Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

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 Despite this more recent precedent, the Trump Administration is trying to revert back to this outdated legal framework from the 1982 Bonnette case.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?

 

Funding the First Step Act: Critical Programs for Criminal Justice Reform

Funding for the First Step Act: We Need Programs for Criminal Justice Reform

José Arnulfo Cabrera
April 26, 2019

The First Step Act was a bipartisan bill that took the first step forward to getting criminal justice reform, and in December 2018 it became law! All of these returning citizens would not have been incarcerated if the Fair Sentencing Act had been passed before 2010. The act stopped punishment disparities between both possessing and selling crack cocaine and powdered. But the First Step Act does more than that. It reduces the amount of mandatory minimum by creating a new system called a safety valve, which reviews individual nonviolent drug offense cases with no prior criminal background. The bill will also authorize funding for programs that will help returning citizens break the chains of our injustice criminal justice system. In the next four years, Congress has the authority to appropriate $75 million dollars to rehabilitative for individuals who will be released because of the First Step Act.

Every February the President sends his budget request to Congress as they begin their regular appropriations process. The passing of First Step Act was possible because of many Republicans and Trump, who supported it. But when we saw that Trump only requested $14 million in this year’s budget request, we became worried that the Trump Administration wasn’t committed to implementing the full $74 million the First Step Act authorized. At NETWORK, we believe that the budget is a moral document that shows what our government’s priorities are. If the budget does not allocate the full $74 million authorized to carry out the First Step Act, then it is clear that criminal justice reform is not one of these priorities.

Officials in the Trump administration shared that they plan to increase their funding request in the next budget year to $147 million, so it can offset the money that fell short last year. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also stated that more funding will need to be appropriated in order to be able to begin implement the policies in the First Step Act. At a White House celebration of the passing the First Step Act, Trump stated that his administration has the full intention of fully funding the First Step Act. While the funding is very important, there are programs that must begin to in order for the policies to take place. On April 8, the DOJ announced the first programs that the First Step Act seeks to create. The DOJ‘s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) share they choose Hudson Institute to host the Independent Review Committee. This program will assist the DOJ in developing and implementing risk and needs assessment tools and evidence-based recidivism reduction that will help incarcerated individuals become return citizens. This is a good start and does give us hope the First Step Act policies will be implemented.

NETWORK has been on the Hill talking with the staffers of Congress members, along with our partners, to ensure that $75 million will be appropriated to fully fund the First Step Act policies. For all of the correct programs to be implemented, the bill will need to allot enough money for the government to fund them.

“How to Lobby:” Training the Stone Ridge Sophomore Class

“How to Lobby:” Training the Stone Ridge Sophomore Class

Last week, the Grassroots Mobilization team welcomed the last of the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart sophomore class to our office for a “How to Lobby” Presentation before taking them up to Capitol Hill to visit their federal legislators.  Beginning in October, we (Erin Sutherland and Alannah Boyle, Grassroots Mobilization Associates) have had the opportunity to train and accompany the entire sophomore class at Stone Ridge on dozens of lobby visits.

In each visit, we taught the sophomores about the importance of Family Friendly Workplace policies, including paid family medical and sick leave. Right now, there are two great bills going through both the House and Senate: The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1784/S. 840) which guarantees workers the right to earn sick days to care for themselves or a family member, and the FAMILY Act (H.R. 1185/S. 463), which provides workers the opportunity to access paid sick leave.  Through Stone Ridge’s Social Action program, a group of approximately ten sophomores visited the NETWORK office every other week for the past seven months. It is only at the end of this program that we see the magnitude of our reach.

Alannah Boyle, Grassroots Mobilization Associate, presenting to Stone Ridge students.

Erin:

“I had not gone on a lobby visit until I started working at NETWORK. For me, when I had heard of lobbying in the past, the word connoted meeting of special interests, of wealthy people in suits, speaking more eloquently on issues than I could.  However, after going to my first lobby visit in coalition (and with coaching from Sr. Quincy Howard, Government Relations Advocate at NETWORK) this past fall, I realized that the only thing needed for a successful lobby visit and sincere conviction in an issue I cared about. Alannah and I tried to pass on these two important skills to our students by staging mock lobby visits with lots of contingencies (what if we need to meet in the hallway, as is common?  Or if the staffer we meet with tries to change the topic of our visit?) to help make the girls prepared and confident for whatever could come their way.  We also talked with the students about how, as women, the right to paid family and medical leave has or will affect us personally at some point in our lives, between becoming a parent, to needing to take care or a relative, or taking time off in the wake of personal trauma.

