Category Archives: Racism

The Racist Filibuster Must Go for Us to Build Anew

The Racist Filibuster Must Go for Us to Build Anew

Sister Simone Campbell
March 25, 2021

The Senate filibuster — currently 60-vote threshold to close debate on a bill and move to a vote — is a relic of the Jim Crow-era that has blocked democracy reform, civil rights protections, and health care expansion for far too long. Since its inception in 1806, the filibuster has been weaponized against people of color to block bipartisan legislation that addresses structural racism and inequality in the United States. Catholic Sisters and NETWORK advocates do not accept antiquated traditions steeped in a racist past to prevent progress and will mobilize across the country to end the racist filibuster.

Constitutionally, bills require a simple majority to pass — just 51 votes in the Senate.  However, the filibuster is a procedural tool which allows senators to block legislation from receiving a vote at all if there are 41 of them that oppose the bill. For centuries, elected officials in the minority have used the filibuster to stop common good, anti-racist legislation from passing and becoming law. In the 19th Century, white Southern Senators used the filibuster to kill Reconstruction and the earliest civil rights bills in order to maintain white supremacy. In the 20th Century, anti-lynching legislation which was widely popular among Congress and the United States people was consistently blocked by a small minority in the Senate. The use of the anti-democratic filibuster as a tool of white supremacy had direct consequences: racist lynching mobs killed an estimated 4,400 Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. To this day, Congress has failed to pass federal anti-lynching legislation. In the Civil Rights Era, Senators employed the filibuster to prevent desegregation and voting rights legislation from becoming law.

The racist application of the filibuster is a clear legacy of the rule, and it continues today. Senators are exploiting the power of the filibuster to block critical legislation meant to dismantle systemic racism and known injustices in the 117th Congress.  The For the People Act, the Justice in Policing Act, the Equality Act, the PRO Act, are all bills that deserve a vote and stand a real chance of passing but for the filibuster rule.  The filibuster is not protecting voters in the minority party; it protects politicians set on preserving the status quo. We cannot allow an arbitrary Senate rule with no grounding in the Constitution to block legislation that enjoys widespread bipartisan support by voters across the country.

The Senate has a moral duty to use this opportunity to end the filibuster.

Add your name to join the Catholic Sisters and activists of NETWORK calling for the elimination of the Senate filibuster.

Racism and the Church: A Black History Month Community Conversation

Racism and the Church: A Black History Month Community Conversation

Audrey Carroll
February 25, 2021

On February 18, NETWORK hosted a community conversation in honor of Black History Month. At the event, NETWORK members discussed racism in the Church and our role in naming it and ending it. Board member Leslye Colvin shared her reflection on racism in the Catholic Church. Watch the conversation below, and read more reflections from Leslye on her blog Leslye’s Labyrinth

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

India-Grace Kellogg 
February 22, 2021

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

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

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

1876: A Backlash to Black Political Participation during Reconstruction

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

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

Challenging the Electoral College Results

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

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

White Supremacy Curtails Reconstruction

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

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

Continued Voter Suppression

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

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

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

Black Voting Rights Advocates Continue Leading the Movement

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

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

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

Black Immigrants are People Too

Black Immigrants are People Too

Joan Neal
February 9, 2021

Black Lives Matter and that includes the lives of Black immigrants. In the United States, the narrative around immigration usually focuses on Latinx people coming across the southern border from Mexico and Central America, but Black immigrants from these countries, from the Caribbean, and from Africa comprise a significant and growing part of the story of our immigration story. Black History Month provides an important opportunity to learn about stories and struggles of Black immigrants.

There has long been a large population of Black immigrants in this country since the sixteenth-century slave trade began. This should not be surprising to Americans. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Of the 10.7 million who survived the Middle Passage, 388,000 disembarked in North America. The rest ended up in the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Over time, many of the descendants of those enslaved persons migrated to the United States seeking asylum, family reunification, work, or higher education. Today, about 50% of all Black immigrants come from the Caribbean region, around 4% from South America, and nearly 45% from the African continent, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, Black people are a growing segment of the immigrant population in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 1980 there were 816,000 Black immigrants. By 2000, the number of Black immigrants in the country had risen 71% to 2.4 million. Six years later in 2016, that number had increased to 4.2 million, meaning nearly 10% of all Black people living in the U.S. were foreign born . Such rapid growth in the Black immigrant population is expected to continue, especially in large metropolitan areas. According to the Census Bureau, by 2060 16.5% of all Black people in the U.S. will be immigrants.

