Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Women in Justice

Women in Justice

Claudia Brock
March 5, 2018

It all started with a campaign promise. While Ronald Regan was running for president, he made an effort to court the female vote by pledging that he would nominate the most qualified woman he could find to the Supreme Court. When Justice Potter Stewart retired in 1981, it was time for President Regan to fulfill that promise. The appointment of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was historic as she became the first woman to serve on the highest court in the land, almost 200 years after the Supreme Court had been established.

March is Women’s History Month and appropriately the birthday month of both Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (celebrating her 88th birthday on March 26) and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (celebrating her 85th birthday on March 15).  Both the first and second female Justices have made remarkable contributions to women’s history, in their decisions from the bench and in championing the way for other women in law.

In an interview with the New York Times, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”

You do not have to look far to find these “women’s organizations” that Justice Ginsburg is talking about. The majority of the nonprofit employees, over 75%, are female, over 75% of K-12 teachers are female, and over 80% of social workers are female. While women have been disproportionally excluded from political, business, and religious leadership roles, concern for community seems to be a powerful stimulus for women pursuing direct service careers.

But women seem to have been galvanized by an environment of support and the inspiration of female trailblazers to expand their concept of community. There are twice as many women running for Congress in 2018 than there were in 2016. Likewise, Justice O’Connor is credited with inspiring a generation of women to attend law school. When she was appointed in 1981, 36% of law school students were female and when she retired in 2006 the number had risen to 48%. Visibility begets action.

I will be attending law school in the fall and while I am so looking forward to my future career as a lawyer I have been  surprised by how many people have asked me, “Are you sure?” when I say I am attending law school. And while this reaction is nowhere near as awful as the dean of Harvard Law School asking Justice Ginsburg and her eight other female classmates (out of class of 500!), “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” I am still put off by this reaction. I have gotten it from both men and women, beloved family members, and trusted mentors. When I talk about my future plans I am met with a cocked head, squinted eyes, and vocal inflections that communicate both concern and distrust that I have thought everything through.

But yes, I am sure. Just as Justice Ginsburg instructed, I hope to be with the people who hold the levers, and I think I and many other women are working for a day when we hold the levers too and make decisions that take into account the needs of all, not only the powerful.

Working With White Folks

Working With White Folks

Jeremiah Pennebaker
February 24, 2018

 “The White Man’s Burden”

 “Take up the White Man’s burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!”

-Rudyard Kipling

In the year 2018, in the midst of a glorious Black History Month, and the premiere of Marvel’s Black Panther, I have been thinking a lot about my white friends. This blog is for all my white friends “in the struggle.” The white friends who are “really down” and who really “woke.” Not the, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a 3rd term!” type of woke, but the “How do I become an anti-racist white ally?” woke. I feel like this piece has been written, shared on Facebook, and discussed a million times before, and I’m surely no expert on what it means to white and “woke.” But being who I am, I constantly find myself in places with white people trying to figure it out, or trying to do the right thing, and that’s tough for both parties.

It’s tough because I’m not the friendly neighborhood Black dude who has all the answers to being a good white person as my white friends awkwardly fumble around with a list of Buzzfeed’s “Top 10 Tips to Being a Better Ally!” There’s an ever-present tension that exists in these spaces because racial justice work is messy and vague. There’s a blurred line between Black people not being “teachers” and white people’s inability to do the work themselves because of the privilege of living in a world made for white people. I’m not sure how to resolve or even ease this tension. Mostly because it’s not my fault it’s there nor is it my responsibility to fix.

The problem is that white people are more or less going to be in the wrong when it comes to a lot of racial justice work. No matter how many times you watch “MTV Decoded” or how often you retweet @deray you’re going to show up in places as a white person. The impact of the white gaze on racial justice work and allyship is one that I believe that many of my white friends/ allies may not understand. I don’t fully understand either, but I recognize my feelings around white people as they practice allyship.

I admit I often get frustrated discussing race and racism with my white friends because it begins to feel like my emotions and experiences are being appropriated. Even when the topics don’t necessarily pertain to personal experiences, it still feels as if people are talking about me like I’m not there. I recognize that my white friends mean no harm and that they are trying to be good white people, but I often feel like I’m put on display as they decide the best way to fix my problems.

