Author Archives: truman

Blog: Building a Foundation for Social Justice

Building a Foundation for Social Justice

By Joseline Araujo
March 17, 2016

My name is Joseline Anne Araujo, and I am a Junior at Trinity Washington University (Class of 2017), majoring in Sociology and minoring in History. This summer I was very fortunate to be accepted to an exciting program called Just Advocacy Week by NETWORK here in the heart of the District of Columbia.

About five months earlier, Sr. Mary Johnson, a Trinity sister of Notre Dame, who is one of my favorite professors at Trinity Washington University, introduced me to this opportunity NETWORK was offering for a week in the summer. I was excited because Sr. Mary’s honors Theology course had me very interested in the social justice movement, and what better way to join than with a famous organization right here in DC! Sr. Mary provided me with the steps to apply and spoke to me about other opportunities that she had in mind. However, she strongly encouraged me to apply to the NETWORK program; I did and was accepted to participate in June.

There were 16 students from all over the country this year: Chicago, South Carolina, Georgia, Washington state, Maryland, and more. From the beginning of the program, there were many inspiring people like Rachel, Sarah, Allison, Collin and Sr. Simone Campbell to learn from and share our views about different social justice topics. Automatically our group was united, motivated, supportive and fun!

The entire goal of the week-long program was to become prepared with knowledge, personal experiences, and practice to lobby on Capitol Hill.  The issue we would lobby on was tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit . Our task was to speak to our senators and representatives from our home state about making the tax credits permanent and why we supported them personally and statistically. Aside from this main objective of the week, we also were able to see the D.C. monuments and the nation’s capital inside and out.

Advocacy, lobbying and spiritual awareness were all taught in this program. I learned how to spread solidarity and to create a change through the political world and bring this knowledge back into my own community. Anyone is able to lead and make a difference with strategy and passion.

At the end of the week, I learned about a possible internship at the NETWORK office during the following year. And gratefully I am now completing a wonderful internship with the Grassroots Mobilization Team and organizing the 2016 Just Advocacy Week program for NETWORK.

Our social justice work did not, however, stop at the end of the week. We were all instructed to envision a topic for a project to work on back in our hometowns and follow up with our NETWORK mentors in January. I am continuing to form this project and work on social justice issues with my community. All of the support, knowledge and experience earned from Just Advocacy Week were breath-taking and made me wish the program was longer than just a week. There is much to be done in the community and this opportunity to build a solid foundation changed my perspective on how to fight for social justice.

“When No One Else Stands, You Stand.” –Reverend Frederick D. Reese

Joseline Aruajo is a current NETWORK intern and a Junior at Trinity Washington University 

Blog: DACA and DAPA: More Than Just a Policy

DACA and DAPA: More Than Just a Policy

By Diana Pliego
March 15, 2016

To many, November 20, 2014 was just another day. To millions of others, it was a day long anticipated with hope for a drastic change in the way they lived their lives.

For them, a Presidential announcement that would be made that day could mean receiving the opportunity to work legally in the United States, obtain their driver’s license, and be safe from deportation proceedings that separate families and uproot lives. It could mean no longer living in fear.

For my family, that is exactly what that announcement for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) meant.

For too long, my family has lived in fear and in the shadows. My parents are afraid of the most mundane tasks due to the very real and ever-present fear of deportation that looms over us and millions of others each and every day. Every trip to the store is a calculated risk, every commute to work is taken with extreme caution, and every sighting of the police incites fear and unease. My parents do not celebrate holidays like most Americans. Celebrating the Fourth of July would require leaving our house on one of the most patrolled nights of the year. We understand that police are only trying to keep our communities safe by catching those who chose to drive under the influence, but a single stop at a check point could result in my parents being detained and potentially deported.  These same fears keep us indoors on New Year’s, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day and any other highly patrolled day of the year.

DAPA would mean they could obtain a driver’s license and leave the house like any other American wishing to celebrate this great country on Independence Day, because, like many other immigrants, they have a different perspective and unique sense of gratitude for this land of opportunity.

