Category Archives: Reparations

Build Anew Series – Criminal Legal System

Build Anew Series — Part 7
Criminal Legal System

Virginia Schilder
November 3, 2023
Welcome back to our Build Anew Series, with weekly posts covering the people, policies, and values at the heart of the issues we work on. This week, we’re talking about the criminal legal system, and the urgent need for reparations.   

The United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. Stop and let that sink in. In a nation with this extreme incarceration rate, where migrants and refugees seeking safety are placed in cages, and where millions of people — especially people of color — are ripped from their communities and locked up for years or decades, we must ask if the U.S. is really “the land of the free.”

The U.S. criminal legal system targets impoverished, working-class, and Black and Brown communities — seen in who and how the system polices, arrests, prosecutes, sentences, and even executes. In reacting to real social need with surveillance and criminalization, the system fosters instability and insecurity, and furthers the cycles of crime, violence, and poverty. Under the 13th Amendment, incarcerated persons can still be forced into labor for little to no pay. As a result, mass incarceration, which disproportionately locks up Black and Brown Americans, is the primary system of racial segregation, oppression, and coerced labor of our time.

Prisons and cages are incongruous with the Gospel message of true community. No human is disposable. The prevailing ethic of punishment (including capital punishment), separation, and imprisonment is not justice. We are called to a fuller picture of true justice — one characterized by community accountability, integration, healing, and well-being for everyone in our country, with no exceptions.

Present Realities

Since the end of legal slavery, U.S. criminal legal policies have targeted people of color, especially Black Americans. Professor Michelle Alexander writes, “Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.” The “tough on crime” movement of the 1980’s gave way to policies, like the The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (the “1994 Crime Bill”), which caused widespread over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and police militarization. Years of “tough on crime” policies and a focus on punishment rather than community healing have targeted already vulnerable communities, worsening racial inequality and creating cycles of poverty for many individuals, families, and neighborhoods. Financial incentives for drug arrests have encouraged over-policing in Black and Brown communities, who are left with disproportionate numbers of folks with criminal records (mostly for minor non-violent offenses) and face ongoing brutality from the police.

The U.S. has the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world, largely a result of extreme sentencing measures such as mandatory minimums and “three strikes” laws. Even non-violent offenses can result in years in prison and continuing restrictions and penalties after release. Disparities in sentencing policies for comparable offenses, such as using powder cocaine vs. crack cocaine, have yielded vastly longer average sentences for people of color compared to white folks. The ongoing use of cash bail and barriers to accessing adequate legal defense trap low-income people in the system. And, the practice of referring kids (usually Black and Brown children) to the youth justice system for misbehavior at school has facilitated a “school to prison pipeline” that disrupts the lives of children and perpetuates cycles of incarceration.

Within U.S. prisons, the inhumane practice of solitary confinement, disproportionately used for people of color and people with mental illnesses, persists — along with other dangerous living conditions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the U.S. is the only Western nation that still implements the death penalty and ranks fifth in the world in executions.

Restore Act Leave BehindA person convicted of a crime in the U.S., whether or not they serve time in prison, suffers long-term discrimination in employment, education, and public services. Requirements to “check the box” on employment applications and prohibitions against licensing in certain fields cost formerly incarcerated people both the immediate income they need and their long-term earning potential, which hurts not only themselves but also their families and children. Returning citizens face restrictions in accessing federal student aid, health care, the right to vote, public housing (which impacts family reunification), and nutrition programs like SNAP. These policies all contribute to the cycle of poverty for families and communities.

Head to our recent Build Anew Series – Food Systems post to learn more about the SNAP ban for citizens returning from prison with felony drug convictions. Read a testimony from Serena Martin-Liguori about the need to pass the RESTORE Act, which would end the ban on SNAP for returning citizens in the upcoming Farm Bill.

