Berkshire Interfaith Organizing works to make social justice real in the Berkshires. As a grassroots, member-led organization, BIO confronts issues of racial, immigrant, and transportation justice, and since their founding in 2015 they have trained leaders from 18 member congregations and people throughout the county in community organizing, with deep conversations combined with strongly held values and a hunger for action.
BIO works together to improve the quality of life for all in the Berkshires. They believe the people most affected by the issues must help craft the solutions, they explain, and in the Berkshires, this means people of color, immigrants, and the working class who are directly and disproportionately impacted by multiple systems of oppression.
At the same time, knowing that the common humanity is threatened by injustice to any group, they continue to organize people and congregations of faith and values across the spectrum of race and class. Their work depends on building strong relationships across these lines of difference by practicing deep listening and cultural humility.
BIO brings together people of faith and values by sharing stories to:
• Increase their power to act for justice
• Develop skills to be more effective in the community
• Take action on issues of common concern for our member groups
• Ensure that those affected by the issues craft the solutions
• Build relationships and strengthen community identity
• Develop diverse local leaders
BIO has established an Accompaniment Program with more than 75 volunteers trained to drive an undocumented immigrant to an ICE check-in or court date and provide moral and emergency support. As a result, two of our immigrant partners have been released from ICE’s intensive supervision program, mandated by ICE and run by a private prison contractor.
BIO has also established the Berkshire Sanctuary Network, a network of congregations willing to offer sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant facing an unjust deportation, to buy time to allow them to secure legal status. The interfaith organizers have won commitments from seven congregations to participate in the network and consider serving as a physical sanctuary site.
In Fall of 2019, BIO secured a public commitment from Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless to restore Black Studies to the schools. Fifty students, including some of our leaders’ grandchildren, are enrolled in that course now.
The orvanizers have also raised awareness of D.A. Candidates’ races through a candidates’ forum co-sponsored with Multicultural BRIDGE and Hevreh, focused on racial justice, Southern Berkshire, and the interfaith community, attended by 140 people. The forum held candidates accountable to providing concrete views and commitments on these topics.
With Multicultural BRIDGE, BIO has also organized a well-attended “Together We Breathe” procession from City Hall to Durant Park on July 3, 2020. Its purpose was to honor victims of anti-black violence and police brutality. Police chiefs and the community made commitments to build trust and identify avenues for systemic change.
Wheels for Wellness, the volunteer driver program in which BIO led the development, launched on June 1, after a pandemic delay of more than a year. Hundreds of free roundtrip rides have already been provided to residents throughout the county for health-related activities. As a result, riders are nally able to get the care they need, drivers are getting to know more of their neighbors, and the whole fabric of our community is thus strengthened.
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program manages day-to-day operations. The other partners in the development of this new venture are Berkshire Community Action Council and Berkshire Fallon Health Collaborative,
Berkshire Health Systems, and Community Health Programs. Legislatively, we’ve joined the Driving Families Forward Coalition, which is a group working to pass in Massachusetts the Work and Family Mobility Act. The Act would enable all quali ed residents to apply for a standard Massachusetts driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. Passage would increase road safety and remove drivers’ licenses as an entry point into the deportation process.