Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Distracted

Distracted

Jeremiah Pennebaker
October 23, 2017

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” -Toni Morrison

I used to love watching football every Sunday with my parents. I remember the scene well: my mom, an avid New England Patriots fan, and my father, laying claim to both the Cowboys and the Steelers– the teams who thrived during his childhood– both screaming at the TV, the living room filled with the aroma of fried food, and the surround sound pumping the voice of Al Michaels throughout the house.

Football is a sentimental pastime for me, as I’m sure that it is for many people across the country. But like many others, football has become difficult for me to watch. Since the kneeling protests by Colin Kaepernick and a multitude of other players across the NFL have started, I have been distracted from the game that I love by something larger. I can no longer watch football without being reminded of how much my life does not matter. I can’t watch football without being reminded that as a Black man in America, I only exist as a problem that needs to be solved, an animal to be muzzled and caged, a commodity to be bought, sold, and discarded.

I can no longer plug in, turn on, and tune out of the daily distraction that is racism when I watch football. I can’t watch football without thinking that people care more about a song and a piece of cloth than they do about a 12-year-old boy being gunned down for playing in the park. It has tainted the game I love. Some in the United States would rather have me pledge allegiance to the flag than the country be a nation with liberty and justice for all. It is hard for me to stomach this and simply “stick to sports.”

Football was a distraction for me, and I’m sure for many others, from the daily struggles of life. Now, it brings my lack of humanity in our society to the forefront every Sunday when I hear about people heckling those who kneel in protest or see the overt and covert racist tweets about “ungrateful athletes.” I imagine that those people are frustrated because they are also distracted from their favorite pastime. This was something that they could retreat to when they did not want to be bothered by the distraction that is the Black man begging for change outside of the subway. The distraction that is the Black girl with the funny name and big hair who “only got the job because of affirmative action”. The distraction that is the Black kid at school who keeps complaining about the confederate flags flying in the parking lot. These distractions have infiltrated the sacred space of American football. It is no longer the noncontroversial space of hard work and meritocracy that Americans viewers are used to. They’re distracted because their once colorblind consciousness has been forced to recognize that these athletes are people too. Black people. Black athletes are Black lives and their lives should matter just as much as I want mine to.

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Mary Cunningham
October 10, 2017

“You’re going to Burkesville, Kentucky!” the headline of my email read. As a senior, I had decided to lead a spring break immersion trip to Appalachia, where I would accompany 12 participants from my college to engage in a week of service, immersion and solidarity with the community in Burkesville, Kentucky. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but as usual, I was surprised.

Leading up the trip I did not understand what rural poverty looked like. I grew up in northern Massachusetts in a small, upper middle class town. I spent one summer during college interning at a church in downtown Boston, an area known for its large population of homeless individuals and high-concentration of drugs. Having been surrounded by this on a daily basis, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what poverty looked like. My trip to Kentucky changed that.

Burkesville, a small, remote town in southern Kentucky has a vibrant spirit and a strong sense of community. And yet, as my week there unfolded, I noticed signs of poverty. We worked at the Burkesville elementary school where many of the kids were on a nutrition assistance program. Although the school provided some snacks, they were often unhealthy options. Talking with school administrators, we also learned that there were not a lot of viable job opportunities in the area. There was a large population of children and retired people, but there seemed to be a lack of middle-aged people contributing to the economic growth of the town. Seeing a community struggling with these issues was something I had heard about, but never encountered.

As an associate at NETWORK, I recently learned about the rural poverty I saw in Burkesville from a policy perspective. On September 28, I attended a briefing titled, “Urban and Rural Poverty in America” in the Rayburn House Office Building. One of the things that stood out to me was how a city’s remoteness and population size are connected to poverty rates. Research collected by the Salvation Army shows that states that are more remote and that have both high and low population concentrations tend to have higher levels of need than states that are less remote. Rural towns located far from large cities tend to have a harder time accessing government services and their residents are often underemployed. It was clear from the panel that these unique challenges facing rural communities make grappling with poverty across our country difficult.

Another interesting comment came from one of the panelists, John Letteiri, who works for the Economic Innovation Group. Mr. Letteiri noted that the decline of migration is one of the major causes of exacerbated rural poverty. He cited an interesting statistic: since the 1990s migration from rural to urban areas has fallen about 50 percent. Without mobility, residents of these rural towns are attached to the economic reality of their area. As I left the panel, I was left with a sharp reminder of my experience in Burkesville, Kentucky.

