Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nebraska Interfaith Forum for Health Care Reform Brings Together Diverse Group for Common Cause

On November 21 at St. John AME Church, faith leaders, clergy and members from over twenty congregations gathered to share their moral and conscious conviction to support health care reform that is affordable and
provides ample access to low-wage workers and low-income families.
( Photos: Fr. Thelen and Rev. McCullough taking a lead on health care reform)

Faith leaders offered prayers and perspectives on health care reform. Stories were shared and songs were sung in solidarity with one another and those who need health care the most. Over a dozen faith leaders spoke and several elected officials came forward to share their thoughts. County Commissioner Chris Rodgers, former State Senator Lowen Kruse, and Senator Nelson's staff member Louise Latimer shared a few words with the gathering.
Rev. Frederick McCullough and his St. John AME congregation hosted the event while Rev. Brenda Hector of Bethel AME Church was the forum facilitator. Imam Muhammed Sackor of the Islamic Center of Omaha voiced his perspective as a Muslim, Fr. Bert Thelen of St. John's Catholic Church at Creighton University spoke from his Catholic faith, and several others led prayers of Unity, Justice, Peace and a Litany. Faith leaders who participated as speakers included Rev. Dr. Percel E. Hector (Bethel AME Church), Rev. Debra McKnight (First United Methodist Church), Rev. Portia Cavitt (Clair United Methodist Church), Bro. Henry Pablo (Pixan Ixim), Rev. Kate Rhode (First Unitarian Church), Rev. Dr. Selwyn Q. Bachus (Salem Baptist Church), Fr. Paul Coelho, SJ (Creighton University), and Rev. Robyn Fickes (First Christian Church). The surgical mask project was on display for folks to read stories of people from around Nebraska and write their own masks.

Together as faith leaders of Nebraska we have taken a stand for reform now, for the benefit of our communities and families. We believe it is our ethical responsibility to speak out for just reform that provides access to all, especially within marginalized communities that are struggling most. We will continue to express our support to legislators in making the right decision, to vote for reform now!

(Photo: Rev. McCullough, Rev. Dr. Bachus, Rev. Bentjen, Fr. Thelen SJ, Rev. Kruse, Rev. McKnight, Rev. Cavitt, Dr. Keasling, Imam Sackor, Rev. Hector, Commissioner Rodgers, Rev. Rhode, Rev. Fickes, Rev. Eden)

*For more photos, please see our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=194786171248

IWJ of Nebraska Joins Candlelight Vigil and March for Health Care Reform in Lincoln

Thursday, Nov 19, Interfaith Worker Justice of Nebraska joined the Alliance for Health Care Reform from across the state, including Change That Works Nebraska, NAACP, Nebraska Appleseed, Nebraska HCAN, Farmers Union, Teamsters, AFSCME, Change to Win, and Justice and Advocacy Ministries (ELCA-NE) for a candlelight vigil and march in Lincoln on the steps of the capitol. Over two hundred people were present and those in favor for reform far outnumbered the counterprotestors across the street.

Faith leaders Rev. Debra McKnight from First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Rabbi Ilan Emanuel of South Street Temple, Linclon and Rev. Janet Banks with Reach Out Christian Center, Lincoln joined small business owners, farmers and doctors to speak and represent the moral and ethical responsibility to take action on reform now! The surgical mask project was on display and available for folks to contribute their stories. One poster board display was left with a collection of items at Senator Nelson's office so that the voices of many would be heard by lawmakers.

Faith Leaders Meet with Senator Nelson's Staff in Lincoln and DC

On Thursday, November 19, faith leaders with Interfaith Worker Justice of Nebraska met with Senator Nelson's staff in both Lincoln and in Washington, DC. A coalition of folks from both Lincoln and Omaha met with the Chief of Staff, Tim Becker on Thursday afternoon in Lincoln. Faith leaders shared concerns about the need for reform and for Senator Nelson's support to allow the bill to proceed to debate on the floor of the Senate. Faith leaders told stories of those without insurance and those who struggle with the insurance and costs that they do have. Although Tim Becker did not say at the time what Senator Nelson's plans for the vote for motion to proceed were, the next day it was announced that he would vote 'yes.' A letter calling for reform signed by over 50 clergy from across the state was delivered to the staff as well. In addition, faith leaders asked for a 'yes' vote for cloture and on the final bill. While Tim Becker did not make promises, he did say that Nelson would do what he thinks is right and do what he can to make the bill one that would best for all Nebraskans. Rev. Frederick J. McCullough (St. John AME Church, Omaha) and two other members of IWJ of Nebraska met with Senator Nelson's staff in Washington, DC on the same day. They too shared stories and called for the Senator's support of health care reform that is affordable and accessible for all Nebraskans, especially those whose voices are not often heard.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Surgical Mask Project Continues to Collect Stories and Voices of People of Faith Calling for Health Care Reform

