PIIN History 1999-2012
In late 1999, several spiritual leaders in the Pittsburgh region—a majority from congregations in the Hill District, North Side, and distressed areas of the East End—met to discuss their frustrations with the social and economic inequities they observed around them. They decided that they could best address these problems by working together, and with other faith leaders in the region, across religious and denominational lines. They chose to partner with the international faith-based community organizing network, the Gamaliel Foundation, to build a powerful interfaith, interracial, regional, congregation-based coalition dedicated to community organizing as a method to address the root causes of systemic problems in the Pittsburgh region. PIIN was incorporated in October 2000 and has since trained hundreds of people in leadership effectiveness.
Under the leadership of its first two presidents, Rev. Dr. Johnnie Monroe and Rev. Glenn G. Grayson, PIIN held large public events including a 400-person “Come and See” event in September 2000, a 600-person “Covenanting” event in Oct. 2001, and a 400-person “Issues Convention” in August 2002. In February 2003, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called PIIN’s first Public Action Meeting “probably one of the most diverse groups ever gathered for a single purpose in Pittsburgh.” Thereafter, PIIN held Public Action Meetings each fall attended by 500-1200 PIIN supporters and many public officials. In March 2004, PIIN held its first annual banquet.
PIIN’s early victories include securing the removal of cultural bias from the Pittsburgh Public School Student Code of Conduct and revising the curriculum to include African-American contributions to the United States. PIIN secured a public reporting process from the City of Pittsburgh for investigations of citizen complaints against police officers and $150,000 from Allegheny County to board up or demolish abandoned houses in Wilkinsburg. In 2004, PIIN secured a commitment from Pittsburgh Public School District officials to secure the future of Miller African-Centered Academy and to renew efforts to eliminate the racial “achievement gap.” PIIN won commitments from Allegheny County representatives in the state legislature to work to provide dedicated state funding for public transit and was instrumental in Governor Rendell’s decision to release flex funding to stave off service cuts and fare hikes in 2007 and 2011. PIIN also won commitments from Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to prohibit Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funding for development of green space in the suburbs and to launch an investigation into impediments to fair housing in Allegheny County.
In 2005, under the leadership of president Wallace Watson, PIIN began to work with the Gamaliel Foundation on the national issues of immigration policy, healthcare reform, and transportation and workforce development through the Transportation Equity Network.
In 2006, PIIN welcomed its fourth president, Rev. John C. Welch. PIIN hosted the Gamaliel Foundation’s renowned week-long National Leadership Training at La Roche College. In 2007, the PIIN Housing Task Force joined with the Oak Hill Residents Council of Oakland and the New Hope Community Action Coalition of Spring Garden to achieve an agreement with the University of Pittsburgh, the Housing Authority and the developer to complete their mixed-income community. PIIN became a member of Pittsburgh UNITED, an alliance of local community, faith, labor, and environmental organizations promoting a progressive and inclusive development agenda for the city and county. With Pittsburgh UNITED, PIIN worked to secure a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the Hill District. In the summer of 2009, the Pittsburgh UNITED coalition strategy shifted from the effort to secure a CBA for a development on the North Shore toward working with City Council to pass economic development reform legislation that would positively impact publicly subsidized developments in the city. Ordinances were passed in the city and county which require a prevailing wage for service workers employed by businesses at subsidized developments and the capture of the 95th percentile storm water on site at these large projects developed with tax-payer money.
In 2008 and 2009, PIIN took leadership in securing civil rights for immigrants and all people of color by challenging police departments when they have stopped immigrants with little or no cause. At PIIN’s 2008 Public Action Meeting, City of Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper committed to work with PIIN toward creating and implementing an enforceable anti-racial profiling policy. The policy took effect on April 5, 2010. In the summer of 2009, nine PIIN member congregations conducted eight local actions of 60 to 140 people reclaiming their neighborhoods as Holy Ground. Drug corners were cleaned up through the visible presence of police officers, storm basins were fixed, blighted and abandoned properties were cleaned up and torn down, a playground was established, and a prayer walk and vigil brought a North Side community together to mourn those who have been killed and to reclaim that ground as holy where such activity will not be tolerated.
PIIN also worked nationally in 2009. PIIN met with the staffs of Senators Specter and Casey to encourage support of the stimulus package. 60 leaders traveled to Washington D.C. in June 2009 for health care reform actions. PIIN clergy and lay leaders made other trips to meet with legislators or their staff members on Employee Free Choice Act, immigration, health care and transportation issues. PIIN’s relationship with the labor community grew stronger through working together on economic development reform, national healthcare reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, and local labor issues that improve the ability of workers to support their families and be more effective members of their community.
In late 2010, Rev. Richard Freeman L. Sr., the pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock, PA was elected the fifth president of PIIN. Soon after, PIIN launched campaigns to reduce gun violence and increase the equity in the Pittsburgh Public School District, and initiated a regional expansion plan designed to significantly widen PIIN’s mostly urban base to create the regional power imagined from PIIN’s inception. Through our Regional Expansion Team, PIIN is developing clusters of congregations in different parts of suburban Allegheny County that will be full members of PIIN and work with each other on issues impacting their suburban communities. Already, a group of seven spiritual leaders is meeting regularly in the North Hills and preparing for a summer training of their lay leaders to engage their congregations in congregation-based community organizing. PIIN’s multi-racial urban-suburban membership has grown to 43 congregations and primarily faith-based organizations and has widened to include more faiths—Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Quaker. Our membership now includes an ever increasing immigrant presence.
In addition to growth in membership, our partnerships with other significant organizations continue to expand. Issue task forces have developed key strategic partners to strengthen their potential for success in their campaigns. PIIN is a key member of the “We Are One” coalition which brings together faith, community, environment and labor on common issues, many related to the state budget. Together with our partners in Pittsburgh UNITED we convinced City Council to pass clean air legislation that requires diesel retrofit on vehicles on subsidized development construction sites.
At our 2012 Annual Meeting, the PIIN board voted to formally change our name to Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network Southwest (PIIN SW) and committed to support the development of affiliate faith-based organizations in other parts of the state. The issues around on which we are organizing to create change increasingly require the capacity to influence not just the city of Pittsburgh or even Allegheny County but the multi-county region, the entire Commonwealth, and even Washington D.C. Our affiliation with the national Gamaliel network, a multi-county presence in Southwest PA, and sister organizations in places like Erie and Scranton/Wilkes Barre will help PIIN develop the power to have an impact on the issues we are working on.
Not least of its accomplishments during our eleven-year history has been our ability to lead the faith community in moving beyond the extreme divisiveness associated with interfaith community organizing efforts in Pittsburgh during the 1980s. Doubts arising from that period have been significantly overcome as PIIN has demonstrated to the community, through open and democratic organizational processes, the constructive possibilities of responsible faith-based organizing on behalf of our shared values. We are proud of the fact that PIIN is the most diverse group of clergy and lay faith leaders ever in this region.
PIIN continues to work with community, labor, and environmental groups locally and nationally with other Gamaliel organizations. Current priorities were set by PIIN member congregations at its August 2010 Issue Assembly.