A Member Reflects on Her Experience
Linda Clark is a member of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting. As a whole meeting, Chestnut Hill Friends has joined an organization called POWER. In this article, Linda reflects on her experiences working with POWER and why it’s important for meetings across PA to join. If you have questions if your meeting is interested, please contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is POWER?
POWER is an organizing network of faith-based communities who are working for racial and economic justice in a livable world. Check out this YouTube video about their work. POWER has been in Philadelphia for 10 years and has expanded into several nearby counties. Now we are expanding into the entire state of Pennsylvania. I feel encouraged by this, because the state legislature has pre-empted or rolled back some Philadelphia victories, such as the fair funding formula for schools. Being a member of Chestnut Hill Monthly Meeting, I’d like to talk with meetings across Pennsylvania about the joys, meaning, and importance of joining POWER.
What has been your journey working with POWER?
The first time I attended a meeting of POWER, it was still winter in 2017. I saw signs on the telephone poles in my neighborhood, Mt Airy, in Philadelphia. There was a meeting of Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild in a nearby church. I was, in those months, wondering about the people who had voted for Trump. He had seemed proud to treat people with disrespect. He had said things that were frankly racist and misogynist. I wondered how I could respect, love, and communicate with his voters. Maybe they had voted for him despite these qualities. I was struggling to feel hopeful.
The meeting was in a church hall, and it began with prayer and a talk by a local Mennonite clergyman about hope. I saw people I knew in the crowd, diverse in race and age. I felt at home. We were asked to look at the pictures and newspaper excerpts around the walls. These documented movements, over the past 50 years, for civil rights, peace, and the environment. We went into small groups to discuss our experience with some of these movements. I left feeling hopeful, thankful to God for the feeling of community.
Over the next months, I learned that POWER is a group of congregations organizing for racial and economic justice in a livable world. Busloads of POWER members were going to Harrisburg to campaign for a fair formula for school funding. A group from POWER was joining with another group I worked with, the Earth Quaker Action Team, to push our utility to create local green jobs by increasing the percentage of solar in the energy mix. I learned that POWER had been able to work with City Council to raise the minimum wage in Philadelphia. I was attending trainings in non-violent resistance and found myself murmuring, “let go and let God”, as we practiced marching through a hostile crowd.
Has there been anything challenging about being involved in POWER?
I went to a Martin Luther King day meeting and was given a card that had a check box, asking us whether we would talk with our neighbors about racism. I felt challenged, and checked that box, even though I had learned, growing up in the South, not to bring up the subject. I did begin to start discussions about racism. During the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, I learned in a POWER meeting that almost every county in Pennsylvania had at least one demonstration after the death of George Floyd.
Congregations in nearby counties were forming POWER groups. My own Chestnut Hill Meeting joined, and other Meetings as well. I heard rabbis, priests, AME preachers, imams, and members of the Ethical Society give faith reflections, songs, and scripture readings at the beginning and end of meetings. We met with political representatives, with a focus on the moral basis of our campaigns, rather than on politics. On that basis, we could communicate with representatives of both parties. The impossible divisions I couldn’t understand after Trump’s election began to soften, under God’s love.
Why is it important that other PA meetings join?
I learned that POWER concentrates on changing unjust institutions, rather than on charity, and that leadership is sought among the people most affected by injustice. The basis of a campaign would be one-to-one conversations with people in our congregations and faith groups, discussing what really matters to each other. We practiced talking to voters about issues and the importance of voting.
I recently heard the executive director of POWER, Bishop Dwayne Royster, describe a hope, an imaginative image, that children were playing in a playground, that parents of all races and faiths and socioeconomic levels were chatting and laughing together, that children were not afraid to jump into puddles because the water was not poisonous, and that when a policeman approached the group, no black person was afraid. A vision of justice and peace.
Some More Information on What POWER Has Achieved
- Presented a series of 8 virtual Town Halls on “Imagining Civilian Oversight of the Police”. Included organizers, academics, and those running policed oversight boards across the country.