Now the reason that I write this is not to tell my white friends to back off or to stop doing the racial work that they’re doing. I write this to say that even though there are wounds and you will make mistakes, you must continue to do the work. I write this to tell my white friends to recognize how much space you take up in racial justice spaces. I write this to tell my white friends that just because your name tag says “ally” that it’s not an all-access pass to Blackness. I feel that this is partially my fault because of how many “cookout” invites or pats on the back that were handed out for the most miniscule displays of humanity.

I greatly appreciate the work that is being done, and history has shown that unless we find Wakanda, “progress” is dependent on how much white people are willing to budge. Just recognize that the work being done is just meeting the basic levels of humanity. Malcolm X said something along the lines of, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Ultimately, I urge you to take up the white man’s (or woman’s or gender non-conforming person’s) burden and gain the “cold, edged, dear bought wisdom.” What Kipling originally intended as a racist call to colonization is now being thrust back upon you, my white friends, as a call to hold and for you to fully recognize that history and how it impacts the way the People of Color you work with may feel your gaze and your presence. The history, the tension, the anger, and frustration that your peers feel are your crosses to bear, but that does not absolve you of doing the work because at the end of the day it is the right thing to do and working through the tension may just help to ease it.

 

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Mary Cunningham
February 9, 2018

“The task that remains is to cope with our interdependence – to see ourselves reflected in every other human being and to respect and honor our differences.”-Melba Pattillo Beals

Two years ago a friend and I got into a deep conversation about faith. We navigated the winding roads of what it means to believe in God, where we felt God’s presence, and how to maintain our faith when met with resistance. After our conversation my friend recommended a book to me – Warriors Don’t Cry, a memoir written by Melba Pattillo Beals about her experience integrating Little Rock High in Arkansas.

A few months later, I bought the book and was ready to delve in. As I sat down to read, Melba’s words washed heavy over me. I was pulled out of my own world of petty fears into the sharp reality of a young girl who feared for her life because of the color of her skin; at age 14, Melba was forced to grow up fast, saddened by the childhood experiences she never got to have. My friend and I talked about how to maintain faith during moments of resistance, but this was on a whole other level.

Melba Pattillo Beals was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students chosen to integrate the all-white Central High in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957 following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. Upon entering Little Rock High School on the first day of classes, a huge white mob shouting racial slurs and threats greeted Melba and the other students. Melba and her mom barely escaped. Even when the students were finally able to enter the school, they were harassed and condemned by white peers, teachers and staff members. Melba had peanut and glass smeared on her seat, she was tripped, pushed, and almost blinded by a student who threw acid into her eyes. President Eisenhower sent in members of the 101st Airborne Division to accompany the students to and from their classes just because the violence was so bad. Physically and mentally tormented, Melba’s faith and her family support remained her inner strength. Despite all the hatred around her, she continued to push forward, paving the way for women and men of color who came after her.

Warriors Don’t Cry woke me up. It made me realize how powerful it is when men and women – particularly people of color — are brave enough to go against the grain to fight for their rights and whose inner strength defies the often negative, hateful world we live in. They are the ones pushing against, resisting, and reshaping our society. I am inspired by Melba who despite all the negative energy around her, not only managed to persist, but managed to trust in God and to forgive. Even when she was stripped down to survival mode, she prevailed.

The book also forced me to identify and confront my own white privilege. Melba and other women and men of color have made sacrifices and continue to make sacrifices that I know as a white woman I will never have to face. I will never undergo racial discrimination, physical attacks, or fear for my life because of the color of my skin. Instances of racism like the ones in Melba’s story may seem less prevalent in today’s society. However, they still exist – just in varying forms. Racism is entrenched in our society, its practices, its institutions. And white privilege continues to inform our outlook and our actions. In order to truly confront these issues, we need to go beyond our comfort zones, educate ourselves, and truly confront our own white privilege if we are not men and women of color. Black History Month is a great time to start this journey. I am honored to share Melba’s story in hopes that others will take the time to learn about the amazing African American men and women who have moved our nation forward and made us more racially accountable.

