Interfaith Dialogue: Austin group celebrates 30 years of faith in action

By Kathleen Davis
Guest Columnist

For 30 years Austin has experienced rapid growth and change, and for 30 years Austin Interfaith has been organizing families and institutions to imagine Austin as a livable and just-wage city with shared prosperity. In those 30 years, Austin Interfaith has organized thousands of conversations with families and worked with our member institutions to identify common interests and build the power necessary to affect positive change.
Austin Interfaith is a multi-issue, multi-ethnic, nonpartisan social justice organization of congregations, schools, unions, associations and nonprofits that work together to develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of families and communities in Central Texas. We provide a way for people of faith and democratic values to put their faith into action.
Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy was part of founding Austin Interfaith along with clergy of about 15 congregations. Austin Interfaith has grown to more than double that number. 
The Catholic Church, Catholic social teaching and Faithful Citizenship are at the center of our organization, and we are grateful for the support of Bishop Joe Vásquez and the following Austin parishes: Holy Cross, Our Lady of Guadalupe, San José, St. Albert the Great, St. Ignatius Martyr and St. Thomas More.
On April 30, leaders convened from across Texas to celebrate 40 plus years of organizing in Texas, through the Network of Texas IAF organizations, of which Austin Interfaith is a part. We honored the life and legacy of our founders, including Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy and Holy Cross Father John Korcsmar, and also launched a statewide strategy to expand beyond our urban centers to keep ordinary people’s voices relevant in this era of modern politics. 
The work of rebuilding institutions is more important than ever today. The public voting climate is increasingly polarized. Families have self-sorted not just by race and class, but by worldview – making conversations between diverse neighbors more difficult. Parents are also working longer hours, leaving less time for their children and neighbors. Austin Interfaith and the Texas IAF will increase efforts to work with leaders and institutions to form public relationships, have conversations across dividing lines and work for a common agenda for families.  
At stake in our society is what it means to be citizen and neighbor. In order to build the social capital necessary to build strong communities, ordinary citizens need to have the necessary skills.
Over the last 30 years, organizers, pastors, lay leaders, principals and parents in Austin Interfaith member institutions have developed a practice of “institutional organizing:” using the skills of community organizing to develop leadership, identify issues, reweave relationships and build the capacity within their institutions to act on issues that affect families.
Locally this has led to the creation of Capital IDEA, a nationally recognized workforce development program that lifts working adults out of poverty and into living wage careers, Prime Time After School programs (Austin Independent School District’s largest after-school enrichment program), the city/county Summer Youth Employment Program and health clinics. 
Austin Interfaith has helped increase wages for city, county and school district workers, as well as permanent, part-time, temporary, contract and now subcontracted and construction workers on city-funded projects. We have also helped get traffic lights installed for churches, water for parish families in eastern Travis County and saved affordable housing for lower-income families. 
We have worked to bring funding for water and wastewater services to the colonias, worked for comprehensive immigration reform and to stop punitive immigration legislation. 
As Austin Interfaith leaders look to the future, we can promise to continue teaching ordinary people to do extraordinary things. When two or more people with a plan are connected to a network of organizing institutions like Austin Interfaith and the Texas IAF Network, democracy is made manifest. 
As the Austin metro area celebrates its success and prosperity, it is vital for all of us to commit to the hard work of ensuring that prosperity is shared. Austin Interfaith is up for the challenge.