The Surgical Mask Project is an opportunity for anyone who wants to share their stories or any thoughts about the health care system with the faith community and our representatives in Congress. The Surgical Mask Project is traveling around the state of Nebraska, visiting faith communities and inviting folks to write their words on surgical masks. Associate Pastor Debra McKnight of First United Methodist Church in Omaha introduced this creative project in August at the Interfaith Vigil for Just Health Care Reform.

Contact Noel nandersen@iwj.org or Kara kstockdale@iwj.org if you would like to bring the Surgical Mask Project to your faith community!
Students at Creighton University, a Jesuit Catholic institution in Omaha, write their stories on masks and sign petitions to Senators Johanns and Nelson calling for Health Care Reform.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

IWJ Leaders Meet with Senator Nelson on Affordable Health Care Reform

October 20th Rev. Jane Florence of the First United Methodist Church, Rev. Frederick McCullough of St. John AME and Rev. Brian Maas of First Lutheran of Lincoln joined IWJ Organizer, Kara Stockdale, on a delegation to Washington D.C. where they met face to face with Senator Nelson and Senator Johanns about the importance of having an affordable reform that will serve low-income families. These faith leaders spoke to their representatives on behalf of so many who are left out of health care because of their socio-economic situation. Together we have lifted up the concerns of the marginalized through the faith voice.

Rev. Jane made Nebraska news, see the below link.

Monday, September 14, 2009

IWJ Nebraska Lobbys in DC for the Employee Free Choice Act

(Lft-Rt: Noel Andersen, Jason Prokop-Legislative Assistant, Rev. Robyn Fickes, Rev. Frederick McCullough, Rev. Janet Banks and Rev. Debra McKnight)

IWJ Nebraska joined a delegation of farmers, teachers and faith leaders to advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act(EFCA) in Washington DC last Thursday, 9/10/09. With the support of American Rights at Work, m
ore than 300 activists from 15 states were on Capitol Hill to tell their elected leaders that workers need and deserve meaningful labor law reform. The diverse group of small business owners, veterans, farmers, students, faith leaders, civil rights activists, women’s advocates, and environmentalists united in one voice to remind lawmakers why the Employee Free Choice Act is vital to rebuilding our economy.

The Interfaith Worker Justice brought three Pastors from Omaha and joined with two more Pastors from Lincoln. We extended the conversation to include the moral, ethical and theological voice to the discussions with our Senators and Congresspersons. Together we visited the offices of Senator Nelson, Senator Johanns, Rep. Lee Terry, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Rep. Adrien Smith. We also delivered a letter of twenty four clergy throughout Lincoln and Omaha who have signed onto a letter from the perspective of faith in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

EFCA can change the way in which workers organize giving further protection against the illegal intimidation and terminations during a unionization campaign, provide binding arbitration for a contract upon winning an election and give the option to workers if they want a secrete ballot or a majority sign up through union authorization cards. With Senator Harkin's leadership, we have the opportunity to get EFCA passed in 2009!

As we continue to work on health care, we must remember that causes such as EFCA and Immigration Reform are more likely to pass if we can be successful with health care reform!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interfaith Worker Justice helps organize Vigil for Immigration Reform

Interfaith Worker Justice worked along with Nebraska Appleseed and other community agencies to organize a vigil for immigration reform. There were over fifteen faith leaders from various traditions and all shared a prophetic voice for immigration reform to respect the human dignity of all immigrants. Together we recognized the dire need for change in the reality of a broken immigration system. Many migrants face fatal conditions to enter this country and then upon arrival are exploited by business interest and not provided with proper worker rights. Often immigrant workers are intimidated because of their documentation status and not treated as equals within the workforce.

