Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Citizens Working with Their Government - What a Concept!

This past Sunday afternoon, I attended two meetings which were refreshing and hope inspiring.

The first was a small gathering of about 10-12 people, all people of faith meeting with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service, Southwest Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig and Max Finberg, Director of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at an Interfaith Forum on Hunger. They shared information about President Obama’s Faith-Based Initiative as well as the Administration’s efforts to End Childhood Hunger by 2015 and reduce obesity.

We talked about an emerging strategy combining local action, advocacy and public policy, to address the issues of 'food deserts' and hunger in Texas. It went beyond information sharing, to include maximizing existing resources and initiatives, ranging from community gardens, food co-ops, economic development to achieve the end of tackling the achievable goal of making certain that poor children and their families don't go hungry.

As always, it was enlightening and encouraging, to get together with church leaders, the Jewish and Islamic communities, business representatives and non-profit leaders to talk about what how to expand our efforts to reach more people.

The next meeting was even more exciting, more than 1500 people (so many people, in fact, that both the synagogue and the church across the street had to be utilized!) , diverse in religious culture, race and ethnicity, who came together to celebrate engaging government to address employment, immigration and health care issues.

Dallas Area Interfaith, sponsored this meeting, after having been awarded nearly $400,000 from the office of the state comptrollers office for long-term, living wage job training. DAI, the group I and group of clergy and church leaders founded almost 20 years ago, does not receive the government funding. The money is allocated through another highly successful, widely recognized job training program in San Antonio, 'Project Quest'. This money will be accessed by the Dallas County Community College District, to allow low income, underemployed and unemployed citizens to achieve stability by being trained for jobs with a career track, benefits and a living wage. It is the model upon which Central Dallas Ministries' program, WorkPaths is based. We were instrumental in helping DAI secure the funding, along with other organizations support, such as the United Way, Worksource of Dallas County and the City of Dallas. Florence Shapiro, Republican State Senator from Collin County was instrumental in helping achieve the funding and to work with the organization in next years' legislative session secure more.

The reason this meeting was hopeful is because it was in such stark contrast to what we've seen across our country today. There were no signs denigrating conservatives, or Republicans. There was no name calling. No one sneered. This was not a 'red meat' rally where politicians were demonized. Moderate to liberal people of faith, had actually met with and worked with a predominately Republican state government in a partnership designed to improve the quality of life for their families and their communities.

There were no television cameras at this event. Not enough vitriol, I guess...

White, as well as African-Americans, joined Hispanics supporting calls for comprehensive immigration reform vs. the enforcement based immigration policies seen in Arizona. And city council members were there, voicing their support for a job training program which will yield $12 for every $1 of public money spent.

No one demanded that they get 'their country back'. Instead, they acted like citizens who decided not to give way to fear, despair and hopelessness. They were engaging their government on behalf of their own future.

And instead of complaints, they had answers and a plan. Not to vote someone out, but to work with the people who were in office - to find common ground, with political and elected officials, with whom they may not agree with in terms of political affiliation or ideology in an effort to make government work for them.

What a concept.

In a day when it is taken for granted that anger, rage, name calling and frustration are the only resort for American people. Its refreshing to know that there are sane people, who are looking for solutions, not motivated by fear, but by the confidence that government can solve problems and address deep need when citizens know that their responsibility doesn't have to wait for or end at the ballot box.

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