By The Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, Minister of Social Justice, Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church
A few days ago, my cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby boy; he has a serious heart condition and had to go into surgery the day after his birth. While in the hospital waiting room during the baby’s surgery, my silent prayers shifted from optimism and hope to deep lament: “Why God? Why our baby? Why this condition? Why?” Perhaps sensing the shift in my spirit, my 8-years-old son came to me and said, “Mommy what’s the matter?” I smiled and said nothing, nervous that if I spoke I’d burst into tears. After a few moments he exclaimed with a big smile, “I just thank God for trusting our family with such a special baby!”
"Give thanks in all circumstances." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians encourage us in our personal challenges and our collective struggle – give thanks in everything, in all circumstances trusting that God uses everything that happens to work for good. Gratitude is a way, an experience of living as people of faith. Yes, there will be times when we are downhearted – as I experienced when waiting in the hospital waiting room – yet we will be encouraged and we will press on. Trouble will come but trouble won’t last always. After we have been tried and tested we will come forth as pure gold!
Given our current circumstances – times of massive loss of life in the Philippines and mass incarceration in the United States … times of voter suppression, stand your ground, and stop and frisk … times of escalating HIV rates among Black women … times of torturous crimes against LGBTQ sisters and brothers … times of political procrastination concerning immigration reform … times of high unemployment rates especially for African Americans and Latinos … in everything, in all circumstances thanksgiving flows from our faith-filled freedom fighting lives, thereby keeping our focus on the Most High God and strengthening our spiritual fortitude regardless the challenge – thanks be to God!
Indeed we are grateful to God for being God. And we can also take a moment to thank systems, structures and powers for assisting us in building God’s Beloved Community …
Thank you for making us pray harder! Thank you for making us stronger! Thank you for making us want it more! Thank you for making us more creative! Thank you for making us work together!
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
P.S. PICO is participating in #GivingTuesday this year. #GivingTuesday is a call to action to celebrate giving and encourage more, better and smarter giving during the Holiday Season. It’s an organizing principle to encourage the creativity and energy of people all over the world to work together for good.
By Rev. Dr. Carolyn Higginbotham, Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, IndyCAN
The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God (Exodus 34:26).
The year we lived in China I regularly gave a handful of loose change to the man who begged outside the German bakery where I bought our weekly loaf of whole wheat bread. I passed on to him whatever change I got from my purchase. My small donation made me feel good because I knew that it meant a lot to him even though it was next to nothing for me. In fact, what I gave him was my “leftovers”, the change left over from my shopping. And if I decided to splurge on a scoop of gelato or a pastry, there was less left over for him.
As a Christian and a Hebrew Bible scholar, I am committed to giving not just my “leftovers” but my “first fruits” to the work of God in the world. The Hebrew Scriptures are clear that God desires and deserves not our leftovers but the first and best share of what we have. Over and over the Hebrew people are commanded to bring the first fruits of their farmland as an offering. They are not to wait till the end of the harvest and bring the windfall fruit; they are not to offer God the runt of the litter. God’s share is to come off the top, from the first energetic shoots that spring up and from the vigorous young animals that bear hardy offspring.
It’s pretty clear what giving first fruits means in an agrarian context, but what does it look like in an industrial or post-industrial society? I don’t raise crops or animals; my “produce” is in the form of dollars direct deposited in a bank account. The first dollar I earn in a year is no different from the last.
The distinction, I believe, is in how the dollars get committed, in which expenses have a priority claim on my earnings. First fruits are the first expenses to get inked in to my budget. They are the priorities around which our lives are organized. The question for us is: When do we decide how much we will give away and how much we will keep for ourselves? My parents taught me to consider charitable giving as a core budget item alongside the mortgage, the car payment, and other necessities of life.
At a minimum, this means that contributions to our faith communities and justice-work don’t come out of the “miscellaneous” budget category. We don’t limit our giving to whatever is left in the bank account at the end of the month. We consciously make room in our budget for donations to the causes that are nearest and dearest to our hearts.
