Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

An Open Letter to ICE

An Open Letter to ICE

Sam Murillo
November 22, 2019

To Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the United States:

 

Being young and undocumented is something that is rarely talked about. Many of us were brought here as children and have been raised just like you. We were raised with the same education and we have the same dreams. Yet we grow old and realize that we are not like the rest. We realize that we do not have the same opportunities, but the only difference between me and you is that I am undocumented. While you go out and pursue your dreams for higher education, I will be rejected from the same school you were accepted to because of my legal status. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of immigrant children, and while some are protected under DACA, there are still a significant amount of children and teenagers that remain unprotected.

Being young and undocumented brings an inexplicable fear. There is a constant fear for your life, and a constant fear of being ripped away from your family and the only country you know. We grow up living in our parents’ fear, we grow up without access to healthcare because our parents are undocumented. We grow up fearing the police and knowing exactly who and what ICE does at a very young age. You rip our families apart, you hold our children hostage at the border, you rape our mothers and sisters, and you send us back to countries we know nothing about. We grow up hoping that when we come home from school, our parents will still be there. We grow up with fear and trauma that we can’t even understand. We are hardworking people that contribute to the economy, our parents are contributing to this country, they dreamt first and until our parents are safe we will not step down. Our parents are the true Dreamers, and we shouldn’t have to grow up in fear of losing them. We shouldn’t have to grow up uninsured. We most certainly don’t deserve to be denied from the same opportunities as everyone else. My parents deserve the chance to become citizens, I deserve to become a citizen, and there are many more like us that deserve that chance. Children are growing up in fear, families are being ripped apart, and as contributing immigrants of this nation we deserve nothing less than an opportunity. It is our duty to fight for our freedom and it is our duty to win!

 

Sam Murillo is a 20 year old student at Trinity Washington University. She is originally from Jeffersonville, Indiana and her family is from Mexico. She is studying to become a doctor and wishes for structural change in the United States judicial system.

Not Our Job: Grappling With the Struggle of Being Black and Compassionate

Not Our Job: Grappling With the Struggle of Being Black and Compassionate

Charlotte Hakikson
October 24, 2019

On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger entered the home of Botham Jean, mistaking it for her apartment, and fatally shot him. Both Guyger and Jean lived in the same apartment building; she lived on the third floor and he lived directly above her. The details of the case are tricky but please feel free to read more about it here. After hearing the case, the jury found Guyger guilty of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. While there are mixed reactions to the sentence, I want to bring our attention to a few events that happened in the courtroom during and after the trial.

Cathy Odhiambo, Guyger’s Black coworker and friend, took the stand in defense of Guyger and spoke to her character. This felt very performative. Was there not anyone else who knew her work ethic and personality, and could speak in defense of her? The Black bailiff comforted and fixed Guyger’s hair while Guyger cried after hearing the verdict. That was extremely difficult to watch. Judge Tammy left her stand to hug Guyger after the trial. That was outright unprofessional. Finally, Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham, said to Guyger, “I don’t even want you to go to jail … I love you as a person, I don’t wish anything bad for you,” then proceeded to hug her.

There was a lot of outrage with what was displayed in the courtroom and I came across a tweet that said, “If you think this is crazy, remember the cross.” As a person of faith, I agree that we should live out Jesus’s teaching to love our neighbor, however I am weary that this message is being targeted solely to Black people.

Black people should not be expected, or forced, to invoke any form labor that makes their oppressor look good. Odhiambo should not have to perform the physical labor of taking the stand in defense of Guyger. Brandt, the bailiff, and Judge Tammy should not have to perform the emotional labor of consoling her. I believe that had the roles been reversed, neither Guyger, nor the white community, would be as compassionate. It is not required for Black people to play the role of Jesus, take up the cross, and forgive their oppressors for oppressing them. I do not want people to feel compelled by any means, whether it be family, friends, or even their faith, to perform an act that has not proven to be beneficial to them in that instant. We mustn’t use the teachings as a way to be complacent and too forgiving for our own good. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Denouncing The Tech Industry’s Support For Detention, Deportation, & Family Separation

Denouncing The Tech Industry’s Support For Detention, Deportation, & Family Separation

Alex Burnett
October 22, 2019

In the past month, thousands of demonstrators staged dozens of internationally acclaimed protests across the United States. These protesters demanded major tech companies, such as Amazon and Palantir Technologies, cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because of their role enforcing the Trump administration’s white supremacist and xenophobic immigration policies.