Facts and Figures on the U.S. Criminal Legal System
  • 2 million people are currently in jail or prison in the U.S. The U.S. has over 25% of the world’s population of incarcerated persons despite accounting for only 4% of the world’s total population. The U.S. has the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world, 655 per 100,000.
  • The U.S. prison population has increased by 500% over the past 40 years. People of color comprise nearly 78% of the prison population. These trends are explained by changes in policies and laws, not crime rates.
  • In 2013, the Sentencing Project reported that if incarceration rates continue to grow at the pace they have since the 1970’s, 33% of Black American males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, as can 16% of Latino males, and 6% of white males.
  • The U.S. carceral system costs taxpayers $80 billion per year.
Our Values

The murders of George Floyd and countless others are examples of the systemic violence committed every day by our country’s “justice” system. Our people cry out for change. We cannot tolerate the loss of another generation to mass incarceration. Our legal system’s punitive, “tough-on-crime” mentality perpetuates poverty, instability, and a dehumanizing ethic that harms us all.  

A legal system predicated on control, alienation, and racial subjugation stands in complete affront to the restoration, inclusion, peace, and racial justice into which the Catholic faith calls us.  Throughout the Bible, God moves to set free the imprisoned: “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that when you visit people in prison, you visit him. 

Further, the Psalms proclaim that God looked at Earth to “hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.” Pope Francis has clearly stated that the death penalty is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” that is “inadmissible” in all cases. The Catholic Church is unequivocal in opposition to capital punishment, which in the world today is needless, state-sanctioned murder that perpetuates vengeance, violence, and militarism. Moreover, the death penalty is a mechanism of white supremacy, disproportionately executing Black Americans and our siblings with mental illness.    

We are rooted in our faith in a God not of punition, retribution, and abandonment, but of healing, mercy, and transformation. We are called to extend these graces to one another. To be truly just, our legal system must affirm the human capacity for reconciliation, reintegration, and reconnection. Even further, we must recognize the ways in which racist constructions of “crime” and oppressive social conditions undergird the punitive carceral system.

During his lifetime, Jesus did not look away from social problems and the people they affected, but moved into encounter and was an agent of healing. In his example, we cannot cast away our neighbors behind cell doors. As Angela Davis articulates, 

“Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.” 

The Catholic teaching of the immeasurable worth of each human being means that no one is disposable. We cannot let illusions of disconnection — “us vs. them” narratives — keep us from responding to the suffering in our prisons: Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3). Salvation means wholeness, liberation, and communion. God does not leave a single person out of the circle of care, forgiveness, and restoration, no matter their past — and neither can we.  

Take Action: H.R.40 Reparations Study Commission

White text on a dark blue background reads, in capital letters, "IT'S TIME TO ADDRESS, REPENT, AND REPAIR." Throughout the Build Anew Series, we’ve been noting the operation of racism in and through our economy, our tax code, and our political, immigration, and even food systems. This week, we see that the legacy of enslavement is acutely visible in the system of mass incarceration. In conjunction with other social and economic barriers, our carceral system continues to chronically destabilize and tear apart Black and Brown families and communities.

All of this makes clear: we need reparations. The legacy of enslavement persists today. Structural racism keeps communities from accessing the housing, health care, food, economic stability, safety, and political participation we all deserve and need to thrive. As a country, we need reparations in order to move towards repair, transformation, and liberation for all of us.

Catholics are called to be agents of peace, healing, truth-telling, and justice. Take action here by telling President Biden to use his executive power to establish an H.R. 40 reparations study commission. Together, we can work for reparations and take a crucial step towards true healing, democracy, and flourishing in our country.

Join us again next week for part eight of the Build Anew Series on health care. And don’t forget to stay tuned on Instagram (@network_lobby) and Facebook for our Build Anew video series!

Tax Justice is Racial Justice

Tax Justice is Racial Justice

Undo the Hidden Racism of the U.S. Tax Code

Jarrett Smith
November 16, 2023

 

Jarrett Smith, pictured above at an August 25 reparations event outside the White House, is a NETWORK Government Relations Advocate.

