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.
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]
Dallas Area interfaith (DAI) leaders Debra Levy (Temple Shalom) and Deborah Smith (Christian Chapel CME) delivered essential citizen input to the Texas House of Representatives Redistricting Committee in order to promote fair and transparent redistricting in 2021.
Representing 40 institutions and 90,000 families, both leaders attested to specific ways current gerrymandering negatively impacts their communities and the democratic process. Deborah Levy testified that while her work in DAI centers around developing leadership capacity for civic engagement, without equal representation in her district, the barrier to impact the electoral process is artificially high. Leaders also argued that slicing up major metro areas into districts not only dilutes citizen representation, it makes negotiating common interests across multiple municipal and utility district lines more challenging.
After the sheriff of Tarrant County mistakenly argued that 'drunk' immigrants were going to 'run over your children,' Dallas Area Interfaith organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul called on the public official to build trust rather than spread lies, referencing an independent study by the CATO Institute that documented a dramatically lower crime rate among unauthorized Texas immigrants compared to their native-born counterparts.
"In these polarized times, what he should be doing is building trust," commented Lopez-Paul.
Ever since participating in a DAI leadership training two years ago, Lily Rodriguez (photo top right) of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Dallas has been very motivated to bring its teachings to life, actualizing them by helping her community.
The training sought to prepare parish leaders to support the civic development of their parish communities, particularly those from immigrant backgrounds.
That's how the "Sunshine Committee" in which Rodriguez participates, along with 24 other volunteers, came to be. Members of the committee disseminate flyers, make calls, organize, sign up and help in community-oriented activities. The most popular workshops are those focusing on US citizenship and parish IDs -- created and implemented by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and DAI for more than one year....
Comité Parroquial es Semilla de Cambio Cívico, Revista Católica de Dallas
In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions. Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.
According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation.
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