On Thursday, September 5, approximately 1,000 protestors organized by the Jewish activist group Never Again Action marched from the New England Holocaust Memorial to Amazon’s Cambridge Headquarters. Outside of Amazon’s headquarters,  they unfurled banners and gave speeches denouncing Amazon’s widely documented relationship with ICE, which protestors compared to IBM’s role in assisting Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Less than one week later, a coalition of Latinx and Jewish organizations, including Mijente and Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, rallied outside Palantir’s New York and San Francisco offices. Together they called for the multi-billion dollar tech giant to end its $49 million contact with ICE.

As anti-ICE demonstrations intensify and the Trump administration’s immigration policies become even deadlier, Catholics should heed the Gospel’s to “love thy neighbor” and demand that tech giants stop profiting from federal agencies that terrorize, torture, and attack immigrants.

Many immigrant justice organizers including Movimiento Cosecha, ICE Out of L.A., and other organization have repeatedly denounced the tech industry’s support for ICE’s deadly raids and CBP’s “filthy” concentration camps. Outrage swelled after the Immigrant Defense Project, Mijente, Empower LLC, and The National Immigration Project published their October 2018 report, “Who’s Behind ICE?” In this 74-page document, the authors outline how “a handful of huge corporations,” including Forensic Logic Inc. and Salesforce, annually receive billions of federal dollars in exchange for database services, case management software, fingerprinting technology, facial recognition software, and “social media analytics.” These tech services allow ICE agents to “surveil, track, and…deport immigrants” with ease.

Using the information from this report, Mijente, alongside thousands of university students, and workers at Salesforce and Amazon have disrupted dozens of recruitment events and press conferences to prevent companies that contract with ICE from conducting “business as usual.” As investigative journalist David Dayen explained in a 2018 article, “ICE relies on private contractors to carry out its detention operations, so one way to abolish ICE might be to make its association so toxic that it loses its collaborators.”

Pope Francis repeatedly calls for world leaders to build a “Hundreds of Catholic Sisters, Priests, Brothers, and lay people, including NETWORK’s own Sister Quincy Howard and Laura Peralta-Schulte, already answered this call by putting their bodies on the line to protest DHS’s illegal family separation policy. By shaming multi-billion dollar corporations that do business with ICE and CBP, Catholics can advance Pope Francis’s vision of a “moral economy” rooted in peace and love for our neighbors.

The Sounds of My People: A Hispanic/Chicanx/Latinx Heritage Month Playlist

The Sounds of My People:
A Hispanic/Chicanx/Latinx Heritage Month Playlist

Ness Perry

October 11, 2019

As National Hispanic Heritage month comes to an end, I would like to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate the generations of Chicanx, Latinx, and Hispanic folks who have enriched United States culture and society. Our heritage teaches us to reflect on those who came before you and those who will come after as a way to recognize your own worth. Here are some songs that represent the stories of triumph, tragedy, and everyday life of my people.

1. Mexico Lindo y Querido by Jorge Negrete

In 2016, when President Trump announced his race for presidency, he slandered my family by calling all Mexicans “rapists” and stating that they are “bringing crime” to the United States. Playing this song after President Trump denounced all Mexicans was my form of resistance against his hateful rhetoric. This song is considered to be a beautiful ode to the people of Mexico, written by Jorge Negrete, an iconic singer, songwriter, and actor originally from my family’s home state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

2. El Pueblo Unido by Quilapayun

A common chant heard at protests worldwide is, “A people united will never be defeated!” This chant has been appropriated from the Spanish languages’ “!La gente unida jamas sera vencida!” which was initially recited in 1974 after a military coup d’etat in Chile. The song was written by Quilapayun & Sergio Ortega and is known widely throughout Latinxamerica as a song meant to mobilize the people by singing as one voice, united through music.

 

3. Para Agradecer by Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman is a band that took the world by storm in the last few years, especially when they played Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2015. Although this is a love song, Para Agradecer thanks life itself in its chorus when singer Eduardo Arenas laments, “Gracias a la vida.” This song always reminds me to be eternally grateful to the universe and any other higher power for that matter. Life is always giving me reasons to be grateful, and I like to listen to this song in the morning to start my day off by thanking the universe in every way possible.