It is no secret that the U.S. suffers from a staggering degree of wealth inequality. Resources are increasingly concentrated in the possession of the top 1 percent, creating a degree of inequality never before seen in the country’s history.

This wealth stratification is most acute across racial lines. A Pew Research study in 2016 found the median income of white households was $117,000, while Black households had only $17,000. And while a white person in the U.S. has an equal chance of being a millionaire and having no wealth, a Black person is 20 times more likely to have no wealth than to be a millionaire. Between 1983 and 2016, Black wealth decreased year over year, and education did not stop this trend.

This vast inequality did not happen by chance. As NETWORK’s Racial Wealth and Income Gap workshop helps to illustrate, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Jim Crow, and centuries of the U.S. government’s racist policies created and still preserve this hoarding of wealth in the hands of a small class of white folks. Many of these policies shaped our tax system. Indeed, the U.S. tax code plays a central role in not only keeping rich people rich, but also rewarding white people at the expense of Black folks.

The marriage joint filing bonus, for example, privileges married couples, especially when one spouse makes high income while the other isn’t employed. A high earner can split their income with their spouse, and thus split their tax liability. Usually, these couples are white, as the highest-earning demographic in the country is overwhelmingly white. Because Black married households make the least household income in the country, rarely does one member of the household make enough money to enable their spouse to stay at home. Joint filing or married filing separate tax incentives do not help Black or Brown households because they earn so little income compared to their white counterparts.

In addition, tax incentives are structured to reward the things that wealthier, white folks can afford. For example, there are tax incentives for home ownership, but not for renting or for buying cars. Moreover, medical insurance is tax-deductible, but medical debt is not — penalizing Black and Brown communities who face inequities in access to affordable health care.

Long-term capital gains, usually enjoyed by white wealthy folks, are taxed at a lower rate than “ordinary income” — that is, wages, salaries, or even short-term capital gains. In 2021, an unmarried middle-income worker like a teacher or truck driver paid 22 percent of income tax on every dollar of taxable salary she made over $40,525. Meanwhile, a billionaire living entirely off long-term capital gains or dividends paid no more than 20 percent on millions of dollars of unearned income.

Over the past several centuries, white families have been able to amass wealth off the backs of enslaved and underpaid workers. They then pass that wealth on to their descendants, usually without having to pay their fair share of taxes on what is passed down. The tax code specifically protects this preservation of generational wealth in white families, and even helps it build up, by providing tax benefits to assets that are inherited. Under one policy called “Step Up in Basis,” if the owner of an investment or asset that has increased in value dies, neither the owner nor the inheritor owes any tax on that gain!

We know that for all nations, not just the United States, social and health outcomes — including for the richest folks — are worse in countries with high wealth inequality. Wealth inequality is immoral. It harms the most vulnerable and marginalized among us, especially Black and Brown communities, and it harms the wellbeing of the country as a whole.

The fact that racism is written into our tax code makes three things clear. First, it confirms that racism is systemic and is enacted through policies and structures. Second, the road to equality is reparations now, to begin to heal our society and close the ever-widening gap between those who have been allowed to amass and hoard resources, and those who have had to go without – so that all communities can truly thrive. And third, as we think, dream, and envision a future with reparations, transforming the tax code must be part of what it means to repair and build anew our society.

 

This story was published in the Quarter 4 2023 issue of Connection. 
NETWORK Lobby Government Relations Advocate Minister Christian S. Watkins Offers A Juneteenth Reflection

A Juneteenth Reflection

Can you imagine being free and emancipated from the brutally lethal system and culture of enslavement and not knowing it? This was the case for enslaved people in Texas who were not informed of their freedom until two years after Emancipation. On Monday, June 20, 2022, our nation celebrated Juneteenth, the commemoration of the announcement in Galveston, Texas (General Order No. 3 delivered on June 19, 1865). The Union Army marched from Galveston Island to the Negro Church on Broadway — since renamed Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church, liberating African Americans from enslavers, many of whom had migrated to Texas after the Civil War to escape Union control, Reconstruction mandates, and oppress Black people.

