METRO INDUSTRIAL AREAS FOUNDATION
(22 Organizations in MA, CT, NY, NJ, MD, DC, VA, NC, OH, IL, WI)
From: Bishop Douglas Miles, Carol Reckling, Fran Godine, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, Reverend Patrick O'Connor, Reverend David K. Brawley, Reverend Dave Haberer, Bob Connolly, Oussama Jammal, Martin Trimble and Mike Gecan
To: All Metro IAF Leaders and Organizers
Re: The Way Forward
For two days, the Metro IAF Strategy Team met in Cleveland to look at the state of the nation and our network and to think through an effective and powerful map for moving forward. One of the highlights of our time together was the action held by Greater Cleveland Congregations – 1,200 leaders focused and determined to change the culture of criminal justice and job creation in the Cuyahoga County area. As we sat in Mount Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, 600 other Metro IAF leaders from DuPage United and the Fox River Valley Initiative were meeting in a mosque in Naperville, Illinois; and 900 leaders from Together Baton Rouge were in an African American church challenging mayoral candidates on policing, economic development, jobs, and tax exemptions. Two nights earlier, 200 leaders packed a Pentecostal church in lower Manhattan to hold New York City public housing officials accountable and on Wednesday, 400 leaders from Dallas Interfaith crowded into a CME church to secure action commitments from the Dallas Police Chief.
In other words, starting just seven days after the national election, our leaders and organizers were back in action in New York, Cleveland, metro Chicago, Baton Rouge, and Dallas, exercising the muscle of hope, reaffirming relationships across all lines and boundaries, and advancing pragmatic and possible solutions to a range of critical issues. As a network, we will operate as the Biblical figure Nehemiah did -- we will rebuild our communities and our country "with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other." That means we are recommending that we think about our work both locally and together in four ways: playing aggressive offense, playing relentless defensive, building new relationships with unlikely potential allies, and recommitting to organizing in working class areas of all races.
PLAYING AGGRESSIVE OFFENSE
Criminal Justice/Mental Health. We are uniquely positioned to push this set of issues forward. We have in fact already begun to do that locally in many locations. All three actions on Thursday night were either entirely or heavily focused on this set of issues. We are learning from one another -- DuPage and Fox River Valley Initiative spearheading work on mental health matters, Greater Cleveland Congregations and Baton Rouge Together zeroing in on overcharging and over incarceration of minority youth and adults, CONECT and Durham CAN doing groundbreaking work on police community relations, EBC innovating a process that expunges the records of those charged with minor crimes, and BUILD generating jobs for those returning from prison. There has been a great deal of discussion of this from sources as different as the Obama White House and the Koch Brothers general counsel. Our sense is that we should continue to refine and improve the gains we have already made locally and bring together our package of reforms into a coherent and achievable criminal justice culture for the nation.
Infrastructure and Jobs. The front page of the New York Times on Friday included a long article on the possibility that the new administration will want to build at scale. Long time ally and now top Democratic power figure, Senator Charles Schumer has reached out to us and expressed great interest in this (as well as criminal justice and mental health). Our own work in Atlanta with the Amalgamated Transit Union (that led to a successful bond issue in 2014 expanding public transit in Clayton County) and our current work in the Baltimore-Washington-Virginia area are just two examples of places where expanded mass transit could cut commute times, assist local businesses, and create many thousands of living wage jobs in construction and transit. We are proven builders -- and builders at scale. Our sense is that we should explore this area immediately and put together a list of the kinds of projects that will benefit our neighborhoods and regions fundamentally, not more athletic facilities and hotels, the shiny but worthless bling of the establishment.
Do Not Stand Idly By--DNSIB. Just this week, President Obama finally issued an executive order making the integration of gun safety technology a feature of all federal gun procurement. With gun sales dropping dramatically now, gun companies will need to look for new ways to maintain market share. State of the art safety technology now will be more attractive to manufacturers. While recognizing the probably blocked paths on the national level once the new administration begins, we will continue to identify local and state opportunities that are still very much open and unblocked and we will engage the gun makers directly.
Each of these priorities will require a different range of actions and a different set of allies and partners, some quite unconventional.
PLAYING RELENTLESS DEFENSE WHEN ANY SPECIFIC THREAT TO IMMIGRANTS, MUSLIMS, AFRICAN AMERICANS OR ANY OTHER VULNERABLE GROUP OR INDIVIDUAL OCCURS.
As we have always done, we are urging people to report any incident of abuse, harassment, intimidation, bullying, or violence IMMEDIATELY. Not only will we reinforce our mutual support and solidarity in public assemblies, as we did after 9/11 in Chicago, as we did this week, we will respond to each specific incident with all of our power and creativity. We are already engaging police and sheriff departments to be allies on this issue. Senator Schumer's office has reached out and asked how we would advise people in areas where we are not present as to how to respond. And we have offered to train and prepare any area in the skills and tools of effective action. We will break this problem down into issues, and we will act on each issue. This is what we have always done. This is what we know how to do well.
WORKING WITH OUR UNION ALLIES TO PLAY DEFENSE AGAINST THE INEVITABLE ATTEMPT TO DAMAGE ORGANIZED LABOR.
There will be a concerted effort to cripple labor even more. It should be noted that about 50% of union households voted for the president-elect. And many others just stayed home. So we need to understand that there are deep challenges WITHIN labor. But we need to huddle with our top labor allies in ATU and NEA state affiliates elsewhere and think through with them how to respond to the inevitable coming attacks. We had already prepared several major unions to respond to the likelihood of the Friedrichs decision that would eliminate fair share. The passing of Supreme Court Justice Scalia meant that this threat was no longer imminent. The recent election brought the sense of imminent danger to labor right back.
BUILDING A NEW GENERATION OF RELATIONSHIPS
Senator Schumer is one. But there are many others on both sides of the aisle -- Appropriations head Thad Cochran (who, for example, is critical in the consideration of funding for the devastated areas in and around Baton Rouge), Massachusetts Governor Baker, Ohio Governor Kasich, Arizona Senator McCain, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, Illinois Senator Durbin -- who will be key figures in the years ahead. Even the Koch Brothers have expressed an interest in criminal justice reform and have had a series of meetings with top White House officials. We should explore a wide range of relationships with individuals and groups who might align with us on issues like criminal justice and mental health and be opponents on other matters. New, ad hoc alliances built around common interests will be critical.
RECOMMITTING TO THE WORKING CLASS
As you all know, the IAF and Alinsky began in the Back of the Yards area of Chicago in 1940. It used to be a dense community of ethnic working class parishes -- many VERY conservative on issues of race back in the 1940's and 1950's. At times, because of the relationships built through the organizing, the deep divisions between races and religions were bridged, and common actions on mutual issues of interest were addressed and resolved. Those parishes are all gone. Those families are scattered. We no longer have much of a base in ethnic working class communities and need to ask ourselves whether we want to recommit to creating that base. This will mean that we will look at states and areas -- particularly in the Midwest -- where working class individuals and families of all races have either moved to the right or dropped out of public life entirely.
We are urging leaders in all of our Metro IAF organizations to think about these issues and to contact one of us if you have questions, concerns, and suggestions.