Sr. Kathleen Erickson shared stories from her time serving on the border and her ministry visitations in immigration detention centers. Noe Ramon from Pixan Ixim Guatemalan group shared a prayer in his native tongue of Qanjobal. Rev. Debra McKnight read the below poem from the statue of liberty to reference this country’s historical making through immigration.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lincoln Rally with Change that Works for Health Care Reform Aug. 25th

Interfaith Worker Justice helped Change that Works organize a rally in Lincoln for health care reform. It was beautiful to see prayers shared with hundreds of people passionate for change within a broken health care system. A white house representative, Nick Roth, was the keynote speaker who energized the crowd for change. IWJ helped organize Lincoln faith leaders at the rally that had over five-hundred people present. Three different pastors played a role in the rally by giving the opening and closing prayers. The event was covered by local press.

Find it on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmuSA-E_GNo

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interfaith Vigil for Just Health Care Reform Draws over 140 Sunday August 23rd, 2009

Critical Issue Step Forward Ethical Voices on

Over 140 people attended an interfaith vigil for health care reform Sunday, August 23 at the First United Methodist Church in Omaha. Participants represented congregations throughout Omaha, including the First Christian Church, the Niagara Foundation, St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Agnes Parish, St. Francis of Assisi, and Claire Memorial United Methodist Church. Clergy led prayers and gave testimony in support of health care reform, and people came forward with moving personal stories of family and friends not able to afford the care they need.

Rev. Jane Florence of the First United Methodist Church opened the event saying, “We come together to honor the image of God residing in so many who are in our country who are without access to proper health care. Tonight we remember the millions of Americans who do not have funds for medical services.” Franco, a leader of a Guatemalan indigenous group from St. Francis of Assisi, gave a prayer in his native language, Qanjobal, and the vice president of the Niagara Foundation, Ferhat Ozturk, recited a passage from the Quran. Rev. Frederick McCullough of St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church gave a brief message on the need for health care. “It is time that pastors and congregations come together to speak out against the injustice we see in the health care system that robs the poor of the access that all deserve,” he said.

Associate Pastors Debra McKnight and Robyn Fickes were very involved in organizing the event along with the Interfaith Worker Justice. “As people of faith we believe worker justice is a moral imperative. Workers a struggling because wages are shrinking and insurance bills are climbing, universal coverage is a justice issues not a political one,” said Noel Andersen an organizer with the Interfaith Worker Justice.

People from various faith traditions participated in a creative expression by writing their unjust experiences and stories from the current health care system on a surgical mask. The masks were brought forward at the end of the prayer vigil for all to see and share. Some of the pastors will be going to Washington DC next month for a lobby day with the Service Employee International Union where they will share the stories printed on the masks with Nebraskan Senators and Congress persons.

Clergy Delegation Meets with Senator Nelson on Health Care Reform

At a critical moment in the health care debate during the August recess Interfaith Worker Justice had two appointments with Senator Nelson's Office. Change that Works Nebraska helped coordinate and set up the meetings. In Lincoln, IWJ helped organize a delegation of eight faith leaders on August 18th including clergy from the traditions of Methodism, Lutheran, Reform Judaism and the local Reachout Christian Center. We spoke with Senator Nelson’s key health advisor Joe Britton.

On August 21,, a group of 22 interfaith clergy from Lincoln and Omaha had a meeting with Senator Nelson in person to talk about the moral imperative and ethical responsibility of creating health care reform now, to ensure that the marginalized can also receive care. Many clergy pushed for the public option as the most viable form to reign in large insurance companies.

In both delegations the clergy articulated their message clearly grounding their concern in moral, ethical and theological understanding to promote justice for the least, greater access for the uninsured, regulation of insurance company prices and the importance of the public option.

Interfaith Leaders Gather to Discuss Worker Justice, July 24 2009

Over twenty faith leaders from various traditions including Protestant, Catholic and Muslim backgrounds came together for a breakfast meeting on July 24th to discuss the different labor justice issues in the community. Leaders shared common values of human dignity, social justice and the moral imperative as people of faith to support low-wage worker rights struggles.

A meatpacker worker and organizer from the United Food and Commercial Workers spoke about the harsh reality of those meat packing companies that still do not have a union. The Exectuive Director of the Heartland Worker Center spoke to the reality of workers in construcction, landscaping or fast food who don't have any defence when worker abuses take place. The state director from Change that Works, an issue advocacy group from the Service Employee International Union, updated the faith leaders on the campaigns for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and health care reform. Two issues that will greatly impact the reality of workers; EFCA bringing more protection for the right to organize and the reform of health services which has the potential to create access and lower costs for so many who can't pay their health bills.

This meeting marks the beginning of an effort for faith leaders and their respective congregations to become more involved with the social justice within their community, especially for the low-wage workers in Omaha and Lincoln.