“Every few weeks, I was humbled to accompany such eloquent and diligent young women to advocate for such important policies. It made me hopeful to see the next generation already engaged in federal advocacy – years before I was!  It also reinforced my belief that lobbying can and should be accessible to all as a way to engage with our legislators on issues that matter to us.”

Alannah:

“Unlike Erin, I had been on a few lobby visits prior to beginning my work here at NETWORK. The first time I went on a lobby visit was as a college student after attending the Ignatian Family Teach-In when I myself was first trained by a NETWORK staff member on how to lobby, almost five years ago. I vividly remember how excited and equipped I felt after completing my first training and attending my first lobby visit. Realizing now that Erin and I have trained almost 100 high school students, and equipped them with these same skills, has been incredibly rewarding. We all have the ability to lobby and advocate our elected officials on issues that matter to us. As constituents, our Members of Congress work for us. NETWORK’s “How to Lobby” training helps to answer the questions that can make lobbying seem scary.”

Health Equity: Examining How Systemic Racism Has Sickened Our Communities

Health Equity: Examining How Systemic Racism Has Sickened Our Communities

Siena Ruggeri
April 16, 2019

As the NETWORK community undergoes our Lenten journey through racial justice, we are committed to identifying how racism manifests itself through federal policy. While many are familiar with how racial injustices are perpetuated by our criminal justice system and immigration system, the racism embedded in our healthcare system may not be as evident. Our identity, and especially our racial identity, plays a huge factor in our physical and mental health.

While we must continue to fight for accessible and affordable healthcare for all, that alone will not address the deep racial inequalities in health outcomes. When examining health systems, we must examine how our social location affects our ability to be healthy. Health care cannot be ignorant to identity, because our identity and social location affect both our access to healthcare and our ability to have healthy outcomes.

The healthcare system tends to view people in a vacuum, and often fails to consider how culture, environment, or socioeconomic status affects health. For example, someone reliant on public housing assistance may struggle to get enough exercise when they live in an area that lacks recreational facilities like parks or rec centers. A person with a physical disability might lack the accessible transportation options to get to an appointment with a provider. Type 2 diabetes is difficult to manage living in a food desert with limited access to healthy food options. Many LGBT+ people struggle to find providers accepting of their sexual orientation and may forgo care if there are no safe options in their community. For a non-English speaking patient, a language barrier at the pharmacy can result in inaccurate information on how to safely use a prescription.

The data is clear– marginalized populations have worse health outcomes. While the exact causes of these outcomes is not completely definitive, it’s clear that these disparities are  a result of structural barriers. Black women are four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women. Despite a lower incidence rate of cancer overall, African-American women have a higher cancer death rate when compared to white women. While the opioid crisis is too-often framed as a “white problem,” U.S. opioid death rates for African-Americans have increased over twice as fast as death rates for white individuals.

Like many other inequalities, society often individualizes the problem, blaming specific patients for their failure to “take care of themselves.” We have to break out of this culture of individualism. There are systemic inequalities at play. In fact, there’s a term for it— social determinants of health. The quality and accessibility of health care is only one determinant of health outcomes– other social determinants of health play a massive role. Things like the walkability of our neighborhoods, our access to early childhood education, and how much debt we carry have direct impacts on our overall health. Of course, people of color are disproportionately more likely to have poor social determinants of health. We have a shared responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be healthy– which means examining our solutions to our broken healthcare system through an equity lens.

We cannot improve health outcomes just by looking narrowly at medical systems. We also cannot continue to approach health in a race-neutral way. The opportunity to be healthy will only be fair and just when we interrogate how systemic inequalities have literally sickened communities of color, and when we redesign those systems to be equitable to all.

Infographic courtesy of Families USA: https://familiesusa.org/product/racial-and-ethnic-health-inequities-among-communities-color-compared-non-hispanic-whites

Lenten Reflections from a Frustrated Millennial Catholic

Lenten Reflections from a Frustrated Millennial Catholic

Lindsay Hueston
April 4, 2019

I’ve been angry at the Catholic Church for a while.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I went to Mass and left completely and utterly fulfilled — especially in light of the church’s many, many structural failures which have surfaced over the past few decades. I work at a Catholic organization, and still technically consider myself Catholic. I desire a church that works for justice, but am not seeing it. How can these things coexist?