The delay of freedom ecause of racial bias in Texas is a shame. To be clear, over the past 157 years, our country has experienced moments of racial justice. It’s sad that as the United States carries the mantle as the world-wide beacon of democracy, and a place where all are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, social progress and equality measures that weave Black people into the American Dream have been short-lived.

In fact, I believe that it is more accurate to assert that the Black experience in the United States is more closely aligned with great economic and social inequity, loss of life and liberty, and damage to the souls of Black people, than it has ever been tied to equity and equality. From overcoming treatment as three-fifths of a person as slaves, the denigrating effects of the post-antebellum era, the violence of the Jim Crow era, the fight for voting rights, and the ongoing struggle for equity in housing, education, wages, healthcare, etc., Black people face great harm. The racist policies and white supremacy that lingers in the laws, policies and decisions of those who hold dominant power has had tragic, and sometimes deadly, outcomes for Black people.

How can this harm be eased when the United States has yet to fully reckon with, and atone for, slavery — its original sin?

NETWORK Lobby, the Why We Can’t Wait coalition of our partners, other justice-seeking organizations, and civil rights advocates asked President Joe Biden to sign an executive order for reparations by Juneteenth 2022 — and begin the nationwide racial healing and repair.  He declined.

Juneteenth symbolizes the enduring Black American spirit and persistence to overcome injustice – despite the numerous delays and denials of equality. It’s time for the waiting to stop. Our President (and Congress, too) can and must do all they can to enact measures that address the long-lasting legacy of slavery. It was a grave mistake to avoid redress and reparations as slavery ended. The consequences of that inaction continue to cast a pall over our government, cultural institutions, criminal legal system, and our economic affairs.

It’s important to name that it is not too late to take action. The opportunity for Black Americans to freely, fairly and fully participate in our nation’s economy and democracy is still available. A reparations study is vital, but there are other measures our national leaders can take:

  • Enact key provisions of President Biden’s economic agenda and bipartisan legislation that have been obstructed must be enacted that would help eliminate deep-seated racial inequities in our economic and political systems.
  • Address the staggering racial wealth gap
  • Stabilize our democracy by fortifying voting rights against exclusion efforts and suppression tactics,
  • Create penalties for law enforcement agents who harm or kill Black lives without cause
  • End the disparity in policing and sentencing that has created biased mass incarceration rates by race
  • Stop allowing violence against immigrants.

As NETWORK advocates for the creation of a reparations commission, we continue supporting policies that will build our country anew by advancing racial justice and racial equity. We invite justice-seekers to advocate with us. Click here to find ways to take action.

Reparations United Rally Concertgoers Send an H.R.40 Action Alert

Reparations United Rally Concertgoers Send an H.R.40 Action Alert

Reparations United Rally Concertgoers Send an H.R.40 Action Alert

No matter what we look like, where we live, or how our ancestors came to our country, we should all feel safe in our communities and earn the resources we need to take care of ourselves and the ones we love.

Sadly, for hundreds of years, U.S. lawmakers have failed to reckon with the original sin of slavery and its legacy of racist violence and laws — and they’ve created policies designed to keep Black people from healthy wages, homeownership opportunities, and trapped in a discriminatory criminal legal system. This has hurt our whole country. Instead of offering real solutions to decrease violence, economic disparity, and inequitable health and education outcomes in Black communities, some lawmakers and lobbyists use power and money to continue a harmful agenda and shame and blame Black people for suffering in inequitable economic and political systems.

We know the misery that slavery has wrought. Now we need to experience the healing blessing that repair and redress can provide. Let the Administration know that the U.S. needs an H.R.40 reparations commission.

When we come together, as we did recently to gain equitable policies in the Inflation Reduction Act, we can influence policy that will transform our country into a multiracial, multi-faith democracy. Join us and send notice to President Biden that we need an H.R.40 study commission so all of us in our country thrive — no exceptions!