A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

Allison Berkowitz
January 20, 2018

To say 2017 has been transformative for the United States — especially for women — would be an understatement.

January 21st, 2017. Maybe it was because Carrie Fisher had recently died, Star Wars was back in the lime light, or because I needed a spark, but the movies’ themes rang true and deep to me. Before leaving for the Women’s March, an image of Ms. Fisher was seared into my mind: Princess Leia, guns drawn, with the text, “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance.” It stuck with me. When I arrived in D.C., the first protest sign I saw was a quote from Rogue One: “Rebellions are Built on Hope.” I marched proudly all day, hand-in-hand with my feminist husband, reflecting on these themes (a call to duty, class war, fearing for the future, to name a few). We vowed 2017 would be a year of action. A promise kept.

I didn’t realize it, but the march was a major turning point for many (I can’t tell you how many incredible activists I met this year whose efforts were born out of the march). For me, the changes were profound. In 2016, I moved to Maryland so I could attend a prestigious PhD program. I had a background in community organizing and intended to get back to the good fight, but I felt learning research skills would allow me to better speak truth to power. I had good intentions, but more and more of my time was being spent in the resistance. In March, I helped lead a group of social work students from all over the country to the Capitol, where we lobbied our legislators to vote for people-centered laws being considered. In April, I did several teach-ins on how to be a legislative advocate. I got very involved in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants by analyzing and defending proposed laws which sought to protect them, both at the state and federal levels. I also wrote countless op-eds.

Much of May through July was spent working with the grassroots, anti-poverty group, “RESULTS.” The Baltimore chapter’s leader was on maternity leave so I co-led in her stead. I helped keep the group organized, met with legislators, and pleaded to protect the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): an evidence-based method of combatting poverty. We also fought to protect other safety nets, such as Medicaid and SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”). You see, by August, we knew the tax reform fight was coming and we were trying to sound the alarm.

By the time September rolled around, it became clear I needed to quit the program and enter an uncertain future. Making the decision to leave research was scary, but confirmation came quickly that I’d made the right choice. Within a week, I began working on a US Congressional campaign I’d volunteered for in the past for a single mother, Allison Galbraith, in MD-01. Advocating during the day, campaigning at night, it was hectic but electric. I felt energized by this new sense of purpose. In November I was accepted into a doctoral program which allowed me to continue this work, something a purely research focused program could not offer me. I also found a job as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Advocacy & Social Action to master’s level social workers. Dr. King said you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith. I felt very lucky steps were continuing to appear beneath my feet.

While my colleagues and I had been beating the “tax reform” drum since August, in December, we went to war. We fought passionately and painstakingly. Much of my time was spent calling, emailing and visiting legislators, writing op-eds, attending town hall meetings, and protesting the unjust bill in D.C. I was in excellent company, routinely storming the Capitol alongside fierce fighters like Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, Ady Barkan, and many other wonderful individuals from around the country. We shared our stories, and many of my friends — including clergy, people in wheelchairs, teenagers, and 80 year olds — participated in nonviolent civil disobedience. They chose to be arrested to bring attention to the “abomination of a bill” as one clergy member put it. Despite our best efforts, as you know, the tax bill passed and Trump signed it into law on December 22nd. We cried that day. But as I’d done on Wednesday — November 8th, 2016 – I encouraged my friends to take the time to weep, and then come back to the fight.

Now here we are. We madly mourn our losses and wildly celebrate our successes, like the special election of Doug Jones or our victories in Virginia. And we plot how to get out of this mess. I am comforted everyday by the myriad of Americans stepping up to run for office. I myself learned last month no Democrat was going to run for an open seat in my district for the Maryland House of Delegates, so I’m doing it, and you can too! For those of you contemplating running, someone gave me this gift, so let me pass it on to you: you ARE qualified, and if you’re waiting for someone to ask, I’m asking you: don’t just march – RUN! For those not interested or able to run for public office, please support those around you. We are better together, and we can turn our country around. To get back to those Star Wars’ metaphors, it’s been an incredible year in the resistance and we’re just getting started. To those struggling in these trying times, take heart, things can be different if we work for it. That said, it’s my great hope to see you in the rebellion!

