As the sun beat down, a small breeze gave slight relief to the line of forty clergy from diverse traditions waiting to go on stage to face a crowd of nearly 100,000 people all coming with the demand that the “Time is Now, All In for Immigration Reform. “
Right before the band Santa Cecilia played one of my favorite songs in Spanish “Todo Cambio – Everything Changes,” I realized how important that moment was, as CWS and the broader faith community joined a movement for historic change.
I stood next to CWS President and CEO Rev. John McCullough as we looked out on the massive crowd cheering us on. We were joined by Bishop Carcano of the United Methodist Church, Rabbi Saperstein of the Reform Action Center, Imam Jarr-Korama of the Washington, D.C. Islamic Center and Fr. Hoyos of the Arlington Diocese. Rev. McCullough gave a powerful prayer that served as a blessing to the movement we are all building together.
“Hardened hearts and political postures must be transformed with openness to the many faces of change; the scales that limit our valuing of each other must be replaced by that which allows us even greater dreams than even we would dare imagine; and, old attitudes and prejudices must be set aside so that indeed something new can be born in our nation.”
Being part of this clergy delegation with Rev. McCullough at the rally was a powerful experience that created a mountain top moment building on the momentum of CWS immigration reform advocacy efforts over the last three months preparing for events on April 9-10. Through our collaboration with partners such as Center for Community Change, Service Employee International Union and Casa de Maryland in the Alliance for Citizenship, we knew this rally would be an amazing event, so we applied for a grant do a fly in day with faith leaders from throughout the country who are in key states on immigration.
On April 9, we held a community organizing training with the Midwest Academy Organizing Institute that had almost 50 faith leaders from states like North Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Virginia, Arizona, Illinois and more, all states that have key members of Congress where we need to focus our advocacy efforts.
For many, the organizing training gave tools on building power to win concrete changes in peoples lives, a new model for many in how to do grassroots work. This training focused on how to recruit and mobilize congregations from CWS member denominations on the issue of immigration. Together we are working to build teams within our denominations on immigration and refugee issues. We also learned how to create an effective strategic plan to sway decision makers through grassroots organizing.
The next day, on April 10, we started early with a training on how to do an effective advocacy visit. Jen Smyers, Associate Director Immigration and Refugee Policy, led the advocacy day activities setting up appointments and pulling together one hundred faith leaders that held eighty advocacy visits. Advocates delivered the Interfaith Immigration Coalition principles on immigration reform which now has over 600 signatories of national and local faith organizations, congregations and clergy.
As we wait to see what type of immigration reform bill will come forward from the Senate and House, the timing could not have been more perfect for an advocacy day from a faith perspective as we met with those decision makers whose votes will matter most. We continue to involve more people and are laying the foundation for building welcoming communities on the long-term, preparing our denominational members for the hard work of implementation and legal services. Even after we can make an immigration reform bill pass, the hard work of welcoming our neighbors will still continue.
Rev. Noel Andersen, Grassroots Coordinator for Immigrants’ Rights