Author Archives: maryc

About maryc

Mary is a Communications Associate at NETWORK where she assists with messaging, social media and content creation to connect others to the mission of NETWORK and to keep them informed on current policy issues. She recently graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA where she double majored in French and Religious Studies. Mary’s studies, her involvement with the faith-based social justice group Pax Christi and her volunteer experiences have inspired her to advocate for marginalized communities. Where she finds inspiration for work: • Her faith • One-on-one conversations with those directly affected by injustices • Her role models in the faith and nonprofit community What she loves outside of NETWORK: • Running / spending time outside • Reading, especially fiction novels • Hanging out with close friends and family Originally from: Westford, Massachusetts Follow her on Twitter: @mcunningham36

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Emma Tacke
November 21, 2017

In early November I had the pleasure and honor of emceeing the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ).  This was a weekend where over 2,000 students from Jesuit affiliated high schools and colleges gathered in Washington D.C. to learn, celebrate, pray, and challenge one another to “row into the deep,” the theme for the conference. At a time when those in power continue to espouse prejudice, violence, and hate, the need for weekends such as these feel all the more necessary. It was restorative to spend time with such an energetic group of people who shared a common desire to build a more just world with fairer policies and a more empathetic and inclusive culture.

Let me be clear: this weekend was not reduced to a self-congratulatory party where we affirmed each other for being good socially and politically conscious people. This annual gathering was a chance for all who attended to put faith into action. It was a reminder that our commitment to God requires us to be resilient and dogged in the face of injustice.  The call of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In beckoned us to “Wake ourselves and others from dormancy” and to not “accept the status quo in either ourselves or our surrounding world . . . we will row into unfamiliar waters that will stretch and challenge us, but ultimately move us to magis, a greater, stronger, and more enduring love of justice.”

This theme of challenging ourselves to be courageous and work for justice was threaded throughout the conference’s breakout sessions. The narrative that we are powerless in the face of systemic injustices such as racism, classism, and institutionalized violence was rejected and tossed aside by dynamic and influential keynote speakers such as Father Bryan Massingale, Sister Patricia Chappell, and Dr. Maria Stephan. The weekend ended with a day of advocacy on Monday when over 1,400 IFTJ participants went to Capitol Hill to advocate for bills promoting criminal justice and immigration reform.

The students I met were engaged, smart, empathetic, and ready to talk about what they could do to be better advocates for justice. They queued up for a chance to speak with Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a celebrity in the Ignatian community. They packed crowded conference rooms to learn about the racial wealth gap, ending the death penalty, changing the civil discourse on immigration, and dozens of other topics. Hundreds of students made their way through the hall to visit the myriad of faith-based organizations that passed out information and advocacy tools.

Millennials are often dismissed as a self-absorbed, politically disengaged generation. As a millennial myself, it’s difficult for me to be objective, but what I witnessed at IFTJ and what I often see from my peers is anything but self-absorption and political apathy.  The momentum and energy generated by the 2,000 students at IFTJ wouldn’t have been possible if this group of young people were not aching to change the world. This desire to make a difference is not limited to IFTJ participants, nor should it be reduced to naiveté or foolish optimism. I am inspired by my peers to seek the truth and confront systemic and social injustice.  When working for justice, progress is often slow and pushing back against oppressive institutions is exhausting. It is not work that can be done alone. This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In was a call to action many responded to wholeheartedly.

I want to bottle the collective energy I experienced throughout the IFTJ weekend and take a swig any time I feel lacking in courage to continue challenging myself to advocate for justice. There is strength in numbers and the Igantian Family Teach-In is an example of the power collective faith in action can have in the march towards a better future.

Emma Tacke is a former NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate. She currently works as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in Washington D.C.

Anyone Can Lobby

Anyone Can Lobby

Claudia Brock 
November 18, 2017

In early November, NETWORK Lobby headed to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) for a few days of presenting, learning, and networking. As a graduate of a Jesuit university, it was heartening to see so many young people excited about social justice and willing to consider how their values influence politics. To begin the weekend, my colleague, Jeremiah, and I gave a “How to Lobby” presentation to prepare the students for their day advocating on Capitol Hill — the culmination of the IFTJ weekend.