4. (Brown and Smart), Monstro by Downtown Boys

When I first moved to D.C. I didn’t realize how political the music I listened to would get – and then I saw Downtown Boys play one night at a little bar on U Street. Their album “Full Communism” had just come out and I fell in love with the punk and brown aesthetic that they push in almost every song. The short speech that precedes the song reminds me of why I am in justice work: I’m here to take up space and let it be known that my voice will not be overshadowed by white hegemony.

5. La Bamba by Richie Valens

Possibly the most widely known Latinx song in modern history, this song reminds me of being in my grandparents living room with my cousins while watching the iconic Hollywood dramatization of the story of Ricardo Valenzuela, also known as Ritchie Valens. Ritchie was only 15 when he died, but his legacy lives on in the souls of all Chicanx identified people. He was the first major Chicanx musician to break out onto the top 40.

Music has evolved in the United States and Latinx artists from today, like Bad Bunny, and Cardi B have broken out of their genres into the top 40, collaborating with Hip Hop, Pop and R&B artists alike.  This Latinx/Chicanx/Hispanic heritage month I invite you to explore a genre of music rich with culture, struggle, and success.

Texas v. Azar: One Court Ruling Could Affect the Lives of More Than 20 Million People

Texas v. Azar: One Court Ruling Could Affect the Lives of More Than 20 Million People

Anne Marie Bonds
October 9, 2019

Passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was meant to decrease the number of uninsured people in the United States. Too many people simply hoped to stay healthy every day, avoiding hospitals and ambulances because they couldn’t afford thousands of dollars in medical bills. The ACA has made insurance accessible for over 20 million people since 2010 and has helped even more by making preventative care, such as annual physicals, free. It also prohibits all insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, meaning people who are already sick cannot be rejected because of their illness.

For the last seven years, Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA numerous times through the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In 2017, the repeal of the ACA came down to one vote in the Senate. Senator John McCain’s historic thumbs down vote effectively ended the Republican movement to repeal the ACA through legislation.

Now, the ACA is at risk again. This time, it is back in the courts. In February 2018, twenty Republican-led states filed a lawsuit, Texas v. Azar, to invalidate the ACA. Now, the lawsuit has made its way up to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is only one step down from the Supreme Court. The 5th Circuit is expected to make a ruling sometime this week, a decision that could potentially shake the nation’s entire health system.

If you know me you would probably ask: Anne Marie, why do you care so much about the Affordable Care Act? You’re an upper-middle class, 22-year-old white girl from Alabama. How has the ACA affected your life in any way? Well, the short answer is that it hasn’t. Not directly. I’ve been covered under my parents’ employer health insurance since I was young, and I’ve had the privilege of never needing to worry about how my medical bills were going to be paid. In fact, I never really cared about Obamacare until November of 2013, when I realized how the ACA impacts every single person in our nation.

In November of 2013, my father was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a terminal, degenerative disease that slowly atrophies muscle over time. Those with an ALS diagnosis have 3-5 years left to live, but for many, those years are not pleasant. Before my Dad got sick, he worked in an aluminum plant, and when he was diagnosed, he had to quit his job because he couldn’t lift anything anymore. Because of this, he lost his employer’s health insurance coverage, as many with ALS do.

Without the ACA, my father would not have been able to find private insurance, as insurance companies could have easily denied him due to his pre-existing condition. Thousands of ALS patients are dependent on this non-discrimination clause within the ACA to receive care that can prolong their lives for months. Without the ACA, ALS patients are left without a safety net and no way to pay for their care. Other people with chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and heart disease, depend on the ACA to protect them from private insurance discrimination. Although 20 million people directly depend on the ACA to provide them with quality, affordable health insurance, an innumerable amount of people in the U.S. depend on the ACA indirectly by prohibiting pre-existing condition discrimination and making preventative care services free.

Depending on how the 5th Circuit rules, there’s a good chance we’ll see this case in the Supreme Court next year. Although conservatives would have you believe the ACA only helps the uninsured, in reality, the positive effects of the ACA extend to almost every person in the nation. The ACA has faced a bevy of criticism for nine years, even though it is a vital aspect of our nation’s health care system. It is time to stop our partisan arguing over the ACA. It is time to stop making the health of our people an ideological argument. It is time to support the ACA and work to stop those who continue attempting to repeal and destroy it.