NETWORK is grateful for Reparations United’s reparatory efforts and advocacy. We are proud to help Reparations United Rally concertgoers send an H.R.40 action alert to the President.

Blogs

Continue to pray for Reparations

Sister Anita Baird, DHM

Sr. Anita is a member of the Religious Congregation of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary having served as Regional Superior, Provincial Councilor, and most recently as United States Provincial. A trail blazer and history maker, Sister Anita became the first African American to serve as Chief of Staff to the Archbishop of Chicago in 1997. In 2000, Cardinal Francis George appointed her the founding director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Racial Justice.

She is a past president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference,  and recipient of the organization’s Harriet Tubman “Moses of Her People” Award. Since 2001, Anita has traveled the country preaching at parish revivals, directing retreats, and presenting anti-racism workshops.

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein has written and taught extensively about the case for slavery reparations in Torah and Rabbinic literature, including in a 2018 article, “The Torah Case for Reparations”. Aryeh is a fifth-generation Chicago South Sider who works as National Jewish Educator for Avodah and Educational Consultant for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

Aryeh is a Senior Editor of Jewschool.com and a member of the Tzedek Lab. Aryeh studied at several institutions of higher rabbinical studies and was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes’s Yashrut Institute.

Dr. Iva Carruthers

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers is General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC), an interdenominational organization within the African American faith tradition focused on justice and equity issues. SDPC is both a 501c3 and United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). As founding CEO and a trustee of SDPC, she has steered the organization as a unique, influential and esteemed network of faith based advocates and activists, clergy and lay. Former director of the Black Theology Project, Dr. Carruthers has a long history of teaching, engagement in community development initiatives and social justice ministry, fostering interdenominational and interfaith dialogue and leading study tours for the university and church throughout in the United States, Caribbean, South America and Africa.

Dr. Carruthers is Professor Emeritus and former Chairperson of the Sociology Department at Northeastern Illinois University and was founding President of Nexus Unlimited, an information and educational technology firm. She was appointed to the White House Advisory Council on the internet, “National Information Infrastructure”, Mega Project and the educational software she developed was awarded a ComputerWorld Smithsonian Award. She is also founder of Lois House, an urban retreat center, Chicago, Illinois.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis 

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis—Author, Activist, and Public Theologian—is the Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City that is driven by Love. Period. Jacqui is the author of several books, including her latest: Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World. Jacqui earned her Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and earned a M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Religion from Drew University. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), she is the first African American and first woman senior minister in the Collegiate Church of New York, which was founded in 1628.

Middle Church and Jacqui have been featured in media such as The TODAY Show; Good Morning America; The Takeaway; The Brian Lehrer Show; and in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Her podcasts include Love.Period., which is produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation, and The Four—a fearsome faith foursome talking about Black Life, Love, Power and Joy, with Otis Moss III, Lisa Sharon Harper and Michael-Ray Mathews.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner serves as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He has led the Religious Action Center since 2015. Rabbi Pesner also serves as Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism, a position to which he was appointed to in 2011. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, he is an inspirational leader and tireless advocate for social justice.

Rabbi Pesner’s work has focused on encouraging Jewish communities to reach across lines of race, class, and faith in campaigns for social justice. In 2006, he founded Just Congregations (now incorporated into the Religious Action Center), which engaged clergy, professional, and volunteer leaders in interfaith efforts in pursuit of social justice. Rabbi Pesner was a primary leader in the successful Massachusetts campaign for health care access that has provided health care coverage to hundreds of thousands and which became a nationwide model for reform. Over the course of his career, he has also led and supported campaigns for racial justice, economic opportunity, immigration reform, LGBTQ equality, human rights, and a variety of other causes. He is dedicated to building bridges to collectively confront anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate and bigotry.