As a result, I’ve stepped back from the church for several months, needing some space and time away. In removing myself from the institution, I have found myself to be walking through a sort of spiritual desert. The institutional Catholic Church as we know it is based on strict hierarchy; my anger stems from the fact that we, as church, cannot seem to step out of that structure in order to move forward. Why are we too often a church that continues perpetuating injustice, instead of overturning oppression?

I see a parallel between my reluctant Catholicism and the way that many in our country disagree with President Trump, but still call themselves American. As angry as I am, I can’t quite sever my ties to Catholicism. I’ve discovered that there is something valuable, even holy, in righteous anger. It spurs change, and enables people to work for justice. It is taxing, though, being angry at a patriarchal system that is terribly slow to change. In the same way, outrage and disagreement with President Trump and his policies are spurring new political engagement in our country.

The church I desire is one of justice and inclusion. The church I wish for is one that promotes anti-racism, supports the LGBTQ community, and removes all oppressions, even as human error often gets in the way. But this does not seem to be how the present Catholic Church works, and it angers me. When thinking about the distance between the church as it is and the church I desire, and my place in the church, the Jesus who flipped over tables in outrage comes to mind. It’s a comforting image: at some point, he was frustrated with his church, too.

I find it ironic that I am having these realizations at the same time as Lent, an intentional time of spiritual reflection and renewal. As the foundation of Lent, Jesus took time alone, went out to the desert, and reflected in a space of relative isolation. That idea resonates with me, and feels familiar — spending time away in order to come back restored.  In this Lenten season of reflection and prayer, I am drawn towards reexamining my faith — present on the fringes of the church as it may be.

What I’ve learned about the desert recently is that it isn’t a barren wasteland, as many portray it to be. Our staff visited the desert in New Mexico in February, and found it full of life. In a space of seeming desolation, things are flourishing. In the desert there is beauty, still: life adapting to circumstances it has been given.

That image is applicable to how I’ve been experiencing my faith lately: seemingly dead and empty, but quietly, blooms a cactus. There is life amidst the apparent emptiness; it’s just different than what we think it may look like.

I’ve realized that my anger is well-founded, and this has allowed me to channel my spirituality into practices that make me feel most whole: journaling, the Examen, building community with those experiencing homelessness. My faith has often felt like the desert: seemingly empty and scorched. But Jesus went to the desert, too. And the desert continues on, with life teeming in small, but important ways.

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Alannah Boyle
March 28, 2019

This past week, my colleague Laura Peralta-Schulte and I had the opportunity to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and represent NETWORK at the 20th annual White Privilege Conference. This conference was founded to examine the ideas of privilege and oppression and create space to work towards building strategies for a more equitable world.

For those of you participating in our Lenten reflection guide, you know that this Lent we are Recommitting to Racial Justice. The past two weeks, the reflections in the guide have been produced from our educational workshop on the racial wealth and income gap. We examine 12 federal policies and reflect on the ways in which each policy worked in order to create and perpetuate the racial wealth gap that exists today. Laura and I facilitated this workshop to over 50 other attendees. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. It is always exciting to spread the good work that NETWORK is doing to new audiences.

This was the second year that NETWORK staff have attended this conference. The presentations we attended ranged on topics from compassion as anti-oppression work, to the intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy, to embodied racial justice. Laura and I attended different presentations each session with the goal of gathering as much information in those four days as possible to bring back to the rest of our NETWORK community.

As I work to put my reactions into words for this blog, my thoughts and feelings after attending this conference, I am realizing the ways in which I am very much still processing the experience and all of the wisdom and expertise that was shared with me as a white person. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference, and the ways in which NETWORK intentionally makes space for the ongoing work of racial justice amongst staff members.

Young, Scrappy, and Hungry for Immigration Reform

Young, Scrappy, and Hungry for Immigration Reform

José Arnulfo Cabrera
March 22, 2019

When I first was introduced to Hamilton, it was during the 2016 election. Every morning I listen to NPR to stay up to date on current news, but as I listened then to Trump’s growing support and then saw him win the Republican nomination, I felt my hope for this country fade away. So I switched to listening to Hamilton every morning. Listening to the musical spreads the notion that America is this great unfinished symphony — where an orphan immigrant can make a name for himself.

I’m obsessed with Hamilton because it’s the most beautiful underdog story I ever heard: about a kid who, his whole life, had to fight against an everlasting hurricane wanting to wash him away. In “Alexander Hamilton,” the cast sings, “The ship is in the harbor now. See if you can spot him. Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom.” Who would have thought that someone in that crowd would be one of the founding fathers, the architect of the modern U.S., the architect of the financial powerhouse we are – who would create more things that outlived him and anyone else before him? I bet that’s what history will say of Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa (undocumented farmworker to internationally renowned neuroscientist and neurosurgeon), Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-5), and us.