Allison Berkowitz is a social work doctoral student, an instructor of social action to master’s-level social workers, and an active legislative advocate for several groups and causes. Originally from Florida, she spent three years in Alaska and has settled down in Maryland. Allison believes in people and tries to make the world a little better each day. Find her on Twitter@AllisonForAll

In 2018, We Commit to Activism

In 2018, We Commit to Activism

Claudia Brock
January 17, 2018

I felt rejuvenated when I came back to work in the New Year. That is, until I opened my email to find a 33-page document my colleague had emailed me detailing why 2018 will make 2017 seem tame. All I could think was, Are you kidding me??

As I thought of all of the work that the NETWORK community did in 2017 I was reminded of Kimmy from the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt declaring “you can do anything for 10 seconds!” as she turns a heavy mental crank in her underground bunker. She starts out smiling and cheery as she counts, “1, 2, 3, 4…” but by the time she reaches number 5 she is straining and once she is at number 9 you are not sure if she will make it. But when she finishes, she goes right back to smiling with another round of cranking, starting at number 1. If you have not yet seen the show you can get a visual here.

Remaining politically active right now can feel a lot like we are Kimmy turning her heavy crank. At first we are energized and willing to tackle the task, but as we keep going our energy wanes and it gets harder and harder until we are right back in the grind with another important issue. If one thing about our work in 2018 is clear it is that we really need YOU. We need you to keep making calls to your legislators; we need you to schedule lobby visits in your district; we need you to be engaged in whatever way you can be.

Around 80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February. So if you are looking for a new resolution or a way to amend your current one to make it a bit more realistic, here are 3 ways you can resolve to be a better activist in 2018:

  1. Claim your title

NBC News reported that millennial men are 15% more likely to call themselves activists than millennial women. What makes this discrepancy more disconcerting is that most nonprofits are led by women and most phone calls to Congress have been made– you guessed it– by women! If you are a person who believes in political or social change and are taking part in activities to make this happen, then you are an activist. Resolve to claim both your title and your power and continue to work towards your vision of society.

  1. Use listening and storytelling as a form of activism

Being an activist does not have to mean hosting the next Women’s March; it can be as simple as seeking out new perspectives on issues. Use the experiences of others to expand your understanding of an issue and be open to updating your position. You can intentionally watch documentaries, read books by authors of color to get their perspective, or resolve to have a transformative conversation.

When going on a lobby visit, calling your Member of Congress, or even posting a position on your Facebook page, be sure to not just post facts and figures, but to ground your policy position in stories about human realities. Talk about a family member who has lost their health care or a friend who is undocumented to bring a human face to policies that can often feel abstract.

  1. Find balance and community

In these turbulent political times it is so easy to feel overwhelmed with all there is to do. Resolve to find a balance in your activism that leaves you feeling engaged but not over-extended. Whether it is incorporating a daily phone call to your Member of Congress into your lunch break or writing an email to your legislator once a week, find an action and frequency that works for you and add it into your routine; soon it will become a beneficial habit.

Taking action as part of a community might also help you stick to your political engagement resolutions. Find a buddy to make phone calls to Congress with so you are not tempted to hang up when you are put on hold, or go to a town hall meeting with a family member. Tackling an action with another person can make activism fun and connect you to other people working hard to create social change.

I am so thankful for all of the actions that our community of justice-seekers took in 2017. Now let’s see what we can accomplish in 2018!

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Mary Cunningham
December 20, 2017

Three months ago I left the quiet Massachusetts neighborhood I grew up in to move Washington, D.C. One of my first impressions of the city as I walked around was how drastically the neighborhoods changed from block to block. In my own neighborhood in Northeast D.C., I was surprised to find that after walking only a few blocks I ran into a Starbucks, a Chipotle, and a Barnes and Noble. The residential area my house was in felt worlds away from the perfectly paved sidewalks and the gleaming new buildings I encountered on my walk. I thought to myself, this just doesn’t seem to fit.

