Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Hispanic Heritage Month Media Guide

Hispanic Heritage Month Media Guide

Cristal Flores
October 11, 2021

Education has the power to humanize people who, because of larger structural inequalities, have been dehumanized or seen as lesser than. However, the U.S. educational system has not always benefited everyone equally. For decades, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have struggled and pushed to help create a more just educational system. Here are some notable pieces of media to educate yourself on the resilience of the Hispanic community in education: from landmark legal cases to high schoolers on strike.

Cristal Flores is a first generation Mexicana Americana in Orange County, CA. She is currently enrolled in her first year of her doctoral program for her Ph.D in Education with an emphasis on Cultural and Curricular Studies. Her research focus on the Latina/o/x communities in education especially parental engagement and migrant youth experience. As a practicing Catholic, Cristal sees her work, research, and advocacy as a way to further use the gifts that she learned in ministry and in her faith.

Community Conversation: Sisters on the Border

Community Conversation: Sisters on the Border

Mercy Adoga
July 21, 2021

On June 29, 2021, NETWORK hosted a community conversation with the “Sisters on the Borders.” Sr. Doreen Doreen, CSJ, and Sr. Patrice Patrice, CSJ engaged in conversation and shared their experiences.

Sr. Doreen began by mentioning a question she received prior to this conversation. The question was, “How did I become involved in this work?” Sr. Doreen expressed her gratitude for this question as it helped her reflect on her many years of service. She later went on to speak about her experience after Vatican II and how that time pushed her toward direct service. She visited jails, volunteered in homeless shelters, and taught ESL in Spanish-speaking communities. Sr. Doreen said when speaking about her work, “My commitment to living the Gospel led me to this.”

Sr. Patrice spoke next and also shared Sr. Doreen’s experience of reflecting prior to this conversation. Sr. Patrice spoke about her work with refugees in Cambodia, the border of Sudan and Ethiopia as well as Haiti. Sr. Patrice explained that all refugees want to stay in their home countries but their home is no longer safe for them for a variety of reasons including environmental concerns, gang violence, or government mismanagement. Sr. Patrice also joined other Sisters and volunteers in El Paso, Texas to assist migrants. She explained that one, “had to be open to what the needs were.”

With her most recent work in San Diego, CA, Sr. Patrice expressed her gratitude for the different organizations that came together regardless of background to assist refugees. She was also aware of the fact that refugees’ arrival in the states is just the beginning of their journey and that they face many challenges in the immigration process in the United States.

The latter half of the evening was led by Ronnate Asirwatham, NETWORK’s Government Relations Director, who took to explain immigration policies that the Sisters discussed such as Title 42 and MPP(Migrant Protection Protocols) After Ronnate explained these policies, viewers were given reflections questions to discuss in the breakout rooms. These questions included, “What has been your experience with immigration in your community?” “How have certain policies or laws impacted the situation at the border?” “What narratives about immigration do you hear in general? How do those compare to your experience?”

If you would like to learn more or re-watch this conversation, find the recording on NETWORK’s YouTube channel.

Mercy is a graduate student. She is one of the summer volunteers at NETWORK this year and has been working on the Summer Immigration Education and Advocacy Initiative.

People Over Profits: Chancellor Merkel Must Release the Vaccine

People Over Profits: Chancellor Merkel Must Release the Vaccine

Andrew Stokely
July 16, 2021

On a typically hot and muggy July morning this week, I headed into downtown Washington, D.C., with a first stop at the historic Lafayette Square by the White House. But I wasn’t there for sightseeing.

Instead, I watched as activists and protestors displayed body bags on the street and launched a giant balloon of Angela Merkel’s likeness.

It was all part of a movement to protest a decision by Merkel, the German chancellor, to oppose Covid-19 vaccine patent waivers. Allowing the waivers is crucial to fighting the pandemic. It would increase the supply of vaccines to countries around the world, especially in places like India and Africa, where many people are suffering and dying as the virus keeps spreading. With Merkel in Washington for a meeting with President Joe Biden, now was the time to make the case for allowing the waiver.