But more than that, I believe the concept of first fruits calls us to make lifestyle choices that free up our resources for God’s work in the world. We live in a consumerist culture that pushes us to buy and upgrade far beyond what we need. I believe we honor God with our first fruits when we make conscious choices about when to splurge and when to make a small sacrifice in order to set aside funds to invest in ministries of justice and reconciliation.
There’s nothing wrong with giving away our leftovers by tossing our spare change in the Salvation Army kettle or offering plate, but if we are really committed to God’s transforming work in our communities, we will put our treasure where our heart is and begin with an offering of first fruits.
P.S. PICO is participating in #GivingTuesday this year. #GivingTuesday is a call to action to celebrate giving and encourage more, better and smarter giving during the Holiday Season. It’s an organizing principle to encourage the creativity and energy of people all over the world to work together for good.
By: Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of Training and Development, PICO National Network
As people of faith, we come to this special season of the year full of thanksgiving. Though we have suffered through a long season of political inaction and failed public leadership – we are still thankful. Though we have endured a season of promises made but not kept – we are still thankful. Though we have been rocked by a season of deportations, mass incarcerations and family dissolutions - and we bear the deep emotional scars to prove it – we are thankful nonetheless.
Through it all, our faith has not been shaken and our resolve to work for justice and opportunity has not diminished. We are still thankful.
The prophets of old were charged with the responsibility of speaking a hard truth to the people of God and an even harder truth to those who oppressed them. They often would lead the laments about the world as it was and yet balanced those with forceful professions of faith. They used their unique voices to tell a powerful story about the grace of God amidst humanity that was missing, and in real need of, a measure of that grace.
In this season of thanksgiving, use your voice and share your stories of how God’s grace has you truly thankful even as you lament what is missing. Join the PICO community as we share for the next 4 weeks who or what we are missing this holiday season, and declare that we are still thankful.
Send us a photo of yourself, your family, or community, with a sign declaring who or what you are missing, finish the sign with “Yet I am #StillThankful, and email it to email@example.com. Then read stories from across the PICO community at www.piconetwork.org/still-thankful.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Alvin Herring
P.S. PICO is participating in #GivingTuesday this year. It is an annual event purposed to support local charities and organizations. Expect to see stories, posts, and images of people giving back to their communities this season. This year #GivingTuesday is Dec. 3.
The Nicholson Foundation’s goal is to help New Jersey’s vulnerable citizens have a better life. Like you, Nicholson knows that if people don’t have good health, they don’t have good lives; and they can’t have good health without good health care that is accessible and affordable.
How is the average person supposed to know whether their doctor or hospital is doing a good job?
How do you know if you are getting the best care available and getting good value for your dollar? How do you find out the total cost for a treatment so you can compare one hospital or clinic to another?
If you are like my family and me, you don’t know because it is hard to see what’s going on inside the health care system. Even though some information is available, it is not always readily accessible or user friendly.
Simple questions: Who does a good job? How much does it cost?
We ask one or both of these questions about nearly every other purchase we make. But when it comes to health care, which consumes almost a fifth of our GDP, we do not, we cannot, because health care simply does not function like other industries. In most other industries, information about price and quality helps drive healthy competition. Uncompetitive companies restructure or go out of business.
Think about the last time you shopped for a TV or cell phone. You went online and checked it out. You looked at reviews. You compared prices.
Transparency. Information. Competition based on cost and quality.
These are staples of our economy. Contrast this to health care. Rising uncontrollable costs cannot be explained by improvements in quality. Healthcare for many patients lags behind accepted standards. There are wide and inexplicable differences in costs and quality among providers and across geographic regions, but it is difficult to see these differences and compare them.