The way in which we understand poverty needs to constantly be reframed. We largely define poverty based on our own cultural perceptions, not the reality of the situation. As a society, we must take into account those who are forced into poverty due to social, economic, and political factors beyond their control and prioritize policies that support them. As poverty changes, so must our definition of it.

Who Are We the People?

2020 Census: Who Are We the People?

Lily Ryan
August 10, 2017

With the many ups and downs of health care and immigration over the last seven months, I’ve found myself quoting numbers and statistics all the time: Who receives benefits from what programs; which states have the most to lose if the ACA was overturned; numbers that illustrate immigration’s positive impacts of on a state and national level.

Thinking deeper into each of these data points, a more basic question emerges—from “Who are the people who will be affected?” to “Who are the people?” Every ten years we have a constitutionally-mandated census and we as a country get to ask this question: “Who is here?” The answer we find shapes legislation, budgets, and federal policies and programs for the next ten years.

Catholic tradition tells us that every person matters and that no one deserves to be left behind. The 2020 Census is an opportunity to affirm the presence and worth of our entire population, most especially those who have been left out of the minds and hearts of lawmakers. As people of conscience and members of a diverse and changing society, it is our duty to make sure everyone is counted and treated with dignity, and the fate of funding for the 2020 Census will have a major impact on whether or not we can succeed.

The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the most overlooked agencies in the federal government, but its work has an enormous impact on the functioning of the rest of government. As Congress shifts its focus to the federal budget, funding for the Census Bureau at the level needed to gather an accurate picture of the United States in 2020 is in serious jeopardy.

Funding for the census in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget will either establish or prevent an effective and efficient 2020 Census process . The GOP and the White House have signaled their reticence to allocate adequate funding to the census, focusing particular ire on the Census Bureau’s modernized techniques, including statistical and spatial analysis in combination with traditional mail-in and door-to-door surveys.

Full funding of the census must be a budget priority starting now because an effective census process will ensure a more accurate count of the population. Insufficient counting methods have, in the past, led to an undercount of some populations and an overcount of others.

The populations most likely to be undercounted- low-income people, people of color, young children and undocumented immigrants- are also the groups who are most at-risk as the GOP and Trump administration seek to make cuts to social programs. An undercount of these populations in the 2020 Census would only compound the exclusion and damage caused by the GOP’s draconian budget proposals.

An accurate census count will have long-lasting ramifications on the allocation of federal money for programs that help low-income families with healthcare and child care, provide job training and employment programs to people without jobs, and promote safe and healthy communities across the country. In a time of alternative facts and fake news, we should all agree that the census is something we need to get right.

Lily Ryan is a summer intern with the NETWORK Communications team.

Make Your Voice Heard on Capitol Hill!

Make Your Voice Heard on Capitol Hill!

Brie Baumert
August 1, 2017

We participate in the political life of our nation through an important task: by reaching out to our members of Congress with our opinions and concerns. Too often, our First Amendment right to petition to the government is overshadowed by other powerful aspects of the Constitution. Yet, this power we have is extremely effective, exceedingly important, and all the more necessary in our nation today. Beyond our duty as citizens, for some of us, our faith encourages us to be involved in the political process. The principles of Catholic Social Justice teach us that we have a responsibility to participate in politics out of a concern for and commitment to the good.

Contacting your members of Congress is easier now than ever before. With the help of technology and social media, there are many ways to get in touch with Representatives and Senators, including sending letters and faxes, visiting their offices in person, using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper, attending town halls, and most commonly, directly emailing and calling your members of Congress.

Since President Trump took office in January 2017, a flood of phone calls and emails has been pouring into Capitol Hill. So many people have been contacting their congressional representatives that voicemail inboxes have been filled to capacity, phone lines have been busy, and emails have been bouncing back. Before President Trump’s inauguration, many Washington, D.C. offices received on average anywhere from 120 to 200 calls in a given week. Those numbers have more than doubled this year! Congressional offices claim that during the week of January 30, 2017, the Senate received 1.5 million calls a day. Three of those days were the busiest in the history of the Capitol switchboard. The outpouring of civic involvement, especially in light of the recent presidential election, is evident, and is making a difference in the legislative realm.

Needless to say, constituent input does matter greatly. “Everything is read, every call and voice mail is listened to,” Isaiah Akin, the deputy legislative director for Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, said.

The response by elected officials to these grassroots movements reveals that civic participation works. Contacting your members of Congress matters, whether your Senators or Representatives are Republicans or Democrats! It is critically important for Americans to stand up and make their voices heard. Let’s keep up the pressure on our elected officials to represent their constituents faithfully!