I was also shocked to hear that D.C. has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. When I first arrived in D.C., the city seemed so robust that I never considered homelessness might be a major issue. And yet, as I ventured into more of D.C.’s neighborhoods, I began to see more and more people experiencing homelessness. I wondered, how can a city so rooted in public service have people living on the streets? Some may look at the gentrification sweeping through D.C. and many other cities as a way of moving the city forward. What they may not realize, however, is that it also leaves people behind.

Once every few months, the NETWORK staff participates in a Political Ministry Day: a chance to engage in service, immersion, and reflection together. Recently, we spent part of our day at The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, which provides legal assistance and “Know Your Rights” resources to anyone suffering from homelessness. During the afternoon, we heard from Patty Fugere, the Clinic’s Executive Director, who facilitated a panel with LaJuan and LaTreviette, two women who have experienced homelessness. After they shared their lived experiences, Patty talked about how difficult it is to find affordable housing in D.C. She said new housing units are constantly being built, but they are almost always out of range for low-income folks. As I listened to a mix of personal stories and harsh realities, I was astounded by the pervasiveness of the affordable housing crisis and its effects.

While it seems like there is an overwhelming amount of construction in D.C., the new apartments and homes are drastically out of the price range for low-income families. According to a study by Freddie Mac, between 2010 and 2016 the amount of affordable housing for low-income families in Washington D.C. dropped by 60%.[1] Without access to affordable housing, individuals become cost-burdened (spend more than 30% of income on housing), they are unable to build wealth, and they become increasingly susceptible to poverty. Another issue lies in who affordable housing is available for. “Affordable rental units” are units available for families making 50% of the average median income. In Washington D.C., 50% of the average median income for a family of four ranges from $55,000 to $88,000.[2] What does that mean for the drastic number of families making below $55,000? Where are they supposed to find housing? With their income level, how are they supposed to choose between housing, food, and everything else they need to provide for their family?

The lack of affordable housing in Washington, D.C. and across the country needs to be amongst the first issues addressed in order to adequately respond to the members of our community who are experiencing homelessness or are who are extremely cost-burdened. If we continue avoiding this issue, we are shirking our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/23/americas-affordable-housing-stock-dropped-by-60-percent-from-2010-to-2016/?utm_term=.b66d6c166036

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-new-dc-outside-an-rei-that-sells-tents-desperate-people-are-living-in-them/2017/12/14/a47a8d1e-e0c5-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.f022f10

Dreamer’s Survival Fight

Dreamer’s Survival Fight

Heyra Avila
December 08, 2017

We all essentially live life day to day, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. We wake up, exist, and survive. Those are all blessings that get taken for granted too often and too easily. Surviving looks different for each individual. For me, surviving means fighting. My parents and I fought for survival and to break through poverty when we decided to cross the border without the proper documentation. We risked everything we had in search of a better life.

Fast forward to today: survival means justifying my humanity and worth as an “alien”, trying to fit into a foreign land I have called home my whole life. I’m surviving to fight and fighting to survive and not to just simply exist but also to thrive. The uncertainties of my tomorrows are plagued by anxiety, but also by very real possibilities of tragedies. I have to be very mindful of the fact that my family can be separated through incarceration and deportation for simply trying to live a normal life.

It wasn’t always this bad though. The fears were always there, but now they are very much alive thanks to the political climate promoted by the new President’s administration. Our existence has boiled down to numbers and statistics, and even worse, we have become bargaining chips in this political gridlock involving immigration. I’m disappointed that our government has taken the stance it has, but I am not surprised.

What’s frustrating is that some people are leaving it up to faith alone. “Don’t worry, Heyra, something will be worked out.” I can’t just “not worry” when my life is on the line. I remember people told me not to worry about Trump winning. They also told me not to worry about the termination of DACA. SO naturally, I am going to worry. I understand that some people do not like to get involved in politics, but at this rate we cannot afford for people not to care.

I am a woman of faith, raised in a Mexican Catholic household. I do find solace in prayer and mass. However, we also need to pray for God to give us strength, clarity, and empathy, so we can better understand our neighbor and to try to work for something more tangible that jeopardizes fewer lives and instead offers opportunities. Well-intentioned wishes and prayers do wonders, but legislative action is a must.