Both Dreamers and TPS holders are Americans in every way. You never find a shortage of these amazing stories of people who are defying the odds, because that’s how we were raised and how America raised us to be; to defy the odds. We had the tenacity to defy those who said we would never go to college, contribute to our country, or say we couldn’t pass a background check.

The musical shares that Alexander Hamilton wanted to create a system that truly allowed people like him to make a name for themselves in this unfinished symphony. That’s what the U.S. inspires people to be: a country where immigrants who come from nothing and are nothing, can work tirelessly to create systems that outlive them.

That’s why there’s no shortage of successful Dreamers and TPS holders, though that’s not the reality for all of them. When I was an organizer in Cincinnati, many of the Dreamers who I organized with weren’t able to go to college because of the everlasting hurricanes that are trying to wash us away.

For the majority of us, we didn’t see DACA coming, just deportation. The realities of being an undocumented youth are knowing that no matter how hard you worked in school, how impressive your GPA was, or how many scholarships to college you could collect; the moment you graduate you’ll watch your classmate get their dream jobs while you struggle to find a job because of your status. There were so many students – including me – who didn’t see the value of furthering their education.

I saw a lot of DACA recipients who didn’t have the impressive GPA to get into the big schools and get the scholarships. And those were the Dreamers who had the money to pay for their DACA. This status gave us financial liberty that made our families depend on us. Many of us had the most secure job in our household.

The DREAM-Promise Act, H.R. 6, is a good first step in truly making America an unfinished symphony. When this bill passes, so many people will finally get their pathway to citizenship. Trust me, with citizenship and passion of community organizers, America will have an overflow of underdog stories from Dreamers, TPS, and DED holders.

So much of what I’ve learned from Hamilton is what it means to leave a legacy:

“It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me
You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants
Can leave their fingerprints and rise up”

H.R. 6 can be the 116th Congress’s legacy. This bill can be the legacy of all the organizations that are working for pro-immigration policy. Of all the immigration reform organizers. The legacy towards an immigration reform bill that will give a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrations. It’s our legacy.

The Gifts of Intentional Community

The Gifts of Intentional Community

Erin Sutherland
March 12, 2019

In conjunction with my year as a NETWORK Associate, I have been living in intentional community at the Anne Montgomery House organized by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ).  Our community consists of two RSCJ sisters, one RSCJ Associate working at a local university, one woman working at a public policy and research organization, and me.  The five of us bring many different gifts to our community.  The RSCJs have guided us in prayer and reflection each morning and night, we all take turns making communal meals and sharing stories over the dinner table, and we bring our expertise from our work in social justice in the many workshops and community events we’ve held.  I knew living in community with Catholic sisters would be a unique opportunity, but I didn’t realize until months after moving in just what a gift I was being offered.  The values intentional community cultivates- respect for others, putting others before oneself, and service- are extremely valuable, especially for someone like me in a transitional stage of my life.

After undergrad, I moved to Panama to teach English at a university. There, I lived with a multigenerational host family who truly welcomed me as one of their own.  Growing up in a military family, I never lived close to my extended family, but in Panama, I was around my host parents’ children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and cousins on almost a daily basis.  My host family’s commitment to relationships was something I was really missing when I moved back to the States a year later, and that was what I was seeking most when I asked to be a part of Anne Montgomery House.

Grassroots Mobilization Associate Erin Sutherland with some of the Anne Montgomery House community.

My past few months here have truly been an answer to my prayers and have helped me grow as a woman in my faith.  It has been a joy to pray together in the quiet of each morning before I go to work.  It has meant the world to know that I have a supportive community who has my back as I go through the graduate school application process.  It has been healing to gather around the dinner table, all of us bursting with stories to tell from our days at work or distraught over the latest headline and find rapt conversation partners.  Instead of participating in the constant news cycle hysteria, my community members have helped remind me to slow down and turn my energy towards more fulfilling emotions.  But living in community is also about the choices one makes every day to live in love.  It has been challenging at times to support each other through times apart, sickness, and the busyness of our daily lives.  It is only through accepting and committing to each other on both carefree days and difficult ones that we are truly breaking open our hearts to allow the Divine to become the center of our actions.  I am so grateful to have been invited to live in community, and for the direction it has provided in living out my faith.