By Joyce Rothermel
Many of us might look back over the past year with deep discouragement, but there is a silver lining to the presidential election results. New groups have mobilized in response. Among them are the Social Justice Seekers (SJS).
The group grew out of two gatherings of social-minded people in January and April following the November elections. Kevin Hayes, the convener of the meetings, says, “It was a ‘wake-up’ call for many who are committed to a more just society. Coming together was affirming, encouraging, and energizing to the over 130 people who attended.”
In April, participants self-selected into groups from the north, city/east, south, and west areas. The south group decided to meet monthly after that. Most of the members come from a worship community of some type.
The mission statement adopted by SJS states, “Social Justice Seekers are people of faith who share common goals for positive change. We are committed activists who work for justice, peace, and reconciliation in our community and world. Rooted in prayer, we act with hope that our resolute efforts yield fruitful outcomes.”
Kevin explains, “Our mission statement purposefully states, ‘Rooted in prayer.’ We believe that a contemplative disposition is needed by anyone seeking to do justice, and that the balance of contemplation and action is the best way of yielding fruitful results. There is so much injustice in the world today; it is difficult to know how to respond. Prayer is a path to discern where one is called to serve and expend energy for justice.
Leaders of the SJS are Kevin Hayes, Miriam Manion, Marlene Milik, John Pillar, and Pat Quolke. The structure is loose and egalitarian, with decisions put before the group for input, discussion, and consensus. While predominantly white, middle-aged, and Christian because of the personal relationships that have drawn people to the group thus far, they are actively seeking to be more diverse. This includes diversity of age, gender (LGBTQ members are welcome), race, and background. They aspire to be an ecumenical and interfaith group as well.
SJS has sub-committees to channel people’s energies into specific areas of interest. The politically-oriented focus group created a postcard and letter writing campaign to end gerrymandering of districts within our state and to pressure state representatives and senators to co-sponsor the Fair Districts referendum on gerrymandering. The Issue-oriented group will work to educate people about health care, including promoting the keeping of the Affordable Care Act and making a priority of affordable and accessible health care for all Americans, with an immediate focus on re-funding the CHIP program for underserved children both federally and in PA. This focus group will also educate people about environmental health, including maintaining water quality in our region. The prayer/faith community focus group will build a network with area churches, faith and community groups to promote social justice. This activity will include identifying a person(s) in different South Hills churches, faith and community groups to distribute information in their group from SJS; and helping other churches and faith groups promote their respective activities.
After Tim Murphy vacated his congressional seat SJS decided to focus some of its energy on the special election to be held on March 13, 2018 to fill the remainder of the term. To that end, a “Meet and Greet” with Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate has been scheduled for Tuesday, January 23. at the Bethel Park Community Center, 5151 Park Ave, Bethel Park, PA 15102 at 7 PM.
SJS will align itself with anyone who shares its values and resonates with its mission statement of promoting social justice in Pittsburgh, the U.S., and the world. This includes the Thomas Merton Center, the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, South Hills Interfaith Ministries, Pittsburgh Area Pax Christi, and Casa San Jose. Kevin explains, “We do not seek to replace any of the groups mentioned, or others; rather, we will seek to complement them wherever possible, and will share information about other organizations with our members to help raise consciousness.
SJS hopes to “fan the flames of interest” among other members in the north, west, and city/east to organize or join already established regional groups like the North Hills People for Peace in their geographic areas of Pittsburgh, and to help organize in the same way as the South group has done over the last six months.
SJS also hopes to organize another “all-city” gathering like those held in 2017 in the early part of 2018. This gathering will be another opportunity for social justice minded people to meet and be affirmed and encouraged.
SJS meets in Benedict Hall, the social hall of St. Winifred Parish in the lower level of the former school, at 550 Sleepy Hollow Rd, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228, on the third Monday of the month at 7:00 pm. The next meeting is scheduled for January 15.
Anyone interested in joining Social Justice Seekers and being on their email list can email Kevin Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joyce Rothermel chairs the Membership Committee of the Thomas Merton Center.