Category Archives: organizers

Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network: “Pittsburgh Police Reform Benefits From Structural Approach”


From the Gamaliel Network website:


Posted by: Gordon on 1/26/2016
PIIN Public Safety Task Force

Top, PIIN kicked off its public safety task force campaign “From Marches to Measurables” in February 2015; bottom, Police Chief Cameron McLay reported back at the group’s public meeting in November on progress made in restoring police-community trust. 

Leaders of Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, PIIN, began planning their campaign to improve public safety in Pittsburgh more than a year ago.

At the one-year anniversary of a kickoff public meeting where they called on the police and community to “Move from Marches to Measurables,” last February, they say the campaign has changed not just policing in Pittsburgh, but the way they look at their organizing work as well.

Rev. DeNeice Welch, chair of PIIN’s spiritual leaders caucus and current chair of Gamaliel’s Ntosake national women’s leadership table and Darlene Figgs, chair of the PIIN Public Safety Task Force, reflected on the campaign recently.

At the end of 2014 PIIN leaders knew they needed to do something. Distrust between the police and community was at an all-time high. The ACLU was suing Pittsburgh’s police department because since 2001, only 23 out of about 530 police officers hired were African-American, or about 4%, although the city is 26% black. Their chief had recently gone to jail and the official overseeing police had recently resigned. News from St. Louis, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere was even worse.

“Our caucus was rocked by events,” Welch says. “We got a new public safety director, new chief of police and the events in Ferguson all happened at the same time.”

With input from the ACLU and a researcher at Pitt Law School they formulated six demands for Police Chief Chief Cameron McLay:

  • Relationships: quarterly open, structured community forum every quarter beginning June 2015
  • Training: annual trainings to include implicit bias, racial reconciliation and procedural justice up and down within the bureau beginning in 2016
  • Recruitment and Hiring: measurable diversification of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau based on accurate demographics of the city of Pittsburgh beginning in 2016
  • Tracking: data collection and interpretation as a standard means to improve overall policing, police accountability and better policy, effective immediately
  • Policy: drafting Pittsburgh Police Bureau’s policy on body worn cameras by June 2015
  • Accountability: participating in PIIN’s November 2015 Public Action Meeting to report back on progress

The chief agreed to work with them on the demands at that February meeting , but they knew implementation would be the hard part. What happened next, though, was the surprise: after a group of leaders and staff from PIIN attended Gamaliel’s Race and Power summit in June, they realized that they needed to look at the deeper structures and systems that had in many ways pitted the police department and the community against each other.

Focusing on structural racism

The Gamaliel Race and Power Summit in June opened Figgs’ and Welch’s eyes to a new way of looking at the campaign, one that focuses squarely on structural racism, instead of ignoring issues of race or addressing them obliquely. “When we were back at the February meeting we hadn’t been to Detroit,” Welch says. We were attacking the structures without knowing we were attacking the structures.

“Before the summit, we would have demanded that the police force recruit African-American candidates [for the force] and walked away,” Welch adds. “But now we know candidates of color cannot survive the culture that exists within the police force”—and it’s going to take training and constant monitoring to shift the culture as needed.

Figgs and Welch say they and other PIIN leaders and staff learned more about implicit bias and saw how some affiliates’ leaders were looking at themselves and their own organizations to interrogate their own backgrounds of internalized oppression and white privilege, and the impact of these influences on their work together.

While meetings with local police commanders proceeded throughout the year, the Public Safety Task Force leaders, a group of about 30 from across the city and suburbs about evenly divided between whites and people of color, organized a series of fishbowl conversations to look at themselves: white task force members would discuss a question amongst themselves while African-American members listened, then the two groups flipped roles. Facilitated debriefing sessions followed.

The work helped strengthen the group, and helped them to understand that just hiring more officers would not be enough to make the change they want. “The culture doesn’t support them being there,” Welch says. “As a result, over 50 percent of the African American officers are retiring and we have nobody in the pipeline to replace them. There’s a1907 civil service law that the police department and police union has been using to discriminate against people of color. Now we know to go after that – rather than just pushing for more recruits of color.”

Local meetings have been a success. When a Muslim cab driver was shot in the city on Thanksgiving, PIIN leaders were able to connect the head of the local Islamic Center to the right police commander thanks to the relationships they had built over the past year.

Another positive development last year came when the Department of Justice announced it would invest $1 million in the training the group had requested through its National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, one of 6 places in the country selected. Pittsburgh was chosen in part because the creators of the Justice program saw an emerging culture of community-police trust, they told PIIN leaders with whom they met.

In November, McLay had just one request when he attended the group’s public meeting where PIIN leadership declared a new organizational goal: not just to address organizing issues but to build the beloved community, and he had just one request: “Do I get to hold the microphone this time?”

