Let Us Dream: January Community Conversation

Virginia Schilder
February 9, 2022

On Thursday, January 27, members of the NETWORK community joined together for our first Community Conversation of 2022. The theme was: “Let us Dream — Reflecting on 2021; Dreaming about 2022 and Beyond.”

The evening’s topic was inspired by Pope Francis’ book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. NETWORK Executive Director Mary Novak welcomed community members, saying, “This is the time of year to remember and dream. And it is a sacred gift to do it in community.”

The facilitator for our conversation, Colin Longmore, NETWORK Grassroots Outreach and Education Specialist, spoke with excitement about the possibilities for the upcoming year of advocacy. He described the intention of this conversation as a space to look back on the year behind us and to dream together about the year ahead — to connect what we’ve learned to our hopes and our goals.

Colin explained that while NETWORK community conversations usually feature a guest speaker or a presentation from a NETWORK staff member, for this conversation, the community was the “featured speaker.”

The reflective element of this community conversation aligned with the emphasis on learning and deep listening that characterizes the synod on synodality launched by Pope Francis last year. It also parallels the reflection that NETWORK is undertaking as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, thinking intentionally about who we are and where we came from so that we can work toward our future with clarity. As Mary Novak said, “Our quest to the future must begin with remembering.” And this remembering, in particular, entails examining the consequences of being founded as a predominantly white organization, and how NETWORK lives out its commitment to racial justice in our political ministry today.

The instructions for discussion were simple yet bold: “Dream big and dream detailed!” We broke into small groups to discuss the questions: What were your top three learnings of 2021, and what are your top three hopes for 2022? Together we responded to these questions across personal, local, and societal levels.

In our discussion, a major “learning of 2021” was a realization of the fragility of our democracy, and the grave effects and injustice of voter suppression. Another common learning was a more acute understanding that our pandemic response must not be an attempt to “go back to normal” — because “normal,” in the United States, means inequality. Several community members expressed finding Catholic Sisters and the work of groups like NETWORK to be a source of courage and fortitude throughout the tumult of 2021.

As we turned to our dreams for 2022, community members shared hopes of ending voter suppression, advancing racial justice, combating polarization, and promoting environmental justice. We voiced hopes for the passage of legislation like Build Back Better, and that more people in our country will join in working to create a truly just, multiracial society. Many expressed a hopefulness found in the engagement of younger generations and the example of Catholic Sisters.

This community conversation was rooted in a belief in the transformative political power of dreaming and of articulating visions in community. As Fr. Brian Massingale writes in his book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church,

“Visions illumine possibilities that are overlooked, paths not taken, potentials that lie dormant, and capacities not yet developed. Visions spring from and fuel the nonrational centers of the human person from which come the courage, fortitude, and determination needed to engage and persevere in protracted struggles against injustice. … We will never get our theorizing about justice right, nor truly understand African American praxis for justice, without some account of the power of vision, in particular, the visions of the welcome table and the Beloved Community.”

In sharing our learnings as well as our dreams and visions at our “welcome table,” we named and offered one another our vulnerability and laments as well as our resilience and hopes. Sharing our dreams in community is not only the ground of justice work; it also serves as an important and refreshing time of connection and relationship-building. (Some members of my small discussion group delighted as they learned that they have a mutual friend!)

Our first Community Conversation of 2022 grounded us in a reflection of the past year and sent us into the year ahead with renewed resolve. This resolve emerged from an uplifting community of solidarity, shared vision, and collective discernment. The community member who spoke last in our conversation captured the spirit of the evening when she expressed a commitment to becoming more involved with NETWORK — because, as she said, working to change our hearts and enact a vision of justice is up to all of us. “The invitation is to do this together… to let go of those boxes we put people in. There is a role for all of us!”