Teaching the Art of Democracy
Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) is about people: developing their innate skills and ability to work with each other to identify common problems, to find or create workable solutions, and to work together to implement systemic changes within society to achieve the common good. As one of our leaders is so fond of saying: “The work is us.”
Founded in 1992, Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) is a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue group of religious congregations, schools and other non-profits in the Dallas metropolitan area with aggregate membership totaling in excess of 90,000.
Dallas Area Interfaith does its work by:
- Conducting thousands of individual and small group meetings with clergy and lay leaders.
- Training congregational representatives in how to understand and affect local and regional political processes
- Developing a large leadership core from those representatives.
- Identifying issues of concern to all sectors of the community.
- Strengthening relationships within and between member congregations.
- Forging alliances across the lines of religion and ethnicity to develop a broad-based vision for the Dallas area.
- Moving that vision into a multi-issue agenda of action for the organization.
Britt and a handful of other church leaders founded Dallas Area Interfaith, with a focus on grass-roots issues such as community policing, educational equity and fair housing policies. The organization also trained and empowered ordinary folks — stay-at-home moms, day laborers and blue-collar workers — to take concerns to government officials.
When a Dallas City Council member tagged Britt and his fellow pastors as belligerent and militant, he acknowledged, “We’re not your father’s civic group.”
Britt and his interfaith co-founders secured council funding for housing in South Dallas and after-school programs at elementary campuses. Britt also led a jobs creation and training initiative that he took with him to CitySquare.
Across North Texas, nonprofits and community groups had already begun preparing last year for the possible roll-out of the public charge rule. They said they had no choice: Families were removing children who are U.S. citizens from public health programs for which they were legally eligible.
In Dallas, Josephine Lopez-Paul, the lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith, was blunt in her criticism. The group is planning a free health care fair on March 28 in Arlington at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Some immigrants have said they are fearful of going to any location connected to the government. Church complexes are viewed as safe places.
“We are creating a permanent underclass that doesn't care for one another,” Lopez-Paul said.
“The damage has already been done, whether the rule went into effect. Just imagine if they don’t have access to health care. … They don’t have access to immunizations.”
[Photo Credit: Brian Elledge, Dallas Morning News]
Almost three dozen clergy, religious and lay leaders from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Mississippi convened at Holy Trinity Catholic to learn how to teach key pieces of the Recognizing the Stranger curriculum.
Sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), 'Train the Trainer' sessions like these are designed to expand the training capacity of the effort as the strategy reaches into nineteen dioceses across the US.
Sessions were led by senior organizers of the Organizers Institute of the South and West IAF and included in-depth discussion of theological reflections on the Eucharist at Corinth and the Beatitudes.
Last week, at the General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, the outgoing chair of the Committee on Migration (and Catholic Bishop of Austin), Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, concluded his report with "good practices for helping immigrants." Topping the list was the IAF parish identification strategy.
Parish identification emerged as a strategy in Dallas after passage of Texas Senate Bill 4, which allows law enforcement officers to ask residents about their immigration status. With no access to state drivers licenses, undocumented immigrants were concerned that otherwise benign traffic stops could result in deportation. Police departments were worried their officers would not be trusted in immigrant communities. As a way to address both concerns, 1,500 Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and their Bishops negotiated acceptance of parish ID cards with five North Texas police departments.
The parish ID strategy soon spread to Baltimore in collaboration with IAF sister affiliate Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and, most recently, to the Diocese of Brownsville (along the US-Mexico border) in partnership with Valley Interfaith, Catholic Charities and the police departments of Brownsville, McAllen and Edinburg.
Bishop Vasquez recognized the Catholic (Arch)dioceses of Baltimore, Dallas and Brownsville for "fostering a sense of belonging & security." So far in Dallas, 12,000 identification cards have been issued through DAI member congregations, fortifying family connections to congregations and strengthening parish collections in the process.
Remarks by Bishop Jose S. Vásquez, US Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly Remarks
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Notes]
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Webinar]
On a rainy Friday night, the Dallas church hall meeting was filled with talk of the latest tiroteos y balaceras — gunfire and gun battles.
Erika Gonzalez said she can now distinguish between the metallic sounds and rhythm of a high-caliber assault weapon vs. a pistol. “They discharge and they refill,” she said at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in southeast Dallas.
“We need more help for this combat,” said Lily Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the meeting. “Raise your voice. It will give us credibility.”
They’re part of a new gun-control campaign that is spreading in Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Already, 11,000 Texans have signed postcards asking for support for four federal bills, including two on enhanced background checks for firearms purchases, organizers say.
The campaign started after the mass shooting Aug. 3 at an El Paso Walmart, in which a Dallas-area man traveled to the border city with an assault rifle to hunt Mexicans, according to a court affidavit. By the end of the shooting spree, 22 people were dead. It is believed to be the worst violence against Latinos in a century — since widespread lynchings across the West aimed at those of Mexican ancestry....
[Photo Credit: Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News]
After El Paso Massacre, Dallas Area Interfaith Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
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