I’m a 17-year-old rising high school senior. If you’re wondering why someone like me was documenting the protest, it’s because I think teens and young people can and should fight for increasing access to global vaccines and encouraging vaccinations here at home. Until the whole world is safe, none of us are safe.

Olivia Rodrigo visited the White House recently to push for young people to get vaccinated. That’s a great first step, but I think it’s also important for my generation to learn and remember how young activists played a major role when the HIV and AIDS epidemic became a public health crisis in the 1980s. “During the first decade of the epidemic, young activists demanded action on the epidemic and successfully advocated for radical changes to the clinical trials and drug approval processes,” according to UNAIDS, an international advocacy group.

We can step up again. This time around, we have social media and we know how to help organize and mobilize protests. We could use everything from TikTok to text messages to get the word out. And just showing up in large numbers can help.

As the protest continued, activists staked out a position across the street from a nearby Johns Hopkins University building, where Merkel was being honored. When she was leaving one of the cars in the motorcade, the protesters yelled, “Release the vaccine!” and, “People are dying!” She ignored them as she went in to accept her award. I wish I could know if she heard the protestors and if she thought about what they said.

But, by the end of the day, I saw that Merkel had not changed her position. I was disappointed. But I also know that change doesn’t always come as quickly as we’d like it to. I want to keep encouraging my peers to speak out about making vaccines available to everyone and the importance of getting vaccinated. I hope that the next demonstration I attend will be one that celebrates this accomplishment.

Andrew Stokely is a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia and a rising high school Senior at Washington-Liberty High School.
Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

State Voting Restrictions Reinforce the Need for the Democracy Reform

State Voting Restrictions Reinforce the Need for the Democracy Reform

Alex Budzynski
June 21, 2021

Right now, a record number of bills that restrict the vote are moving through state legislatures and becoming law. A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that at least 14 states have enacted 22 restrictive voting bills since January. In particular, Florida, Georgia, and Iowa have introduced overarching bills that further constrict already narrow voting laws. Montana and Arkansas have already ratified four bills apiece, and Arizona has proposed two dozen bills which target voting by mail specifically. Several of these laws are being challenged in court.

The Brennan Center study determined that these provisions stem from “the racist voter fraud allegations behind the Big Lie and a desire to prevent future elections from achieving the historic turnout seen in 2020.” Over 300 restrictive bills have been introduced in 48 states, and 61 bills are currently moving through state governments. With voting rights jumping to the top of state legislative agendas, “the United States is on track to far exceed its most recent period of significant voter suppression” by the end of this year.

States are imposing an assortment of the following provisions making it more difficult to vote in person or to cast ballots in the mail:

  • Shortening the timeframe to request and deliver mail ballots
  • Making it harder to remain on absentee voting lists
  • Eliminating or limiting mail ballots to those who do not specifically request them
  • Restricting assistance when returning mail ballots
  • Limiting the number and location of mail ballot drop boxes
  • Imposing stricter signature requirements for mail ballots
  • Tightening voter ID requirements
  • Expanding voter purges
  • Banning snacks and water at in-person polling stations
  • Eliminating same-day registration
  • Reducing the availability of polling locations and hours
  • Limiting early voting days and times

The principles of Catholic Social Justice insist that all people have a right to participate in our shared public life. Voting should be readily accessible, but these laws make it harder to cast a ballot under the guise of election security. In turn, these bills jeopardize the integrity of our democracy and actively disenfranchise voters.

Moreover, these restrictive laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities, creating hurdles for Black and brown voters, disabled people, immigrants, and low-income folks. A 2019 study published in Scientific American found that voters in predominantly Black neighborhoods waited an average 29% longer than voters in White neighborhoods. Now, states with large minority populations, including Florida and Georgia, have introduced provisions which will continue to suppress minority votes due to technicalities and unchecked intimidation techniques. These policies are rooted in and reminiscent of Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests. They must be undone to ensure all people have access to the polls.

Organizations across the nation are taking notice of these dangerous and undemocratic pieces of legislation. The Black Votes Matter Fund recently announced their “Freedom Ride for Voting Rights,” a series of events from Jackson, Mississippi to Washington D.C. which will advocate against widespread voter suppression. The organization’s goal “is to increase power in our communities. Effective voting allows a community to determine its own destiny.”