Making that information available for everyone to see and use is critical to improving quality and controlling costs. If you and I had clear information about which providers and hospitals provided the best care for a certain condition, at the best price, most of us would choose to get our care from them. If large numbers of us left poorer performing providers and hospitals, they would improve or else their bottom line would suffer. Health care providers that find ways to streamline processes, reduce costs and improve quality would be rewarded by consumer purchasing power. Right now, they don’t have to improve because their quality, performance, and costs are largely hidden from you and me, the health care consumers.
Change is coming. The federal government is posting some information about Medicare, but that provides only a partial picture. In a few states, consumers can go to a website and compare the quality of hospitals, doctors, and clinics. Therefore, they are able to make better choices about their care. We all deserve this, no matter where we live.
We can improve the health of our communities by applying many of the approaches to service delivery being implemented by PICO and other groups. But, without transparency and the ability to access and compare information on the price and quality of health services, we will be nibbling away at the edges of change.
So, as you champion improvements for health care delivery system in pursuit of good care, I hope you will also advocate for accessible information about the cost and quality of care – which has been the missing ingredient for too long.
Joan Randell is the Deputy Director of The Nicholson Foundation. This blog post is excerpted from a speech that she delivered at Promoting Good Care: Innovation and Organizing in Health Care, a health conference organized by PICO New Jersey. Randell has extensive experience in the development and implementation of public policy in the health, rehabilitation, and employment fields. The Nicholson Foundation works to address the complex needs of vulnerable populations in New Jersey’s urban areas by encouraging the reform of health and human services delivery systems. The Foundation acts through partnerships with government, civic intermediaries, and local organizations, including PICO New Jersey.
Bus-riders included college students, clergy, returning citizens and parents who lost children to gun violence. As we headed to Washington, D.C., our goal was not only to commemorate a dream, but to ignite a movement to realize that dream in our generation. Our tour made the covers of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Post and was in Jet magazine.
In Sanford, Florida, Oakland, California and Newtown Connecticut, we stopped to honor lives lost to gun violence – holding prayer vigils in the hometowns of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and the slain students and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary.
We witnessed healing take form in the impromptu pick-up basketball game between a group of young men and the police from Camden, New Jersey. We saw dedication embodied in Robert Bryant, an 80-year old retired history teacher participating in the lengthy night walk in Camden, New Jersey, because of his passion to keep his community safe.
We embraced unity as our California bus-riders joined the PICO California pilgrims – aspiring Americans walking 285 miles for citizenship - praying together at the women’s prison in Chowchilla, California.
The 12 year-old Donald Mouton from Stockton, California inspired us to hope.
"I have a dream when they see me, they will see God,” he told the crowd gathered at the California prayer rally and tour send-off.
“Because God is in me, and I am love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I am not a threat. I am the future.”
Indeed, we are all God’s children – we are all the future. Let the Healing begin.
We’ve been asking a lot of you lately—to sign petitions, make phone calls, write letters, host events. But today I’d like to ask you to engage in a conversation with us.
All of the action of the past few weeks reflects the fact that our country is in a transitional space right now, poised at a threshold between the past and the future, between who we have been and who we can be as Americans. In this moment I find myself asking, Who is our country being built for? Who will be included? Who matters?
We find ourselves in a transitional space that is uncomfortable, that fills us with uncertainty and disquiet.
In the past few weeks we’ve felt that discomfort deeply—watching the exoneration of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, grappling with the political gridlock that ensnares immigration reform and a real pathway to citizenship for 11 million of our brothers and sisters, and witnessing the persistent economic inequality that limits opportunities for our families
These realities make us anxious, because each of them reflects a choice we’re making as a country about who is seen as human, who matters, and who gets to participate in our democracy.
During these unsettled moments, we have choices to make about how we will respond.
We will respond personally, out of a spirit of love and compassion, because we care about our friends, family, and community members who are being denied the full right to live with dignity in our democracy.
But we also respond politically, because our democracy depends upon it. Because each of us has a stake in the common good. We cannot thrive as a country if we continue to say that some people do not belong, if we exclude many members of our communities because of their legal status or the color of their skin.