Affirmation in the Workplace

Affirmation in the Workplace

Ness Perry
September 27, 2019

As a young adult working at a YMCA in a Southern California suburb, I never thought that being out in the workplace was safe. I had come out to my friends, my family and most importantly myself. But, I wondered all the time whether my coworkers knew, and if they did, would say anything to my boss? More seriously, would the clientele think differently of me because I worked with children? Conservative parents are notorious for having perverse thoughts about queer-identified people in the childcare industry. Needless to say, I lived in fear of being fired and ousted by my community for being queer and proud at work. So, I vowed never to talk about my identity at work.

As a new staff member at NETWORK, I found that being out at work is not just accepted, it’s celebrated. I don’t know how I lived in the shadows (or in the closet) for so long because of how comfortable I am now. This organization proudly affirms me, my identity, and who I love. As I write, however, I realize how big of a privilege it is to even be able to write this. In little under a month, the Supreme Court will hear a case to decide the constitutionality of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia will be heard on October 8, 2019. This case is not a question of whether the law permits discrimination, it is a question about respecting human dignity. As individuals, we have the right to be ourselves one hundred percent of the time — this includes identifying as LGBTQ+ all the time. I am scared, though. What if our human dignity is not protected under the law? What if my queer siblings and I cannot live in peace without the fear of discrimination? We cannot let the courts, nor any administration revoke the rights that we have been working to gain for so long. I began identifying myself as queer in the workplace because I realized that Marsha P. Johnson did not sacrifice her life for me to be scared.

A verdict will be announced soon, and we cannot and will not be afraid of a negative outcome. Queer is invincible; it is resilient, and we will overcome just as we have many times before. Perry v. Hollingsworth was the first time the Supreme Court overturned a state decision to put a ban on marriage equality. This case proved that we can make progress, but we must unite as a coalition of citizens loving and affirming those affected while being dedicated to social justice efforts.

Honestly, I never thought a faith-based organization would be the place I can present myself in such an authentic way. NETWORK proudly affirms the dignity of all people and the reality that LGBTQ+ people like myself are in need of protection under the law and within the social sphere. When I walk into my workplace, I am queer. When I am working, I am queer. When I am advocating for the rights of others, I am queer. There is no political force nor law that will bar me from being myself, unapologetically.

HUD Housing Rule Hurts Families

HUD Housing Rule Hurts Families

Elisa McCartin
August 27, 2019

This blog continues explaining the various rules changes proposed by the Trump administration which would hurt our country and make it harder to mend the gaps. Read blogs about additional proposed rules here:

Redefine the Poverty Line
Joint Employer Rule

President Trump’s Mixed-Status Family Housing Rule

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a proposed rule change that would prohibit families with one or more member who is ineligible from receiving HUD public housing or housing subsidies from accessing both these services—essentially barring mixed-status immigrant families from public housing. The NETWORK community submitted over 600 comments to HUD during the submission period which closed on July 8, 2019, strongly opposing the measure on behalf of our members and the immigrant community.

If implemented, the rule change would impact the 25,000 families with one or more ineligible member residing in HUD public housing. These families would be forced from their homes, displacing 108,000 people even though 70 percent are eligible to receive HUD services. Among the 108,000 to be evicted, 55,000 are children. Since these families already rely on subsidized housing, it is extremely unlikely they will be able to find replacement homes that they can afford. As a result, homelessness across the country will increase, dramatically harming the physical, economic, and psychological wellbeing of immigrant families. Such a policy reflects absolute neglect of the immigrant community. As one of the richest nations around the world, America ought to extend compassion and kindness to our neighbors. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has demonstrated a complete lack of grace and humanity with this proposed change.

Since thousands of families will face acute homelessness, this rule would force families to have to choose between their housing and staying together as a family—a truly inconceivable decision. To force families into this situation is immeasurably evil and cruel.