But these statistics are not the whole story. With few exceptions, the lived experience of Black immigrants very much mirrors the experience of U.S.-born Black people. Black immigrants encounter anti-Black discrimination and racial prejudice because of the color of their skin. Similar to U.S.-born Black people, they are often subject to the same risks of poverty, lack of access to quality health care or affordable housing, over-policing, and increasing incarceration.

More than other immigrant groups, undocumented Black foreign-born people find themselves caught in the prison to deportation pipeline. In fact, Black immigrants account for a disproportionate number of criminal-based deportations. Guilt or innocence aside, 76% of Black immigrants are deported on criminal grounds compared to 45% of all immigrants. Like the prevailing experience of U.S.-born Black people, there is no other explanation for these statistics than that it is because they are Black. When they arrive in the U.S., Black immigrants are no longer Ghanaian, South African, Jamaican, Haitian, or Nicaraguan. They are simply Black, and in this society, their lives do not matter.

Anti-Black racism has been present in this country since its founding. Despite the fact that Black people were forcibly brought here, when it came time to answer the question ‘who belongs in this nation’, the country’s overwhelming answer was only white people. History and our founding documents show that anyone who was not considered white was not meant to be a citizen. This was quickly incorporated into the immigration system where it persists even today. Despite the words that are etched on the Statue of Liberty –“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”, the United States continues to demonstrate it is unwelcoming to Black people, citizen or not.

Whatever it was about the murder of George Floyd last year that opened America’s eyes, indeed the eyes of the world, about the enduring persistence of systemic racism, the fact is that there is no going back from that realization. As a people, we must deal with it. The fundamental question before the United States, indeed before the world since anti-Black racism is global, is what is to be done about it?

This moment in our history invites us to finally address the issue of pervasive, instututionalized anti-Black racism. It calls us to transform our society, our laws, our systems, including the immigration system, to ensure that all lives matter equally. No exceptions. Time will tell if we are up to the challenge.

Sources:

Trans-Atlantic Database, https://archive.slavevoyages.org, David Eltis, David Richardson, ed.

U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey, March 2016

US Immigrant Population Projected to Rise Even as Share Falls Among Hispanics and Asians, Anna Brown, Pew Research Center, 03/09/2015; “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000” and 2014 population projections, U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook and Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 2000

Harriet Tubman and the $20 Bill

Harriet Tubman and the $20 Bill

Sister Mara Rutten, RSM
February 5, 2021

On January 25, 2021, amid the flurry of activity in his first week in office, President Joe Biden’s administration also moved forward with the stalled plans to put Harriet Tubman’s image on the $20 bill. Within the hour, friends and colleagues alike vied to be the first to tell me this news, because for weeks I had been adamant that, along with a COVID-19 rescue package and immigration and criminal justice reform, we needed Harriet Tubman.

Tubman would be the first African-American on U.S. currency and the first woman on a bill in wide use. The public chose her for this honor from among a number of candidates — suffragettes, abolitionists, politicians, and activists — as part of a campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill to commemorate the centennial of the 19th amendment in 2020. It was to be the beginning of a larger movement in currency redesign that would include women and people of color on other denominations. In 2019, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced years-long delays for these plans.

I had voted for Harriet Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, because I admired her, and because although she appears larger than life, she embodies all the pain and promise of our country. Born into slavery, she escaped to freedom — and then risked it repeatedly in order to save scores of others. During the Civil War, she became a Union nurse, scout, and spy, and after the war became a champion of equality for both African-Americans and women. She made the world she was born into a better one, and we built on that legacy. Her heirs in the struggle ended segregation, secured the vote, and opened up economic opportunities she may never have thought possible.