We know that, bound together in faith and love, it is time we move from spectators to actors in this great democracy of ours.
Thanks for joining as we cross this threshold of change, and forge a new path forward for our communities and our country.
Scott Reed Executive Director PICO National Network
P.S. After you’ve joined the conversation on Facebook, check out the ways that PICO leaders and clergy across the country are joining the struggle for an inclusive America this August. Read updates from the 11 Pilgrims walking 285 miles to call on their Congresspeople to create a pathway to citizenship, and follow the Lifelines to Healing bus tour as they journey across the country this week.
On Tuesday, April 23, Bob Edgar, the executive director of Common Cause, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69. Born in Philadelphia, Bob Edgar served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district included sections of Delaware County where PICO staff person Monica Sommerville was raised. Monica remembers the impact that Bob Edgar had on her and her community in the following essay:
In 1974, as a fourteen year old growing up in a housing project in Chester, Penn., it was easy to be pessimistic and disillusioned about the political process.
My generation’s first glimpse at politics included a series of assassinations of inspirational leaders, the protracted Vietnam War that had taken its toll on so many families including my own, and the first ever resignation of an American president shamed by the Watergate scandal.
Locally, Delaware County politics had long been under the control of a political machine that corrupted the democratic process as party loyalty impacted every aspect of community life from garbage pick-up to municipal jobs. Kids of blue-collar Democrats grew up understanding that their dads would not get one of those decent-paying city jobs and political candidates that challenged the entrenched power structure did not stand a chance of getting elected.
That was true until 1974, when Bob Edgar, a young, ordained United Methodist pastor – and a Democrat – successfully ran and got elected to represent the 7th Congressional District. He was the first Democrat elected from this district in 36 years. For the next 12 years, as I grew up and got married, Bob Edgar represented me and my family in Congress. I recall feeling represented as Rep. Edgar pushed for good government and, a stronger democracy, and improving conditions for families like mine.
My uncle had barely returned from the Vietnam War after being gravely injured – Bob Edgar served on the House Veterans Affairs Committee where he pushed for better care for veterans. Toxic waste sites were growing throughout our county – Bob Edgar authored the Community Right-to-Know provision of the Superfund law that would fund the clean-up of toxic waste sites. Families from my neighborhood were reliant on the local bus system – Bob Edgar pushed to improve public transportation.
In my household Bob Edgar was considered an exception to “politics as usual.” Actually, he was the exception: He was an honest politician who cared deeply about our community and demonstrated that change was possible.
Bob Edgar stirred in me a growing interest in politics and organizing that before 1974 was fueled by anger. I was angry about living in a housing project watching my dad work harder than anyone should and not owning a home. I was furious that young boys around me were leaving to fight a highly questionable war and not coming back home. I was very confused by racial and economic politics that divided my community as blatantly as the train tracks running through our city. I simply could not understand why two of my brothers died in infancy – one of them clearly needing better medical care.
Determined to be the first person in my family to attend college, I was looking for a way to make change. Prior to 1974, politics was not the answer. Bob Edgar’s election in 1974 and his next 5 electoral victories demonstrated that government leaders could be trusted and that a healthy democracy required more engagement from people like me.
The hope and trust that leaders like Bob Edgar inspired gradually changed my political DNA. In 1978, I started college and pursued a degree in Political Science. Anger combined with the knowledge that good people can get elected and will work for change led me to almost 30 years of organizing. My first real job after college was with an environmental organization that successfully fought for the reauthorization of the Clean Water Act and stronger funding for toxic-waste cleanup. For 15 years, I have worked with the PICO National Network, which has worked with faith leaders, including Bob Edgar, to create public policy that works for all families.
Monica Sommerville is the director of foundation relations for PICO National Network. She was the executive director of Congregations United for Neighborhood Action in Allentown, Penn., from 1999 to 2007.
