New York, NY – A coalition of multi-faith leaders from throughout New York City convened this past Thursday at the Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan,
calling for change and presenting policy recommendations to the mayor and the city council. The group, assembled under the banner of The Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary, which educates and equips faith leaders to fight poverty and injustice, focused on five points: economic justice, education, homelessness and housing, immigration, and police reform. The clergy’s recommendations were based on their encounters with people living on the margins.
Reverend Joel A. Gibson, Director of The Micah Institute, said, “One year ago, at his annual address, the Mayor gave us a simple message, ‘This is your city’…As faith leaders we must acknowledge that this statement is false. It is words of hope not yet accomplished…New York City is still the ‘tale of two cities’…For those with the means and the privileges, New York is the city of dreams. For the rest of us, who lack the good fortune of education, health, housing, work, and social acceptance, the city is a dustbin of dreams deferred.”
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director of The New York Labor-Religion Coalition, addressed the issue of economic justice, and the current plight of workers, saying, “We have heard the cry of the working people in New York…the affordability crisis must be met on two fronts: the cost of living, and wages…We dream of a city where everyone who is able earns sufficient wages…it is not enough to create high-income jobs for the professional elite when a shocking number of ordinary New Yorkers toil in low-income service jobs.” He also said many working conditions fall “at or below the minimum standards of dignity and self-sufficiency.” “Job creation is no justification for exploitation of laborers…It is necessary to raise up the incomes of all the people paid the least – all across the service economy, from the fast food franchises to the four-star restaurants, from the airports to the hotels and in the tourist trade, in health care services, in the car washes, in the janitorial and security trades, and in the retail stores and the supermarkets,” he added. Feinberg called on the Mayor and the City Council to establish a commission that would report on what is a realistic and viable living wage for all persons employed in New York City. The “City Living Wage Commission” would consist of a member of the Office of the Mayor, a City Council member, a representative from the Clergy Advisory Council, a representative from the Economic Development Corporation, a labor leader, a community activist, and three economists. The aim would be to determine the Real Living Wage for 2019; the City would work with the Governor and state legislators to enact policies to make New York City truly affordable for all its residents.
Education, housing, policing, and immigration, all issues that involve and impact workers, were addressed by speakers Bishop Dr. Raymond H. Blanchette, Ph.D.
Chairman, Clergy Campaign for Social and Economic Issues, Sunita Viswanath, Board Member of Women for Afghan Women and Sahana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, Reverend Dr. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of The Interfaith Center of New York, and Brother Anthony Zuba, OFM, Cap. Capuchin Franciscans, Good Shepherd Friary, respectively. The impact of poverty, displacement, lack of police accountability, and unjust Federal immigration policy have all combined to produce the “hungry and spiritually starving millions”, as Viswanath put it. Specific strategies and policies were enumerated and recommended to address each area. Reverend Dr. Raymond Rivera, Founder and President of the Latino Pastoral Action Council, also spoke of the plight of Puerto Rico, with special mention for its workers, saying, “We look forward to the day when those who plant the fields, eat, and when those who build houses can live in them.” Finally, Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Board Chair of the Muslim Community Network, ended with a prayer for all victims of discrimination and harassment.
“Unless labor, which is under attack, the clergy, and communities come together to fight what’s going on, we’ll never make it,” said Rabbi Feinberg.