More remains to do. On some issues, like body cameras, they have had to take the pressure to the state Legislature, which slowed them down on that front. In general, the process of focusing on structures and addressing race explicitly takes longer. But they are also being more thorough. The Public Safety Task Force will press on, Figgs says: “We want this to be lasting, not a quick fix.”

Brooklyn Workshops Train Community Organizers



Members of the Brooklyn Movement Center perform at Between The Door and the Street

By Brooklyn Reader

February 4, 2016, 1:51 pm

Few will argue that there’s been a groundswell– a rising tide, so to speak– in the numbers of Americans desiring to engage in social and political activism.With the fast-changing demographic landscape, the deeply polarized political environment and community-police relations under a microscope, there’s plenty to rail about and therefore more than enough reason to get involved.(more)

Joliet Diocese Announces Anti-Poverty Grants for Grassroots Organizing


From Joliet, Illinois Patch:

Anti-Poverty Organizations Eligible for Grants

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is attempting to address the problem of poverty by providing grants to self-help programs initiated and led by poor people. These groups help create sustainable jobs, preserve affordable housing, improve neighborhoods, and enhance opportunities for people so they can find a dignified way out of poverty.

CCHD is funded by Catholics who generously give in a once-a-year collection at their parishes.(more)



Austin Interfaith

From the West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation:

Last July, Hidden Valley / High Meadows (mobile home) residents became distressed when lot rents for people on month-to-month leases were raised for the second time within a 12-month period.  New rules mandated improvements and standardizations — adding new costs to residents — including deck and railing upgrades, paint jobs, skirting repair, shed standardization, and control over inside window coverings.  Families were asked to demonstrate possession of a drivers’ license to drive on the property, impacting hundreds of residents. Many families scrambled to comply; some left.

A couple residents reached out to the pastor of their church, a member congregation of  Austin Interfaith, and their local councilperson who called in Austin Interfaith and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for support.  Within two months, resident officers founded their association (Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents’ Association) and signed up over 200 households as members. (more)

“Catholic-funded group helping beleaguered Portland tenants”



Community Alliance of Tenants Renters protest at the Oregon Capitol, organized by the Community Alliance of Tenants. The group, which receives Catholic funding, is pressing Portland officials to address high rents and evictions in the city.

Catholic Sentinel of Portland, Oregon article describing recent work of Portland’s Community Alliance of Tenants, “Oregon’s only statewide, grassroots, tenant-controlled, tenant-rights organization” and their fight for fair housing policies.

“The Community Alliance of Tenants, which has received funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, is pushing the city of Portland to do something about rising rents and associated evictions that have made life unstable for many Portlanders.”  (11/14/2015)

Inner Light Ministries celebrates “An Evening with Dolores Huerta”


Dolores Huerta

Inner Light Ministries, Romero Institute, Resource Center for Nonviolence, and Barrios Unidos recently held “An Evening With Dolores Huerta,” celebrating the life and contributions of the social justice icon, co-founder, along with Cesar Chavez, of United Farm Workers. The event took place at Inner Light Center in Soquel, CA.

From the Gamiliel Foundation: “ACT-Syracuse Ends Solitary Confinement for Youth”


GAmaliel Cell

From the Gamaliel Foundation website and blog:

“While New York State is still at odds over whether to treat 16- and 17-year-olds like youth or adults in its prison system, some 35 young people won’t have to face solitary confinement in Syracuse’s county prison anymore.

“In the end, leaders of ACT-Syracuse who announced a news conference where they would begin witnessing on the issue by entering a 6-by-9-foot solitary confinement “cell” did not need to spend a week, or even a day, in the cell to make their case.”

Read 10/29/2015 post by “Gordonhere.

PICO National Network conducts “40 Days of Faithful Action”


PICO Action

From the PICO website:

“Pope Francis’ visit to our country during such a time of such racial and economic turmoil, creates a great opportunity to reawaken the moral conscience of our nation. That’s why we are stepping into the breach and acting on his message of inclusion and liberation for all of God’s children.

“No longer can we sit idly by, allowing the greed of our economic and social policies to set the moral compass of this country – producing what Pope Francis calls the “economy of exclusion”, using the misery and dehumanization of dark skinned bodies as a tool for building wealth.

“Join us for 40 Days of Faithful Action: Take part in over 50 different vigils and actions across the country, in online petitions and prayers, in Twitter actions, and more”

Dennis Kucinich: “Activist in Chief”


Congressman Dennis Kucinich is a good guy. There, I said it.