For more than six years I've been on a journey, guided by my Creator, to give all I have to those whom society has cast aside. I recognize that what I have can't be described in dollars and cents, or other tangible resources, yet it’s in the intangibles - love, creativity, conviction, determination, belief in others- where I found an untapped well of reserves that accumulated over years of family hardship and the grace and love, provided by my faith that filled me, when I was most empty.
I will never forget August 15, 2012.
I was invited to participate in a summit announcing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) victory. I shared a stage with a former Miami mayor, a university president and three amazing DREAMers.
This day was the culmination of a decade-long mountain climb, going where few have gone before, choosing the hard road of obtaining relief for immigrant youth and their families, despite the many who said it was not possible, or worse, those who accused us by saying how selfish we were to climb the mountain without the rest of the tribe.
With the DREAMers, I served as one of many blind guides up a mountain where the only compass one had was spirit, passion, and conviction. Now I come down from this mountain and ahead of me I see another mountain.
While I sat on a stage celebrating a momentous victory for the DREAMer movement, my brother, Ariel Marantes, was across town being beaten by the police.
After my brother had an altercation with a friend outside of a restaurant in South Miami, three plain-clothed officers approached my brother and punched him in the head. As his face and chest lay pressed against smoldering hot pavement, they continued to kick and punch him. It wasn’t until half-way through the beat-down that they identified themselves as Miami-Dade police. They arrested him on two counts of battery and violently resisting arrest.
What they didn’t know was that four people with cell phone cameras recorded every angle of the incident. The story topped the evening news. The same television stations that interviewed me about DACA earlier in the day were sharing the cell phone footage of my brother’s beat-down on the evening news. We both made headlines.
Weeks earlier, I met with a man named Desmond whom I knew only as “the guy inFloridaworking to restore rights for ex-offenders." Little did I know God's plan to bring us together. Desmond shared with me his history and the awesome opportunity to transform Florida and the nation if we climbed the mountain of rights restoration for returning citizens (the phrase he inserted into my vocabulary to replace “ex-offenders”).
He told me that 1.4 million Floridians can potentially earn the right to vote if we change the state constitution. That’s 1.4 million NEEDED voices that can drown out the rhetoric of austerity, racism, and class division inFlorida.
For some people, la lucha (the fight) is personal. Many of us are in it by association and not because we are directly impacted. I had a relatively safe childhood, got good grades, went to college, and when reflecting on my work with DREAMers I always envied their authenticity as they entered the fight of their lives.
But when I got the call about my brother, Desmond’s words became personal. And as I exhale from a six year journey with DREAMers, I now embark on a new mountain, one of my own, with my brother, and other friends in la lucha to take on the prison industrial complex and the disenfranchisement of more than a million of my neighbors.
Jose Luis Marantes leads the South Florida expansion efforts for PICO United Florida. Prior to joining PICO he organized with DREAMers around the country with the United We Dream Network.
We dropped door knockers on every home, reminded folks about the election date and told them their voice matters even if their neighborhoods sometimes get treated like the gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. Our route was bound by the historic 27th street boundary on the north (a line of demarcation African Americans once couldn’t cross after 6:00 p.m.) and Bruce R. Watkins Drive on the west (a highway that swiftly cut the east side down its belly while decimating its central shopping corridors).
We passed by dead cats in the gutters, houses with busted out windows and vacant lots strewn with garbage. Roofs and porches caved in like a natural disaster hit and FEMA never showed up.
I’ve gutted homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth. Rebuilt walls in Greensboro. And I still find myself gob smacked, on a regular and recurring basis, by the devastation in my own hometown. We’ve got more homes uninhabitable than inhabited on some of our blocks. Kids with eyes aged like old people play in the rubble of half torn down houses. Porch lights nobody ever turns on.
We grew up close enough to that route to know the answer ourselves, but still couldn’t help but ask, “What happened to this place?”
Sometimes asking the questions we know the answers to is the only way to really and truly take responsibility for them. What happened to this place? Redlining. Blockbusting. Riots. A desegregation order with impacts so reeling, it made us all realize just how much we have run from living with each other. Joblessness. Predatory lenders. Foreclosures. Schools built like prisons and children six grade levels behind. A whole city heaving a sigh and slowly turning its back.