But her accomplishments, like ours, were not the end of the story. She spent most of her life living in poverty, working a number of jobs to support herself and her family, including her elderly parents. The government repeatedly refused to acknowledge her contributions to the war effort and compensate her accordingly. And for all she did for the cause for freedom, she was never eligible to vote. We have also faced setbacks, for despite the progress we’ve made since her death in 1913, the income gap is staggering, and Black women in particular have been left behind, earning only $.62 to the dollar that white men earn.[1] Legal means of voter suppression, such as poll closures, voter identification requirements, and gerrymandering have proliferated. Black and Brown communities are at an increased risk of infection and death from COVID-19 due to chronic discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, inadequate housing, and underemployment.[2]

Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is not going to change any of this — that is up to us. It is a symbol, but symbols are powerful. What matters is that, along with all of the other social, environmental, and economic priorities of our nation, her appearance on the $20 was among them. This sends a powerful message about where we’ve been and how we’re going forward. It means that we will be reminded every day as we go about our business at toll booths and grocery stores and ATMs, that this is our country, that we come from more than just the patriarchs. That for every Thomas Jefferson there is a Sojourner Truth; for every Alexander Hamilton, a Rosa Parks; for every George Washington, a Fanny Lou Hamer. And to know, every day, that we as a nation acknowledge and rejoice in this as we struggle to live up to it.

 

[1]National Partnership for Women & Families, “Black Women and the Wage Gap,” NationalPartnership.org March 2020.  https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/fair-pay/african-american-women-wage-gap.pdf NationalPartnership.org

[2]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” ccdc.gov 24 July 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html

 

 

NETWORK Urges Biden-Harris Administration to Address Suffering in our Nation

NETWORK Urges Biden-Harris Administration to Address the Suffering in our Nation

Work for Racial Justice, Respect Immigrant Rights, and Strengthen Democracy in the First 100 Days
Caraline Feairheller
December 19, 2020

As President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris prepare to take office, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the ways our nation fails to structure a society that cares for those most in need. As both a public health crisis and an economic one, those most disproportionately affected have been communities of color and the poor. Over the years, the willful dismantling of social safety nets combined with the lack of preparedness for the pandemic have resulted in job loss, evictions, and food insecurity for millions of people.

While the injustice inherit in our system cannot be solved in the first 100 days of a new administration, a conscious commitment to alleviating the suffering can result in policies that prioritize the common good and support people and families at the economic margins.

We urge the Biden-Harris Administration to prioritize and commit themselves to systemic change in all branches of government in order to alleviate the harm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic through the use of legislative action, such as:

  • Implementing a 6-month moratorium on forecloses and evictions.
  • Providing additional cash relief payments.
  • Creating a White House Racial Equity Office within the Executive Office of the President.
  • Require federal agencies serving populations underrepresented on voter rolls to provide voter registration services to their clients.
  • And more

In addition to these COVID-19 priorities, we call on the Biden-Harris administration to take immediate action to advance racial justice, protect immigrant rights, and strengthen democracy.

 

Download the full list of NETWORK priorities for the Biden-Harris transition.

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

By Joan Neal
November 30, 2020

Black Catholic history is Catholic Church history in this country, although the Church has failed to teach this foundational story. Well before 1619, there were Black Catholics on American soil, beginning with four soldiers who arrived in 1543 in what is now Florida, Texas and Arkansas. They were all Spaniards. Three were white and one, Esteban (Stephen), was Black – and a slave. All were Catholics when they arrived. Clearly then, not all Catholics who crossed the Atlantic were white.

A Spanish settlement was established in St. Augustine, Florida that included fellow Spaniards, Native American, and Black people, slave and free. In The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. wrote that the community and the church of the same name, became the first and oldest home for Black Catholics in the United States.* Over time, archeological excavations in the areas around St. Augustine have uncovered sacramental registers and parochial records for the period 1565-1763. These are the oldest ecclesial records in the United States, and include irrefutable documentation of Black people in the community. Long before the Mayflower arrived in 1620, Black Catholics were in the New World.