If you have never called your members of Congress, I urge you try. It’s simple, easy, and effective. Here’s how to do it:

  1. When there’s something important happening on Capitol Hill, NETWORK’s Action Alerts will ask you to call or email your members of Congress. Make sure you are signed up to receive action alerts via email (sign up here if you don’t already) and sign up to receive text alerts on your phone from NETWORK by texting “NUNS” to 877-877.
  2. Read NETWORK’s tips on emailing Congress or calling Congress to make sure you’re comfortable and confident contacting your members of Congress.

That’s it! You’re ready to get started contacting your representatives. I encourage you to not only reach out to your members, but to teach your friends how to contact their members of Congress and work towards Mending the Gaps!

Brie Baumert is a summer intern with the NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization team.

Blog: We Won’t Be Silent Anymore

We Won’t Be Silent Anymore

23 Hours of Prayer, Testimonies, and Protest
Brie Baumert
July 5, 2017

Last Wednesday, NETWORK joined dozens of religious denominations and organizations in a 23-hour interfaith prayer vigil for healthcare. Together we voiced our opposition to the Senate Healthcare bill – the Better Care Reconciliation Act- a bill that makes immoral cuts to Medicaid and would drastically change the lives of millions of people, especially those who are marginalized in our communities. As people of faith, it is our responsibility to fight for and defend the dignity of all people, especially those on the margins of our society, and to advocate for God’s belief in the worth of all people to have an abundant and healthy life.

As a NETWORK intern, I’ve been so inspired by the work that faith organizations are doing to advocate for the dignity of all God’s children. These 23 hours were unlike anything I have seen before. I saw pain, passion, and promise. I witnessed vulnerability, I experienced agony and anger, and I felt the fear of what this new healthcare bill could mean for loved ones. For 23 hours, people of different faiths were all united in the mission to love our neighbor and to pray, sing, and speak out against the Senate and House versions of a new healthcare bill.

As Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  God’s presence was apparent on that Capitol lawn- in the people present, in the stories shared, in the songs chanted, in the prayers cried out, in the silence of the hearts. While we were surrounded by various powerful political institutions, the true power that night was on the patch of grass that held the hearts of those advocating for the human right of healthcare.

For 23 hours, people stayed awake advocating for Americans who depend on Medicaid coverage for their healthcare. As I sat there hearing story after story of people whose lives will be forever changed by the Better Care Reconciliation Act, it became clear that we are not alone. To those who have or are currently suffering from mental or physical illnesses, and to those who have a loved one who is suffering from mental or physical illness, we stand with you. Never forget your inherent dignity and worth as a child of God.

As people of faith, we all stand together, to advocate for our sisters and brothers. We have the power of God’s love and the power of our community, and that is far greater than any institutional power. Despite all the evident pain and fear, hope prevailed. Hope was there when the sun rose in the morning and cast a beautiful sunrise. I was reminded that we are the hope we need, we are the change we seek. That hope, that fire that burned inside all of us is as important now as ever.

This fight is far from over. For all of those who feel called, I urge you to keep sharing your stories. God doesn’t call us to be ineffective. God calls us to love our neighbors, to advocate for those who are unable to, to stand up for those who are hurting and suffering. God calls us to be a voice of truth, to speak out against this sinful healthcare bill that will take the lives of thousands of people and change the lives of millions of people forever. As Rev. J William Barber II exclaimed, “Jesus said, ‘When I was sick, you cared for me.’ He didn’t say, ‘When I was sick, you cared for some of me.’” As people of faith, we are called to be truth-seekers. We are called to share our stories. We are called to resist any policy that brings harm to our sisters and brothers.

We will not be silent anymore.

Brie Baumert is a summer intern with the NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization team.

Blog: Dialogue, Disagreement, or Both?

Dialogue, Disagreement, or Both?

Emma Tacke
May 24, 2017

“The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” Donald Trump crowed from his favorite podium, Twitter, in December of 2013. Although Trump appeared delighted to have found a kindred spirit in Pope Francis, I think most people would be hard-pressed to come up with any realistic similarities between our 45th president and Pope Francis. Our president, as we all know, is many things, but humble he is not. Even President Trump’s most ardent supporters probably wouldn’t list ‘modesty’ as one of his defining characteristics. The world was given its chance to compare the two men side-by-side as earlier this morning President Trump met with Pope Francis at the Vatican as part of his first foreign tour as president.

In fact, Pope Francis and Donald Trump seem like they could not be more opposite from one another. Besides the fact that they hold two of the world’s most influential titles, what could these two possibly have in common? They disagree on several important political and social issues, including but not limited to, immigration, healthcare, and climate change.

