The group's president, Rev. David Thornton, pastor of United Presbyterian Church of Paterson, said the people gathered in Newark "to articulate issues that affect our congregations, our core cities, and our suburbs. There's a sense of despair for too many people in northern New Jersey."
The group also called on the Legislature to enact laws requiring contractors receiving money from cities and counties to pay livable wage to their employees.
Finally, the organization called on the state to provide equitable funding to cities and poor suburbs. They said the state's tax policy creates an unfair burden on the poor and makes it difficult for cities to provide the social services their residents need.
The Jubilee Interfaith Organization is a new grassroots organization of religious congregations, community and labor organizations from Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union counties concerned about the economic, social and human costs of the growing disparities in the northern New Jersey region (Essex, Hudson, Union, Passaic and Bergen counties). The purpose of the revival meeting in Newark was to encourage community leaders to become a force for change to insure better funding for cities and their immediate suburbs, equity for immigrants when it comes to higher education, and for a livable wage for the region's workers.
Movement started in Hudson County
Rev. Clemens Reinke, Pastor, St. John's Lutheran Church in Jersey City, who serves as treasurer of Jubilee Interfaith Organization, said the movement started in Hudson County in 1987 and has striven to get more local issues address such as living wage laws.
The Interfaith Committee, as it was called then, worked with local legislators such as then-Jersey City Councilman Jamie Vasquez to get living wage laws passed. Jersey City adopted its living wage law in the mid-1990s. Hudson County Freeholders passed another in 2000.
"What we found, however, that the issues we were addressing began to go beyond the borders of Hudson County," said Rev. Reinke, "Although Hudson County has some of the Jubilee Interfaith's strongest members."
In expanding outside Hudson County, the organization also picked up another valuable ally: union leaders. They found a common interest in many of the issues the church groups were raising.
Religious and civic leaders began to look over events going on throughout Northern New Jersey. According to the group's leaders, Northern New Jersey has experienced historic levels of economic and population growth in recent years. The benefits of such growth, however, have not been evenly distributed. In the central cities, despite redevelopment and even a revival in some areas, poverty still plagues many neighborhoods. Not all suburbs are benefiting. Some "closer in" suburban communities have struggled for years against poverty, crime and abandonment not less severe than their urban neighbors have, but with far fewer resources. Many older suburbs, once considered bastions of stability, have experienced creeping poverty, growing social needs and population flight as the poor and working poor push their way out of the cities and the wealthy and middle class flee.
While statistics show that some cities in the northeastern part of the state have seen an increase in population, this shift has done little to help traditional neighborhoods that have continued to decline - partly, according to several leaders, due to lack of governmental and other investment in the past. Some of this could change under new Smart Growth initiatives put forth by Gov. Jim McGreevey this year, which would seek to curb suburban sprawl in favor of support for cities and other heavily populated parts of the state.
Addressed more than three specific issues
The Nov. 14 event was the first public meeting of the larger organization, and addressed itself to immigrants' rights, workers' justice and the revitalizing of urban centers in New Jersey.
"But that was only part of it," said Rev. Reinke. "We also wanted to see if we could organize on that level. We brought together 1,800 people."
As a result of the gathering, city council members in Paterson agreed to look into creating a living wage ordinance there, and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise promised to expand the ordinance already in place in Hudson County.
"We were also successful in getting area mayors to create a round table to address equity issues," said Reinke. "This included about 10 mayors, not just from places like Paterson, Newark and Jersey City, but from more suburban communities like Maplewood."
Rev. Reinke said the idea is to bring urban and suburban leaders together to resolve the problems outlined earlier this year in a study from Minnesota State Senator Myron Orfield who had addressed an April 30, 2002 Leadership Council of the Jubilee Interfaith Organization [JIO] at Trinity Episcopal Church in Cranford, N.J.
The most recognized national expert in the area of regional metropolitan planning and policy-making, Orfield is best known for his book Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability. In it he describes his work, privately and politically, to address the challenges of growth and regionalism in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Orfield presented an analysis of the changes that have happened in America leading to "urban sprawl" and the deep pain that results not only for impoverished inner cities but also for surrounding older suburbs.
The Jubilee Interfaith Organization, along with Rutgers University and New Jersey Future, a Trenton-based smart growth organization, are producing maps to look at the region, outlining where the inequities are and what can be done about them.
"This is to try to find a way to share resources better across the region," Rev. Reinke said. "We are planning a round table with political leaders for June, 2003."
Meanwhile, local churches will reach out into the community to get people involved in the work, training lay leaders and building their organization.
Rev. Reinke noted that while the organization has roots in Jersey City, Hoboken and Secaucus, it is seeking to expand its reach into North Hudson and to get churches there involved in the process.