DACA is dead, but my dreams are not. In as little as three months when DACA expires, some lives are going to be forever transformed and the economy is going to be impacted no matter what your stance is. I want to survive and thrive in the country I’ve known and grown to appreciate. But I cannot do it alone. We have done a lot of work with and for our immigrant brothers and sisters, yet we have a long way to go for justice.

Heyra Avila is an Honors student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio where she is a Philosophy, Politics, and the Public major. She takes action on a regular basis to advocate as an immigration lobbyist. Heyra currently lives in northern Kentucky.

“Good Guys” Are Overrated

“Good Guys” Are Overrated

Jeremiah Pennebaker
December 07, 2017

“ – and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, The First White President

So, dudes are creeps. I feel like I should probably just stop the presses right there. That statement and the hashtag, #MenAreTrash, seem pretty self-explanatory. Especially in a time when countless women are reliving some of their darkest and most painful moments out loud. There is an ongoing exposition of men ranging from anonymous individual cases, to some of the biggest names in Hollywood and the media. Yet, when women tweet or exclaim that #MenAreTrash they are typically hounded by #NotAllMen, a cohort of men who believe themselves to be the “good guys.” Statements like #MenAreTrash aren’t as easily digested in this society as ones like, “She’s a liar,” “Why was she dressed like that?” or “She’s just trying to get some attention.” Statements like those, while problematic and misogynistic, are simply accepted at face value as people go about their day.

I think that I’m a good guy, or at least that’s what I’ve been told and what I’d like to believe. That’s what my friends say after they finish listing out the varying degrees of trashiness of the men in their lives, the men that they encounter on the streets, the men they know from work, the guy on their social media who just won’t stop harassing them, the old boyfriend who won’t stop texting them, the guy from high school who shared pictures of them and so on. We live in a society where women have to be afraid of men, and where guys aren’t held accountable for their treatment of women outside of the typical “what if that was your sister?” retort. This all leads me to question how good of a guy I am.

Being a Black man in America is constantly at the forefront of my mind. I think about it when I’m driving around, when I walk into stores, and whenever I am in public spaces. While I completely recognize the fragility of my safety and my body when I show up somewhere as a Black man, I cannot fathom the things that women are simply expected to live with. After hearing and reading the multitude of stories that have come out in the past month on sexual harassment and sexual assault, it makes me wonder how much of a good guy I am.  If I am a “good guy” what have I done to stem the violence and abuse that so many women experience? Do I deserve a pat on the back for simply not assaulting every woman I pass by on a daily basis? Should I get a thumbs up for not catcalling the girl on the metro? Do I get a high five for not lashing out when I get “friendzoned” by a woman with free will? Am I entitled to a round of applause for simply treating women like people?

A good friend of mine always says, “You shouldn’t give credit to a fish for swimming.” While I recognize that all this #MenAreTrash talk isn’t necessarily about me, it really is. How many times have I allowed my brother to make an offhand, misogynist comment? How many times have I not stepped in when my friend was being too aggressive with his girlfriend? How many times have I just blindly participated in a culture of sexism and hate?

I cringe as I recall the moments I could’ve and should’ve stepped in, the times I myself have been trash, and all the times that I didn’t even know that I was being trash. The #NotAllMen and #GoodGuy movement loses all credibility when it is seemingly #AllWomen who have had to deal with varying levels of assault and abuse. I would hope that one day my son or I won’t have to get pats on the back for being “good guys,” but it will simply be the expectation.

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Emma Tacke
November 21, 2017

In early November I had the pleasure and honor of emceeing the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ).  This was a weekend where over 2,000 students from Jesuit affiliated high schools and colleges gathered in Washington D.C. to learn, celebrate, pray, and challenge one another to “row into the deep,” the theme for the conference. At a time when those in power continue to espouse prejudice, violence, and hate, the need for weekends such as these feel all the more necessary. It was restorative to spend time with such an energetic group of people who shared a common desire to build a more just world with fairer policies and a more empathetic and inclusive culture.

