Parish and Local Community Groups: Organizing for Justice
As citizens, each of us needs to participate in this debate over how our nation best protects our ecological heritage, limits pollution, allocates environmental costs, and plans for the future. Renewing the Earth, United States Catholic Bishops (1992)
Across the country, Catholic parishes are joining other local organizations and churches to form grassroots community organizing that address a wide range of neighborhood issues, including environmental justice. Often with funding from the Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), these organizations provide parish leaders an opportunity to identify their own concerns, develop leadership skills, and use the power of numbers to shape local and state decision-making.
Mothers of East L.A.
Women from Resurrection Parish in East Los Angeles have joined with other mothers in the community to form Mothers of East L.A. Together, the women have successfully opposed a hazardous waste incinerator proposed for a site near their community. They also defeated a proposal by Chem Clear, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Corporation, to build a plant near a local high school. The company planned to clean toxic chemicals out of paint and other substances and then transport the toxins through the neighborhood to be buried nearby. An important part of the mothers’ strategy was to participate in prayer vigils as a means of connecting their organizing tactics (testifying at hearings and meeting with company officials) with their faith.
Sheboygan County Interfaith
The Sheboygan County Interfaith Organization is a multi-issue, church-based community organization in Sheboygan County, Wisc. Member churches have worked together on a variety of issues, including an effort to get a local chemical plant to acknowledge its corporate responsibility to the community and the plant’s workers.
Lower Anthracite Project
The Lower Anthracite Project (LAP) is a regional coalition of churches, unions, business groups, and community organizations that work together for economic justice and environmental preservation in the southern hard-coal fields of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The group believes it is possible to protect both jobs and the environment. They stopped a major plant closing while maintaining their commitment to preserve the environment.
Public Education Project
Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish Council (Archdiocese of Chicago) educated the community about the health problems of toxic emissions and publicized the results of its Good Neighbor Dialogue with Acme Steel Company. The dialogue aimed to motivate plant owners and managers to reduce toxic emissions.
Clinton River Cleanup
The Department of Christian Service of the Archdiocese of Detroit used a planning grant to initiate an effort to organize 40 parishes along the Clinton River Watershed to deal with the river pollution problems associated with urban sprawl.
Lower Naugatuck Valley
Brownfields Education Project
The Archdiocese of Hartford partnered with the Naugatuck Valley Project to train 30 leaders in 10 parishes in an area with 20 brownfield sites. The goal was to organize parishes to participate in developing reuse plans that directly benefited the effected communities through an increased tax base, job creation and remediation of environmental hazards.
Empowerment for Environmental
This St. Francis Prayer Center in the Diocese of Lansing project seeks to empower volunteers through a training program to become advocates for their neighbors and themselves in a low-income housing development to counter efforts to place toxic dumps in their neighborhood and to promote efforts to protect their soil, air and water for a better quality of life for their families.
Renew the Earth Seminars
The Environmental Committee of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission (Diocese of Rockville Centre) conducted six-week seminars in four parishes about the link between the environment, faith and social justice. The project helped establish a core group in each parish for follow up organizing. The project served as a model for expanding this type of education/action process within the diocese.
Water Quality Education & Monitoring
This project educated the parishioners of St. Mary’s (Diocese of Trenton) and the community about the pollution of the local drinking water supply and encouraged parishioners to monitor and alter their behavior to prevent water pollution.
Catholic Community of
Lynchburg College Lead Partnership
The Catholic Community of Lynchburg College (Diocese of Richmond) coordinated a volunteer/donation program on an interfaith basis with the goal of increasing awareness of the problem of lead-poisoning of children in the Lynchburg area and to raise funds to support ongoing efforts by Lynchburg community-based organizations to educate and support families in inner-city neighborhoods whose children are at greatest risk of becoming lead-poisoned.