My family, like many others, immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. In 1994, Mexico experienced its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  In 1996, my dad lost his job at a bank where he had worked for seven years. There were no jobs to be found. Church members with small businesses, barely making ends meet themselves, were hiring other church members for jobs not needed as a way to help our their fellow sisters and brothers. My father tried to start a small business selling fruits and vegetables, but he had no car and was barely breaking even with his business expenses. He had four mouths to feed, another on the way, and the way things were going he would not be able to afford my mother’s upcoming childbirth costs. So, he decided to come to the U.S. in search of job opportunities—a temporary solution while things got better at home. But, they never did.

A year later, after much prayer and internal struggle, my mother followed my father’s steps and came to the U.S. with my brothers and me at her sides and in her arms. My older brother was five, I was three, and my younger brother was seven months old. My youngest brother was later born in the U.S. in 1998. This happened despite surgical efforts to prevent my mother from having any more children. You could say he was meant to be born. It is because of him that my parents qualify for DAPA.

DAPA would provide for them what Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provided for my brothers and me in 2012. Because we had arrived in the US before the age of 16 and met other requirements, we received work permits which allowed us to receive a social security number. That long-coveted nine-digit number allowed us to obtain a driver’s license—a common rite of passage that to us meant belonging and safety. But more importantly, we received a two year protection from deportation. We could finally get jobs, drive, and plan for our future knowing we now had one. We could now attend state colleges and could be employed upon graduation, a very real fear of many undocumented college students.

DACA changed my family’s life. It enabled my family to pay for my first three years of my college because, despite earning a scholarship, it took every member of my family working, including my two high school brothers and me, to cover the costs of room and board. Three years later, our financial circumstances have shifted 180 degrees. We still face financial challenges like many families, but we no longer worry about where our next meal is coming from. For us, that is a victory. I can only imagine the change my family would experience if my parents were afforded the same opportunities for advancement. What kind of job would my mother qualify for with her incredible spirit and talent for working with people? Would my father finally step back from the physically demanding job that is taking a toll on his body and pursue a different, higher paying career? Would my older brother finally be able continue his education?

If DAPA were implemented, how would the lives of immigrant families across the U.S. change? How would our nation be impacted? According to the Center for American Progress, every day that we do not implement DAPA and expanded DACA, the U.S. loses $8.4 million in GDP. See the cumulative total here.

In 2012, DACA could not have come soon enough. In 2014, DAPA did not come soon enough, but it came. Unfortunately, 13 days later Texas and other states filed a lawsuit against the President’s executive action. For almost a year, these actions kept DAPA tied up the courts. On November 9, 2015, the 5th Circuit Court ruled against the administrative actions.

One year after the original announcement, the Department of Justice filed an appeal asking the Supreme Court to take up this case. Three days later, Texas requested 30 more days to review the White House’s appeal. More delays. In the meantime, families continue to live in fear and with limited opportunities. Fortunately, in a rare move by the Supreme Court, the 5th Circuit Court was denied its request and instead granted an extension of only eight days. This move made it much more likely that the Supreme Court would take up the case during the current term and come to a decision by late June—a small, but significant victory for DACA/DAPA.  Finally, on January 19, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case.

Recently, NETWORK participated in a “Prayer for Justice” at the Supreme Court where people from different faith backgrounds and immigrants gathered to show support for DACA/DAPA. Religious leaders from different faiths said a prayer for justice for immigrants across the United States. Young children with undocumented parents, like my citizen brother, came forward and spoke bravely of their reality. Hearing my childhood story of fear and financial hardship being told by yet another generation broke my heart in ways that I cannot describe.  My heart broke a little more when I heard seven year-old Eddy ask for DAPA for his parents because he “doesn’t want to lose them.” Tears swelled up in my eyes as I heard my own fears expressed through the mouth of a young child, because losing your parents to deportation is a fear that does not diminish with age. If anything, I understand now better than ever the real implications of policy being debated and politicized. I understand the cruelty of playing politics with people’s lives. Eddy was born in Ohio, just like my youngest brother. His demeanor and bravery reminded me of my brother at that age. His story, and the story of all the others who testified, reminded me why I do what I do. We cannot give up this fight.

Our prayer is that the Supreme Court rules wisely by upholding the executive action of President Obama. By doing so, they will change the lives of millions of families and create further prosperity for our nation as DACA once did.

Op-Ed: Defining Disgraceful

Op-Ed: Defining Disgraceful

By Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
February 24, 2016

Originally appeared in The Hill 

Donald Trump’s repeated promise on the campaign trail to defend Christianity if elected President has been of concern to us.  When he recently called Pope Francis’ critique of his immigration stance “disgraceful,” we hit our tipping point. Mr. Trump cannot defend that which he does not seem to understand.

