Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

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.

Exorbitant Drug Pricing: A Moral Issue

Exorbitant Drug Pricing: A Moral Issue

Siena Ruggeri
March 5, 2019

If the popular immunosuppressant Humira was a standalone company, it would be twice as big as the Hilton hotel chain and its sales would rival Southwest Airlines and Visa. How is this one drug so profitable? After rebates, the average price of the drug is $3,000 a month. The company that sells it, AbbVie, has made 115 billion in profit off the drug since 2010, and more than half of those profits come from the U.S.

Insulin, a drug whose patent was created almost a century ago, is skyrocketing in price. Diabetics around the country are forced to choose between rationing life-saving medication, falling behind on rent and car payments, or going without food. The original developers of these drugs wanted their scientific innovation to serve the public good—so what gives?

In the status quo, there’s no incentive to sell drugs at a reasonable rate. Pharmaceutical companies can claim that in order to recoup the costs of research and development, they must have exclusive access to the market for their specific drug. While they have market exclusivity, the drug company is then able to gouge the price of their drug. There is no competitor to incentivize lower costs. There’s also no government scrutiny as to why the price is what it is. We don’t know why certain pharmaceutical drugs are priced the way they are. Therefore, we have no control if those prices start rising exponentially, and patients have no way of affording the only drug available to cure their condition.

What is one supposed to do if they have breast cancer, Hepatitis C, or multiple sclerosis and can’t afford their drugs? We use public dollars to fund research to prevent this exact problem. Public research money contributed to the 210 new drugs approved from 2010-2016, to the tune of $100 billion dollars. Unfortunately, drug makers have taken advantage of the public’s investment in research to strengthen their bottom line.

 

These practices are an insidious betrayal of public trust and morally wrong. In the richest country in the world, people lose their lives because they can’t afford their medicine. It’s also peculiar that in a so-called free market, we allow monopolists to fully control markets without consequence. The pharmaceutical industry has gamed every rule set in place for them. It is past time for them to face the consequences for the system they have engineered.

Many members of Congress shy away from drug pricing reforms, citing its complicated nature. Others believe the current injustices are based off a few bad actors, not a whole industry that puts profit over human lives. We can’t just point to the most shocking examples of price gouging that make headlines—we have to examine the system that encouraged drug companies to price hike in the first place.

For far too long, the pharmaceutical industry has profited off a public too intimidated to scrutinize their business practices. By directing our attention to examples like “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, the industry is absolved of any accountability for how they price drugs. This isn’t a case of a few bad actors. This is a system that thrives on taking advantage of the vulnerability and desperation of patients in need of life-saving drugs.

The details of drug pricing reform are complex, but don’t let the pharmaceutical industry bamboozle us into thinking reform is unattainable. To give just one example, every other country in the world allows price negotiations. In the United States, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs negotiates drug prices for their patients. When put together, the proposals coming out of Congress are reasonable reforms. They allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate prices for its patients, penalize drug corporations that spike the price of a drug without justification, and prohibit abusive tactics used to delay a drug going generic.

There is bipartisan support for doing something about the cost of prescription drugs. This is not an issue we can put off. Every day we refuse to engage and take action, another person risks their life to go without medicine they need to survive. A new poll reveals that 3 out of 10 adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed at some point in the past year because of the cost. Diabetics are risking their lives and rationing their insulin—in fact, 1 out of 4 diabetics admit to doing so.

During our 2018 Nuns on the Bus Tour, we encountered the deadly consequences of this issue. In Savannah, we heard the story of Niema Ross, a young working mother of three who had died that weekend because she couldn’t afford the inhaler she needed to breathe. Niema’s final post on Facebook was a photo of her empty inhaler captioned with a message asking if anyone had access to more. The community tried to raise money for her medication, but it came too late. Niema was never able to get her inhaler, and now her three children will grow up without a mother.

The drug industry’s success in putting profit over people over profit is perhaps one of the most blatant moral issues of our time, and Congress has the power to do something about it. Let’s remind our representatives that now is the time to be morally courageous and end the absurdity that is our prescription drug industry.

 

***

Graphic courtesy of Voices for Affordable Health

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

José Arnulfo Cabrera
February 26, 2019

On February 12, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders took to the streets of Washington, D.C. demanding Congress to pass legislation that would give them a pathway to citizenship, after the Trump Administration pressured the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deny their document renewals. TPS holders who have been in the U.S. for years, some since 1990, all of sudden now face the potential reality of going back to their native countries or becoming undocumented.

