Political theater with a purpose

Jeff vonKaenel

I enjoy good political theater. And the August 23 Sacramento Area Congregations Together community meeting on homelessness held at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church was political theater at its finest. A packed church with more than 300 focused and passionate people, plus a pinch of preaching and a bucket of data, equals sophisticated pressure put on elected officials. It does not get much better than that.

Other political players such as business groups and unions have a fiduciary responsibility to their constituencies, causing them to have a narrow focus, such as getting a tax break or a wage increase. Conversely, ACT is comprised of 56 different religious and neighborhood groups, representing 60,000 families, and therefore can take on big societal issues such as reforming the criminal justice system or ending homelessness.

Not only does it focus on the big, important issues, ACT’s connection with religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Congregation B’nai Israel and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church brings a moral force to their position as well as bodies to fill the pews and the City Council meetings. The end result is brilliant political organizing, which has a real impact.

ACT was instrumental in putting pressure on the Sacramento City Council to re-examine its police practices after recent media coverage of police brutality and shootings. This helped lead to the hiring of a reformer police chief, Daniel Hahn. ACT also advocates for immigration reform, increasing mental health services, utilizing restorative justice in schools and numerous other critical issues.

With the backing of faith organizations and strong labor connections, ACT is the natural organization to lead a community-wide effort to solve homelessness in Sacramento. It will take all hands on deck to achieve this goal, because the solutions will not be easy. It may require raising taxes to fund solutions, moving money away from jails into housing and locating places for supportive housing despite strong neighborhood opposition.

Social change starts with vision and passion. Both were there on August 23 at St. Mark’s. The dean of Trinity Cathedral, Brian Baker, asked the audience to imagine a few years in the future with no homelessness in Sacramento. Chantay White, an Air Force veteran, told a hushed crowd how she was able to overcome sexual assault, drug addiction and homelessness. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, and Sacramento City Council Member Jeff Harris all publicly signed a pledge to end homelessness.

But, equally important, there was a reasonably well-thought-out explanation of the problem. The ACT presentation was part sermon and part poli-sci lecture. And there was an actual plan of action.

ACT’s plan recommends emergency shelter capacity and supportive services sufficient to care for all homeless people. It advocates for exploring and implementing all possible avenues for permanent supportive housing. And it recommends creating a comprehensive plan for ending homelessness, with benchmarks and measurements.

You can go to the ACT website for more details. Or even better, you can join ACT’s efforts to end homelessness in Sacramento.

This form of political theater requires audience participation.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.