Category Archives: Mend the Gap

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

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

December 23, 2017

During the fourth week of Advent, we recall the time Mary and Joseph spent preparing for the birth of Jesus – time spent in joyful anticipation. Now, we wait in hopeful anticipation for Christ and strive to shape a world where all children and families are welcomed and cared for, including working families seeking child care.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we are reminded of the families and children across the country whose lives are affected by federal policies. This week, we explore the current reality for working families who struggle to balance work and home life due to lack of affordable child care.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   -John 1:14, NIV

Congress Must Prioritize Affordable Child Care for Families:

Read our legislative update on the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill which seeks to aid low and middle-class working families with access to affordable child care.

“On September 14, two leading Congressional champions for children —Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA)—introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 1806/H.R. 3773). The bill would make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to lower- and middle-class families under 150 percent of the state median income level by capping costs at 7 percent of a family’s budget. The bill would focus on preparing 3- and 4-year-old children for kindergarten and make new investments in training child care professionals.

NETWORK supports this bill because our faith teaches us that children are a gift and blessing from God. Working families are stretched beyond their means and struggle to meet day-to-day expenses like housing and utility expenses.”

Read the entire legislative update here.

Policy Basics:

Providing affordable child care to working families is an important step in helping them strike a balance between work life and home life. According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost of child care per year is typically over $10,000. In order for families to provide child care for their children, they often have to sacrifice other necessities, or chose lower-quality child care programs. To combat this, the cost of child care must be lowered, while protecting the quality of the programs. Helping with access to affordable child care will ensure families have meaningful time together and allow children to reach their full potential.

Here are some suggestions from the Center for American Progress for reformed child care standards:

  • Lower child care costs for low-income and middle-class families to 7 percent of income through a sliding scale.
  • Provide flexibility to accommodate complex work schedules by increasing availability of care for nontraditional hours and allowing parents to choose the care of their choice in a center or home.
  • Increase options for parents by addressing child care deserts and bolstering licensed care in underserved communities.
  • Invest in high-quality programs by promoting quality standards and fair compensation and giving providers the resources and the supports to improve.
  • Expand opportunities for school-age children by providing access to after-school care, summer programs, and care for children with disabilities.
  • Improve compensation for child care providers by setting a floor of self-sufficiency and creating parity with K-12 teachers.
  • Create more well-paying care jobs in the care industry by expanding the supply of child care providers and increasing pay.

Read more from the Center for American Progress on child care reform here.

A Prayer for Child Care for Working Families

Loving God,

In this Advent season, as we pray for the children of our nation, we are reminded of the gift of yourself to the world as a child in Bethlehem. As you shower them with your care and protection, continue to show us ways that we too can enhance their early years among us.

Give them loving parents to nurture their growth and show us the ways that we can support those parents by providing high quality child care that will allow all children to reach the fullness of their potential in the years ahead.  Give providers of childcare the patience and love they need to assist our children to grow and develop.

Inspire our leaders to recognize that investing in our children is investing not only in their future, but in the future of our nation.  Lead us to commit the resources necessary to see that all children receive the care they need to flourish and succeed in the years ahead.

Amen.

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

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

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Mary Cunningham
December 13, 2017

Around 3 A.M. Saturday, December 2, the Senate voted to pass the Republican tax bill, a measure which will undeniably have detrimental effects on low and middle income households.  The bill also costs the U.S. treasury over $1.5 trillion dollars, which will soon be used as a reason to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as well as other safety net programs.

With all of this happening, what’s really going on behind closed doors? Both the Senate and House have chosen members who will sit on the conference committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. There has already been a lot of back and forth as House and Senate leadership discuss which details to include in the final tax cut bill. These discussions largely surround debates on the repeal of the alternative minimum tax for corporations, concerns about the research and development tax credit, the repeal of the state and local tax deductions, and requests to lower taxes on small businesses.

Every Democrat in the House and Senate and numerous Republican members of the House have come out against the bill, recognizing the adverse effects it will have on their districts. Passing a bill that will increase taxes on their constituents is a large risk, especially with midterm elections approaching rapidly. The incentive to get this bill passed is largely political. Republicans, eager to have at least one major victory, are rushing to get it passed before this year’s end.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned the tax bill, calling it “unconscionable.” They claim it will disproportionately affect working poor families and individuals while protecting the interests of the wealthy. In a letter to the House of Representatives, the Bishops noted that key programs which help people who are economically marginalized are at risk for elimination, including an income tax credit for persons with disabilities and the deduction for state and local taxes. While the Child Tax Credit would be expanded, it’s likely that low-income families will not be able to reap the benefits, especially immigrant families who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). They wrote, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.”

This bill will lead directly to automatic cuts in healthcare and other vital social programs, in part to offset the estimated $1.5 trillion cost of the bill over the next 10 years. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already signaled that the next step for Congress after passing the bill will be to reduce funding for entitlement programs to pay for the tax cuts. We can learn from other states that have implemented tax cuts experiments and see that they have not worked! In 2012, the Kansas state legislature passed a tax cut plan that they promised would boost the economy and pay for itself over the years. In reality, lowering income and business taxes only hurt the economy, and led to a severely damaging loss of state revenue. Now, the Trump administration’s tax plan poses the same threat on a national level. This is a bill that Republican members of Congress are pushing in order to satisfy their donors. It is not a bill for the 100% and is the wrong direction for our country.

Here are some ways to oppose to GOP tax plan:

  • Call your Representatives! The fight is not over. Call 1-888-422-4555 to speak to your Representative and tell her or him why you oppose the bill. Remember to share your faith perspective!
  • Speak out on social media! Use your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts to voice your concerns about the tax bill and the effects it will have on our most vulnerable neighbors.
  • Visit your Member of Congress’s office with friends in your community and talk directly to staff about why this bill is wrong for your district and wrong for the country.
  • Get creative: Hold a prayer vigil outside your Members’ office!