Over time, the Catholic Church grew among Black Americans, especially in the South. Despite the persistence of racism and white supremacy, Black people, slave and free, found their “church home” in the theology, ecclesiology and sacramental life of Catholicism. Families passed down the faith from generation to generation, resulting in many Black “cradle Catholics.” The Church evangelized in the community, becoming one of the only avenues for education for Black children.

Through slavery, emancipation, reconstruction and civil rights, Black Americans continued to embrace Catholicism. They brought their faith with them during the Great Migration (1916-1970) from the South to North and by 1970 there were more Black Catholics in Chicago than in New Orleans or Baltimore. But, just as in the South, Northern white Catholics failed to accept them, abandoned their urban parishes as Black people moved in, and fled to the suburbs.

Today, there are more than 3 million U.S. Black Catholics (4% of the Catholic population), 7 active Black Bishops (3.2% of Bishops); 250 Black priests (1% of the nation’s priests) and 1 Cardinal, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC who just became the first Black Cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

It is a testament to the depth of faith, moral fortitude and commitment to the institution that Black Catholics have remained in this Church that has never recognized their history as its own. But the day of reckoning is coming, when the Catholic Church in America will have to face its own participation in and complicity with the sin of racism, make a sincere act of contrition and begin the arduous process of reparation for the harm done to one of the oldest group of Catholics in this country.

 

 

 

*Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., The History of Black Catholics in the United States, (New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1990), 28-31

When You Say

When You Say

Leslye Colvin
August 12, 2020

When you say,
“I’m not racist,”
you deny the complexity
of a system built on the racist ideas
born of white supremacy.

When you say,
“I don’t see color,”
you do not understand that
making judgements based
on color is the problem,
not seeing color.

When you say,
“I was taught to treat everyone the same,”
you deny the limitations of your being kind
when the system denies my dignity.

When you say,
“But, I’m a Christian,”
you deny the whitening of Jesus’ body
and the distortion of his Gospel
for economic gain through
the genocide of indigenous people,
the enslavement of Africans,
and other atrocities against
people of color.

When you say,
“My child is Black,”
you conflate your love for one person
with a love for all.

When you say,
“My family never enslaved people”
you deny how the injustices of slavery
were transformed to perpetuate
your illusion of white supremacy.

When you say,
“My ancestors were wronged for being Irish or Italian,”
you deny that people of Irish and Italian ancestry
now identify as white.

When you say,
“My ancestors arrived after slavery,”
you deny that their white skin
privileges you today.

When you say,
“The Constitution says all men are created equal,”
you deny ongoing legal battles to make it realized.

When you say,
“All lives matter,”
you deny our lived experience.

When you say,
“I want to learn,”
you take a step forward.

When you say,
“I want to be an ally,”
the hard work begins.

Leslye Colvin is the Communications Coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South inspired by Pope Francis that provides practicums in dialogue in dioceses across the country. She is also a member of the editorial team for the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Daily Meditations, and a member of the NETWORK Board. This poem was originally published on Leslye’s blog, Leslye’s Labyrinth, www.leslyeslabyrinth.blogspot.com.

This story was published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.

Grief, Anger, and Sacred Imagination

Grief, Anger, and Sacred Imagination

Confronting Injustices in Our Midst

Protesters outside the White House in the days following the murder of George Floyd.

The litany of horrors in the last few months has at times overwhelmed us. The murder of innocent Black people and police attacks on peaceful protesters. The pandemic and the failure of the Trump administration to engage and lead. The necessary closing of business to protect each other from the disease and the resulting economic crisis. The effort to respond to the needs of our most vulnerable people brought Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate together for a brief moment as they crafted emergency legislation to respond. More action is needed though, to begin the healing in our nation.

As weeks have gone on, we have learned how the Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wisconsin, Black people represent 6% of the population and nearly 40% of COVID-19 fatalities. In Kansas, 6% of the population is Black and yet Black people account for more than 30% of COVID-19 deaths. These are the communities who do not have the opportunity to work from home. The Labor Department reported 30% of white workers could work from home in 2017 and 2018, while only 20% of Black workers and only 16% of Latinx workers could do so. The front line workers who work in grocery stores, drive buses, work in hospitals are the most exposed, and their families and communities have paid a high price because of that. Native American communities have some of the highest COVID-19 rates per capita in the country. At the same time, tax revenues from tribal businesses used to operate hospitals and clinics have dropped to nearly zero.