In order to preserve our democracy and uphold the right to vote, we must act. The For the People Act (S.1) is a comprehensive, once-in-a-lifetime bill that protects and expands voting rights, ends partisan gerrymandering, and gets big money out of politics. S.1 would overrule the restrictive laws being passed in states by dictating new, national voting standards that make it easier to vote in person or by mail. NETWORK urges the passage of the For the People Act in the Senate to undo the constricting and oppressive provisions that are being imposed nationwide. The integrity of our democracy is at stake.

Alex Budzynski is a rising senior at Xavier University where he studies communication and public relations. He hails from Fairfax, Virginia, and he is one of the summer volunteers at NETWORK this year.

Juneteenth 2021 Events List

Juneteenth 2021 Events List

Caraline Feairheller
June 17, 2021

On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, six months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment and more than two full years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the first proclamation; Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in the Black community and continues to be an act of resistance and resilience in the face of racial oppression that shamefully continues today.

This Juneteenth we must pause and acknowledge the immense gap between the freedom promised in 1865 and the freedom delivered. The events listed below are opportunities to engage with the history and celebration of Juneteenth as well as recognize the work that can and still must be done:

[Virtual] 4 Generations of Black Civil Rights Leaders | June 17 at 8:00 PM Eastern

Hosted by the Center for Common Ground. This event will feature four Black Civil Rights Activists from Georgia and Virginia who are working to ensure that Black voters are able to vote. The event guests are Dr. William Ferguson “Fergie” Reid, Cliff Albirght, Andrea Miller, and Evan Malborough.

[Virtual] A Global Conversation on Reparations | June 18 at 1:30 PM Eastern

Hosted by the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University School of Law. Presented in honor of Juneteenth, this program examines reparations from a global perspective, with advocates from the United States, the Caribbean, the UK and Europe discussing the challenges and progress in achieving reparations. In addition, the webinar will share information about international advocacy for reparations, and discuss where and how this work fits within the context of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

[Virtual] Live with Carnegie Hall: Juneteenth Celebration | June 19 at 7:30 PM Eastern

Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. leads this celebration—along with Tamara Tunie, and special guests Wayne Brady, Martin Luther King III, and Annette Gordon-Reed—to recognize the importance of this historic day and to acknowledge the long road still ahead. In addition to music, dance, and commentary, the evening also recognizes contributions made by prominent African Americans today: Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Robert F. Smith, businessman and chairman of Carnegie Hall’s Board of Trustees; and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

[In-Person and Virtual] Juneteenth Now 2021: Get Us Free | June 19 at 5:00 PM Eastern and June 20 at 3:30 PM Eastern

Hosted by the Middle Church and the Riverside Church. This Black-led celebration and fundraiser, is produced by Charles Randolph-Wright and Shanta Thake. Join in-person, or stream virtually, for an evening showcasing a rare LIVE performance by Stephanie Mills who will debut her new single, “Let’s Do the Right Thing.” This ticketed event will be hosted by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and Rev. Michael Livingston with more talented performing artists including Loretta Devine; Kamilah Forbes; Martha Redbone; Tituss Burgess; Celisse Henderson; Kaliswa Brewster, an ensemble of Riverside Church & Middle Church choirs, spoken word, dance and jazz! Come in-person or watch from home to celebrate a stunning night of fierce resilience. Proceeds from the event will continue to power Black wellness programming at both institutions, as well as support in Middle rising from its devastating fire in 2020.

[Virtual] Night of a Thousand Conversations | June 19 at 8:00 PM Eastern

Hosted by the Grassroots Reparations Campaign More than ever, our nation needs to understand that #reparations are much more than a check.  True repair healing, education and culture shifting, compensation, restitution and guarantees to stop the harm that began with slavery and continues through various forms of discrimination. The Grassroots Reparations Campaign invites you to participate in a Night of a Thousand Conversations. On June 19th, known as Juneteenth, we honor and observe those last to receive the news of emancipation from slavery. Our hope is that between June 19 and August 21 (#ReparationSunday) to reflect on African chattel slavery, its legacy and its impact on your community and find your path to building a culture of repair.

Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

Prison-Based Gerrymandering Conflicts with Our Principles and Undermines Democracy

Guest Blog: Prison-Based Gerrymandering Conflicts with Our Principles and Undermines Democracy

Libbey Detcher
April 30, 2021

In the wake of the 2020 Census, gerrymandering – the strategic and partisan redrawing of electoral district lines – is again a concern. Gerrymandering has disastrous effects: it undermines the will of the people drastically alters the United States political landscape. In 2018, the Center for American Progress published a report on gerrymandering and found that the process of unfair redistricting impacted 59 seats in the United States House of Representatives between 2012 and 2016. Today, gerrymandering by politicians and statisticians is generally recognized as a problem that affects voters across the United States, but less familiar is the disenfranchisement produced by prison-based gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering in any form is contrary to the moral responsibility we have to make sure every person is fairly represented and has equal access to participate in political institutions. Prison-based gerrymandering particularly creates a political system that fails to recognize and honor the human dignity of people who are incarcerated.

Prison gerrymandering distorts democracy in a different light than simply redrawing district lines. Since the first federal census in 1790, the United States Census Bureau has counted incarcerated persons as part of the population in districts where they’re incarcerated rather than the district of their permanent address. This artificially inflates representation of rural districts where prisons are located. Simultaneously, it dilutes the political power of districts with higher percentages of incarcerated residents. A law student intern at Yale Law School’s Peter Gruber Rule of Law clinic, Nicole Billington, researched how this little known practice “diminishes the voting power of people in urban districts.”

With people of color disproportionately facing incarceration, prison gerrymandering disproportionately diminishes the political power of communities of color. The vast majority of penitentiaries are located in rural or suburban predominantly white communities, however, most elected officials are unlikely to take their incarcerated residents into account as constituents who they represent and serve. In fact, people who are incarcerated do not have access to public goods or services located outside of the prison such as public transportation or schools.

The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.2 million people in the United States face disenfranchisement because of laws that ban voting for people with felony charges. This is 2.27% of the eligible voting population in the United States. While 1 in 59 non-Black voters face disenfranchisement from these bans, The Project reports that 1 in every 16 African-American voters lose the right to vote as a result.

These policies are a familiar echo of the so-called Three-Fifths Compromise. The policy counted enslaved persons as only three-fifths of a person for a state’s population count while simultaneously denying any person of color the right to vote. This shameful, inhumane policy was in place until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

In 2019, the first prison gerrymandering case NAACP et al. v. Merrill was argued before a federal court. Families of incarcerated persons, alongside the NAACP, filed a lawsuit claiming that Connecticut’s prison gerrymandering practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved the lawsuit.

Nine states have successfully passed legislation to end prison gerrymandering: Maryland, New York, California, Colorado, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington State. Additionally, Illinois passed similar legislation set to go into effect by 2030.

Prison-based gerrymandering not only undermines democratic principles but  runs counter to Catholic social teaching. The Catholic faith emphasizes the importance of civic engagement through the political process. Pope Francis tells us, “A good Catholic meddles in politics.” Catholics cannot turn a blind eye to the disenfranchisement of an incarcerated population or the systemic racism baked in to prison-based gerrymandering.

The Prison Gerrymandering Project, The Sentencing Project, Prison Policy Initiative, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are a few advocacy organizations working to end prison-based gerrymandering in the U. S. through litigation, state legislation,  the U. S. Census Bureau, and community activism across the country. Congress can put an end to this practice in all states and jurisdictions in one fell swoop by passing the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1)

Libbey Detcher (She/Her) is a student at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She is majoring in Political Science with minors in Intercultural Studies and Justice Studies.

Women’s Equality Requires Raising the Wage

Women’s Equality Requires Raising the Wage

Gina Kelley
March 24, 2021

This last year has been a challenging one for all us, but women have carried a heavy burden throughout this pandemic. In 2020, women’s unemployment hit its highest since 1948 with Black and Latina women facing higher rates of unemployment than white women and men. In February 2021, it was reported that women, in particular women of color, had lost 5.4 million jobs—nearly 1 million more than men. Women have also had to leave the workforce as the pandemic has closed schools and childcare facilities leaving many women to take on this essential caretaking role. This pandemic has not created inequalities, instead it has exploited what was already there.