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Dreamers in our Immigration Policy

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Dreamers in our Immigration Policy

December 11, 2017

As we enter into the second week of Advent, we recall the time Mary and Joseph spent preparing for the birth of Jesus – time spent in joyful anticipation. Now, we wait in hopeful anticipation for Christ and strive to shape a world where all children are welcomed and cared for, including immigrant children and families.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we are reminded of children across the country whose lives are affected by federal policies. This week, we explore the current reality for DACA-recipients who are facing enormous uncertainty during this Advent season.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   -John 1:14, NIV

Personal Reflection from a Dreamer

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects young immigrants brought to the United States as children, runs out in less than three months. Now, more than ever, the security of Dreamers is at risk and we need a legislative solution from Congress. Dreamers are raising their voices to express their concerns and to vocalize the pain and suffering they have experienced. Heyra Avila, a Dreamer who lives in northern Kentucky, shares her experience as a Dreamer in our latest blog post, Dreamer’s Survival Fight.

“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.” – Heyra Avila

Read the full reflection in NETWORK’s Emerging Justice Seeker blog

Resources

Discussion Guide for Talking about the Dream Act

Congress still hasn’t passed the Dream Act. It is time to engage in conversation! Check out Emerson Collective’s discussion guide on how to talk about the Dream Act with your family and friends this holiday here.

News

Read news on DACA, the Dream Act and Dreamers here:

The fight for the Dream Act is reaching its peak – but time is running out

‘This is the moment’: Dreamers face make-or-break push on immigration fight with Trump

Mother of three Dreamers holds fast on Hill for passage of DREAM Act

Thousands of immigrants are losing their DACA protections already

A Prayer for Immigrants, Dreamers and DACA

God of light and life,

We pray in great hope during this darkest time of the year that you shine your light on those living in the shadow of darkness, especially those who are undocumented with no path to permanent resident status or citizenship.

To those who say, “Throw them out. Keep them out.” we pray that you drive out their fear and change their hearts to be welcoming and inclusive. Enlighten our minds and hearts to welcome you in the “stranger” who is seeking  posada (shelter)  and knocking at our door.

We pray that members of Congress have the courage to pass a clean Dream Act to allow our immigrant brothers and sisters to reach their full potential. Open the doors of our hearts and minds to bring about compassionate immigration laws that will allow for the fullness of life and belonging.

May we bless all families and help us realize that every family is holy.

In this season of Advent and in the spirit of the prophet Micah 6:9, may we strive to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

Amen.

Written by Sister Bernadine Karge, OP

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!

The Importance of Intentionality

The Importance of Intentionality

Jeremiah Pennebaker
November 15, 2017

What do I owe to the generations coming after me?

I was always taught to “reach back as I forge ahead” in my life and that nobody gets to where they’re going without some help and guidance from those who came before them. So I try and take that to heart, especially when I’m in a position where I can speak about my experiences and expertise.

I had an opportunity to do just that this past weekend at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ),  a conference for members of the Ignatian network  to come together to reflect and advocate for justice. Overall, it was a rewarding weekend of teaching, reflecting and discerning. My fellow NETWORK Associate Claudia Brock and I were tasked with educating various high school and college groups. We had the chance to talk to a multitude of young people who are motivated by their faith and values to engage in the political process throughout the weekend. Seeing their passion to learn about and do justice was very inspiring. At times I really felt that I was living up to that idea of helping those after me to move forward. I shared my knowledge and experience, provided them with insight on my position at NETWORK and told them how they can become NETWORK Associates one day.

What I failed to realize is that I would learn more from them than they would learn from me. The students at IFTJ taught me valuable lessons and inspired me to be a better pioneer for justice. I was particularly inspired at a session on what it means to be a feminist. I saw a big group of Black boys walk in, something I would have thought to be impossible, as it took me until my senior year of college to grasp the importance of feminism. So often I had heard and witnessed the lack of respect that men have for women — specifically in my friend circles– but to see a group of Black high school boys interested in feminism gave me some hope. I listened to a panel on immigration and heard one of the most heartbreaking stories of my life about a woman who lost her family to insidious immigration policies and procedures. I watched as the woman regained her resolve and spoke about how she continues to push forward even in the most daunting of situations.

I learned not only from hearing the experiences of others, but also by presenting at the conference. After my session on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I was critiqued by a young group of Black and brown students. Their feedback made me realize that I need to do better job of being intentional when I am attempting to “reach back as I forge ahead.” While presenting on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I made the mistake of only thinking about how my message impacts the white students in the audience. In my mind, I had only considered how the white students needed to learn about the horrific sins of the past and how the subject of racism is woven into our federal policies. I failed to account for the experiences of those who are too often the only person of color in the room.

I forgot about the times when I wished I wasn’t in history class surrounded by pale faces talking about how their ancestors didn’t think mine were people. I forgot what it felt like to feel singled out because slavery this and redlining that. I forgot that for the select few in the audience this was their daily experience and not just some educational exercise. I forgot maybe because I had become numb to being the token, a position I was placed so often. I realized that does not mean that I should irresponsibly place others in that position. I owed it to these students. They shouldn’t be forced to deal with both the reality of their situations and the potential condescension and or guilt of their white counterparts. I realized that it was my burden to bear as a facilitator to try and alleviate them from that difficult position in whatever way that I can. I realized that I need to hold myself more accountable to the people who look like me because I know they already have it hard enough.

I learned a lot from IFTJ. I learned what I could do to be a better example for the generations after me. I learned that as hopeless as the media may make the world look, there are too many people of all ages working for justice that I refuse to believe it.