Did the president’s characteristic bravado and arrogance shine through this morning? Was the man who once said “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” humbled at all in the presence of the pontiff?

As a Catholic and as someone who deeply admires Pope Francis, part of me wonders what could possibly be gained from this meeting. Will anything Pope Francis said to Donald Trump have any impact? We have seen time and time again that Trump dismisses anyone and anything that counters his warped ideologies. Maybe I’m coming across as too judgmental. Perhaps my resentment and anger towards the new president only contributes to the very divisiveness I seek to reject. My heart feels dried up and I am doubtful the meeting at the Vatican will have any true effect on Trump. However, maybe the lesson Pope Francis offers us is patience and a reminder to extend openness and respect to those with whom we have fundamental differences. This could be the Holy Spirit guiding us to call those neighbors we’ve come to verbal blows on Facebook with.  Maybe now is the time to reach out to those relatives we could barely speak to at Easter and say “I’m sorry. Can we start over?”

As we, the American people, watch our current president maneuver the weight and responsibility of the position for which he so mercilessly fought for, I am struck by this sentence from the Pope’s 2015 address to the United States Congress, “To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.” Was this sentiment echoing in Pope Francis’ own mind this morning when he met with President Trump? Did he privately lament the kind of culture, seemingly lacking in empathy and compassion, our country has fostered in order for such a man to rise to power? I wonder if the Pope saw a tyrant sitting across from him this morning, or just a man desperately in need of redemption.

Is Your Feminism Intersectional?

Is Your Feminism Intersectional?

Catherine Guerrier
March 30, 2017

I am a Black woman. Despite the marriage of these two identities, my Blackness tends to always feel divorced from the latter. Separate and not equal. Not equal because while there are shared struggles specific to the woman experience, not all women are valued or discriminated against equally and liberation for black and brown women is merely an afterthought, if even thought of at all. Separate because being Black in America affords me with a set of unique experiences that can only be comprehended by people who share that identity with me.  And, it is precisely this distinction that creates a tension between my two identities.

In our history, the majority of women showed up almost exclusively for white women’s causes. Not all women could vote in 1920 after the 19th Amendment was passed, yet that year is taught in high school history courses.  Enraged protests against the $0.77 women earn to every $1.00 a white male makes ignore the fact that for a Black woman it’s $0.60.  Thousands of women rushed to Susan B. Anthony’s grave after the 2016 Election with their “I voted” stickers.  While Susan B. Anthony fought tirelessly for women’s right to vote neither my personhood, nor the personhood of my ancestors were included in her fight.  Anthony once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”  And still we, as Black women, are expected to learn the history of Susan B. Anthony before Ida B. Wells or Sojourner Truth.

For me, intersectionality means acknowledging that there are varying components that shape our womanhood. I do not support any kind of feminism that functions on the institution of Whiteness or unearned privilege. Instead, I support feminism that is intersectional at every level. This Women’s History Month, I vowed to listen and seek out women’s voices that are not always brought to the forefront or celebrated. Women like Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Malala Yousafzai, and Janet Mock who have devoted their lives to effecting change for all.  I vow to continue this effort and hope that all proclaimed feminists will follow suit.  Because as Audre Lorde pointed out, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Concern for our Common Home as Pruitt Confirmation Vote Nears

Concern for our Common Home as Pruitt Confirmation Vote Nears

Mackenzie Harris
February 14, 2017

Pope Francis says that we are called by our faith to care for our creation – that the degradation of the environment is a sin. During this polarizing time, I think it’s safe to say that we all need to remember the significance the future of our environment has on our very own lives, and future generations to come.

The rhetoric in the past few weeks, let alone the last year, has been astonishing to say the least. Using terms like “alternative facts” about science and the environment were just another ploy to delay action on climate change for the new Administration, according to members of Congress and advocates who spoke alongside Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) at a press conference about on the Senate confirmation process for Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency last week.

The divide amongst our parties on climate change and the role of the Environmental Protection Agency has unfortunately grown deeper in this past election with President Trump denying the existence of a connection between human activity and climate change.

Sister Simone Campbell stated during the press conference that, “This is not polarized politics; these are actual facts. And we must respond to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Senator Carper, meanwhile, said there is an urgency to have the Environment Protection Agency backed by science, not opinion.

The fact that the future of the EPA could very well be in the hands of a man who has been scrutinized for his skepticism of the EPA is almost as frightening as President Trump’s failure to recognize climate change, or worse, his transition leader, Myron Ebell’s plan to cut the EPA’s workforce by two-thirds.