Keep Up with NETWORK

Just Politics Catholic Podcast Season One
Just Politics Catholic Podcast Season 2

Season 2 of Just Politics Podcast is Complete – Listen Now!

Season 2 of Just Politics Podcast is Complete – Listen Now!

August 24, 2023

After a successful inaugural season of the Just Politics podcast, produced in collaboration with U.S. Catholic magazine, we came back for an exciting second season!  

Our hosts Sister Eilis McCulloh, H.M.Colin Martinez Longmore, and Joan F. Neal spoke with more advocates, Catholic Sisters, scholars, faith leaders, and even a Vatican official about how we can transform our politics for the common good.  

In season 2, which wrapped up in May, our hosts covered topics ranging from Pope Francis and integral ecology to the urgent, Spirit-filled call for economic justice, health care access, and women’s leadership.  

You can find the podcast on the U.S. Catholic website, as well as on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and join the conversation about #JustPoliticsPod on social media!  

Also check out Just Politics press at www.uscatholic.org/justpolitics where you can also sign up for email updates, learn more about each episode, and find additional reading on each episode’s topics. 

COMING SOON: Season 3 of Just Politics podcast drops Monday, Sept. 11!  

STOP ANTI-ASIAN RACISM & CHINA BASHING RALLY at Chinatown Archway at 7th and H Street, NW, Washington DC on Saturday afternoon, 27 March 2021 by Elvert Barnes Photography

AAPI Heritage Month Invites Reflection and Reparation

AAPI Heritage Month Invites Reflection and Reparation

Jarrett Smith
May 1, 2023

The human brain is excellent at recognizing threats. If something upsets the patterns, we associate with normal – or fits into a pattern we associate with as harm – our fight-or-flight response is triggered, and we react accordingly. Our Neanderthal cousins’ ways of processing the world live on. But this very old impulse has caused a lot of harm in recent centuries because human beings have developed a destructive tendency to see one another as a threat, even when they have no reason to believe this.

A terrible example from the last century is U.S. government’s internment of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. In the name of national security, entire communities were disrupted. People lost everything. And the harm is still in living memory of the young Japanese Americans who joined their families in the camps where the government forcibly relocated them.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so it’s good to remember such chapters of U.S. history and apply their hard lessons to our world today. At NETWORK, we take from it a couple of key lessons. First, it’s sober context for the terrible border policies of recent years, including family separation, kids in cages, Title 42, and the ongoing inability or refusal to restore basic function to our immigration and asylum systems. Racist policies are sadly nothing new.

But we can also take encouragement in the fact that, in 1981, in recognition of the harm done by Japanese American internment, the U.S. government gave Japanese Americans $20,000 in reparations, along with an apology from President Ronald Reagan. This move served as one inspiration for H.R. 40, the bill that would form a commission to study the question of reparations for Black Americans. NETWORK is part of the coalition that endorses this bill, and our work on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap and Tax Justice for All demonstrates the pernicious structural and intergenerational racial inequities that would need to be addressed as part of reparations.

And sadly, we have far more recent examples of anti-Asian hate in the U.S., especially the ugly and paranoid response of many people to the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing the peril of a new and dangerous respiratory disease, many people projected their fear onto a group of people, an “other.” This too requires solidarity, repudiation, and real examination of both the harm and its causes.

I believe that human beings have the capacity to learn and grow past the sin of racism and all its ugly patterns. We shouldn’t be recognizing threats in one another. We should be recognizing humanity. Humanity brings a vibrant diversity that is gift. And in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, that gift is so abundantly clear. Our friends and neighbors of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Indian, and so many other Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds are all gift, and the appropriate response to a gift is not fear, but gratitude.

This Asian American and Pacific Islander month is a call to reflection on the actions, past and present, of the society in which we live, and an invitation to repair the harms, to break the patterns and cycles of racism. Breaking those habits and finding areas to collaborate with marginalized groups seeking reparatory justice would truly put us in a place to celebrate the future we want.

Jarrett Smith is a NETWORK Government Relations Advocate.