Christian faith teaches love of neighbor and love of the stranger, not sentimental love but real life-giving love.  The Bible speaks of two types of love: phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms that appear at different points throughout Scripture but agape is the most powerful, noblest type of love: sacrificial love, an act of the will. Christians are to love one another with agape love as in Jesus’ parable where the Good Samaritan saw an injured man and helped him without regard to race or religion; he just saw a person in dire need. Christianity is not the only faith that speaks of willful love. Every world religion has at its core a commitment to caring for humanity: the orphan, the widow and the stranger.

It’s clear what’s going on. Mr. Trump is executing a political strategy that has been around for millennia: channeling anger born of fear. He is not the only candidate to do so, but his microphone seems to be the loudest and the angriest. We understand that much of this fear is coming from those who see their majority status – white and Christian and male – changing. They have not felt that they have someone standing alongside them. But Mr. Trump’s promise to defend their Christianity is merely a political ploy to grab their votes. It’s not just manipulative and cynical, it diminishes the deep wisdom of our Christian faith, and that is offensive to us.

Millions of Americans, including those whose fear Mr. Trump is channeling, have dedicated their lives to doing the good works of their faiths. His fear mongering is personally insulting and publicly dangerous. It is building a wall between American citizens — of all faiths, colors and cultures.  Our faiths deserve far more respect than has been shown thus far.

Mr. Trump says the Pope’s suggestion that his immigration policies are not Christian is “disgraceful.” What is disgraceful is Mr. Trump’s xenophobic zeal. Stirring up fear of immigrants by calling them rapists and then offering a giant wall as a solution is anything but a solution. Nor are the current administration’s actions that detain immigrants in for-profit detention centers; or deport parents, leaving their children behind to fend for themselves. I know. As a Methodist Bishop, I held a little boy from Honduras at an immigrant center in South Texas as he showed me pictures he had drawn and he described the perilous journey he had just taken as an unaccompanied immigrant child. I knew then, as I know now, that the solutions offered by Mr. Trump or the administration are not the answers and certainly not expressions of Christian faith.

Walls separate us from the possibility of exercising life-giving love; bridges offer us the possibility and Christians are to be counted among America’s bridge builders. We stand with the New Sanctuary churches and synagogues that provide safe haven to families threatened with being ripped apart – parents from children, wives from husbands — neighbors from our communities. I know. During our “Nuns on the Bus” campaign to honor the Pope’s U.S. visit and message of economic inclusion, I met 16-year-old Kathryn who was caring for her five siblings after her hard-working parents were deported. Her 11-year-old sister, Stephanie, in her anguish, attempted suicide, believing that it would be better for her family that she not be alive. Luckily these children were wrapped round with their neighbors’ care and the love of their parish community that continues to support them.

That is agape love. Powerful, willful, Christian love.

The holier-than-thou claims by presidential candidates wearing Christian costumes will not effectively address immigration reform or the problems of U.S. poverty and economic inequality, institutional racism, educational inequity, and still having too many people in this country living without health insurance. It will take more than holding up a false placard declaring that one understands what it is to be Christian.

All presidential candidates are invited to join the courageous witness of persons of faith and love – the bridge builders. But they cannot do so through shallow words. Being a leader requires taking on the tough, real-life issues that our nation faces with integrity. Even if we disagree on policies, we cannot disagree on the need for integrity.

About the Authors:

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño is Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop of The United Methodist Church, the first Hispanic woman to be elected to this episcopacy; and a leading advocate for U.S. immigration reform. www.calpacumc.org/bishop

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, is executive director of NETWORK and leader of NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus”, Washington, DC. She is author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community. www.NETWORKLobby.org and @Sr_Simone

Blog: Good News for Juvenile Justice Reform

Good News for Juvenile Justice Reform

By Joan Neal
January 27, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016 was a double-header for kids in the U.S. criminal justice system, with compassion and justice winning the day. First, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana,held that its 2012 ruling banning life without parole for children must be applied retroactively.This time, Chief Justice Roberts reversed his earlier position against the ban and voted with the majority. Now the U.S. will no longer be the only country in the world that jails kids and throws away the key.

