*The following are Rev. Joe Paparone's reflections on his nine years at the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State*
Yesterday was my last day as Lead Organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition. The last nine years have been remarkable.
The good news is that I will continue as a Tri-Chair and Coordinator of the NYS Poor People’s Campaign, and I won’t be leaving the area or the state.
My first experience with LRC was as a participant at an action in the state Capitol - a group of us entered a state budget hearing room, and as it was beginning, various clergy stood up around the room and read scriptures, called for a moral budget, and insisted that elected leaders pass a budget that supports poor and working people. We were escorted out (no arrests that day, though there’d be many to come), and then the group prayed in the hall outside the hearing. I’d never been part of anything like it, and I immediately knew it was where I was supposed to be.
In subsequent years, now as staff, we organized Moral Monday actions - vigils, rallies, and press conferences, seeking to connect across our various issue silos using a moral values framework. Some actions were more successful than others (I think Sarah Jaffe’s piece sums up best what we were trying to do) but we learned tremendously through the experience - why did we struggle so hard to join together various issues and groups that obviously had shared interests? Everyone could talk a good game about working together and uniting but couldn’t seem to actually organize in a unified way.
I learned more during the Fight for $15, organizing community support for workers taking extraordinary risks. We drove people to appointments, secured apartments, and talked through family situations and challenges. We learned what it means to develop leaders and to organize amidst conditions of poverty. We also saw how quickly some elected leaders turned into fair-weather friends as the campaign no longer suited their needs, and our upstate workers (who do not yet have a $15 minimum wage) got sold out.
The Fight for $15 led naturally to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Here was a movement vision to undertake a seemingly impossible task: unite the poor around ALL of our issues and take action in a unified way. We helped build the campaign with our Truth Commissions on Poverty, held throughout the state, through dozens of direct action trainings, and then anchoring six weeks of direct action in Albany. It was an electric time, and beautiful. In the subsequent years, we’ve continued the work of identifying, developing, and uniting leaders of the poor and dispossessed, our class, using a moral and human rights-based framework.
It is slow work, but we’re making progress, as evidenced by this year’s Poor People’s State of the State events and the May 1st petition delivery to the Governor. Our organizing continues to be broad AND deep.
None of this would have been possible without the committed organizational support of the Labor-Religion Coalition, and our network of volunteers and supporters. If you can, please contribute to sustain this essential organization. I look forward to seeing you at the next event!