To defend their position, HUD’s leadership has presented this rule change with the argument that removing mixed-status immigrant families from public housing will open up more housing for U.S. citizens. This position is extremely misguided. Implementing this rule change would cost HUD millions of unnecessary funds, eliminating even existing affordable housing options. Under the current system, HUD pro-rates the housing subsidy per family based on the number of eligible members in each family. Families with more eligible members receive higher subsidies than those with fewer eligible members. With the proposed rule change, HUD would no longer be able to pro-rate any of its subsidies since every resident would be fully eligible to receive HUD benefits. A HUD report itself concluded that this would cost HUD $227 million. The same report noted that in order to cover these added costs, HUD would either have to reduce the quantity and quality of the public housing it offers or turn to taxpayers to foot the bill. The likelier scenario of reducing public housing availability would directly harm all residents of HUD housing and eliminate any chance of expanding public housing. The alternative of forcing taxpayers to pay off HUD’s debt is no better—hardworking individuals and families should not carry the burden of a sloppy, unnecessary, and underhanded HUD rule change.

NETWORK is committed to seeking solutions to the public housing crisis in the United States. There is an undeniable need to expand public housing options and reduce prices in order to substantially mend the gaps in our society. Instead of proposing measures that will limit public housing options and evict immigrant families, NETWORK urges HUD to find solutions that meaningfully address root causes and affirm their commitment to expanding affordable housing to every person in our country who needs it. We will continue to oppose HUD’s brutal proposal and defend immigrant families. Housing is a human right.

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

Joint Employer Rule Moves DOL Backwards

Joint Employer Rule Moves DOL Backwards

Elisa McCartin
August 23, 2019

The Trump administration has announced many harmful rules changes in the last several months, including Joint Employer rule change explained below. This blog follows our previous blog about the Trump administration’s proposal to re-define the poverty line. Read that blog here.

Proposed Joint Employer Rule Change

On June 25, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) closed its commenting period on a proposed rule that would alter Section 791 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs joint employer liability. The proposed rule would create a four question standard to determine if one is legally considered a joint employer and is liable for their employees, making it dramatically more difficult to hold putative employers accountable.

In its current form, the FSLA stipulates that employers must be “not completely disassociated” in order to be considered joint employers who share liability of an employee. The DOL’s plan is to update this criteria based on a Court of Appeals case Bonnette vs. California Health and Welfare Agency (1982), to include a higher standard that requires employers to share direct control over an employee in order to be considered liable. Under this standard, to be considered a joint employer, one must have the power to 1) hire or fire the employee 2) supervise and control the works schedule of conditions of employment 3) determine the employee’s rate and method of payment and 4) maintain the worker’s employment record. In 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in the case Browning-Ferris Industries of California vs. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that indirect control of an employee is sufficient to qualify someone as a joint employer. Despite this more recent precedent, the Trump Administration is trying to revert back to this outdated legal framework from the 1982 Bonnette case.

By adopting this higher standard, the DOL would make it nearly impossible to prove that a putative employer should be considered a joint employer and thus held accountable for their employee’s treatment. American workers in contract labor positions often work under the jurisdiction of someone who does not directly control the terms of their employment, but oversees their daily activities and work environment. Holding people in these positions accountable for workplace conditions, treatment and environment of the people working under them would become extremely difficult to litigate against if the DOL goes through with the proposed change. Unjust conditions such as organizing restrictions, discrimination, and harassment would all essentially become state-sanctioned. Moreover, collective bargaining would become obsolete, as only employers are legally required to allow workers to bargain. As a result, this rule change has the potential to radically shift work-place power dynamics more heavily in favor of employers at the expense of employees’ rights and protections.

Every person has the right to work in a safe and nurturing work environment. By making harder to prove that putative employers should be considered joint employers, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure employees work in fair conditions. Pope Francis reminds us that we must create moral and ethical economies which protect workers and our environment. The DOL’s proposal only further elevates the managerial class at the expense of workers, who deserve equal protections and enforcement by the government. We cannot operate businesses in good faith without ensuring there are strong mechanisms in place to protect employees.

This proposed rule change represents the Trump administration’s continued efforts to chip away at worker protections and undermine the working class. At NETWORK, we recognize the dignity of all workers. We acknowledge the gross injustices at hand in the American workforce. We will continue to stand in solidarity with workers and organized labor to put an end to the rampant injustice that further weakens the most vulnerable and powerless in our society.