Thousands of prisoners sentenced as juveniles prior to the Court’s original decision, will be able to request a review of their sentences and have a chance for parole. Pope Francis has called for an end to all life sentences, calling life imprisonment a “hidden death penalty.” Additionally, numerous studies have shown children lack the maturity and judgment of adults, and both their capacity to act responsibly and their ability to reform increases with age. With this decision, the Court aligns the law with existing scientific evidence, real life experience, and basic respect for human dignity.This is a major step in ensuring fairness and compassion in the juvenile justice system.

Second, on the same day, President Obama issued executive orders banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Responding to a Department of Justice study regarding the use of solitary confinement by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, President Obama observed, “The practice of solitary confinement in the federal prison system is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences.” The president’s orders also provide relief to prisoners who are typically subjected to solitary confinement for committing “low-level infractions” and expand access to treatment for mentally ill prisoners.

Traditionally, as a nation, we have not been concerned with how prisoners were treated once they were incarcerated. Clearly, we should care. Many studies show a link between isolating prisoners and an increase in rates of recidivism. The stories of prisoners held in solitary confinement who have developed mental illness or have taken their own or other’s lives once released from prison should serve as cautionary tales.  As the president said, “It [solitary confinement] doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”

All justice-seekers should applaud and support the momentous juvenile justice reforms announced this week. It is admirable that the judicial branch and the executive branch have made these changes. But where is Congress? It’s time for Congress to enact comprehensive criminal justice reform.  Call or email your Senator or Congressional Representative and demand that they pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) and the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713) in the House.  When that happens, compassion and justice will have truly won!

Society should hold offenders accountable for their misdeeds. But surely our hearts are big enough to do that with compassion and mercy. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

Blog: A Year of Forgiveness is Necessary for Justice

A Year of Forgiveness is Necessary for Justice

By Rachel Schmidt
January 04, 2016

On Tuesday, Dec. 8 Pope Francis established a Jubilee Year of Mercy, which is considered a “year acceptable to the Lord” (Is 61:2). Its origin comes from the Bible in Leviticus 25. The scripture states that every fiftieth year was considered a sacred time to return property, forgive debts, and free people who were considered “slaves.” It was a year to reset, refresh, and allow those subjugated by societal actions to reconnect with society in a more holistic way. The Christian version of the Jubilee turned into a season of pilgrimage to sacred places around the 14th century and had less focus on societal forgiveness. Therefore, Francis’s emphasis of this Jubilee year as a return to mercy is radical and will be educational for how forgiveness is necessary for a just society.

It is significant that Francis departed from tradition for this year’s Jubilee. First, Jubilees are supposed to be every 25-50 years and the most recent one was in 2000. The pope knows it has only been 15 years, but he finds the message of mercy to be too important for our age to wait another 10-35 years. He also broke from the tradition of the pilgrimage-type Jubilee and goes to the spirit of the original Jubilee described in Leviticus with this Year of Mercy. The word “radical” comes from the Latin radix, which means “forming the root.” Francis is radical not only in revisiting the original purpose of the Jubilee; he is also forming strong roots in the Church and the world for cultivating social justice.

Pope Francis said, “a little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” How can forgiveness create a warmer, more loving world? Imagine if we held to the original Jubilee ideals. In current times, perhaps there would be no more student debt, we could provide hardworking people around the country with a living wage and healthcare, and the ills that a capitalistic society inevitably produces would be righted through stronger controls on our economy led by a political system concerned for the common good. Society would be held accountable for the ways it causes harm and creates brokenness. The Jubilee would uplift the people society puts in dehumanizing situations and improve their quality of life, or liberate them from systems of oppression. Imagine the cycle of poverty being swiftly uprooted and interrupted. If we can be inspired only slightly by Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, we will certainly create more justice in the world.

There is so much fear in many people who unjustly criticize this kind of societal forgiveness for those who struggle in oppressive conditions. For example, this seems to be a constant point in the narrative around our social safety net and programs designed to help lift people out of poverty and support those struggling in our economy. Should we judge those who receive government assistance? How many chances should we give repeat offenders of the law? The answer is no, we shouldn’t judge, and we should give people as much support as they need because we are all connected. We are one body and all of us are sick when one of us is hurting.