Temporary Protected Status was first enacted by the Immigration Act of 1990, which reformed our immigration system. One of the many things the bill created was away for foreign nationals who couldn’t legally be defined as refugee or asylee (but without a doubt fleeing, reluctant to return, or unable to return to their home country due to violence) to attain legal status. TPS allowed individuals to be granted work authorization without being deported.  The first group to be granted TPS was Salvadoran nationals. As time went on more foreign nationals were granted status and now people from ten countries are eligible to receive TPS.

For almost 29 years, TPS holders have been living successfully in the U.S. They have started families and careers, and have contributed to American society, but now are fighting to stay in their new home with the families and lives they’ve created. TPS holders and recipients (also called DREAMers) both find themselves in danger of losing their status and having to leave the U.S., or become undocumented. Like TPS holders, DACA recipients have been living in the U.S. for years and only in the past seven years have they had some form of status that allowed them to work in the U.S. Last Congress, multiple bills were introduced that would have “fixed” the problem the Trump Administration created. Of all the bills introduced, only two bills would have given DACA recipients and TPS holders a pathway to citizenship: the American Promise Act would have given TPS holders a pathway to citizenship and the DREAM Act would have given DACA recipients, as well as some who didn’t fit the age requirement, a pathway to citizenship.

This congress is different. Not only do the faces of Congress look different, but so are the bills they’re introducing. Instead of having two separate bills that would give TPS holders and DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, the house will introduce a single bill that will give both a pathway to citizenship! While the specifics of this bill are not public yet, the bill will pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully, the House Judiciary Committee will soon have a hearing that will allow Members of Congress to know more about the people facing the issue, so that they can then move the bill forward.

TPS holders and DACA recipients have always been here, and they’ve always been a part of American society. Sorry to those who just noticed us, but we’re not leaving — because this is home for us.

Acknowledging Systemic Racism and Unpacking Whiteness

Acknowledging Systemic Racism and Unpacking Whiteness

Lindsay Hueston
February 21, 2019

In a commitment to moving towards being an anti-racist, multicultural organization, NETWORK staff is intentionally setting aside time in 2019 to read and discuss Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. The book examines structures of race in the modern-day United States, and is an especially pertinent read during Black History Month. As a white woman, DiAngelo challenges systems of whiteness that have led to the racism that permeates our political and societal culture. Though it may manifest itself in different ways, racism is still alive and well today, and impacts countless policies and issues that NETWORK works on in order to mend the gaps in our society.

During Black History Month, NETWORK challenges you to examine the way you and the systems around you may unintentionally perpetuate racism. We are trying to be intentional about listening to the experiences of people who are directly impacted by systemic racial injustice, and we encourage you to do the same.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

– Lilla Watson, indigenous Australian activist

Some resources that may be helpful throughout this month, please comment below with any recommendations you have to add:

Books
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
White Like Me by Tim Wise
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G.I. Hart
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Artist: Ernesto Yerena

Authors
Roxane Gay
Audre Lorde
Alice Walker
Toni Morrison
James Baldwin
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Maya Angelou

Videos
We Must Talk About Race to Fix Economic Inequality (YouTube video)
Talks to help you understand racism in America (TED talk playlist, videos on racial justice)
The Myth of the Welfare Queen (PBS video)

Articles
Everyday Respectability Politics
An Examen for White Allies: from the Ignatian Solidarity Network
What Black Lives Matter Can Teach Catholics About Racial Justice: from America Magazine

Lists
Reading List for Northam: recently-published article that has some great anti-racism resources
16 Books About Race That White People Should Read: further reading resources
(White) Girl Power aka The List: a list of anti-racist resources to white women to attain a deeper understanding of Black women’s lived experiences
Skimm Reads for Black History Month: recent popular books written by Black authors

Websites
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond: holds programs, workshops, and resources for anti-racist education and organizing
Rachel Cargle: an activist and writer who educates others about anti-racism and intellectual discourse
Everyday Feminism: website has an entire section dedicated to the intersections of race and feminism

Podcasts
Code Switch (NPR)
Pod Save the People
Yo, Is This Racist?
Good Ancestor
Hoodrat to Headwrap
The Racist Sandwich Podcast
Ezra Klein: Political Power and the Racial Wealth Gap
A Conversation About Conversations About Race

TV/Film
13th
Dear White People (TV, Film)
The Hate U Give
Black-ish
Moonlight
Pariah

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

Alannah Boyle
February 19, 2019

Here at NETWORK as a member of the Grassroots Mobilization team, I have spent the last week excitedly working with our field and our team in preparation for February Recess meetings, which take place while Congress is out of session every February.