I know that global climate change threatens all people and all nations, and like so many other challenges to justice, global climate change disproportionately impacts people in poverty and others who are vulnerable and marginalized members of our society.

Ignoring climate change or cutting the EPA’s workforce has an effect on us all.

I fear that during this time of partisan divide we won’t hear the cry for our earth or the cry of the poor. I’m afraid that those most affected will be silenced by the deafening rhetoric of this new Administration. I hope and pray that President Trump will step back and realize what he is doing to our Mother Earth.

In a Dark Time, the BRIDGE Act Stands Out

In a Dark Time, the BRIDGE Act Stands Out

Laura Muñoz
January 12, 2017

It’s now 2017 – a bright sunny year with new opportunities ahead and while I am excited for a new year I can’t help but notice the cloud of uncertainty hovering over my head. That cloud began to form when then Presidential nominee Donald Trump ran on the platform of repealing President Obama’s executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

As a recipient of DACA, I have been able to work at jobs that I love (like NETWORK), obtain a driver’s license that allows me to travel, and most importantly live without the fear of deportation. Unfortunately, the few rays of sunlight that DACA has brought into my life after years of living in the shadows have been recently covered with a cloud of uncertainty and fear. Trump’s plan to repeal DACA would be unimaginable and utterly devastating not only for me but also for the roughly 800,000 individuals who have protection through DACA. Ending the program will be the beginning of a storm that will bring about harsh economic and emotional conditions for immigrant families– DACA recipients will be unable to keep their current jobs, support themselves or their families, and most significantly, once again feel the fear of deportation thick in the air.

Today, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) re-introduced their bipartisan legislation to protect the individuals who currently have or are eligible for DACA. Similar to DACA, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act would provide temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to young undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children. Temporary protection under the BRIDGE Act would allow individuals, such as myself, to continue to work and study and be protected from deportation while Congress works on legislation to fix  the broken immigration system.

The reality is that the BRIDGE Act is not a replacement for the comprehensive immigration reform that we desperately need, nor does it protect all undocumented individuals living in the United States. It won’t protect my parents from deportation nor will it protect thousands of DACA recipients’ parents. With the dark cloud of uncertainty and the fear of being separated from our families hovering over our heads, the BRIDGE Act gives us the chance for a hopeful forecast of staying in the country that we consider our home.

Blog: Glimmers of Hope

Glimmers of Hope

Catherine Guerrier
December 23, 2016

The reality of Donald Trump sitting in the highest ranked American office in less than 28 days is still unsettling to me.  Trump’s election feels like a scar that may heal in time, but the wound’s initial shock will forever be remembered. On November 8, it became blatantly evident that many of our American brothers and sisters believed that Mr. Trump was the best solution to their troubles and concerns.  Whether they ardently or begrudgingly supported Mr. Trump’s candidacy, over 62 million Americans decided that his racism, sexism, ableism and xenophobia were not dealbreakers. As an individual that values inclusivity and equity, that reality stings. As a woman of color, that reality stings a bit deeper.

It may be coincidental that we are approaching the winter solstice, when our days get shorter and darker. For me, the changing landscape echoes the pervading darkness looming from the election. We continue to be bombarded with messages that highlight our divisions. Undoubtedly, there are divisions in need of mending – however, to believe that our divisions are the entire American narrative ignores the numerous individuals across the nation that have and continue to unite with one another.

When all I could do was cry on my commute the morning following the election, the individual next to me reminded me that we’re in this together.  At a time when I had grown more despondent than hopeful, thousands of students showed me otherwise by coming together to lobby their members of Congress on criminal justice and immigration reform during the Ignatian Family Teach In. As I grew weary at the state of our nation, U.S. military veterans traveled to North Dakota to support the Standing Rock Sioux in opposing the Dakota Access pipeline.  When I felt plagued by inaction, activists were organizing demonstrations, marches and sit-ins aimed at protesting the normalization of intolerance and bigotry.

These glimmers of hope are analogous to the power a lone lit candle can have in a dark room. Despite how small or dim that candle may be in the midst of pervasive darkness, that candle still possesses the ability to illuminate. When that candle is joined by another candle, the effect can be profound.

Quite frankly, I may never come to terms that Mr. Trump was elected notwithstanding his campaign platform. However, as difficult as it may be, I refuse to submit to the notion that Donald Trump is representative of the American people. Instead, it’s these glimmers of hope amidst the chaos and darkness that I choose to uplift.