December 15, 2017

Labor-Religion coalition touts 2017 success while planning for new year

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
labor religion coalition
Caption: 'TIS THE SEASON. In a scene familiar to many organizations at this time of year, Rev. Emily McNeill (left) and Joseph Paparone of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition are spending their days stuffing envelopes with outreach letters to supporters. Photo by Liza Frenette.

Rev. Emily McNeill, director of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition, is holiday shopping – but not in the manner of buying and wrapping. She’s shopping for ideas for their part in a massive upcoming national movement, and for end-of-the year contributions to support the organization.

In a scene familiar to many organizations, large and small, this time of year, she and her staff of one spent several days stuffing signed letters into addressed envelopes asking for donations. The letters outline accomplishments of the past year. The hope is that people will remember nonprofits such as this one, and donate at the end of the year to get tax credits, show the love and help carry the message.

 Joseph Paparone, newly appointed lead organizer of the coalition, worked with McNeill on the slow but steady task. The message in the letters revealed the stamina of this small but dogged organization.

“We have played a central role in the New York State’s participation in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” McNeill said in her letter. The campaign, co-chaired by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, is a clarion call that will kick off this spring in a campaign against poverty, racism, militarism and ecological devastation. States will hold their own rallies to show what poverty looks like in their region.

“The premise of the campaign is that, in order to make structural policy change, we need to first change the political climate and unite people, especially folks on the bottom of society such as the poor — people directly impacted by this,” McNeill said.

A 40-day movement will begin on Mother’s Day 2018 across the country, and will involve a series of mass rallies, each with a particular focus, said McNeill, who recently returned from the official Poor People’s Campaign launch in Washington, D.C. The event included a press briefing on Capitol Hill, a silent march to the Capitol and a concert, featuring freedom songs, hip hop, soul, rap and poetry.

It also included another attempted visit by the Poor People’s Campaign steering committee to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, but they were again refused.

“Rev. Barber led a prayer in the rotunda and we left,” said McNeill.

Barber is best known for the creation of “Moral Mondays,” encouraging people everywhere to take action at their state capitols on Mondays on issues relating to poverty, racism, working poor, workers rights, immigration and more.

The strategy of the Poor People’s Campaign has many parallels to the campaign begun by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

“In 1967-68, King was obviously talking about racism, militarism and poverty as the three evils,” McNeill said. “This campaign is drawing on those three, plus ecological devastation.”

By organizing and mobilizing people — and combining that with action —— McNeill said, “The idea is that we will build awareness of the crises we are in.”

A press conference will be held in Albany at the Capitol on Jan. 8 with further details.

The framework of the Poor People’s Campaign, which hosted a meeting in Binghamton this fall as one of 15 in the country, “brings everybody’s issues together,” said McNeill. That meeting was followed by the state Labor-Religion Coalition’s own annual Faith for a Fair New York Conference. A series of reports from the Truth Commission was released at that time, following up on the coalition’s four-month-long series of commission meetings.

“In a time when one-in-two Americans are poor or low income, when more than 40 percent of our children are hungry, when 64 million workers are earning less than $15 an hour, and when the net worth of the wealthiest 20 billionaires is more than half of the U.S. population, we are far past due for this conversation,” states the national commission.

In addition to hosting its annual conference, a series of truth commission meetings and connecting with numerous faith and labor organizations, the state coalition listed the following accomplishments this year:

  • working to resource and connect faith communities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants;
  • working with allies to extend the millionaire’s tax; and
  • mobilizing hundreds of clergy to support the Campaign for New York Health.

The mission of the coalition is to unite faith, labor and community to find social, racial and economic justice. NYSUT is a supporter of the coalition which has its offices at the union’s Albany-area headquarters