Vermont Interfaith Action to take aim at income inequity


Some people worship at Friday Islamic prayer, others at a Saturday Jewish Shabbat or Sunday Christian service.

"We come together as different faith traditions to understand the values we hold dear," the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp says. "But the other part is taking those out into the world. What are we going to do Monday?"

That's why the pastor of Barre's Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd is also president of the board of directors of Vermont Interfaith Action, a grassroots coalition of Green Mountain spiritual congregations that used its first statewide convention this month to plan efforts to combat the challenge of income inequity.

"Our attempt here is to say God has given us a vision of justice," Kooperkamp says. "Our community organizing is a way of working to manifest those values in our greater society — or as my grandfather who worked for Firestone Tire would say, 'it's where the rubber meets the road.'"

Founded by Burlington clergy and lay leaders in 2004, VIA now boasts 48 member and affiliate congregations representing 10,000 Vermonters as far south as Brattleboro.

"Our mission is to create solutions to systemic issues that prevent our most vulnerable citizens from enjoying the quality of life God intends for us all," the group states on its website.

VIA made a name for itself over the past year by launching a "Building a Moral Economy" campaign that spurred the state Legislature to call for more specific budget projections on the real cost of delivering public services in hopes of stimulating discussion on spending priorities.

At a gathering last week in Randolph, members spoke of local efforts focusing on minority and low-income youth, homelessness and affordable housing, corrections reform and social justice surrounding race and gender. Joining with allies including the United Valley Interfaith Project of New Hampshire and Vermont, they now hope to boost working-class pay through a "Raise the Wage" campaign.

"We really want to see what we can do to build a moral economy here that respects the dignity of all workers and makes sure they're all getting a livable wage," Kooperkamp says.

Organizers have yet to decide on any specific recommendations or timetable other than to say "we certainly want to raise the minimum wage from current levels to lift people out of poverty."

VIA will start by discussing the concept within its own congregations.

"We know we have to do a lot of internal work," Kooperkamp says. "Do our congregations pay a livable wage or have some plans for moving that way? We literally have to practice what we preach."

The group then expects to publicize its efforts through public programs.

"It's not something that's going to happen next week," Kooperkamp says, "but in terms of our work on a moral economy, everybody sees it's the next logical step."


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