One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when Jeremiah asked who had lobbied before and only a few students in a room of over one hundred people raised their hands. After a few moments, Jeremiah asked again and this time noted that signing on online petition, calling a Member of Congress or tweeting with a political hashtag were forms of lobbying; suddenly every hand in the room was up. At times it can feel like the political process is hard to navigate or so abstract it’s impossible to engage in it, especially as a young person who is not able to vote yet. But it is important to remember that every constituent has personal power in their own voice. It was enlivening to demystify what it means to be politically active through our presentation.

A few of us on the Grassroots Mobilization team at NETWORK had the chance to meet the renowned organizer Heather Booth. When she was asked what it took to be an organizer or make any kind of political change she said, “You just have to love people and hate injustice.” Using Heather Booth’s qualifications, every student at IFTJ and each member of NETWORK’s spirit-filled network has what it takes to enact real change.

As Jeremiah told the students at IFTJ, there are many ways to lobby for justice. If you’re busy working full time or have other responsibilities, it may be most convenient for you to lobby your elected officials by making phone calls. When you call, we recommend mentioning a brief personal reason for why you support or oppose a bill (see more tips here for using email, social media, or for an in-person lobby visit ). Find out how contacting your Member of Congress, using social media and writing letters to the editor are great ways to advocate for social change.  Email info@networklobby.org with any questions, comments, or to report back on how your lobbying goes!

The Importance of Intentionality

The Importance of Intentionality

Jeremiah Pennebaker
November 15, 2017

What do I owe to the generations coming after me?

I was always taught to “reach back as I forge ahead” in my life and that nobody gets to where they’re going without some help and guidance from those who came before them. So I try and take that to heart, especially when I’m in a position where I can speak about my experiences and expertise.

I had an opportunity to do just that this past weekend at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ),  a conference for members of the Ignatian network  to come together to reflect and advocate for justice. Overall, it was a rewarding weekend of teaching, reflecting and discerning. My fellow NETWORK Associate Claudia Brock and I were tasked with educating various high school and college groups. We had the chance to talk to a multitude of young people who are motivated by their faith and values to engage in the political process throughout the weekend. Seeing their passion to learn about and do justice was very inspiring. At times I really felt that I was living up to that idea of helping those after me to move forward. I shared my knowledge and experience, provided them with insight on my position at NETWORK and told them how they can become NETWORK Associates one day.

What I failed to realize is that I would learn more from them than they would learn from me. The students at IFTJ taught me valuable lessons and inspired me to be a better pioneer for justice. I was particularly inspired at a session on what it means to be a feminist. I saw a big group of Black boys walk in, something I would have thought to be impossible, as it took me until my senior year of college to grasp the importance of feminism. So often I had heard and witnessed the lack of respect that men have for women — specifically in my friend circles– but to see a group of Black high school boys interested in feminism gave me some hope. I listened to a panel on immigration and heard one of the most heartbreaking stories of my life about a woman who lost her family to insidious immigration policies and procedures. I watched as the woman regained her resolve and spoke about how she continues to push forward even in the most daunting of situations.

I learned not only from hearing the experiences of others, but also by presenting at the conference. After my session on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I was critiqued by a young group of Black and brown students. Their feedback made me realize that I need to do better job of being intentional when I am attempting to “reach back as I forge ahead.” While presenting on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I made the mistake of only thinking about how my message impacts the white students in the audience. In my mind, I had only considered how the white students needed to learn about the horrific sins of the past and how the subject of racism is woven into our federal policies. I failed to account for the experiences of those who are too often the only person of color in the room.

