This past year has been one of the most exhilarating for me serving as president of this phenomenal organization. The accomplishments and struggles have been plenteous. Our work on local issues yielded a commitment for inclusion of citizens on the police oral review board; a decision later rescinded by the mayor. The Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent has agreed to make any future budget cuts equitable for all communities. We continue to mount a dynamic effort to pressure our state and local leaders to find funding in our efforts to maintain a transit system beneficial to the entire region not just a select population. And to reflect those expansion initiatives we have changed our name to the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. Our regional organization is now PIIN Southwest.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, it is widely believed that Al Gore lost his bid for the White House because he did not stay on message: It’s the economy, stupid. Although I disagree with the utilization of the term ‘stupid,’ I am keenly aware that as the economy goes so do all the issues we seek to address. The challenge is that discussions on the economy are focused on the profit and loss dichotomy. I believe there must be another more vastly important lens through which the economy must be viewed: just and unjust. When corporations can export family sustaining jobs in order to maximize profits while callously crippling the fabric of middle income families, it is unjust. When the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can propose budgets that gut education funding while expending the resources spent on prisons, it is unjust. When the incomes for the top 1% of Americans have increased by over 224% over the last 30 years while those of the bottom 90% have decreased over the same time period, it is unjust. When we as a nation can demand the creation of the Keystone pipeline with its enormous job and profit potential while fortifying the school to prison pipeline for many of our poor and middle income children, we KNOW that is unjust! When corporate leaders find it’s good business for the government to give them tax breaks and bail outs while lobbying with tireless fervor to keep from paying their fair share in taxes, that is simply unjust.
It is because of these injustices that I believe our future will be fraught with more excitement than ever before. We have a revenue issue that can be easily eradicated. We need our state and national leaders to have the fortitude to demand corporations and the wealthy elite to pay their fair share in taxes. The deeper issue, however, is a priority issue. Should revenues remain stagnant, spending of our tax dollars should reflect the moral priorities of our nation. If a child is ignorant, educate him. If a person is hungry, feed her. If people are willing and able to work, put them back to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure. If an individual is sick, eliminate ALL barriers that do not promote wellness. Some are advocating for manned exploration of Mars or a colony on the moon. To that I say let’s do so only when we have dealt justly with people whom we see every day.
I am grateful for the privilege to serve PIIN. It is my sincere desire each of us will join in the fight to make our cities, towns, states and nation the bastion of moral equity they can be.
Rev. Richard L. Freeman, Jr.
PIIN, 564 Forbes Avenue, Suite 808, Pittsburgh PA 15219