In my recent article, “What is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Trying to Do? Did You Say You Want a Revolution?” I presented a cursory look at the civic unrest fomented by various groups that have received money via the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The question it raised, obviously, is whether the aims of CCHD as evidenced by its funding pattern over the past 40 plus years are commensurate with Catholic principles.
However, one could be a lot more specific and, in doing so, raise several additional questions that the CCHD bureaucracy ought to be answering.
Specifically, consider CCHD’s grants to Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ). Like the other Alinskyian organizing networks CCHD funds, IWJ is a national umbrella for many local affiliates around the country. Also like the other Alinskyian organizing networks CCHD funds, IWJ targets faith institutions. How it targets them is a bit different but religious communities form the core of its organizational efforts.
Unlike many of the Alinskyian organizing networks CCHD funds, however, IWJ is issue-driven, concerned about, well, worker justice, as justice is understood through a socialist lens and in bringing local religious leaders into “relationship” with labor unions.
The social lens comes from its founder and executive director, Kim Bobo, who was a Midwest Academy trainer under Heather Booth. Bobo gave the 2010 keynote address at Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) fourth annual Douglass-Debs Dinner; she was part of a Chicago DSA panel discussion in 2008; she was the 2001 Chicago DSA honoree at their Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner, master of ceremonies for the 2010 Chicago DSA Debs-Thomas-Harrington Dinner; she was part of a panel for the 2009 national DSA convention. There are other events to which one might point but the point is, like the Booths under whom Bobo worked before founding the IWJ (NICWJ) in the 1990s, Bobo’s political perspective is committedly Marxist.
IWJ gets a good bit of money from Catholic sources. CCHD gave at least $350,000 to ten IWJ local affiliates this last year, that is, the 2010-2011 funding period. These grants are:
- Food and Medicine (Maine) - $30,000;
- Restaurant Opportunities Center (New York) - $25,000;
- Calumet Project for Industrial Jobs (Indiana) - $40,000;
- Michigan Organizing Project - $40,000;
- Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center (Ohio) - $45,000;
- Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona - $40,000;
- Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center - $35,000;
- Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (Minnesota) - $35,000;
- Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (Texas) - $25,000;
- Ventura County Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (California) - $35,000.
Additionally, there are other organizations with ties to IWJ or its staff. For instance, VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project, a creation of Northwest Workers Justice Project (NWJP), received a $40,000 grant. The NWJP Board is headed by IWJ’s Kim Bobo. But we will limit ourselves to just those affiliates that are openly connected.
CCHD has also given sums of money to IWJ that don’t appear on CCHD’s own lists of grantees. To discover these awards, one must examine IWJ newsletter, Faith Works. For example, in the February 2000 issue, the reader learns that in late 1999, in partnership with CCHD and several foundations, IWJ (then called the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice) created a “Worker Justice Fund” to provide the seed money for creating IWJ affiliates.
More recent Faith Works issues have contained acknowledgement of IWJ’s donors. There one discovers that CCHD regularly gives IWJ money that isn’t mentioned in CCHD’s list of grantees. In the last decade:
- The October 2005 Faith Works lists CCHD as a 2004 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “between $2,500 and $49,000.”
- The April 2006 Faith Works lists CCHD as a 2005 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “$2,500 or more.”
- The May 2007 Faith Works lists CCHD as a 2006 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “between $2,500 and $49,000.”
- The Summer 2008 Faith Works lists CCHD as a 2007 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “between $2,500 and $49,000.”
- The IWJ 2008 Annual Report list CCHD as a 2008 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “between $50,000 to $99,999.”
- The Summer 2010 Faith Works lists CCHD as a 2009 donor, giving an unspecified gift of “between $2,500 and $49,000…” and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as giving an unspecified gift of “between $25,000 to $49,000.”
So the first question is: Why isn’t CCHD listing all the money it disburses?
Interestingly enough, another organization that CCHD is reported to have given a large grant – $150,000 in 2001 – also doesn’t appear on the CCHD list of grantees, namely the Center for Community Change (CCC). CCC, in turn, gives money to IWJ:
- The October 2005 Faith Works lists CCC as a 2004 donor, giving and unspecified gift of “less than $2,500.”
- The April 2006 Faith Works lists CCC as a 2005 donor, giving and unspecified gift of “$10,000 -$24,999.”
- The May 2007 Faith Works lists CCC as a 2006 donor, giving and unspecified gift of “$10,000 -$24,999.”
- The Summer 2008 Faith Works lists CCC as a 2007 donor, giving and unspecified gift of “$10,000 -$24,999.”
That’s a whole lot of money going round.
Now, it isn’t only Catholic money that keeps IWJ afloat nor are Catholics the only ones engaged with IWJ organizing. The March 2005 Faith Works announces that the Association of Chicago Theological Schools and IWJ launched a class “on the pastoral and prophetic, the theological and the ethical issues clergy will face when interacting with the work life of congregants and neighbors.” The Association of Chicago Theological Schools is a cooperative effort among Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, and Unitarian member institutions. All the above-mentioned acknowledgements of grants show that these same religious bodies have been very generous to IWJ.