I forgot about the times when I wished I wasn’t in history class surrounded by pale faces talking about how their ancestors didn’t think mine were people. I forgot what it felt like to feel singled out because slavery this and redlining that. I forgot that for the select few in the audience this was their daily experience and not just some educational exercise. I forgot maybe because I had become numb to being the token, a position I was placed so often. I realized that does not mean that I should irresponsibly place others in that position. I owed it to these students. They shouldn’t be forced to deal with both the reality of their situations and the potential condescension and or guilt of their white counterparts. I realized that it was my burden to bear as a facilitator to try and alleviate them from that difficult position in whatever way that I can. I realized that I need to hold myself more accountable to the people who look like me because I know they already have it hard enough.

I learned a lot from IFTJ. I learned what I could do to be a better example for the generations after me. I learned that as hopeless as the media may make the world look, there are too many people of all ages working for justice that I refuse to believe it.

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

LaTreviette Matthews
November 8, 2017

Historically our country has viewed women and people of color –especially those on the low end of the socio-economic scale– as second-class citizens.  Never before, however, had I experienced so many emotions for just being me than I did after the 2016 election. The first thing I felt was a tremendous amount of fear. After the election, there seemed to be a rise in hate crimes and attacks on unarmed men and women of color. I did not want to leave my house. Subsequently the fear left me and I turned to anger. I felt angry that after having an African American president for two terms, now in the year 2017, people of color were still being treated like they are less deserving of being in this country than everyone else. I felt the pain of my ancestors and was ready for war against white supremacy and white privilege.

When fighting for the right to self-determination, people of color have endured pain and resistance. I did not want to do things the old fashion way by engaging in non-violent protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. I vacillated between fight and flight, all the while determined to protect myself and my family at all costs. My emotions were beginning to change again. I was in limbo. I was still angry but now angry with a purpose. I wanted to do something. For centuries people of color have tried many forms of fighting back against racism and injustice. I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference. This presidential election was the catalyst for my ferocity. Uncertain of my future and armed with a fierce determination, I sought community support.

Before last year, I did not consider myself a political person. I did vote in the last five presidential elections; I felt it was important for my vote to be counted. However, for presidential elections held before then, I was uninterested in social political activism and did not understand the importance of having my voice heard through voting. Although I was aware that people fought very hard in this country for African Americans to vote, it did not dawn on me that my voice would make a difference today. Growing up as a young woman of color, I did not have someone like Sister Simone at my high school or college to discuss my political views, encourage me to go to a protest, or show me how joining a political group could make a difference. I thought the political stuff was best left up to the adults.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I am convinced that this backlash against Obama’s presidency happened in order to shake things up and to awaken people to the injustices happening in this country; injustices that have gone on for far too long. Aside from racism, sexual harassment and assault, just to name a few, are issues that have impacted me the most following the 2016 election. Over the past five years working at NETWORK, I have become more political in my views, more involved, and more “WOKE.”  As a woman of faith, I know that life and death are in the power of the tongue. As a woman of color, I know the double standard that comes with freedom of speech.

Today, social media and “fake news” seem to have surpassed the reach of traditional media. In spite of its limitations, social media has become a platform for getting voices heard. To that end, I commit to using my platforms to hold people accountable for their actions. I have joined racial justice groups and forums in hopes to educate myself and others about racism and the challenges that people of color face in the United States. Today I am more hopeful and more connected. Women of all races are rising up and raising their voices. This makes me proud to be a woman of color in the fight for racial justice and social justice.

Distracted

Distracted

Jeremiah Pennebaker
October 23, 2017

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” -Toni Morrison

I used to love watching football every Sunday with my parents. I remember the scene well: my mom, an avid New England Patriots fan, and my father, laying claim to both the Cowboys and the Steelers– the teams who thrived during his childhood– both screaming at the TV, the living room filled with the aroma of fried food, and the surround sound pumping the voice of Al Michaels throughout the house.

Football is a sentimental pastime for me, as I’m sure that it is for many people across the country. But like many others, football has become difficult for me to watch. Since the kneeling protests by Colin Kaepernick and a multitude of other players across the NFL have started, I have been distracted from the game that I love by something larger. I can no longer watch football without being reminded of how much my life does not matter. I can’t watch football without being reminded that as a Black man in America, I only exist as a problem that needs to be solved, an animal to be muzzled and caged, a commodity to be bought, sold, and discarded.