Peter Maurin, a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, wrote Why Not Be a Beggar? (below), which illustrates how those pushed to the margins are our shared redemption.In the end, we are all susceptible to marginalization and all have pain and darkness within us. We must have consciousness of this common fragility and realize “the other” is not other at all; this person is another self and their struggles can illuminate the necessity of our own pain. In a capitalistic society where “being the best” is often considered the point of existence, the person who is most economically vulnerable has a lot to teach us about our shared humanity.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let us remember the necessity of forgiveness of ourselves and others for the benefit of creating the common good. We can “form the root” of society by interrupting cycles of poverty and giving people a hand up with our legislative policies. We can structure society in ways that don’t ostracize folks for some of the difficult choices they have made. We must continually remember that we and others are welcome to the table no matter how many times we’ve been pushed away. Let us refresh, reset, and restructure into a community of forgiveness that knows how much we need one another.

Why Not Be A Beggar?
1. People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.

2. Modern society
calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.

3. The Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.

4. We read in the Gospel:
“As long as you did it
to one of the least
of My brothers
you did it to Me.”

5. While modern society
calls the beggars
bums and panhandlers,
they are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.

6. To be God’s Ambassador
is something
to be proud of.

Blog: Mary Ann’s Story Reminds Us Why ACA Enrollment Matters

Mary Ann’s Story Reminds Us Why ACA Enrollment Matters

By Mary McClure
December 14, 2015

As you may know, we are nearing the end of Open Enrollment season, when individuals and families can sign up for health insurance. In fact, December 15, the last day to enroll for January 1 coverage, is quickly approaching. Despite some politicians’ efforts repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), NETWORK continues to uplift and support the pro-life policy that made healthcare accessible to millions who were previously uninsured.

We continue to hear stories from people whose lives were changed because they had access to healthcare. Recently I re-read one of these, the story of Mary Ann Wasil, which was first told in the NETWORK Connection magazine (First Quarter 2014, p. 4-6).

At 39, Mary Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer despite having no family history of the disease. Mary Ann, a mother of three girls, needed a mastectomy and chemotherapy to save her life. During her chemotherapy, she suffered a stroke, which required additional surgery. At the same time, Mary Ann’s marriage was ending. She had made the decision years ago to leave her job as a police officer to raise her daughters; she had held a few part-time jobs since then which never had benefits.

In 2011, seven years after her initial diagnosis, her cancer returned. The end of her marriage meant she no longer had health insurance, and with a “preexisting condition,” both Mary Ann and her children were uninsurable. The chemotherapy for her second round of cancer cost around $25,000 per session. The Affordable Care Act was lifesaving legislation for Mary Ann, who was able to find an affordable healthcare plan through her state’s marketplace that covered her despite her preexisting condition.

What a blessing that so many lives have been saved through affordable access to healthcare! Thousands of moms, dads, grandparents, and others are also gaining this coverage by enrolling in health insurance for 2016. If you have not signed up for an insurance plan, it’s not too late to gain January 1 coverage: enrollees have until December 15 to sign up and avoid the penalty.

These plans can be affordable. Many people are eligible for tax credits or financial assistance and many plans are $75 or less per month. While the website may seem overwhelming, free and confidential help is available from trained, local professionals.

With the Affordable Care Act, millions of people have gained health insurance through the marketplace and through Medicaid expansion. NETWORK continues to advocate for and celebrate pro-healthcare legislation, working towards the day when healthcare is genuinely affordable and accessible to people of all income levels, with particular concern for the most vulnerable members of our community.

NETWORK Stands with Refugees

NETWORK Stands with Refugees

By Meg Olson
November 23, 2015

NETWORK weeps with all who are suffering from violence all over the world. The principles of Catholic Social Teaching teach us to live in solidarity with our neighbors, with empathy for all who are suffering regardless of religion, race, or nationality. Together with the global community, we mourn the attacks in Paris. We pray for the lives that were lost and pray for healing for the injured as well as the families and friends of victims.

We also pray for all victims of violence in other countries including Beirut, Baghdad, and the ongoing violence in Syria. When hearing of these tragedies, we cannot forget the lesson taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan: our neighbor may not be someone who looks like us, speaks our language, or shares our customs. When Pope Francis came to the United States he encouraged Congress to heed the call to welcome the stranger saying:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. … We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.

