More than 700 people gathered at Rodef Shalom Congregation on Nov. 18 for a public action meeting of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN). The event brought together residents and elected officials in an effort to end what PIIN terms “Pharaoh’s Empire.”
In both promotional materials disseminated and speeches made, representatives of PIIN maintained that for more than 40 years “powerful corporate interests” have strategically worked to transition an economy originally built to support the middle class toward an economy to impoverish the working class. Examples offered for such claim included undermined government support systems, privatized public services and deregulated industries, tax policies to consolidate wealth, controlled government through redistricting and weakened unions.
According to PIIN, these efforts have created “Pharaoh’s Empire” and a political agenda supporting structural racism.
PIIN will combat these practices with a strategy of expanding the public sphere and increasing people’s control of the economy and government. Bolstering community schools and public safety, increasing worker wages and demanding rate-payer justice will end “Pharaoh’s Empire” and facilitate the “Beloved Community,” maintained members of PIIN.
Throughout the nearly two-hour program, residents and elected officials listened to presentations, songs and prayers.
“Pharaoh’s Empire has lied to us. We have something worth fighting for — our dignity; our children are worth fighting for,” said the Rev. B. DeNeice Welch, senior pastor of Bidwell Street United Presbyterian Church, who added that her dreams of economic justice and public safety will only bear fruit upon action.
“Nothing comes to sleepers but dreams, so dreamers have to become doers,” she said.
“You are not alone in your fight for racial and economic justice Pittsburgh,” said the Rev. John Welch, vice president for student services at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and board chair of the Gamaliel Network.
“We’re going to build this world together,” sang a choir of community members. The lyric echoed the evening’s tenor.
Gathered among the hundreds of attendees was Alia Schindler, program director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Pittsburgh Chapter. The organization, which is a member of PIIN, posted photos to its Facebook page from the event and stated, “Packed house at Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network’s Public Action Meeting! Proud to work together with them and so many faiths toward social justice.”
Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Frances F. & David R. Levin senior rabbinic pulpit of Rodef Shalom, and Rabbi Jamie Gibson, senior rabbi of Temple Sinai, provided the evening’s prayers. Responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, Gibson recalled Chapter 26, Verse 5 of Deuteronomy.
“Arami oved avi, my father was a Syrian refugee,” said Gibson. “Our fathers and mothers were Syrian refugees. Our neighbors are Syrian refugees. We open our arms to them so they can build a city of justice with us in Pittsburgh. We pledge no more refugees.”
Standing in the lobby, Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive, explained the purpose of the evening’s gathering.
“This event is always around certain issues,” he said. “It comes down to economic justice and social justice, and it’s a good thing because there’s not enough of that in this country.”
Corey O’Connor, city councilman, similarly praised the event: “It’s great bringing so many religious backgrounds together to talk about the issues. As elected officials, it’s good to hear from the people.”
“You can look around the room and see how important the work PIIN is doing. It doesn’t matter if you are part of the Baptist, Muslim or Jewish community,” said Jonathan Mayo, outgoing vice president of PIIN. “The mission with all of us is to work and fight together.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.