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

Catholic Social Justice Embodied at the Catholic Day of Action

Catholic Social Justice Embodied at the Catholic Day of Action

Kamila Mehdi
August 1, 2019

As someone who grew up in a non-faith based home, I had difficulty wrapping my mind around the concept “Catholic Social Justice.” I had never thought of the three words strung together because the term social justice to me was just that, no matter what background you came from. What I have been fortunate to learn this summer as a NETWORK volunteer is that Catholic Social Justice to me means progressive, open advocates that put their faith in the forefront and back it by various acts with the intention of ensuring a better tomorrow. This was clear to me as NETWORK joined the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children last Thursday, July 18.

The gathering took place in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building to call for an end to the inhumane and immoral practice of child detention. Sisters, brothers, and lay Catholic advocates from nearly 20 national organizations comprised the more than 200 individuals at the gathering, which was followed by 70 Catholic leaders participating in nonviolent civil disobedience. I was lucky to be present for the entirety of the gathering, which had a significant impact on me and individuals I interacted with in the rotunda.

The demonstration was bold, but the individuals participating in nonviolent civil disobedience were bolder. They proceeded into the rotunda with the names and pictures of the eight children who had died in custody or seeking asylum, and circled the space with five individuals lying down in the shape of a cross through the whole nonviolent civil disobedience. For me, this act showed how deeply interconnected faith and social justice were to the individuals participating in the nonviolent civil disobedience, as well as their vulnerability in order to make the courageous statement.

As the action went on, individuals working in the Russell building crowded the upstairs to see what exactly was going on. Displeased tones echoed behind our group from individuals jaded by “yet another protest” which they initially interpreted as Catholic extremists trying to make a point. But after asking us the reason of protest, we explained and gave them a better understanding of the concept of “Catholic Social Justice.” These same individuals were surprised by the concept and shared the appreciation I had for the participants of the action, which lead to some productive conversations.

Leaving the protest, I wondered if I too would have made those assumptions before learning more about Catholic Social Justice at NETWORK. I soon realized that regardless, I have been given the opportunity to expand my views and opinions and for that, I am thankful.

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Mary Cunningham
July 4, 2018

July 4, 1776: the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Since then, each July 4th we celebrate our nation’s freedom from an overbearing colonial rule and our fervent patriotism. We dress in red, white, and blue, enjoy cookouts with neighbors in our backyards, and watch from picnic blankets as fireworks erupt across the sky. Yes, the day has become commercialized, but the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as pertinent in our current political climate as they were when they were first written.

The document written by our founding fathers clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people. Thus, we see the intricate and fragile relationship that exists between the government and the governed.

Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we have do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what was meant by this term: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

The default on the promise of “inalienable rights” was evident during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and it is still evident today for people of color and all on the economic margins seeking to live freely in the United States. We see this in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, Congress’s failure to pass a Dream Act to protect DACA recipients, and state and federal attempts to impose work requirements on human needs programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. How do these political decisions enhance the life, liberty, or happiness of the people they impact? They don’t.

On a more personal level, we have begun to fail one another, as violent discrimination and exclusion continue to reign. Our nation has endured countless acts of police brutality and racial profiling. I am astonished on a daily basis by the attacks on communities of color, like the recent shooting of high school student Antwon Rose. If we set a standard that “all men are created equal,” shouldn’t we hold all people to that standard, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs?

A few days ago, one of my coworkers sent around a video from the show, Dear White People, to our staff. In the video, the character Reggie reads a poem he wrote for an open mic night—his rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal
that they are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights
Among these life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness
unless you’re loud and black
and possess an opinion
then all you get is a bullet
A bullet that held me at bay
A bullet that can puncture my skin
take all my dreams away
A bullet that can silence
the words I speak to my mother
just because I’m
other
A bullet – held me captive
gun in my face
your hate misplaced
White skin, light skin
but for me not the
right skin
Judging me with no crime committed
reckless trigger finger itching to
prove your worth by disproving mine
My life in your hands
My life on the line
Fred Hampton
Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd
Reggie Green
Spared by a piece of paper
a student ID
that you had to see before
you could identify
me
and set me supposedly
free
Life
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness
for some of us maybe
There’s nothing
self-evident
about it

The Declaration of Independence pronounced the individual rights that cannot be taken away. In 1776, that only included white, male landowners. After much hard work and sacrifice, we know that all people deserve these same unalienable rights. But, we see that as a nation today, we fall despairingly short of this. The words of the Declaration of Independence should not be an ideal or something that we aspire to. They must be the law of the land, the fabric which knits our country together. For if we cannot claim our freedom, what do we have left?