March is Women’s History Month and the 24th is Women’s Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day marks the day in the year when women earn what men did the previous year, meaning it takes 15 months for women to earn what men do in 12. On average, women are paid 82 cents on every dollar a man makes meaning that on a typical 9:00-5:00 workday, women start working for no pay at 2:40 p.m. These Equal Pay Days continue throughout the year with Mother’s Equal Pay Day in June, Black Women’s in August, Indigenous Women in September, and Latina Women in September.

Clearly, working women, particularly women of color, are facing a devastating economic reality. While the American Rescue Plan achieved major victories for families across the country, it failed to raise the minimum wage. Raising the wage is essential to closing the gender and racial pay gap that has harmed marginalized communities for centuries.

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 proposes slowly increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over 5 years and ends subminimum wage practices for tipped, youth, and disabled workers over a 6 years. The tipped minimum wage is a currently only $2.13 an hour and creating one fair wage of $15 would greatly benefit women who represent more than two-thirds of tipped workers. Coupled with the Raise the Wage Act, Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides more remedies for gender pay discrimination.

So what would a $15 minimum wage mean for women?

Of the 32 million workers whose pay would increase from the Raise the Wage Act, 59% are women and more than a quarter have children. That means 19 million women would benefit. Nearly 1 in 4 of those women are Black or Latina. Women, and in particular women of color, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs due to historical gender and racial occupational segregation. According to recent reports, women working year-round, on average, would see an increase of about $3,500 in wages annually. For Black and Latina women, this figure increases to $3,700. 3.4 million Black women and 4 million Latina would see this substantial and transformative pay increase. Additionally, 8 million mothers across the country would see similar benefits giving them the capability and power to support their families. Analysis of 2019 data found that among mothers who would get a raise, 65% are primary or sole breadwinners for their families and an additional 19% are co-breadwinners.

It could not be clearer: women need a fair wage and a chance for economic security. No one can survive on $7.25 and those in opposition to raising the minimum wage are keeping women and Black and Brown communities in poverty. Closing racial and gender wealth disparities and recovering from an economic crisis demands immediate action.  Raising the wage to $15 allows families to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Women need justice and equality now. This Women’s History Month and this Equal Pay Day show solidarity with working women and join the fight to raise the wage.

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

India-Grace Kellogg 
February 22, 2021

During this year’s Black History Month after a contentious election, we honor the Black women and men who organized and advanced Black voting power and political representation and recognize the ways white supremacy has shaped the U.S. political system to minimize Black votes and voices.

Following the 2020 election, which hinged on record-breaking voter turnout – especially Black voter turnout – in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, multiple sitting Members of Congress refused to certify the Electoral College vote. President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Georgia were overtly racist, and even after the violent mob attack on the Capitol, when the vote to certify was held in the early hours of January 7, 2021, eight Republican Senators and over 100 Representatives held firm with former President Trump.

This challenge to Black voters’ power echoed our nation’s last challenge to the Electoral College in 1876 during the election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes.

1876: A Backlash to Black Political Participation during Reconstruction

Prior to 1876, there had been a surge of mobilization within the Black community. During the first two years of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Black people throughout the South organized Equal Rights Leagues and held state and local conventions to demand suffrage and equity. Congress granted Black men the status and rights of citizenship in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and state constitutional conventions held in formerly Confederate states between 1867-69 were the first time that Black and white Americans participated in political life together. 265 African-American men were elected delegates to these conventions that re-wrote state constitutions, almost half in South Carolina and Louisiana.

Initially, under the protection of the 15th Amendment and because of the overwhelming majority of Black citizens in the South, Black voters had strong voting power during Reconstruction. In Congress, 16 Black men served during Reconstruction and more than 600 Black state legislators were elected, with hundreds more holding local offices across the South. The first Black men to serve in Congress were Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina. (It was nearly a century from their elections in 1870 until voters elected Representative Shirley Chisholm the first Black woman in Congress in 1968.)

