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Interfaith group to challenge legislators on transit, education, environment

Written by Ann Rodgers on .

In an annual local interfaith ritual, regional, state and national legislators will stand before about 1,000 Christians, Jews and Muslims Thursday, Oct. 18 and pledge to protect public education, public transit and the environment.
The event in Rodef Shalom Congregation, Shadyside, is the largest annual gathering of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. It is best known for neighborhood actions where it takes city officials to see intersections with missing stop signs or holds cookouts in streets known for violence. But this mega-meeting is aimed at its mega-issues.
Among about 10 legislators who pledged to attend are Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills,  Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh city council members Bill Peduto, Bruce Kraus and Corey O’Connor. Senator Bob Casey and Rep. Mark Critz (D-Johnstown) are sending representatives. People from  42 congregations and faith-based groups are expected to attend.
If congregations don’t advocate for the people in their neighborhood “I believe they will die,” said the Rev. Richard Freeman, pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock and president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.
“We focus on things we can actually change. Speaking from my faith tradition, Christ made a declaration that ‘the poor you will always have with you.’ We have no illusions that we will get rid of poverty, but we believe we can affect the things that contribute to poverty,” he said.
“I find that the people in the pews are galvanized and energized when they know they can put their faith into action. That is really our motto: moving people of faith into action.”
The network has seen success on several of its key issues, such as the postponement of a 35 percent cut to public transit -- in issue where it supplied a great deal of grassroots pressure.Thursday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m., (music starts at 6:45 p.m.) Organizers will ask legislators for pledges on issues that include education, transit and efforts to clean Pittsburgh’s rivers in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.
The public transit and education priorities are longstanding with PIIN, which views them as moral issues.
“Transit cuts keep people from having access to an economic lifeline when they can’t get to work. That is morally reprehensible,” Rev. Freeman said.
Although he realizes that it may be impossible to prevent some cuts to education “we want to see that they are done equitably, not just in communities of poverty but that everyone bears their fair share of whatever has to happen,” he said.
The third goal concerns the major overhaul that ALCOSAN must make to stop untreated waste from entering the rivers and to keep dangerous storm water from city streets. The network wants to make sure that the project creates local jobs and is done in the most environmentally-friendly way possible.
That includes planting trees and creating green spaces  along the rivers to absorb water, rather than only building "gray" or “brown” infrastructure to re-channel it, Rev. Freeman said.
“We aren’t saying that we don’t need some of the brown jobs, but that should not be our first response,” he said.
Most participating legislators are Democrats, though Allegheny County Council Republican Matt Drozd is listed as tentative. Every local, state and national legislator who serves the region was invited, regardless of party affiliation, Rev. Freeman said.
“Those who will be there value the work that we do and will be in collaboration with us,” he said. “They will not always agree with us, but they are always open to dialogue with the people who are part of PIIN, and that is incredibly important
.”

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