For us, the faithful response is to welcome Syrian refugees of all faiths into our country and our communities. We must do this if we truly recognize the sacred call to protect and nourish all life. We must denounce Islamophobia that threatens our Muslim sisers and brothers from any source – from a neighbor in line at the grocery store to members of Congress, governors, and Presidential candidates. Fear cannot and must not be an excuse for inaction, or worse, a rejection of our faithful duty to respond to the urgent needs of our Syrian brothers and sisters. We must live up to the words of Jesus in the Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35.)

I invite you to join me and NETWORK members across the country in calling on your senators to welcome refugees by following these steps:

Call 1-888-897-9753 to contact your senior Senator’s office.

When you call, here’s what you might say: 

“Hi, my name is [NAME], and I am a constituent from [CITY]. I’m calling today because I stand with Pope Francis and urge you to welcome refugees from Syria fleeing violence. Please oppose any legislation that attempts to limit access to refugees based on their religion or country of origin.” 

Call 1-888-496-3502 to contact your junior Senator’s office.

When you call, here’s what you might say: 

“Hi, my name is [NAME], and I am a constituent from [CITY]. I’m calling today because I stand with Pope Francis and urge you to welcome refugees from Syria fleeing violence. Please oppose any legislation that attempts to limit access to refugees based on their religion or country of origin.” 

“Hearts Starve as well as Bodies; Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses”

“Hearts Starve as well as Bodies; Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses”

By Rachel Schmidt
Novermber 20, 2015

Some policymakers believe the more support the government provides the less motivated people in poverty will be to work. They couldn’t be more wrong. As Congress begins the annual appropriations process, it is crucial to point out the major flaws in this line of thinking, because legislators who buy into this narrative are less likely to allocate sufficient funds to human needs programs. This is not what people in the United States need, especially those living at the margins. In order to combat poverty in the U.S., it is necessary, as Pope Francis says, to “always consider the person” recognizing the dignity of the human person as our first priority. The narrative that economic insecurity motivates people to have a better work ethic is a dangerous myth and an attack on the human dignity of families and individuals who have been pushed into poverty.

All human beings want to flourish and, according to the Catholic Social Teaching principle of human dignity, we all deserve to flourish. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, there is dignity inherent in all human beings so concrete that nothing – behavior, birthplace, income, race, or sex – can deny it. Being human is the only prerequisite for having dignity, and it is instructive for how we are to treat one another on this Earth. A person made in the image of God is worthy of having enough to eat, having meaningful work, expressing him or herself through art and creativity, and having access to what is necessary to live out his or her potential. We are called to flourish by God and any act or system that prohibits this flourishing must be challenged. The structure of society, therefore, must be founded in a firm respect for humanity that acknowledges and provides the resources that every human needs to live out his or her potential.

There’s a beautiful song that captures the intensity of the human desire and need to flourish called Bread and Roses. My favorite line is “our hearts starve as well as bodies,” because it illustrates that a well-fed body is not a comprehensive human experience. Our hearts must also be well-cared for in order to have a truly human life. In his ministry, Jesus Christ recognized earthly goods as the means to life, not the end of life. He said, “One does not live by bread alone…” We also live by roses like spirituality, love, beauty, and the appreciation of life. Don’t we all want not merely to have our personal needs satisfied, but to experience the wonder and amazement of life? The words of Rose Schneiderman from the women’s labor movement in 1912 that inspiredBread and Roses encapsulate this human desire. She said:

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

People struggling with poverty do not have the opportunity to live out their potential or have “roses” when humanitarian programs are not appropriately funded. According to psychological studies, slashing benefits does not provide any motivation to work harder. Instead, it actually generates more stress on the brain, which results in inadequate decision-making that can exasperate a situation of poverty. Thus, cutting poverty programs leads to the opposite of the spouted “less government aid equals harder work” argument. Furthermore, a permanent underclass, what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture,” is perpetuated by blaming people in poverty for an economic situation that they cannot create solutions for without the satisfaction of their basic needs. This treatment of our sisters and brothers is gravely unjust.

Therefore, I admonish those in Congress and society that blame people in situations of poverty. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), and he recognized a design for living that embraces the human capacity to thrive. We must foster human thriving through a society that structures itself to make human dignity a priority, which includes adequate funding of human needs programs. Pope Francis recently spoke of the right humans have to rest, experience leisure, and flourish. The “occasion to live one’s own creatureliness” the pope speaks about is the joyful consequence of a human dignity-centered society. We as a nation must focus our energy on creating this society rather than blaming those who are poor for being poor.