So here’s IWJ, flush with money from various religious bodies, deeply engaged with various Occupy Wall Street actions. The progressive YES! Magazine writes: “Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a nonprofit group organizing, educating, and advocating at the intersection of faith and work, developed congregational discussion guides and an interfaith prayer service for clergy to help connect the communities occupying Wall Street and other sites to the teachings of their faith traditions. ‘The occupiers are lifting up issues that people of faith are—or ought to be—thinking and doing something about,’ says Kim Bobo, executive director of IWJ. ‘Religious leaders have a responsibility to help them do that.’ One challenge is finding ways to talk about what’s happening in the Occupy movement with religious people who may be uncomfortable with the idea of protesting.” [Adam DeRose (who is an online organizer for IWJ), “An Interfaith Occupation,” YES! Magazine, 11-11-11]
The CCHD-funded IWJ affiliates are also actively involved in the Occupy Wall Street “movement.”
October 24, 2011, Food and Medicine, the IWJ-affiliate in Brewer, Maine, summoned the Occupy Bangor General Assembly #2, scheduled for the 29th. “More discussion planned about the 10/29 occupation as well as checking in with the working teams and their progress,” writes the team. Food and Medicine’s Lawrence Reichard serves on the Occupy Bangor’s legal team.
“Representing one of the largest and fastest growing workforces within the 99%, we at ROC [Restaurant Opportunities Centers United] stand in complete solidarity with #OccupyWallSt,” writes Jose Oliva on the ROC blog, noting that one of ROC-NY’s members has become the newest staff-person at ROC-United. He’s been “extremely active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, leading drum circles and helping to organize marches and rallies.”
Unlike Occupy protests in other cities that “have been criticized for not having a cohesive message, local news channel 3 reports that Occupy Kalamazoo has a distinct message, centered on foreclosures and unemployment. This is because, “Ahead of the Kalamazoo event, groups like the Michigan Organizing Project [MOP] sent around message bullet points aimed at local and national issues.” MOP is the local IWJ affiliate.
Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona also goes by the name Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice and runs the Arizona Worker Rights Center. Occupy Phoenix participants have been attending Kingian Nonviolence training at the Center. (As an interesting aside, the Center has also co-hosted the Undoing Borders Tour, a project that comes out of the Migrant Justice Work Group of San Francisco Pride at Work/HAVOQ – The Horizontal Alliance of Very Organized Queers).
Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center announced on its October 18, 2011Facebook page that its both its “Committee and the Board stand in solidarity with Occupy Northwest Arkansas! We are the 99%! We need an economy and political system that works for ALL!” A subsequent entry added “The Occupy movement represents the struggle of the working class for justice, dignity and being able to provide a bright future for our children. It's our duty and pleasure to endorse and join the movement. Keep up all the hard work!” News articles have Center spokes-persons also speaking for the local Occupy movement.
Occupy Minnesota has been almost entirely co-opted by the unions and Alinskyian organization, among them Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, who are all working together toward one clear message against foreclosure.
Socialistworker.org reports that the delegates of Occupy Houston have passed a resolution that reads, “Whereas, Occupy Houston has also joined with Good Jobs = Great Houston, Houston Interfaith Worker Justice in support of good jobs, the American Jobs Act, and Whereas, the AFL-CIO, and many of its affiliated Unions are supporting similar “Occupy” events on Wall Street and in other cities in Texas and across the country, Therefore be it resolved, that the Harris County AFL-CIO Council go on record of supporting Occupy Houston and its messages of ending corporate corruption of our democracy and standing up for workers and jobs.” You can read more about this coalition at HoustonCommunityPart.com .
Of course, these are only snapshots of IWJ’s involvement with the Occupy movement. Other snapshots might frame the IWJ “We are the 99% Prayer Service for Supporting Occupy Together,” in which “prayers of the People and for the People” call for participants to “lift up all those who have chosen to witness for justice by participating in an Occupy event,” and close with the chant:
We are the 99 percent.
We want a society that works for 100 percent.
…Thank you to the prophets in our midst.
…Thank you for giving us voices.
For all the bantering about of fine words such as “justice” and “rights,” it’s impossible to look at this collage and not come away with the impression that where the Occupy protests have a clear message is where they are most thoroughly dominated by professional organizers with a carefully honed, progressive political agenda. Mere youthful unrest, left unchecked, appears on video clips of the various Occupy encampments around the country to have disintegrated into self-indulgent, endless parties. Once the organizers take charge, however, the experience becomes an education in collective action.
Which leads us to the next question: Is the CCHD intentionally supporting this? Does it intend to re-educate citizens in civic action and political philosophy that preaches class hostilities and – well, let’s not be coy about it – Marxist solutions to our economic problems. If so, how does CCHD reconcile its position with authentic Catholic social teaching, which has a very different perspective?
Don’t hold your breath, waiting for answers.
Stephanie Block is a Spero News columnist and editor of Los Pequenos newspaper.