More than 1,200 people of faith are expected to convene at Rodef Shalom Congregation Thursday, Oct. 18, searching for ways to address pressing social justice issues in the Pittsburgh area.
Federal, state and local officials will be present at the 2012 Public Action Meeting of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), and PIIN members — including Jews, Christians and Muslims — will use the opportunity to secure commitments from these leaders to act of issues important to their communities.
PIIN members expect to hear commitments in the areas of public education, transportation, jobs and clean rivers.
“These are things that these people have already stood up and said, ‘we care about these things [and] we are going to work on them,” said Rabbi Ronald B.B. Symons of Temple Sinai, leadership development chair of PIIN, “so by coming together we are celebrating their commitment.”
In the past, PIIN has secured commitments from county and state lawmakers to work for dedicated state funding for public transit, and from then-Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to prohibit tax increment financing for suburban green space development and investigate impediments to fair housing.
Among the public officials expected to attend are U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, state Reps. Matt Smith and Michael Martin Schmotzer, and Pittsburgh councilmen Corey O’Connor, Bill Peduto and Bruce Kraus.
Symons, in addition to Rev. Richard Freeman of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock and Imam Abdusemih Tadese of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh met with the Chronicle Wednesday to discuss what Symons described as “the largest interfaith, interracial cross-economic, social justice gathering in Pittsburgh.”
Each of them lamented how social justice issues — issues vital to the day-to-day lives of the people they minster to, are taking a backseat in the presidential election.
“The rhetoric [in the campaign] has nothing to do with many of the real issues that are facing people every day,” said Freeman, the jobs and economy taskforce chair of PIIN. “We’re talking about cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes. At the end of the day, all the services that are necessary for a government and a people to operate will demand taxation. … There are other questions not being asked really: What is happening to the safety net? What is happening to the services demanded of the citizenry of our country and our area? So I’m angry that those issues are taking a back seat.”
Tadese named public transportation as his priority issue.
“It affects everything else,” he said. “It affects education because you can’t get to the schools, even teachers can’t get to the schools.”
Symons said the issues PIIN addresses affect all races, religions and neighborhoods in Greater Pittsburgh.
“From our Jewish perspective on this, you might thing, ‘well those are issues for Braddock, those are issues for the Hill; they’re not issues for Squirrel Hill,’” he said, “but the reason why we’re still involved at Temple Sinai is because we know that we are a jigsaw puzzle, we’re just one piece of it, and we know that yeah, there are people here in Squirrel Hill — we have the conversations with people through our listening campaign here at Temple Sinai — that if buses get cut kids can’t get to school … but we also know it’s not healthy for the community if someone in Braddock can’t get to work downtown. There’s no future if that’s the case.”
PIIN is part of the Gamaliel Foundation, an international faith-based community organizing network that is holding public action meetings across the country at the same time of year. The meetings are set for the same time each year and were not scheduled to coincide with the last weeks of the presidential campaign, Symons said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)