I was reminded of this fact Wednesday evening while watching what might have been his one great shining moment in his 2008 race for the presidency, his appearance at Soldier Field in Chicago at the AFL-CIO Democratic presidential forum.

Labor loves Dennis. He’s passionate, he’s articulate, and he’s right on almost all the issues. He’s right on the war; he’s right on healthcare; he’s right on the environment; he’s right on immigration; he’s right on education; he’s right on Fair Trade; he’s right on almost everything. In fact, a pretty good case can be made that Kucinich, more than any other Democratic candidate, is guiding the Democrat’s path on policies and issues throughout the campaign, probably toward a Democratic victory in ‘08. He’s so “right”.

So why does he go “so wrong” every time he runs for president?

My theory, based on my predilection to see the world in terms of community organizing, is that Kucinich fails because, for all his passion, integrity and intelligence, he consistently, almost organically, violates two of the most important and most accepted and most inviolable rules in all the world of community and political organizing:

Rule #1- Relationships- Every real organizer knows that everything, that’s spelled “EVERYTHING”, is based on relationships. Contrary to popular myth, great movements aren’t built on great ideas; they are built from the ground up by personal relationships. You can have the greatest, most noble, most virtuous, and most intelligent ideas and platforms and plans for the future, but if you can’t enter into meaningful relationships with your fellow travelers you will fail. Dr. King knew this. In Montgomery and in Birmingham and in Selma the movements were built on the relationships of trust and accountability among both Leaders and foot soldiers. Everyone was connected by their particular relationships, and motivated by their enlightened self-interest.

Power is built on relationships. Campaigns and movements are waged and won from the ground up based on relationships.

For some reason, Dennis seems to be almost constitutionally incapable of creating any personal relationship with the vast majority of citizens. There is little indication that his closest managers are working to foster relationships, and little indication that the necessary cohesion is being built from the bottom up. And for some reason, and I hate to have to bring this up, people don’t seem to like Dennis; he doesn’t “connect”. He seems robotic, like a nerdy gnome; like the little kid you knew in school who you wanted to beat up. Harsh words, my friends, but unfortunately true, as proven by the polls year after year.

Rule #2- “An Activist”-
Kucinich is what organizers refer to as “An Activist”. In organizing terms this is not a good thing. In organizing terms, “An Activist” is a well-intentioned, often passionate, but ultimately powerless and often counterproductive individual to have in your organization. They like to be heard, they have a lot of very well-rehearsed opinions on every topic imaginable, and they want you to know about them all. They lack discipline; they are rigid, sometimes self-righteous, and have a hard time operating as a member of a team. They are “solo operators”, often surrounded by other “solo operators” singing their personal arias “canto comunitario”, down a lonely hallway…

Aaron Schutz, associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and the author of Community Organizing and Urban Education: The Series, characterizes activists like this:

“Activists like to “do things.” They get up in the morning and they go down to a main street and hold up some signs against the war. Or they march around in a picket line in front of a school. (Activists love rallies and picket lines.) Activists feel very good about how they are “fighting the power.” But in the absence of a coherent strategy, a coherent target, a process for maintaining a fight over an extended period of time, and an institutional structure for holding people together and mobilizing large numbers, they usually don’t accomplish much. People in power love activists, because they burn off energy for social action without really threatening anyone. (Emphasis mine).

That last sentence is a killer, the kiss of death.

In organizing terminology, “An Activist” is not a “Leader”, because the real definition of a “Leader” is simply “someone who has followers”. “An Activist” is not an “Organizer” because an organizer works behind the scenes, not in front of the microphone, to help develop and create relationships and Leaders. Activists don’t produce the power in numbers created by the Leader and they don’t create the power from tactics and strategies created by the Organizer. So they have no real role to play, at least no real role that they are willing to play. So they become what they are; “Activists”.

Kucinich, God bless him, when you look up “Activist” in the dictionary you find a picture of Dennis. He’s loud, he’s bright, and he’s on fire. He knows his stuff and he wants you to hear all of it. He seems to believe that if he keeps saying these things we will all be finally swept up in the undeniable truths he champions. Hallelullia ‼ But, alas, the Activist’s house is built on sand. The mortar of relationships is missing. And it is populated only by other activists, all singing their righteous tunes, to each other.

So as we witness good Dennis Kucinich wage his quixotic battle for the presidency once more, we should support him and encourage him and urge him to keep fighting the good fight. America needs more idealistic, progressive, and courageous people running for office. We will hope and we will pray and we will support is “rightness” on so many issues that are vital to our country and our world. But we will also understand that he is fatally flawed as a candidate and as a leader, and we will vote another way….

Bully for Dennis! You ‘da man! Vote for Kucinich for the office of “Activist of the United States”.