Voting Is a Start, Not an End

Voting Is a Start, Not an End

By Rachel Schmidt
November 03, 2015

How great it is that we live in a democratic country where we choose our elected officials. We have a government “by the people and for the people” that rejects the notion that power can be concentrated into the leadership of the unelected few. Historically, democracy has been a cataclysmic shift to the idea that all have the right to take care of society. As people of faith, we participate in our democratic government through voting on election day and through advocacy the rest of the year. This freedom to vote is an important and considerable responsibility; here are some best practices to simplify and prioritize the process.

NETWORK has a tool that can help you register to vote, vote via mail, and reminds you about upcoming elections. TurboVote helps take some of the guesswork out of voting when it comes to the logistics and can help you plan ahead for voting day. It will send text and e-mail reminders about upcoming election days. If your state allows absentee ballots, a great option is to sign up with Turbovote, vote ahead of time, and avoid the hustle of Election Day.

But what about knowing which candidates to choose? Even if you plan and/or get your absentee ballot ahead of time, choosing from a list of names you’ve possibly never heard before can be daunting. You also want to be a responsible voter who chooses a candidate who represents your values and community. It’s tempting to take the easy way out, check some boxes, and come out of the ballot box gilded in “I Voted” stickers. To avoid the ineffectiveness of being a “Gilded Voter” there are some tools that can help you research candidates. Votesmart.org offers a tool called “Vote Easy” that helps you determine which presidential candidate matches your views.

Voting is not the solution to all issues in a country or government, but it is an integral part of the solution. If it wasn’t important, gerrymandering and voter restrictive laws would not be created to sway voting outcomes. Russell Brand, an actor, comedian, and social activist, finds voting to be so meaningless that he advocates against doing it. Brand is right to want more out of our political system, but we must start somewhere. The vote has not become null and void, and it’s a start. To be fair, it is also not an end. We must use our power, as a collective voice, to raise the important issues to our elected officials time and time again. This act goes far beyond the ballot box.

Blog: Open Letter to Speaker Paul D. Ryan

Open Letter to Speaker Paul D. Ryan

By NETWORK Lobby
October 30, 2015

Dear Speaker Ryan,

Congratulations on your election to Speaker of the House. As you are well aware, we are in a period of great importance for our nation, and your election is highly significant for the future of all the people who rely on your leadership. This is surely not an easy task, but we are hopeful that we can work together to make progress on this goal.

We at NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby look forward to seeing a familiar face in the Speaker’s office. We value having a leader of the House of Representatives who listens to the message of the Gospel, is familiar the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, and truly wants to make this country a better place for its residents. Though we may differ on many of the policy solutions, we desire the same result, a nation that cares for those who are vulnerable, elderly, sick, immigrants— a thriving nation made up of strong communities.

We agree with you that the House of Representatives “represents the best of America, the boundless opportunity to do good.” We know you have made poverty a special focus of your work over the past few of years. We are grateful that you and other colleagues are giving this issue extra attention in Congress. As Pope Francis said:

“Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons.”

Catholic sisters, including the founders of NETWORK, have been serving and accompanying families and individuals on the economic margins for centuries. We are moved to do this work by our belief that all are made in the image of God. Our common belief in the Dignity of the Human Person means that all women, men, and children are worthy of care and having their basic needs met. We are jointly motivated by the principle of theOption for the Poor and Vulnerable, which calls us to consider the needs of those who are most marginalized and most vulnerable before any other considerations. The Catholic faith we share with you inspires us to work for a nation where all can live safe, healthy, and fulfilled lives. We have faith that you will try to live out this sacred trust as Speaker, and we hope that you will legislate to make sure the needs of all our sisters and brothers are met.

There are many challenges we must overcome to reach that society. Last year more than 45 million people experienced poverty in the United States, over 30 million people did not have health insurance, and over 15 million children lived in food-insecure households. We strongly feel, as Pope Francis said in his address to Congress, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” and “an integrated approach to combating poverty.” We will continue our work on Capitol Hill; lobbying for policies that combat poverty and contribute to a culture of care, and we invite you to join us in this undertaking.

Congratulations again. We look forward to working with you, Speaker Ryan.