Then we have the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and all of the reality of centuries of our original sin of racism. I don’t want to write another statement or say another lament, I want to CHANGE this behavior once and for all. Since it began tracking in 2015, the Washington Post has found that over 1,000 people are killed every year by the police and Black people, while only 13% of the population, are more than twice as likely to be a victim of police killing.

Then we have President Trump’s decision to use military force to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters Lafayette Square across from the White House so he could pose for a photo holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He violated both the constitutional rights and sacred human dignity of people so he could get a photo opportunity. To me this was the ultimate exercise of authority to reinforce and flaunt his white privilege.

In our work at NETWORK, we see the structures of white supremacy that have controlled the economic reality AND the political reality in this land since before the founding of our nation. Many of you have participated in our Racial Wealth and Income Gap experience, exploring 12 federal policies that created and perpetuate the inequality in our nation. Many of you studied our Recommit to Racial Justice guide that identifies and confronts the extent of white supremacy in our society, our politics, and our economy. I know that white people, like me, have so much to learn about racism and all of the small and large ways that my actions and my decisions perpetuate racial injustice. It is not a time just to lament, however. As we approach this year’s election in the face of these challenges, we must move beyond lamentation and engage.

In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis’s Exhortation on Holiness, he calls us to a full engagement to protect the dignity of all life. In this moment in the United States, I believe that dismantling racism must be a foundational part of any pro-life agenda. He says in Paragraph 101: “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as other look on from afar.” Even more so, we must live out the Pope’s message addressed to the people of the United States following the murder of George Floyd, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

This leads us to our work in this 2020 election. Black lives matter, and we must examine and transform all policies and systems that deny this sacred truth. We must promote the life of all of our people by changing policing to protect Black lives. We must promote life by ensuring that everyone in our nation has access to quality health care. We must promote life by guaranteeing that all can live in dignity with a roof over their heads and enough food on their plates. We must promote life by ending the economic inequality upheld by our tax laws. We must promote life by ensuring that our immigrant siblings are welcomed and honored for their inherent dignity.

As we continue sheltering in place, we cannot stay silent or confused. We are called in this time to live the Gospel call to love one another. This means pushing back against racism, facing our own complicity, speaking out to make change. The urgency of a pandemic, police violence, racism of our leaders and our systems all demand it. Let us commit ourselves to working for change. I believe that we are at a crossroads as it says in Deuteronomy 30:19:

Today, I call heaven and earth to witness, I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then so that you and your descendants may live in the love of Yahweh.

Let us commit ourselves to working for change!

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

NETWORK joined partner organizations in signing onto a letter sent to House leadership on July 30, 2020 in support of HR 40. The letter reads:

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal text, “Why We Can’t Wait,” was written in 1963 and has emerged as more prescient than ever in this moment. The multi-racial, cross-generational protests across the United States have ushered in a national reckoning on structural racism—and a sea change in attitudes. A majority of people in the US support the protests and believe that racism is a serious issue in this country. We, the undersigned organizations, believe addressing it can no longer wait.

People in the US are now more eager than ever to pull back the curtain on institutions to see whether they have helped to advance or stall racial progress, and the US Congress is no exception. One bill in particular can demonstrate support for meeting this moment in a reasonable, rational, and compassionate way: House Resolution (HR) 40. We urge House and Committee leadership to bring this bill to a vote now.

The current social movement, the largest in US history, is in response to problems that are centuries in the making—issues intractably tied to the horrors of settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people in the United States. People in the US are increasingly aware that there is no way forward from the current strife without addressing one of the nation’s most egregious violations of human rights—the institution of slavery. HR 40 would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harms as well as come up with proposals to Congress for redress and repair.

HR 40 is simply a first and reasonable step—it is a commitment to truth-telling, studying and coming up with ideas to treat the disease, rather than a commitment to the treatment itself. The bill has been introduced for 30 years—yet for 30 years, it has languished. If the protests have demonstrated anything, it is that action cannot wait.”

Read the full letter with signatures.