Before I began my Associate Year at NETWORK, I hadn’t realized the importance of in-district lobby visits, and building relationships with staff who both live and work in my community. Building relationships with in-district staff can help lead to a meeting with your Member of Congress themselves. In these meetings, you can learn about your Member of Congress’s priorities and goals, and how you can work with them in the future. We are all experts in our own lived experience, part of which involves where we live. Our Members of Congress have to split their time between living in our community and living in Washington, D.C., so our expertise and relationships in our community can be very helpful to our Member of Congress. It is important that we share our expertise, and our values, with our Member of Congress’s office.

As part of NETWORK’s February Recess preparations, members of our Grassroots Mobilization team and our Government Relations team gave a webinar. Our Grassroots Mobilization team outlined pro tips and best practices for lobbying. Our Government Relations Team then provided a policy briefing. This February Recess, NETWORK members are lobbying on Mend the Gap bills that are moving this session, including HR 1: For the People Act, Raise the Wage Act of 2019 and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

If you missed our webinar on how to conduct a lobby visit, you can watch it here. If you set up a February Recess Lobby visit, please feel free to contact the Grassroots Mobilization staff here. We’d love to help you plan your visit and hear how your visit went afterwards!

Voices from the Sunrise Movement: Local Activism Against the Mariner East Pipeline

Voices from the Sunrise Movement: Local Activism Against the Mariner East Pipeline

Olivia Freiwald
February 12, 2019

I met two-year-old Brooke and four-year-old Jack in late June of 2018 on a scorching 91 degree summer day in Exton, Pennsylvania. Their bubbly laughs brought out the big sister in me and we chased each other around the yard. Then Danielle, their mom, and neighbor Ginny walked me and my housemates over to what I was really there to see. Not even 100 feet from where my game with Jack and Brooke had taken place, rows of endlessly long, beige sections of pipe lay in a fenced off strip of land, the pipes bending slightly as they sloped down the hill.

Ginny explained this was the Mariner East Pipeline Project, which included refurbishing a petroleum pipeline from the 1930s and the addition of two more pipes running across the state of Pennsylvania. Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners poured over $4 billion into this project that was now years behind schedule due to painful, avoidable complications.

Sinkholes formed inches from people’s homes, an underground freshwater aquifer that 15 houses relied on for clean drinking water was destroyed, and the soil, water table, and acres of natural land cleared for the job were damaged beyond repair. Ginny, a geologist by training, had been involved in the growing community of pipeline opposition since the beginning.

Danielle and Ginny met at a community meeting and became active in the Mariner East Resistance. It didn’t take long for Danielle to decide to run for Pennsylvania State Representative, to protect her children, her home, and the safety and dignity of her community being threatened by natural gas companies and corrupt politicians.

I was a native of the Philly suburbs just 40 minutes from Mariner East, hearing all of this for the first time. For years I lived and went to school 40 minutes from the pipeline intended to carry ethane, butane, and propane: three extremely volatile natural gas liquids undetectable if leaked, and terrifyingly easy to ignite. Danielle made the decision to run for office look easy; no one was standing up for her community, so she decided to do it herself.

For the next six months I lived with five other 20-somethings in subsidized housing and volunteered full-time to win Danielle’s election as a state representative. We learned together through countless conversations what Danielle’s community cared about. We listened to pipeline workers and NRA members, conservatives, liberals, independents, indignant non-voters, and everyone in between. We spent hours and hours with Danielle and Ginny combing the suburbs of southeastern PA, our shared mission coursing through my veins like fire, grounding me in purpose even when doors were slammed in my face.

One of the most humbling and rewarding moments of my time in Downingtown, PA was the night my housemates and I attended the public risk assessment presentation at one of the local high schools. The pipeline companies and the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) had refused and ignored requests for a state environmental risk assessment, so the community members fighting for their lives decided to do it themselves. We walked in to the high school auditorium and immediately saw our friends from Food and Water Watch, gave hugs to the folks who recently were released from jail after our protest on the pipeline easement, shook hands with local state candidates, caught up with Danielle and Ginny, and beckoned the mayor of Downingtown to come sit by us. Over two hundred people filled the room and we never stopped catching the eye of someone we knew, worked with, or otherwise recognized. The community effort behind stopping Mariner East finally had a face. The cause for which many in the room had put their lives on hold or even at risk felt strong, capable, and worthwhile.

On November 6, Danielle Friel Otten won the election by 3,000 votes. My team of six 20-somethings had identified 5,000 supporters while knocking on doors – the margin of victory.