Let me be clear: this weekend was not reduced to a self-congratulatory party where we affirmed each other for being good socially and politically conscious people. This annual gathering was a chance for all who attended to put faith into action. It was a reminder that our commitment to God requires us to be resilient and dogged in the face of injustice.  The call of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In beckoned us to “Wake ourselves and others from dormancy” and to not “accept the status quo in either ourselves or our surrounding world . . . we will row into unfamiliar waters that will stretch and challenge us, but ultimately move us to magis, a greater, stronger, and more enduring love of justice.”

This theme of challenging ourselves to be courageous and work for justice was threaded throughout the conference’s breakout sessions. The narrative that we are powerless in the face of systemic injustices such as racism, classism, and institutionalized violence was rejected and tossed aside by dynamic and influential keynote speakers such as Father Bryan Massingale, Sister Patricia Chappell, and Dr. Maria Stephan. The weekend ended with a day of advocacy on Monday when over 1,400 IFTJ participants went to Capitol Hill to advocate for bills promoting criminal justice and immigration reform.

The students I met were engaged, smart, empathetic, and ready to talk about what they could do to be better advocates for justice. They queued up for a chance to speak with Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a celebrity in the Ignatian community. They packed crowded conference rooms to learn about the racial wealth gap, ending the death penalty, changing the civil discourse on immigration, and dozens of other topics. Hundreds of students made their way through the hall to visit the myriad of faith-based organizations that passed out information and advocacy tools.

Millennials are often dismissed as a self-absorbed, politically disengaged generation. As a millennial myself, it’s difficult for me to be objective, but what I witnessed at IFTJ and what I often see from my peers is anything but self-absorption and political apathy.  The momentum and energy generated by the 2,000 students at IFTJ wouldn’t have been possible if this group of young people were not aching to change the world. This desire to make a difference is not limited to IFTJ participants, nor should it be reduced to naiveté or foolish optimism. I am inspired by my peers to seek the truth and confront systemic and social injustice.  When working for justice, progress is often slow and pushing back against oppressive institutions is exhausting. It is not work that can be done alone. This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In was a call to action many responded to wholeheartedly.

I want to bottle the collective energy I experienced throughout the IFTJ weekend and take a swig any time I feel lacking in courage to continue challenging myself to advocate for justice. There is strength in numbers and the Igantian Family Teach-In is an example of the power collective faith in action can have in the march towards a better future.

Emma Tacke is a former NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate. She currently works as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in Washington D.C.

Anyone Can Lobby

Anyone Can Lobby

Claudia Brock 
November 18, 2017

In early November, NETWORK Lobby headed to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) for a few days of presenting, learning, and networking. As a graduate of a Jesuit university, it was heartening to see so many young people excited about social justice and willing to consider how their values influence politics. To begin the weekend, my colleague, Jeremiah, and I gave a “How to Lobby” presentation to prepare the students for their day advocating on Capitol Hill — the culmination of the IFTJ weekend.

One of my favorite parts of the presentation was when Jeremiah asked who had lobbied before and only a few students in a room of over one hundred people raised their hands. After a few moments, Jeremiah asked again and this time noted that signing on online petition, calling a Member of Congress or tweeting with a political hashtag were forms of lobbying; suddenly every hand in the room was up. At times it can feel like the political process is hard to navigate or so abstract it’s impossible to engage in it, especially as a young person who is not able to vote yet. But it is important to remember that every constituent has personal power in their own voice. It was enlivening to demystify what it means to be politically active through our presentation.

A few of us on the Grassroots Mobilization team at NETWORK had the chance to meet the renowned organizer Heather Booth. When she was asked what it took to be an organizer or make any kind of political change she said, “You just have to love people and hate injustice.” Using Heather Booth’s qualifications, every student at IFTJ and each member of NETWORK’s spirit-filled network has what it takes to enact real change.

As Jeremiah told the students at IFTJ, there are many ways to lobby for justice. If you’re busy working full time or have other responsibilities, it may be most convenient for you to lobby your elected officials by making phone calls. When you call, we recommend mentioning a brief personal reason for why you support or oppose a bill (see more tips here for using email, social media, or for an in-person lobby visit ). Find out how contacting your Member of Congress, using social media and writing letters to the editor are great ways to advocate for social change.  Email info@networklobby.org with any questions, comments, or to report back on how your lobbying goes!