We Have Power to Use

We Have Power to Use

Positive Change is Not Inevitable; Nor is it Beyond Our Grasp

Min. Christian Watkins
April 4, 2023

In a world that is moving and changing seemingly at an uneasy pace, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are quite pervasive. With social media hyperstimulation, news cycle fatigue, and electronics exhaustion, it can be paralyzing to do anything other than what is necessary just to exist. When billionaires can financially influence elections, nominations to the Supreme Court, and entire media platforms in hopes of steering events according to their will, the power of the individual can be easily neglected. But regardless, one thing the sacred texts and my mother constantly remind me of is that we have more power than we think.

The system of democracy has been credited to the ancient Greeks. Demos kratos literally translates to “people power.” I constantly see the power that one person’s voice can have in the halls of power. Every time I engage Congress and the Administration, whether through meetings or direct public actions, when people show up, when people use their presence and voice for good, good things happen. This greatly informs how NETWORK approaches all of our key policy areas like criminal legal reform, voting rights, and reparatory justice. It’s all about what we decide to do with the power of the voice and the presence we possess.

April 4 marks the 55th anniversary of the martyrdom of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An assassin’s bullet may have killed the man, but it couldn’t kill the dreams, prayers, and work of righteous people. One aspect of his legacy that still resonates is how a young Baptist minister from meager beginnings was able to be such a catalyzing force in the movement for good in U.S. politics. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s culminated in the passage of civil rights, voting rights, and fair housing for Black and impoverished people all throughout our country. Dr. King knew how to build power, through and with people, on and for purpose.

Gains made back then are still active struggles today. As my mother says, it’s an unbearable reality that the rights she marched and voted for in the ‘60s are still in question today. But it is soul-settling to know that Dr. King’s advocacy and pastoral legacy through Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church is alive and well through the life and witness of Rev. Senator Raphael G. Warnock.

It is a blessing that Senator Warnock does not stand alone as a high-profile person of faith engaging with U.S. politics. Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Jeanné Lewis of Faith in Public Life, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III are just a few examples of people I believe embody Dr. King’s legacy of faithful public witness and leadership.

Their witness matters especially because we see today too many bad examples that confine Christian political belief to be represented by a small but extremist segment. Most of them fall under the heading of Christian nationalism — the belief that the U.S. is meant to be ruled by white Christians to serve white Christians. That belief system is contrary to the lofty principles and unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our country’s founding documents.

A tragic consequence of this – in addition to the exclusion, oppression, and loss of life that are the natural consequences of nationalist policy — is that religious faith in the public square becomes synonymous with intolerance and hatred, hostile to other belief systems expressed throughout the nation’s citizenry. It is unfortunate that the faith-filled justice-seeker is a strange, unknown construction to many people in the U.S., especially among younger generations.

As a Black man from the South and minister of the Gospel, I find hope and strength in the model of Dr. King. He reminds us: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” It is a sin — a deadly one — to assume the cause is lost and not take any action at all. It is a virtue to keep showing up. It is a virtue to honor your God-given gifts through presence and witness. This is how we ultimately push past hopelessness and helplessness in our lives. May your power compel you to keep on showing up for justice, peace, and equity.

Min. Christian Watkins is a NETWORK Government Relations Advocate and minister of The United Methodist Church.

This column will be published in our upcoming Quarter 2 2023 issue of Connection.

“Every time I engage Congress and the Administration, whether through meetings or direct public actions, when people show up, when people use their presence and voice for good, good things happen.”

President's Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden

President’s Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden

President's Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden

This campaign has ended. Please read here to see pictures from our advocates and to view a special message from Jarrett Smith, Government Relations Advocate.

For over a year, NETWORK supporters have attended educational webinars, prayer vigils, and other reparations-related events to learn about, and advocate for, an executive order for a federal reparations commission to study reparations like the one proposed in H.R.40. And now, justice-seekers are coming together to fill the White House’s MAILBOX with a President’s Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden.