Challenging the Electoral College Results

The outcome of 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes was unclear from the beginning. When the electoral vote was received by Congress, Tilden held 184 votes and Hayes held 165 votes. However, claims of fraud, intimidation, and violence that had been used to invalidate votes in the South, and Oregon delivered two sets of conflicting electoral votes to Congress.

These conflicting results presented an opportunity for Southern Democrats who had lost power in the South after the Civil War. They wanted to restore their control of governments in the South and to remove the last of the federal troops whose purpose had diminished to protecting governments in small areas surrounding state houses in the capitals of New Orleans and Columbia. An agreement was reached for Hayes to pull out the remaining federal troops in the South in return for a pledge to uphold the civil and voting rights of Black and white Republicans. As a result, filibusters were ruled out of order and Southern Democrats forced through the vote, declaring Hayes the winner with 185 electoral votes two days before he was inaugurated.

White Supremacy Curtails Reconstruction

The Supreme Court had already begun to limit the scope of the Reconstruction laws and Constitutional Amendments, beginning with the Slaughterhouse Cases which limited protection of the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment of the United State Constitution. However, with the removal of federal troops following President Hayes’s inauguration, white political leaders in the South began suppressing Black votes as the pledge to protect voting rights was quickly abandoned. While the Reconstruction Amendments remained in the Constitution, a new web of laws and requirements made voting nearly impossible for Black citizens. Under new gerrymandered election districts which reduced Black voting power, the Jim Crow era swept the South, creating a framework of voter suppression that has continued to evolve in face of reforms.

White political leaders in Southern states put in place literacy tests, poll taxes, moral character tests, and grandfather clauses targeting Black voters. Black voters who could pass these barriers then faced the threat of violence or property or job loss in retribution for attempting to vote. Additionally, the disenfranchisement of felons blocked many black voters. Black people were often arrested in the South on false charges or for vague crimes, such as “crimes of moral turpitude”, and sent through a criminal justice system that profited from black prisoners’ free labor when they were incarcerated. The over-criminalization of the Black community meant that the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affected Black voters in the South. These strategies reversed much of the progress that had been gained since the Civil War, with Black voting power reduced to less than 1% and the upward trend of Black men elected to office from southern states quickly ended.

Continued Voter Suppression

While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the landscape of voting in the South for Black voters especially, voter disenfranchisement still continues throughout the U.S. With Black Americans still overrepresented in the prison population, bans on voting due to criminal history continue to impact Black communities more than any other. Since Shelby County v. Holder, struck down the requirements of federal oversight, many states have passed additional voting requirements that are only subject to litigation after the fact. State across the country have begun to redistrict, require stricter voter identification, shut down polling locations, and limit early voting. While on their face these changes may seem to be aimed at reducing voter fraud, the reality is that these new restrictionsdisproportionately disenfranchise voters of color and minority communities.

The rhetoric surrounding voting, amplified by former President Trump, has disguised the true effect of the changes to voting requirements. Government-issued photo ID requirements effect minorities more than white voters, as minorities are less likely to have the needed forms of identification. Despite the argument that voting roll purges prevent voter fraud, the real impact of these purges is that many valid votes cannot be cast because voters were unaware that they had been removed from the voter rolls. Polling location closures, overwhelmingly in communities of color, result in longer wait times or travel time. This makes voting much more difficult and in some cases impossible due to lack of transportation or working hourly jobs. The conversation surrounding voter fraud and the barriers that are put in place to “fix” this so-called fraud have strong ties to the compromise of 1876 which marked the beginning of the Jim Crow era.

But the fight to achieve true voting rights and equity remains strong and in the last two elections there has been a resurgence of energy to fight voter suppression. While a major struggle in 1876 was the end of Reconstruction in the South, the 2020 election was a demonstration of the power of Black people successfully organizing against the racial inequality still existent today. The result of the Jim Crow laws put into place after Federal troops were withdrawn still haunt our nation and dog communities of color with their pervasive legacies and new iterations. Despite this, representation of black communities has grown steadily over the past 20 years. In fact, the most recent Congress, was the most diverse Congress ever to be elected to office.

