I was deeply honored last fall when I was invited to serve as Vice-President for the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN). I have learned a great deal from this remarkable social justice organization, and the community organizing methods that PIIN uses have become important everyday tools for me in my ministry. So I am excited to become further engaged with the work of PIIN in a leadership role.
A New Agenda. PIIN is part of the Gamaliel Foundation, a network of about fifty congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) groups around the United States. Last summer, mindful of racially-charged events in Ferguson and elsewhere, the Gamaliel Foundation formally combined all of its work under a single purpose – eliminating structural racism and economic injustice.
Results. In Pittsburgh, PIIN moves forward with that purpose in several ways, focusing on Education, Public Safety, Clean Rivers/Ratepayer Justice, and Low-Wage Workers. In recent months, the PIIN Education Task Force was successful in its efforts to have a commitment to Community Schools included in the job description for the new Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Meanwhile, the Public Safety Task Force has been successful in building a cooperative relationship with the Pittsburgh Chief of Police, and recently used that relationship to help moderate a discussion between the Islamic community in Pittsburgh and the Police Department. Moreover, the Clean Rivers Taskforce has been successful in its efforts to promote green infrastructure in response to the sewage overflows our city experiences during heavy rains, and the Low-Wage Workers Task Force has continued its support for unionizing efforts and raising the minimum wage in Pittsburgh.
Sacred Conversations about Race. In the late spring and over the summer, PIIN will be asking its member congregations to have internal conversations about the challenges of race in the United States. PIIN will also be asking its member congregations to join together to continue these conversations across racial and cultural boundaries, so that largely European-American congregations will be matched with largely African-American congregations. Here at First Unitarian Church, we will probably have the internal conversations in May, while our conversations with another church will probably take place in June or July. Stay tuned for more details!
Bridge Team. Here at First Unitarian Church, our PIIN/UUPLAN Bridge Team connects our congregation with PIIN and also with the Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN), our Unitarian Universalist presence at the state legislature in Harrisburg. Members of our Bridge Team are Kate Angell, Sarah Benson, Jennifer Gilley, Sue Jessell, and Abby Sjostrom. Our Bridge Team also includes Sandy Woolley, co-chair of the PIIN Education Task Force; David Green, co-chair of the UUPLAN LGBTQ Justice Team; Liz Perkins, co-chair of the Reproductive Justice Team; and Irene Habermann, an organizer on the staff of PIIN. If one of these people invites you to have a conversation with them, I hope you will respond in a positive way. And if you feel inspired to become part of our PIIN/UUPLAN Bridge Team so that you can work on social justice issues in a structured and effective way, please let me know! PIIN works on the four issues I mentioned earlier, while UUPLAN works on Anti-Mass Incarceration, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Immigration Justice, Reproductive Justice, and LGBTQ Justice.
Community organizing and social justice advocacy can be deeply rewarding ways for us to put our Unitarian Universalist faith into action. Different people will of course find different ways to act on their values and their vision, and some will prefer other paths. In my experience, the spiritual path of social justice work can be a very worthwhile way to have one’s Unitarian Universalist spirituality truly come alive.
See you in Church!