This is our home. These are the kinds of neighborhoods that we were created to empower.
A lot of voters whose voices are so often ignored have given up on practicing their democracy. I’m hitting the doors every chance I can, every hour I’m not in a one-to-one and every night I’m not on the phones. I’m hitting the doors before the election to get out the vote so that I can hit the doors after the election and say, “Let’s use that power to do something about this rubble all around you.”
Molly Fleming-Pierre is the Communities Creating Opportunity Policy Director, leading the Economic Dignity Campaign to Cap the Rate on predatory payday loans and Raise the Wage for Missouri’s lowest-paid workers. Through the coordination of 150 congregations from Joplin to St. Joseph to Columbia, Molly is supporting Missouri Faith Voices’ campaign to engage over 30,000 Faith Voices voters for Economic Dignity. Follow Molly on Twitter @CCOmolly
By Lewis Finfer, Executive Director, Massachusetts Communities Action Network
What is right with our country?
What is wrong with our country?
What is your American Dream?
How do we take our freedom back?
In these tough times of extended unemployment, declining pensions and retirement savings, budget cuts, and insecurity about jobs we still hold, aren't these the questions on everyone’s mind?
As I walked through the Occupy Boston site last Friday, I saw 100 small tents pitched close together. Although more of the participants in these protests are aged 18 to 30, there are people of all ages involved. To be effective, a movement does need good involvement from people of different ages and economic groups, but leadership can come from one group -- just as 20-year-olds were key leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
This protest movement is organized. There are tents for logistics, food, medical, media, and even one for a library and one for "faith and spiritual space.” Each day there's an open assembly to report, discuss, and plan the day's public protest. Links are being made between the protesters and community groups and unions who are now taking action together.
The Friday evening that I was there, people spoke in clusters, stood on a line outside the food tent, and sat inside tents. Six people played guitars, four greeted media who had questions, and because it was the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a group of Jews stood in one corner praying together.
There's been much discussion about "What do these people want?" Well, I think it's pretty clear when you call your movement "Occupy Wall Street" and your slogan is "Our country is owned by the top 1%. We are the 99%. Join the conversation!"
The question now is how sustained can this protest become? How can it extend into organizing in the 2012 elections and on issues that will be decided in these next months and years?
The sacrifices that Americans and our allies made in World War II saved us from the fascism of Nazi Germany and Japan and brought us out of the mass unemployment of the Great Depression. From 1945 to 1980, the contract between average people, corporations, and government was that if you worked hard, you would have job security, decent pay, benefits, and a pension.
But this contract has been torn up by decisions made by some business leaders and politicians. Now, there's no job security. Pensions are cut back or not given, and health insurance is not available to tens of millions of Americans. Will enough average people stand up to break this stalemate and return us to being a land of opportunity for all?
On the large poster at that asked, “What is wrong with our country?” I wrote: “All taxpayers bailed out the big banks and Wall Street firms, but the banks kept foreclosing on millions of average people.” The banks keep paying big salaries and big bonuses and contributing to politicians who will prevent them from being regulated so they don't kill our economy again with their speculation. The banks could have provided millions of homeowners with loan modifications to save their homes from foreclosure. The federal government even offered these large banks financial incentives to do that, but instead they've done too little on preventing foreclosures and so the pain spreads.
On the poster that asked, “What is right with our country?" I wrote: “We are a generous and hopeful people.” The facts about our lives and who has power in our country and how they use it could make us feel hopeless. But efforts like Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston and the determination that average people everywhere still have for a good life for themselves and their families and neighbors means that we are still a generous and hopeful people.
Lewis Finfer is the executive director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a federation of community improvement organizations working for social and economic justice in Massachusetts and New England by putting religious faith values and democratic values into action. MCAN is a member of the PICO National Network.