May 15, 2017
By Jim McCarville
On April 30 over 90 progressive Christians with resource people gathered in Sullivan Hall of St. Mary of the Mount parish to discuss and discern their opportunities and obligations to promote social-justice values in the Pittsburgh area. The workshop “Working for a Future We Believe In” grew out of an earlier, February 19th meeting. The first meeting was organized by a small group of progressive Christians disappointed by the November election results. A few emails and invitations resulted in over a hundred people turning out.
Many at the first meeting claimed not to be previously involved in social action, but felt that they had to be involved now. “They were surprised that so many felt the same way,” said Kevin Hayes, one of the organizers. “We challenged the people attending this non-denominational meeting to think, pray and reflect on what we were FOR, what we were really passionate about. Many felt inspired to say the Spirit was active in our midst and a sense of community was born! The follow up meeting was planned to go into more detail.”
The April 30 meeting started with an “Activist Primer” by Stacey Vernallis. After she told us part of her personal story, “Obamacare saved my life,” she then explained internet tools, such as “Countable” to monitor how your representative votes and “Resistbot,” an easy app to contact your representatives. Participants then broke into two smaller, self-selected interactive sessions. The first sessions were issue-defined: immigration/refugees, environment, healthcare, economic disparity, political activism, and interfaith dialogue. This was not to re-invent strategies so much as to connect people with on-going efforts.
I participated in the immigration and refugees session. Our group’s interest was to network among ourselves (and with key contacts in their faith communities) to make more welcoming communities, to volunteer with Catholic Charities or other agencies to mentor refugees, and to help Casa San Jose to find pro bono lawyers to assist immigrants. This session, as well as the North Hills’ regional group, organized Google Groups to stay in touch and facilitate the ability to “Plug-in” to on-going efforts as they are identified.
Other groups discussed ways to participate in efforts related to the environment, healthcare, and other networking efforts.
Moving forward, the organizers hope the group will continue as a resource to help members find appropriate outlets for action. Future gatherings are expected to focus on speakers, topics and regional networking opportunities to promote social justice. Anyone wanting to get updates on future activities may contact me at email@example.com.
Jim McCarville is a member of the Board of the Thomas Merton Center.