Black Voting Rights Advocates Continue Leading the Movement

This progress would not have been possible without Black organizers’ efforts to mobilize voters. Black-led movements to equip and encourage voters, especially in swing states, were spurred on by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities and the nation-wide protests against police brutality. During the 2020 Nuns on the Bus tour, we met Black organizers like Rev. Tawanda Davis of Soul 2 Soul Sisters in Denver and the staff of BLOC by Bloc in Milwaukee who led successful voter turnout initiatives in key states.

While this was a national movement, the 2020 Senate run-off election in Georgia was one of the most historic. This success mainly came from the efforts of Stacey Abrams. Abrams founded Fair Fight to ensure all eligible Georgia voters could vote after her historic 2018 run for Georgia Governor ended with clear mismanagement of the election by now-Governor Kemp’s Secretary of State office. Stacey Abrams with other organizers worked to mobilize the vote and were met by Black voters in Georgia as trusted voices. Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock’s successful campaign makes him Georgia’s first Black Senator. This and other elections prove that the power that was seen in the Black vote during Reconstruction is just as strong, but still has not been fully released from the remnants of the Jim Crow laws that sprung up after the 1876 compromise.

Introduced and sponsored by Black members of Congress, the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act present an opportunity to correct injustices in our voting system. With the swearing in of the first woman of color as Vice President, Vice President Kamala Harris, our nation may have come a long way since the end of Reconstruction, but we must remember that the work is not done.

Protecting Expression, Not Criminal Acts

Protecting Expression, Not Criminal Acts

India-Grace Kellogg
January 28, 2021

For the past year, our nation’s capital has been flooded by protestors. The Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other people of color’s deaths at the hands of police re-invigorated a debate on what ”acceptable” protests look like. To many, the debate highlighted a clear break in the types of information that citizens are receiving about important topics, whether through their own lived experiences or through the media they are consuming. On one side, Black Lives Matter protestors were considered justice seekers facing violent suppression of their Constitutional right to protest while the other side balked at property damage, arguing that it was about looting and not protesting. When the Proud Boys and other pro-Trump groups arrived in Washington, D.C., a shift in police reaction and rhetoric angered many and highlighted the disparity in the way protestors are handled depending on what they look like and what causes, and perhaps more importantly who, they are supporting.

Complex and deeply personal to each person in this country, the debate on how people in the United States should express their views has always been, in itself, a part of who we are as a country. Our First Amendment rights invite debate with our government and, importantly, dissent to the majority opinion. The breach of the U.S. Capitol building may have seemed brazen and paralyzing to many watching it, but in hindsight, it may be the logical course of events in a country where a leader contributed to decimating trust in our democracy. But, in the aftermath of the events on January 6, 2021, it seems dire to address, factually, the ways we express grievances to our government, and name when that expression no longer honors the values and intent of our Constitution. Those who walked up the steps of the Capitol building, even those who simply passed the first barricade were not the first to step past the boundaries of what the Constitution protects under the First Amendment. Their violent trespassing, many of them armed and with an intent to harm elected officials, was far outside of the bounds of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Earlier, at a protest on December 12, 2020, Trump supporters openly burned a Black Lives Matter flag taken from the Asbury United Methodist Church, a historic Black church. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who admitted to burning the flag but later pleaded not guilty, faces destruction of property charges and was ordered to stay out of Washington by a judge. The D.C. police department labeled the burning of the flag a potential hate crime.

In the District of Columbia, hate crimes such as this act as an enhancement of the crime committed. Under D.C. Statute §22-3703, Bias-Related Crime Act, a person found guilty of a bias-related crime will be fined or imprisoned up to one and a half times the maximum fine or designated term. A bias-related crime means that a criminal act demonstrates the accused prejudice toward a victim. The statute covers a multitude of bases for the accused’s prejudice, including race, color, religion, and political affiliation. While the statute specifies a limited amount of crimes, Aboye v. U.S. established that the term “designated acts” means any criminal act under D.C. law. Therefore, anyone who commits a crime in D.C. that demonstrates their prejudice against the victim of that crime can be charged with an enhanced sentence under §22-3703.

