In watching the spring 2011 workers’ protests in Wisconsin – which also spread into Michigan and Ohio – one noticed that it was not only unions organizing their constituents to keep pressure on state politicians. A number of community organizations were in the thick of it, too.
Interfaith Worker Justice
Heather and Paul Booth are Chicago-style socialists who met during anti-war demonstrations in the 60s, when Paul was National Secretary of the Chicago-based Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Heather was a student at University of Chicago.
Heather founded the Midwest Academy and through it and other organizations with which she had paid positions – such as the Democrat National Committee – helped train a generation of community organizers.
For his part, Paul became involved in the labor movement, acting as Research Director for the United Packinghouse Workers of America in the late 60s and then joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in 1974, where he served as organizing director for 10 years and is currently the assistant to the union’s president.
Heather’s Midwest Academy spawned and influenced a remarkable number of organizations, among them the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ - called the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice until 1995). Midwest Academy trainer, Kim Bobo, is IWJ’s founder and executive director.
The idea behind IWJ was “to facilitate relationships between local religious leaders and labor unions throughout the United State,”[i] which was something of an organization mirror of the Booth marriage, combining union and community work. Over the years, this relationship has added religious institutions to the mix: “Unions are …cultivating the next generation of church leaders,” writes one observer, pointing to IWJ’s “Seminary Summer,” an arrangement by which seminarians spend their summer with union locals.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has given quite generously to IWJ over the years: The IWJ annual report for 2009 indicates a vague amount between $10,000 - $24,999, with an additional grant between $25,000-$49,999 coming from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.[ii] The CCHD annual grant report, however, makes no mention of this donation so it would appear that there are additional CCHD disbursements that are not declared as “grants.”[iii]
What has this to do with Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio? Just wait…
The Gamaliel Foundation is an Alinskyian faith-based community organizing network. That means that its membership is largely comprised of religious institutions such as churches and synagogues.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development gives a LOT of money – over half its disbursements – to Alinskyian organizations. In 2010, after reforming its guidelines and providing additional oversight, CCHD’s carefully vetted grants to Alinskyian organizing in Wisconsin totaled $190,000…all going to Gamaliel locals save for a single grant to an IAF local.[iv]
In Michigan, CCHD gave a total of $215,000 to Alinskyian organizing, most to Gamaliel except for one grant to a PICO local and one grant to an Interfaith Work Justice local.[v]
As for Ohio, CCHD gave a total of $255,000 to Alinskyian organizing, spread among the Industrial Areas Foundation, Interfaith Worker Justice, National People’s Action, and DART networks.[vi] There is a Gamaliel local in Youngstown, Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) that has been funded by CCHD in the past but not in the 2010 disbursements.
The Alinskyian Organizing Networks Push the Political Agenda
So, back to the organized workers’ protests. In February 2011, reports came out that: “Groups like Faith in Public Life and Interfaith Worker Justice have mobilized coalitions that include Protestants and Muslims, in addition to the Catholics and Jews that dominated pro-union efforts in previous generations….Interfaith Worker Justice has compiled statements affirming the right to organize from more than a dozen denominations. ‘We're making this a bigger issue than just the workers involved. We're making it a moral issue, and that it's more than just fighting over pensions,’ said Rabbi Renee Bauer, director of Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. ‘We're hoping that if lawmakers hear from religious leaders, it'll help them have a change of heart.’” [vii]
Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, the Gamaliel local WISDOM and two other groups held a Press Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, calling on the Governor and State Legislature to pass a budget that would be acceptable to them.[viii]
A month later, the Wisconsin teachers’ union posted a press release excoriating “Governor Scott Walker’s poor policy decisions for Wisconsin” and announcing the inaugural meeting of the “We Are Wisconsin” network that included several unions, the CCHD-funded Gamaliel local WISDOM, and the CCHD-funded Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice. [ix] The partisan nature of Wisconsin Citizen Action is evident from its rhetoric:
· “Let’s remember how this all started. Scott Walker and GOP senators tried to ram through a Budget Repair Bill that reversed 50 years of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin – despite falsely claiming to have campaigned on the proposal – and 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois to prevent a quorum, and thus a vote on the bill.”