We successfully got a non-career politician, woman, activist, community leader into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to replace an incumbent who had failed to represent his constituents’ best interests. Since then, Chester County launched a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East, while the PUC and Sonoco quietly opened the pipelines and began the transportation of the lethal natural gas liquids.

I don’t know what the future holds for Chester County’s safety at this point. Right now it feels a lot like trying to stop a powerful tidal wave. On the other hand, in lots of ways, we won. We met and inspired students at West Chester University, registered first-time voters, and rallied with thousands of people in DC, demanding a Green New Deal. The word “politician” has become a cringe-inducing word, but the woman I helped into that position exemplifies everything the job is meant to be. We, the people, the children, and the fighters of PA-144, are not up against our elected official anymore to build a world of justice and love. Finally, I witnessed honest representation, massive grassroots victory, and a growing hope for a future where true democracy reigns.

 

Olivia Freiwald grew up outside of Philadelphia and is now a sophomore at Tufts University studying Climate Organizing and Sustainable Development. Olivia was a fellow with the Sunrise Movement from June-November 2018, living and working full-time in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and continues her involvement with Sunrise while in school.

Feature photo from Waging Nonviolence.

In Order to Call Itself Family-Friendly, the U.S. Must Examine its Workplaces

In Order to Call Itself Family-Friendly, the U.S. Must Examine its Workplaces

Siena Ruggeri
February 5, 2019

February 5th is the anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, which was passed in 1993. This law gives employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was a huge step forward for working families, but it still excludes many. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth estimates that half of all working parents and 43 percent of women of childbearing age are excluded from FMLA coverage due to outdated eligibility requirements.[1] Family leave policies need to be updated for 21st century workplaces and include low-wage earners.

Even if a worker qualifies for FMLA coverage, in many cases, they can’t afford to take it. Quite simply, far too many people can’t weather the sudden loss in income, and often fear they will lose their job if they take unpaid leave. Family leave needs to be paid for workers to utilize it, but paid leave remains rare in U.S. workplaces: 93% of low-wage workers have no access to any paid family leave.[2].

In 2019, the United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal paid leave benefits. After 26 years without landmark paid leave legislation, the time has come to not only offer family leave, but ensure all working families can access it. We need a federal universal paid leave policy to accomplish this goal.

A lack of family-friendly workplaces is bad for both employers and their workers. Employers must deal with the costs associated with high turnover, and employees are forced to choose between advancing their career and caring for family members.

The growing demands of caregiving can’t be ignored by federal policymakers any longer. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, almost three quarters of U.S. workers are caregivers in some capacity. Of those, 80% said that their caregiving responsibility made it harder to do their job. As a result, 32% of all employees surveyed said they left a job to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities.[3]

With women taking on a huge majority of caregiving, they are disproportionately impacted by a lack of paid leave. Women are twice as likely to stay home to care for a sick child, and three in five women say they have their care responsibilities on their mind when they’re at work. [4] Our society can’t achieve true economic justice for all women when we offer them no support or legal protections to balance caregiving and a career.

Government inaction on paid leave also reinforces the racial wealth gap. Already paid lower for the same work as their white peers, people of color are deeply impacted by inaccessible leave policies. Black women are the primary breadwinners for 70 percent of their families.[5] They’re also more likely than white women to leave or lose their jobs after birth.[6] By refusing to support black women in their careers, we create yet another structural barrier to push women of color out from opportunities for economic advancement.

Let’s take the anniversary of the FMLA to push Congress to give working families, and especially working moms, the relief they need. It is not just the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing. We cannot call ourselves a family-friendly country until we do so.

 


[1] https://equitablegrowth.org/research-paper/paid-family-and-medical-leave-in-the-united-states/?longform=true

[2] United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 32. Leave benefits: Access,private industry workers,” National Compensation Survey, March 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2018/employee-benefits-in-the-united-states-march2018.pdf.

[3] https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/The%20Caring%20Company%20-%2001.17.19.pdf

[4] “Modern Family Index,” Bright Horizons, https://solutionsatwork.brighthorizons.com/~/media/BH/SAW/PDFs/GeneralAndWellbeing/MFI_2017_Report_v4.ashx

[5] Sarah Jane Glynn, Breadwinning Mothers. (taken from this link: https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018/12/2018_pfmliscriticalfor_0.pdf)

[6] Lynda Laughlin, Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns. (taken from this link: https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018/12/2018_pfmliscriticalfor_0.pdf)