Looking specifically at the actions of the Proud Boys and Enrique Tarrio on December 12, bias-related crime charges could be brought. If it can be established that burning the Black Lives Matter flag demonstrates Tarrio’s prejudice to the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or political affiliation of the Asbury United Methodist Church, Tarrio could be charged with a bias-related crime. However, the crime must not have been committed but for the prejudice. (Lucas v. United States) The prosecution would need to show that Tarrio would not have burnt the Black Lives Matter flag but for his prejudice. While this is a decision left to the discretion of the prosecutor, the potential legal repercussions of burning a Black Lives Matter flag are important to highlight.

While the public debate may often rely on the morality and the nation’s values relating to how we protest, there are legal realities involved that cannot be ignored. The violent attack on the Capitol was not the first, and most likely will not be the last, time that white supremacists and other pro-Trump groups claim Constitutional rights to excuse their criminal actions.

The Constitution does not protect all expression nor does it protect violent actions, as a long history of legal debates have proven. Many states have enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes, many that have been challenged for violating the First Amendment. The D.C. Bias-Related Crime Act was upheld as constitutional to the extent that it provides an enhanced penalty for crimes that an individual commits against a victim simply due to their own prejudice against the victim’s protected characteristic (Lucas v. United States).

The First Amendment protects many forms of expression but it does not protect criminal expressions of prejudice against another’s protected characteristics. The precedent concerning what expression is protected by the Constitution is vast and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States serve to uphold the intent of the Constitution over what many may consider to be justice for those harmed by certain type of expressions. The Proud Boys and those who claim that they are seeking to uphold the values of our country may claim to be within their rights and to be fighting for our nation, but their actions are not protected by the very Constitution they claim to be protecting. While we as a country should and will continue to debate the nuances of protests and their aftermath, we should also continue to do the work of understanding what we are truly debating – when does our expression of disagreement step past what our national conscience believes should be protected? And why?

Bus Blog: New Hour for Women and Children

Bus Blog: New Hour for Women and Children

Caraline Feairheller
September 25, 2020

There are no words to describe the grief of hearing keys jingling down a cell block corridor. There are no words to describe the trauma that long-term isolation can have on a body and mind. Yet, these are common experiences faced by women incarcerated within the United States criminal justice system. The idea that the tremendous trauma created by the U.S carceral system cannot and should not be normalized was the main idea that came out of the September 22nd Nuns on the Bus Virtual Site Visit conversation with New Hour for Women and Children.

New Hour for Women and Children is a Long Island based non-profit founded to provide meaningful support to current and formerly incarcerated women, and their children and families. New Hour was created to address the need for a re-entry program in Long Island, as Executive Director Serene Liguori said “When I got released there was no one there to help me. There was no program to help us. Now, for the first time there is a program on Long Island that supports re-entry.” While the agency may look small, Pamela Neely the Social Justice Coordinator was quick to emphasize that it “gets the work done.” Through serving over 1,000 women in incarceration annually, the numbers only prove her point when comparing the 65% recidivism rate of women who are released from jail to the 2% recidivism rate of women who go through the New Hour program.

The U.S carceral systems measures out punishment in terms of months and years. However, the New Hour Program recognizes that the grief and loss of imprisonment stretches well beyond those years and thus re-entry never stops, it is a lifetime process. Part of this lifetime process is recognizing the reality that all women have faced some form of trauma or violence in their lifetime, so even before experiencing the traumas that come with imprisonment they have their own unique triggers. Program Director Danielle Donaphin emphasized that “I do what I do because I believe in people” and it is this belief in the resilience of these women that the healing process can truly begin. Women, mothers in particular, who make up ¾ of the women behind bars, face unique challenges. Often times, their number one goal is to be reunited with their children and New Hour meets those demands by offering parenting classes and teaching work skills.

As the conversation came to an end, Serenea Liguroi left us with a couple questions that are especially relevant in a moment where prison reform and police accountability are dominating the news streams: “What about the prisons? What about the jails? How do we create equality among those who have been impacted by the carceral system?” We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we can begin by remembering that there is an innate worth in the women who are currently incarcerated those who have been formerly incarcerated. We can begin by remembering that there is a future beyond the prisons walls. We can begin by remembering that we all have the power to change the course of our lives.

Watch the full site visit on Facebook or Youtube.