I can no longer plug in, turn on, and tune out of the daily distraction that is racism when I watch football. I can’t watch football without thinking that people care more about a song and a piece of cloth than they do about a 12-year-old boy being gunned down for playing in the park. It has tainted the game I love. Some in the United States would rather have me pledge allegiance to the flag than the country be a nation with liberty and justice for all. It is hard for me to stomach this and simply “stick to sports.”

Football was a distraction for me, and I’m sure for many others, from the daily struggles of life. Now, it brings my lack of humanity in our society to the forefront every Sunday when I hear about people heckling those who kneel in protest or see the overt and covert racist tweets about “ungrateful athletes.” I imagine that those people are frustrated because they are also distracted from their favorite pastime. This was something that they could retreat to when they did not want to be bothered by the distraction that is the Black man begging for change outside of the subway. The distraction that is the Black girl with the funny name and big hair who “only got the job because of affirmative action”. The distraction that is the Black kid at school who keeps complaining about the confederate flags flying in the parking lot. These distractions have infiltrated the sacred space of American football. It is no longer the noncontroversial space of hard work and meritocracy that Americans viewers are used to. They’re distracted because their once colorblind consciousness has been forced to recognize that these athletes are people too. Black people. Black athletes are Black lives and their lives should matter just as much as I want mine to.

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Mary Cunningham
October 10, 2017

“You’re going to Burkesville, Kentucky!” the headline of my email read. As a senior, I had decided to lead a spring break immersion trip to Appalachia, where I would accompany 12 participants from my college to engage in a week of service, immersion and solidarity with the community in Burkesville, Kentucky. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but as usual, I was surprised.

Leading up the trip I did not understand what rural poverty looked like. I grew up in northern Massachusetts in a small, upper middle class town. I spent one summer during college interning at a church in downtown Boston, an area known for its large population of homeless individuals and high-concentration of drugs. Having been surrounded by this on a daily basis, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what poverty looked like. My trip to Kentucky changed that.

Burkesville, a small, remote town in southern Kentucky has a vibrant spirit and a strong sense of community. And yet, as my week there unfolded, I noticed signs of poverty. We worked at the Burkesville elementary school where many of the kids were on a nutrition assistance program. Although the school provided some snacks, they were often unhealthy options. Talking with school administrators, we also learned that there were not a lot of viable job opportunities in the area. There was a large population of children and retired people, but there seemed to be a lack of middle-aged people contributing to the economic growth of the town. Seeing a community struggling with these issues was something I had heard about, but never encountered.

As an associate at NETWORK, I recently learned about the rural poverty I saw in Burkesville from a policy perspective. On September 28, I attended a briefing titled, “Urban and Rural Poverty in America” in the Rayburn House Office Building. One of the things that stood out to me was how a city’s remoteness and population size are connected to poverty rates. Research collected by the Salvation Army shows that states that are more remote and that have both high and low population concentrations tend to have higher levels of need than states that are less remote. Rural towns located far from large cities tend to have a harder time accessing government services and their residents are often underemployed. It was clear from the panel that these unique challenges facing rural communities make grappling with poverty across our country difficult.

Another interesting comment came from one of the panelists, John Letteiri, who works for the Economic Innovation Group. Mr. Letteiri noted that the decline of migration is one of the major causes of exacerbated rural poverty. He cited an interesting statistic: since the 1990s migration from rural to urban areas has fallen about 50 percent. Without mobility, residents of these rural towns are attached to the economic reality of their area. As I left the panel, I was left with a sharp reminder of my experience in Burkesville, Kentucky.

The way in which we understand poverty needs to constantly be reframed. We largely define poverty based on our own cultural perceptions, not the reality of the situation. As a society, we must take into account those who are forced into poverty due to social, economic, and political factors beyond their control and prioritize policies that support them. As poverty changes, so must our definition of it.