· “Walker and Republicans considered and tried everything under the sun to get Democrats back to Wisconsin to hold a vote on their union-busting legislation.”
· “When none of Walker and the GOP’s strong-armed tactics worked, they resorted to their ultimate escalation ….”
· “While we are surely disappointed to have fallen just short of a 3rd GOP pickup that would have shifted control of the state Senate, Republicans have suffered an enormous political toll for their attacks on working families. In addition, the results suggest a very favorable outlook for Wisconsin Democrats moving forward.”[x]
The “we” in these comments are Democrat Party partisans. The “enemy” is the Republican Party and its representatives.
And these Democrat Party partisans have co-opted religion to their own ends. Kim Bobo, IWJ’s founder and executive director, writes:
“Tell me what religion looks like.”
“This is what religion looks like!”
So chanted the 75 religious leaders who marched into Wisconsin’s Capitol in Madison on Tuesday, February 22, in support of the state workers who are opposing Governor Walker’s proposal to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights under the guise of balancing the budget…
…The proposals are so draconian and such clear violations of religious teachings in support of workers’ rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining that Wisconsin religious leaders across faith traditions have issued public statements, sent letters to the Governor and legislators, and are participating in rallies and public events.[xi]
So, let’s put it in simple terms: CCHD is funding Democrats to fight the Republicans.
This is what liberationist religion looks like.
Stephanie Block is a Spero columnist. She also edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and is a member of the Catholic Media Coalition.
[i] George E. Schultze, SJ, “Work, Worship, and Laborem Exercens in the United States Today,” working draft paper, University of San Francisco, undated.
[ii] Interfaith Worker Justice 2009 Annual Report, Faith Works, Summer 2010; IWJ received a similar, vaguely-declared CCHD grant ($25,000-$49,999) in 2007 (Faith Works, summer 2008) and 2004 (Faith Works, October 2005)
[iii] A CCHD award to the Center for Community Change of $150,000 in 2001 is another example. There is no mention of this grant in CHD’s 2001-2002 annual report or on the grant list that was published at the USCCB website.
[iv] 2010 CCHD grants for Alinskyian organizing in Wisconsin: ESTHER (Gamaliel) - $42,000; JOSHUA (Gamaliel) - $28,000; AMOS (Gamaliel) - $25,000; JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope - Gamaliel) - $25,000; Common Ground (Industrial Areas Foundation) - $40,000; RIC (Gamaliel) - $30,000.
[v] 2010 CCHD grants for Alinskyian organizing in Michigan: Michigan Interfaith Voice (Gamaliel) - $25,000.00; Moses (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength – Gamaliel) - $30,000.00; JONAH (Joint-religious Organizing Network for Action and Hope – Gamaliel) - $35,000.00; Michigan Organizing Project (IWJ) -$40,000.00; Flint Area Congregations Together (PICO) - $45,000.00; The Ezekiel Project of Saginaw (Gamaliel) - $40,000.00.
[vi] 2010 CCHD grants for Alinskyian organizing in Ohio: AMOS Project (IAF) - $30,000.00; Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (IWJ) - $45,000.00; WIN Action Organizing Project (NPA) - $30,000.00; Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NPA) - $50,000.00; Reclaim Lorain (IAF) - $25,000.00; Building Responsibility Equality And Dignity (BREAD – DART) - $50,000.00; Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) (IAF) - $25,000.00.
[vii] Nicole Neroulias, “Religious voices enter Wisconsin union debate,” Christian Century, 2-23-11.
[viii] Wisconsin Council of Churches, Press Release: “An Interfaith Call for a Just and Equitable Budget,” 2-22-11.
[ix] Wisconsin Education Association Council, “We Are Wisconsin: Responding to Walker’s poor policies,” 3-17-11
[x] We Are Wisconsin website, “Wisconsin Recall Races Redux: What We’ve Learned; What It Means,” 8-16-11: www.wearewisconsin.org.
[xi] Kim Bobo, “What Religion Looks Like, Wisconsin Edition,” Religion Dispatches, 2-23-11.