Events — September 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

Detroit faith community rallies to promote democracy and citizen engagement


Rekindling Democracy

This past Sunday, the group Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) held a rally titled “Fire of Faith: Rekindling Democracy” at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. MOSES is a group of faith communities from around the state that is working on social justice issues. They are an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation where President Barack Obama was a trainer and consultant for a time in Chicago and their approach to community organizing is very evident in the Obama For America (OFA) approach. (For more information about the Gamaliel approach, check out this post from just after the 2008 election: “I Want POWER and I Will Be Ruthless”.)

Sunday’s event involved nearly a dozen faith communities from around Michigan. Christian churches. Muslim mosques. Jewish synagogues. All were represented and all had a common goal of engaging their congregations in the democratic process. Young people from Crossing Boundaries, Building Bridges (CB3), a youth outreach effort by MOSES were well represented, as well.

Rev. Charles Williams II opens the Rekindling Democracy Rally

Congressmen Gary Peters and John Conyers, Jr. were in attendance as were a host of other public officials. Peters and Conyers were read a covenant and asked to make a public commitment to it:

Do you commit to addressing the fiscal cliff by:

  1. Passing legislation that will prevent the sequestration of non-defense discretionary spending; and
  2. Extending tax cuts for low income and middle-class families?

Do you commit to a face-to-face meeting with clergy and leaders from MOSES within 100 days of your election to discuss plans for:

  1. Passage for the DREAM Act;
  2. Passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation;
  3. A framework for a new transportation authorization bill that increases transportation access for all; and/or
  4. A better elementary and secondary education bill that helps low income children get the resources they need to successfully graduate from high school?

    Congressman Peter gave a full-throated support of this covenant and said his door was open to ALL comers. Congressman Conyers spoke to the group, as well, pledging his commitment.

    During the course of the rally, there were speakers on a wide array of topics:

    • Transportation — In support of a Regional Transit Authority and making transit available to all of our citizens
    • Immigration reform — With a 22 year old woman, Monserrat Contrerras, whose parents brought her here from Mexico when she was nine years old and who is taking advantage of President Obama’s deferred action for young undocumented citizens
    • Youth and Education — With presentations from youth working with CB3. During their piece, Rev. John Miller from the First Congregational Church in Royal Oak announced the formation of a CB3 youth task force to address the issues of social justice, transportation and healthy food options.
    • Safe Neighborhoods — An effort to take personal responsibility and direct action to secure the safety and security of our neighborhoods.
    • Healthy Food and Jobs — With our urban areas often devoid of grocers that carry healthy food options and fresh produce, Rev. D. Alexander Bullock and Ms. Mary Lou Malone talked about efforts to kick start a healthy foods incubator program in Detroit and their success in bringing $2 million in grant money to solve this vexing problem.

    MOSES took the surprising step of commending the Snyder administration for their leadership on protecting voters rights against voter suppression as well as for promoting regional transit solutions in Michigan. Bill Rustem, Special Advisor to the Governor, spoke about the transit issue, how it has been a long-running problem, and the Snyder administration’s desire to end the divisions that have prevented progress.

    In one off-script moment, moderator and emcee Rev. Charles Williams II took the stage after Mr. Rustem’s comments.

    “I just want to be clear about something,” Rev. Williams said. “We’re not in agreement on everything and when we’re wrong, we’re wrong. What I need to say is this: Belle Isle belongs to Detroit and Emergency Managers are Emergency Dictators. I just didn’t want you to go back thinking everything was fine.

    “That wasn’t on the script. Just charge that to Rev. Charles Williams,” he finished.

    The rally ended with all of the leaders of the various faith communities present coming to the front of the sanctuary. Bishop Charles Ellis asked every one of them to pledge to make voter registration a main topic of discussion in their churches, mosques and synagogues over the next few weeks prior to the October 9, 2012 deadline for voter registration.

    Faith leaders after prayerfully committing to promote voter registration in their congregations

    After I attended the NAACP National Convention in Detroit a few months back, I made this comment:

    I knew this was one of the signature events in Detroit but the immensity of it still was astonishing. It showed me and should show the rest of the country that the image portrayed by our conservative political opponents of Detroit as a city of corrupt, greedy and untalented non-leaders is a myth. There are many successful, thoughtful and caring leaders in Detroit, all of whom are working hard to restore this great place to its rightful position as a premier U.S. city.

    It’s essential that we defeat the myths about Detroit and do all we can to help it back onto its feet and to put it on a path to greatness once again. The attendees at the Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner were clearly energized to do so and it gives me confidence that they will continue to lead the way.

    This MOSES rally left me feeling the same way. It’s vitally important to recognize that there are Detroiters and people from all over the state that are deeply committed to resolving the problems our state faces. Members from faith communities, the business community, community organizations and politicians are working together, finding common ground, and making progress despite the efforts of some to diminish their efforts and impede their progress.

    Governor Snyder advisor Bill Rustem speaks with Rev. D. Alexander Bullock about the state’s acquisition of Belle Isle

    Kudos to everyone involved in this amazing event. The best part about events associated with MOSES and the Gamalial Foundation is that they are done with excellent advance planning, impeccable agendas, and a commitment to follow through after the event has ended. This effort to galvanize Michiganders so that their democratic voice will be heard will, without question, make a tangible impact on getting voters from the faith community to the polls on November 6, 2012.

    Many thanks to my very good friend and inspiration Tad Wysor who brought me to this amazing event!

    By the way, if you’re not registered to vote yet, you can use this form to order a voter registration form. Use it TODAY!

    [My Vote, My Choice, My Voice graphic by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog | photos by Chris Savage]