By Tom Severin
I am a founding member of a new grassroots movement in Westmoreland County called the Voice of Westmoreland (VOW). We came together somewhat by accident while demonstrating against President Trump’s original immigration ban directed at Muslims, in front of the courthouse in Greensburg.
During the course of our demonstrations, which occurred two or three times a week for over a month, we discovered that many of those demonstrating were associated with other activist groups within Westmoreland County. Eventually, we came up with the idea of pooling our resources to address issues of common interest. After a few organizational meetings, we came up with a name for our group and decided upon our goals for the group.
We decided to remain independent of political parties and to be solely driven by issues of importance to people living in Westmoreland County. We have a core group of six co-founders of the group who act as the primary planners of events.
In the six months of our existence, we have had two sessions for members on how to effectively organize to reach desired goals. We sponsored a trip to Harrisburg to lobby in the rotunda of the capital building for just healthcare policies followed by a march demonstrating for responsible health care.
We collaborated with the Sierra Club to air a documentary, for over 50 people, regarding the history of coal mining in our region and the exploration of where to go from here for coal mining jobs. The documentary was called “From the Ashes” and was later aired on PBS stations.
We met with then Congressman Tim Murphy at a listening session to hear local residents concerns.
We held an evening candlelight vigil in front of the Greensburg courthouse following the events in Charlottesville, attended by over 100 people. Speakers for the event were the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) representative, a local rabbi, a representative of the local Young Women Christian’s Association (YWCA) and a member of our VOW group.
Our latest event was a presentation on gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and how we can go about trying to change the practice in our state.
Our core governing group meets approximately once a week and we have monthly meetings for our collective members which usually draws between 20 t0 30 members. At these meetings we have identified five main areas of concern, which we wish to address. They are: The Environment. Racism, Healthcare, Gerrymandering and the Opioid crisis. We have formed five working groups to address each issue. Each group will formulate plans on how to effectively address each issue and share them at our monthly meetings with the larger group. We will then determine how best to work together to achieve our ends.
Our group is a work in progress, and we hope to grow and expand our numbers and our effectiveness in addressing social justice issues. If anyone would be interested in joining our group or being made aware of our activities, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Severin is a member of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests.