When Pope Francis told a group of U.S. community organizers that their work was "atomic," Jorge Montiel said, "I thought, 'Oh, you mean we blow things up?'"
But instead, the pope spoke about how the groups associated with the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation in the United States take issues patiently, "atom by atom," and end up building something that "penetrates" and changes entire communities, said Montiel, an IAF organizer in Colorado and New Mexico.
Pope Francis' hourlong meeting Sept. 14 with 15 delegates from the group was a follow-up to a similar meeting a year ago. Neither meeting was listed on the pope's official schedule and, the delegates said, both were conversations, not "audiences."
"It was relaxed, it was engaging," said Joe Rubio, national co-director of IAF. "Often you don't see that even with parish priests," he told Catholic News Service Sept. 15, garnering the laughter of other delegates.
Pope Meets US Leaders Patiently Building Culture of Solidarity, US Conference of Catholic Bishops / Catholic News Service [pdf]
Jorge Montiel, lead organizer for Coloradans for the Common Good and Mountain Voices Project, left his corporate job to pursue organizing as a vocation.
"I lost my dad because he did not have appropriate health insurance," said Montiel. "IAF taught me what I could do to help others like my dad and what I was called to do as a Catholic."
[In photo, a synod training session is held by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) at a parish in the Diocese of Monterey, California. COPA community organizers trained around 500 Catholics to conduct synodal listening sessions in the region.]
For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community Organizers, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
In response to calls for change by their workers and Coloradans for the Common Good, the Jefferson County School Board approved a $3/hr increase to the minimum wage of all Educational Support Professionals (ESP). Nearby, the Denver Federation ratified a contract that increases the minimum wage to $20/hr for para-educators and over $18/hr for nutrition employees. This equates to tens of millions of dollars for working families in the metro area, and required coordinated action between unionized educators and Coloradans for the Common Good.
Last fall, CCG leaders organized an accountability assembly, leveraging commitments from every JeffCo School Board candidate at the time to support wage increases for ESPs if elected. When it became clear more pressure was needed, leaders returned to the JeffCo Board this spring.
At the same time, CCG organized a rally at Valdez Elementary with over 350 educators, parents, and community members to push for wage increases in Denver Public Schools (DPS). Leaders soon followed up with a press conference where the DPS Board President, Vice President, and an additional school board member committed to increasing wages.
[Photo Credits: (Top) Olivia Sun, Colorado Sun; (Right) Helen Richardson, The Denver Post]
Denver, Jefferson County School Districts Raise Hourly Wages for Support Staff Struggling to Afford Food and Housing, Colorado Sun [pdf]
Several organizations, including Coloradans for the Common Good, have met with Arvada and Jefferson County leaders for many years to discuss the need to address the affordable housing crisis in the region, they said.
“Our message is that they cannot just rely on the faith communities and nonprofits to solve this problem,” according to a press release from Coloradans for the Common Good. “Government agencies have a role to help ensure that everyone has a safe roof over their heads.”
City of Arvada and Jefferson County leaders recently received more than $120 million in stimulus payments from the federal government, and Coloradans for the Common Good and their allies are asking elected officials to put a substantial sum of the money toward preserving and expanding affordable housing, so that the trend does not continue in the community, according to the release.
[Photo Credit: Olivia Sun, Colorado Sun]
One Apartment Building Changing Hands Sheds Light on the Dire Shortage of Affordable Housing in Arvada, Colorado Sun [pdf]
"I have seen firsthand how this accountability system targets neighborhood schools and our students of color,” said Germaine Padberg-Ludlow, a Denver elementary teacher and member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of community, union and faith groups supporting the audit.
Padberg-Ludlow previously taught at Denver’s John Amesse Elementary School, which was closed and then reopened with new leadership over the objections of parents and teachers. At the time, Denver Public Schools had its own rating system and a more aggressive school closure process than required by state law. She said the system drives teacher turnover, forcing students to build new relationships and widening achievement gaps.
Colorado School Accountability Audit Moves Forward, Chalkbeat [pdf]
Led by Coloradans for the Common Good, the organizations convened virtually last week, concerned primarily about the roadblocks that stand in the way of families being able to fully access the meals that Jeffco Public Schools has been distributing this fall. Problems with scheduling and transportation mean some kids and their family members may be going hungry.
“Our schools, for better or worse, have become a central part of our social safety net, and our social safety net is already deeply frayed in our country,” said Reagan Humber, a member of the group’s steering committee and pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. “And so kids are depending even more on that food.”
Members of Coloradans for the Common Good worry that the district doesn’t operate enough distribution sites across communities so that all families in need can pick up food nearby, including those who are limited by transportation. They’re just as concerned that the sites don’t offer the kind of flexible hours that cater to families’ schedules.
Humber would like to see Jeffco Public Schools bus food across the community, noting that drivers have agreed to transport meals to students so that they don’t have to walk miles to pick up food. He is also urging the district to ensure a school in every town it serves offers meal distribution and that every neighborhood serving a population of students who attend a Title I school has nearby access to school meals.
[Photo Credit: Brandan Robertson/Colorado Sun]
About a Third of Jeffco Students Qualify for Subsidized Meals. There Are Fears Many Can't Access Them During Coronavirus, Colorado Sun [pdf]
After 'Coloradans for the Common Good' and educator union leaders engaged their membership around the impact of the digital divide on teachers and students, they organized virtual summits to publicize what they learned and to begin to build a constituency for change.
Behind the scenes, state lawmakers began crafting legislation to address some of those frustrations, ultimately passing a bill that will provide $20 million in grants for districts to broaden internet access to their students. The monies are part of a state stimulus package developed in a special legislative session.
At its third virtual summit on the subject, the short-term stimulus was announced and celebrated. However, CCG leaders understand that the grants won’t ensure every young Coloradan has reliable access to the internet and plan to continue working for longer-term support.
[Photo Credit: Valerie Mosley/Colorado Sun]
Tens of Thousands of Colorado Kids Lack Internet Access. State Stimulus Dollars Will Only Offer a Short-Term Fix, Colorado Sun [pdf]
Colorado Special Session: Lawmakers Approve Millions to Support Child Care Providers and Remote Learners, Chalkbeat Colorado [pdf]
Access to Remote Learning a Challenge in Rural Communities, Colorado Springs Indy [pdf]
A family in the San Luis Valley has made an X in masking tape on the kitchen counter. It’s the only place a remote hotspot works so the children can access remote school lessons. A mother who runs a hair salon in Commerce City brings her daughter to work with her. It’s the only place she can access online learning using her mother’s hotspot. But it means the mother has problems running credit cards at the same time. A third of students in the South Routt School district south of Steamboat Springs don’t have internet access. Teachers, parents and school superintendents told these stories during the Internet Access Summit Wednesday calling for affordable and universal internet, faster download and upload speeds and higher data caps, and training to ensure families can access quality connections.
The virtual summit, sponsored by Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of education, labor and faith-based groups, included teachers, school officials, elected officials, and representatives of internet service providers Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile. “It’s frustrating,” said Toby Melster, superintendent of the Centennial School District in San Luis, Colorado. He estimates about 30 percent of his students are falling behind simply because they don’t have a high-quality internet connection. He said companies have donated some hotspots but because there are multiple people in a family who need to go online, “they’ve got to make a decision about who gets access to the hotspot...”
As Colorado Schools Reopen, Thousands Of Students Still Don’t Have Reliable Internet, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
In response to a series of engagements with CCG leaders seeking to bridge the digital divide for low-income families, internet giant Comcast moved to broaden access to high-speed internet, particularly for low-income and undocumented families. Starting this summer, Comcast is adjusting the application for its free internet nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted, and de-emphasize its initial request for a social security number. Comcast also agreed to extend its offer of 60 days free internet for new subscribers through the end of the year. These changes are being rolled out nationwide!
[Additional background from the Colorado Sun:]
In March, Comcast began offering [a] discounted service for free for 60 days to new families. The service usually costs $9.95 per month and caters to low-income households. Comcast also increased the service’s internet speed to 25 mbps and plans to continue making it free for 60 days to new eligible customers for the rest of 2020. The company is also offering free public Wi-Fi through the end of the year.But the Internet Essentials program didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who qualified. Coloradans for the Common Good this spring approached Comcast to ask the internet giant to modify its application, which asked for Social Security numbers even though other forms of identification were acceptable.That deterred some immigrant families from attempting to enroll in the service. Coloradans for the Common Good — composed of churches, community organizations and teachers’ unions — reached out to lawmakers and Comcast’s corporate leaders pleading for change. After a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings, Comcast adjusted its application nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted. That change took effect in June, said Marilyn Winokur, co-chair of Coloradans for the Common Good.
“We want to get as many, many families that don’t have internet access to have the access that they need in order to participate in remote learning should it happen again,” Winokur said.
[Photo Credit: Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun]
Colorado Gears Up For Online Learning With Digital Access Push — And One Victory for Undocumented Families, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
Online Classes Aren’t Going Anywhere, but Thousands of Colorado Students Still Don’t Have Internet Access, Colorado Sun [pdf]
Big Wins on Internet Access, Fair Wages for School Workers, Coloradans for the Common Good
[Photo Credit: Nathan W. Armes/Chalkbeat]
Comcast has made its low-cost program, called Internet Essentials, free for two months to families that qualify for programs such as food stamps or subsidized school lunches. But....undocumented families may not have the identification required to sign up for free internet service or may not feel comfortable providing it.
“We want to work with you to ensure equity of access for all of our students,” said a letter that the advocacy group Coloradans for the Common Good sent to Comcast executives Monday. “We hope to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss potential solutions.”
The letter was signed by faith leaders and the president of the Colorado Education Association, as well as the presidents of several local teachers unions, including Denver and Jefferson County....
To sign up for Internet Essentials, Comcast asks for a Social Security number. If a person doesn’t have one, Comcast instructs that person to take a picture of themselves holding their identification or to bring that identification to a company store.
Emilio Ramos, a social worker who works at two Denver elementary schools, said he’s heard from families where the parents are undocumented and don’t have a Social Security number.
He said parents are afraid that if they admit they’re undocumented and also provide their photo and personal information, that information could be flagged in Comcast’s system and shared with the government, making them a target for arrest or deportation.
Originally, the free internet was available to families who signed up by mid-May. Comcast has extended the deadline to June 30, a step praised by Coloradans for the Common Good, the coalition of labor union and faith leaders that pushed for the change.
Remove Internet Barriers for Undocumented Families, Colorado Teachers Urge, Chalkbeat [pdf]
Some Undocumented Families Don’t Feel Safe Applying For Free Internet, Making Remote Learning Even More Difficult, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
Wi-Fi Holdup: Social Security Question Still A Barrier, Colorado Teachers Say, Chalkbeat
Press Conference Video, Coloradans for the Common Good
In an attempt to bridge the gap between renters and landlords, as well as the banks that play a critical role in the housing market, Anderson has joined forces with Coloradans for the Common Good, which describes itself as "a broad-based, non-partisan network of organizations, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation — the oldest and largest community organizing network, organized for ordinary people to have a powerful voice in the decisions that affect their lives and communities...
“Even during normal times, it’s not unusual for someone to spend 50% to 60% of their monthly income on housing. But now, that’s untenable,” said the Rev. John Anderson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada.
“In 2008, taxpayers bailed out financial institutions,” Anderson said. “So banks are in a strong enough position today to help take the lead on this solution. And if landlords were given help with their mortgages, then they also ought to — in return — help their tenants.” He added that he hoped landlords and banks would contact the coalition, Coloradans for the Common Good, but that there was no active effort to push for an executive order or legislation to mandate the group’s goals...
[Photo by: twinsterphoto]
Faith-labor Coalition Calls for Keeping People Housed During Pandemic, CP Colorado Politics [pdf]
Covid-19 Colorado Rent Crisis: Landlords Say They're Victims, Too, Westword [pdf]
At the urging of Coloradans for the Common Good and the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), Governor Jared Polis expanded the consideration of "essential workers" to include food and grocery store workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. The protections include emergency paid leave and child care, and will benefit 20,000 grocery store and commercial food processing workers across the state.
In a meeting with the Governor, faith and labor leaders successfully made the case that grocery store workers are essential and should be eligible for supports then-available only to front-line medical workers.
[Photo Credit: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar]
Colorado Emergency Child Care Expands to include Grocery, Construction Workers, Chalkbeat [pdf]
What About Grocery Store Workers? Advocates Push Colorado to Extend Emergency Child Care, Chalkbeat [pdf]