- Philadelphia voted “yes” to the Independent Civilian Police Oversight Commission and “yes” to end unconstitutional stop and frisk. The police department started a series of trainings about valid reasons for stopping and valid reasons for frisking, and when citizens must be released.
- Supported the “Driving Equity Bill” which prohibits police from stopping vehicles for minor motor vehicle code violations.
- Testified in City Council on Oversight of Police Agency demands, for the City contract with the FOP, and our support for changing Act 111.
- Joined a fast, a rally, and car caravan to release those incarcerated in prison, because COVID could be a death sentence.
- Signed onto the Driving PA Forward Campaign to make sure all immigrants can get a Driver’s License in PA.
- Promoted the Safety We Can Feel Survey
- Worked with allies on building public safety through the allocation of some resources from the police budget to social services.
- Organized trainings and actions against education apartheid in 6 counties.
- Cultivated relationships with PA legislative leaders
- Increased to 79 house co-sponsors of 100% fair formula funding bills.
- Prominent press across state linking unfair funding to structural racism.
- Supported school board directors to launch statewide group for fair funding.
- Staved off two bills that proposed using tax dollars to subsidize the state’s fossil fuel industry.
- Organized to shine a light on PECO’s failure to plan a green energy future and instead to continue investing in environmental racism. An Administrative Law Judge ruled that PECO’s regulators have to take into consideration our arguments about the disastrous juncture of the climate crisis and extreme inequality.
- We won two rounds of protecting the moratorium on all utility shut-offs for people burdened by poverty during COVID.
- Installed two new co-chairs: Rev Daniel Eisenberg and Vanessa Lowe.
- Created a new subcommittee for Affordable Housing.
- Built and grew the Affordable Housing subcommittee
- Continued our work on the Wage Review Board
- Clergy Caucus formed – meeting weekly, offered trainings on 1-1s, principles of power, and a history of POWER.
- Over five congregations and more individuals have joined POWER Lehigh Valley.
- Clergy provided support at various polls in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
- Held first action on white Christian clergy and white supremacy in the church and participated in an emergency action at the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown to demand that the election counters continue counting every vote until the work was done.
- Participated in a “Count Every Vote” event in Bethlehem.
- Organized a prayer vigil in Allentown for the peaceful transition of power and to maintain that every vote is sacred and every vote matters.
- George Floyd Prayer Vigils in Lancaster City and Columbia – over 400 people in prophetic prayer.
- Founded LIVE FREE Campaign as a result of George Floyd and Ricardo Munoz killing in Lancaster.
- Clergy lead Pray-In at Fulton Bank to demand that the bank and business leadership take action on racist policing.
- Fulton Bank agrees to meet with POWER Clergy to negotiate towards business leadership to change Lancaster policing policy.
- 15 Business leaders, led by Fulton Bank CEO Philip Wenger, attend Summit Conference with POWER Lancaster County Clergy and agree to ongoing meetings.
- Research Action with Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace – 20 clergy pepper the Mayor with questions on Lancaster city police practices.
- Census education through food pantries and local congregations.
- Began the transition from being clergy-led to lay/clergy led through the creation of an Interim Steering Committee and changed the name of Clergy Leaders to Faith Leaders Group.
- Recommended changes to Bucks County Board of Election Commissioners to increase voter turnout, make website accessible, and improve access to drop boxes.
- Thousands of voters contacted through education and turnout strategies, assisted local residents in voting, and enlisted and served as poll workers and Judge of Elections.
- Communicated POWER messaging “Every Vote is Sacred” press release to Bucks County state and County government, press contacts and partnering organizations.
- Education legislative team met with several legislators and got important commitments
- Organized a faith service outside the Convention Center as voting took place.
- Collaborated with trade unions and others to create a celebration of democracy and voting attended by thousands on Independence Mall.
- 300 people trained in Soul Force: Non-Violent Direct Action.
- Scenario planning sessions that resulted in an infrastructure of Working Groups.
- A network of Democracy Pods capable of quick response.
Photo Credit: Featured Image by Nico Becker from Pexels.