by Melinda Lejman | photos courtesy of MICAH
Memphis is home to an eclectic mix of social justice groups, nonprofits, and ad hoc initiatives working to make our city a more just and peaceful community. One group in particular formed last year, creating a coalition of faith-based and community organizations to provide a powerful voice on issues affecting our city. MICAH, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope, consists of more than 40 churches, synagogues, mosques, and community groups whose combined energies aim to elevate and mitigate issues such as economic equity, immigration, and education reform.
MICAH is modeled after the organizing methodology of the Gamaliel Foundation, which has helped numerous cities nationwide with organizing efforts, including NOAH (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope). Rabbi Katie Bauman of Temple Israel has been a part of MICAH since the early days of its formation and is excited to see this coalition’s groundwork begin to influence those in positions of power.
“MICAH is an organization built to last. Our main priority for the last nearly two years has been to build an infrastructure that is sturdy and resilient so that it will be a powerful voice in Memphis for generations to come,” says Bauman. “Its structure – organizing the organized – is a powerful foundation upon which all those who care for our neighbors and community can come together.”
In June, MICAH held a member convention to vote on the issues most needing intervention. Each member organization was given votes based on the constituents they brought to the convention. That afternoon, attendees selected economic equity, immigration and inter-cultural equity, and education reform, and joined task forces to begin working on the issues.
“The charge of each task force is to map the political and nonprofit landscape of Memphis and to gain an understanding of what the levers of power are. From these power analyses, our organization will be able to amplify the great work already being done across the city, connect the dots between great organizations, and leverage our power to affect policy,” says Bauman.
On Sunday, October 21, MICAH will hold its first-ever public forum, inviting public officials and candidates to respond to the issues. “Up to this moment, our energy has been dedicated to the internal process of identifying the most pressing issues facing our community, from the points of view of those within the coalition,” says Bauman. “Now, we turn our focus to creating platforms on these issues and presenting them at our first Public Meeting. We hope that afternoon will serve as a wake-up call to all Memphians that MICAH represents tens of thousands of concerned residents who are determined to change the city for the better.”
While all three issues are pervasive and affect some of the most vulnerable people in our community, the topic of immigration has been at the forefront of national news in recent months. As images and video clips of children separated from their parents have been viewed and shared across social media, it leaves many in our community with more questions than answers.
“Our modern history is filled with incidences of horrific cruelty and violence, animated by fear and ‘othering’, of which the Holocaust is perhaps the most extreme example, though certainly not the
only one,” says Bauman. “From my perspective, the most alarming element of the current moment
is the supporting subtext, that immigrants are ‘other’, that they aren’t like you and me, that they’re bad for our country, that our children are not safe around them.”
“These kinds of statements were absolutely made about Jews throughout history, and this kind of rhetoric serves one purpose only – to dehumanize a group so that other people stop seeing them as people. Once that has been achieved, bad policies can be implemented with ease because good people say nothing,” she continues.
However, through her work with MICAH and in the faith community of Memphis and national networks, Bauman remains hopeful. “I am convinced that there are millions of people who refuse to say nothing, millions of people who will stand together and speak up. And the more we can empower and amplify those voices, the safer and more just a world we will create.”
MICAH is funded through grants and individual donations and is in the process of hiring at least one organizer to guide their efforts. As a nonpartisan coalition, MICAH seeks to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” MICAH will not replace each congregation’s or community organization’s efforts, but instead hopes to amplify their voice and impact by working together interdependently. The upcoming public forum will be an important step in that process.
For more information on MICAH and its upcoming events, go to www.micahmemphis.org