population 25,000:

The city of Inkster was created by Henry Ford in the 1920s for the black plant workers.  They could not live with the whites in Dearborn, so Inkster was created.

I have never gotten a power analysis of a city quite like this: My canvassing partner Mr. Hardison knew most of the people whose doors we knocked. He filled me on all the power players that currently reside in Inkster, from the two African-American sisters in their 80s who run a local funeral home, to a circuit court judge to the local millionaire and business owners.

The conversations were rich. I will never forget one man that told us he buried his wife this week, but went to the polls and cast his vote Tuesday anyway. I also will never forget the people, virtually all in their late 30's, who stated they would not vote and do not believe anything is going to change.

Well, we are certain of that now. Given the election results, it seems millions out there don't believe voting will change anything. Our organizing work is cut out for us now. It is going to be harder.
Posted by: Gordon on 11/3/2014

Pictures from St. Louis education Summit nov 1, 2014
UCM, MCU, St. Louis Federation of Teachers and others came together Saturday, naming the racial inequities that exist as much in the educational system as in the criminal injustice practices and policies across the region. (Photo via @iamkaranicol on Twitter)

Representatives from 18 school districts turned out Saturday to hear national education equity expert Dr. John Jackson speak on “Mike Brown vs. the Board of Education” in St. Louis, an event co-organized by Metropolitan Congregations United and United Congregations of the Metro-East, with support  from American Federation of Teachers and other groups.

“Our current system is unequal and we believe unfair. It’s unjust,” Rev. Charles Burton, UCM president, told a St. Louis Public Radio reporter. “So how we fix that’s important and having people engaged in that work’s important. Having people not only involved in the school district, but engaged in the envisioning of the school district—that’s important.”

More than 150 educators, parents, members of faith-based groups and other community activists rolled up their sleeves to explore the best strategies for improving area public schools and eliminating racial and income inequities that deny disadvantaged children opportunities for a brighter future. Those areas included implementing restorative discipline policies more widely and discussions of school finance.

“It’s important that we work to provide all of our students a fair and substantive opportunity to learn, which starts by ensuring that parents, students and educators have healthy living and learning communities. The road there is long, but the journey has been started by advocates across the state who cannot get weary in their well-doing,” said Jackson.

The participants also began planning for St. Louis’ Nov. 20 “walk-in” events to promote policies that improve public schools instead of closing them and support high-quality teaching instead of high-stakes testing.

Spearheaded by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, 20 cities across America will be holding similar walk-ins, in which parents walk their children to school and then join with civil rights leaders, elected officials and faith leaders to galvanize support for the movement to reclaim our public schools. Nov. 20 is also Universal Children’s Day. On that day in 1959, the United States approved the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

The story was covered on KMOX radio, Post-Dispatch, KDHX, KWMU and Bergers Beat blog.
Posted by: Gordon on 11/1/2014
The night before Halloween, Milwaukee's MICAH had an overflow crowd of 500 to celebrate big victories and hear from a governor candidate in the state's close-fought race at their annual meeting. The same night, Wisconsin’s Racine Interfaith Coalition and Kenosha’s Congregations United to Serve Humanity held a joint meeting of more than 200 to raise awareness of the multiple dimensions of poverty and their impact on communities in the state of Wisconsin.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, and six state legislators pledged to meet twice per year with MICAH if elected, or re-elected, Tuesday. The event also featured a powerful, spoken-word performance by two young men who captured the reality and the emotion of the challenge of violence, mass incarceration and systematic deprivation of opportunity for young people in urban Milwaukee.

Also at MICAH's event, the group announced a major new initiative: it plans to hire another organizer who will work especially with young people in the group's 53206 initiative--a program to target resources to a city zip code that has the highest concentration of formerly incarcerated residents but lacks many resources to support them and others in the area. The group also celebrated a $13.5 million victory to establish bus routes from inner city Milwaukee to suburban areas where jobs are available.

Meanwhile in Racine, the group got fired up to make November 4 an opportunity to talk about poverty in Wisconsin.

"Tell the candidates for next week's election that people of faith in Wisconsin are scandalized by the reality of poverty in our state and we demand action for change," Rabbi Dena Feingold told the audience.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin presented a slideshow on the realities of poverty in the state, emphasizing a significant rise in the number of children living in poverty over the past five decades and community leaders underlined the specific challenges facing local communities, supported by powerful testimonies from two local women struggling to overcome those obstacles.

The call to action was a call to faithful citizenship, including the commitment to vote on Tuesday and to work together to change the systems that hold people, especially children, in poverty. Everyone in attendance was invited to sign a Voter Pledge Card and to sign WISDOM’s Faithful Citizenship open letter from people of faith to elected leaders, challenging them to enact policy to address the root causes of poverty.

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