President's Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden

FEB. 17 to MAR. 3

Justice-seekers are filling the MAILBOX at the White House during NETWORK’s President’s Day Letter Writing Campaign to President Biden to urge him to create a federal reparations study commission by April. Will you join the campaign?

This campaign has ended. Please read here to see pictures from our advocates and to view a special message from Jarrett Smith, Government Relations Advocate.

Here’s what to include in your letter to President Biden (written by hand or printed from your computer):

  • Introduce yourself. Be sure to include your religious order, career title, or any involvement in your community. Also share your city and state.
  • Choose a few reasons why it is time to establish a Commission to Study Reparations. Scroll below to download H.R.40 Talking Points.
  • Highlight why you support establishing an H.R.40-style reparations commission and detail any anti-racism work you’ve done.
  • If you have a story to share that would let the President know how a reparations study would benefit you, your family, or your community, share it!

Here’s what to do after you’ve written your letter:

  • Take a selfie (photo) with your letter at the mailbox or post office to share with NETWORK
  • Share your selfie with us: On your social media accounts, share with #HR40NOW or #ReparationsNow; or email us at info@networklobby.org.
  • Stamp your correspondence and mail it to the White House

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Join the Campaign!

This campaign has ended. Please read here to see pictures from our advocates and to view a special message from Jarrett Smith, Government Relations Advocate.

Our Values Root Our Call for Reparations

All of us want the freedom to live where we want and to have the resources we need to care for the people we love. For too long, law makers in D.C., state politicians, and businesses, have created inequity in home ownership, the job market, safe police tactics, and more — harming Black economic progress. Some blame and shame Black people for the negative outcomes that flow from this inequitable treatment.

But we know that this is wrong. By divine right and according to our Constitution, all of us are to live free, equitable, and thriving lives. To do this, we must reckon with the original sin of slavery–as it is at the root of racist policy, abuse, and violence that we see in our politics, churches, and economy today. The time is now for a federal reparations study commission.

Talking Points

When writing your letter, consider using these talking points:

What Would Establishing an H.R.40-Style Commission Do?

  • H.R.40 sets a framework that would establish a 15-member commission to study the effects of chattel slavery on African slaves and their African American descendants. This panel cannot grant money directly.

 Why NETWORK Supports H.R.40 Commission

  • Reparations is where we must start in order to chart a pathway to a just future
  • Slavery didn’t end, it merely evolved (a quote from Reparations For Slavery)
  • President Biden promised during his presidential campaign to support a study of reparations
  • H.R.40 embodies cornerstones of our political advocacy: dismantling systemic racism and cultivating inclusive community
  • President Biden must act on their commitment to dismantling racist laws, policies and frameworks, and to advance racial equity
  • The Catholic Church played a major role in the Atlantic slave trade and supported slavery in the States, Jim Crow, and other forms of discrimination. The Catholic Church gave slave ownership moral absolution, and helped it propagate.
  • Catholic teaching demands confession, penance and restitution when a sin has been committed
  • Catholic Social Justice advocates must stand up to diminish the impact of historical and contemporary racism in today’s political, social and economic systems, frameworks, and institutions
  • The sinful legacy of white supremacy and the enduring racial wealth gap must no longer be allowed to deny Black people good health, educational, and economic outcomes.
Pledge to Pray for Reparations

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Your Advocacy for Reparations is Appreciated!

Your Advocacy for Reparations is Appreciated!

Thank You for Writing a Letter to President Biden for Reparations

NETWORK Justice-seekers recently came together to fill President Biden’s mailbox at the White House with requests for a reparations commission. Specifically, for an executive order for a federal reparations commission to study reparations like the one proposed in H.R.40. Below, Jarrett Smith, NETWORK’s Government Relations Advocate who lobbies on behalf of reparatory justice issues, offers appreciation for this faith-filled advocacy.

Your Advocacy for Reparations is Appreciated!

Our Values Root Our Call for Reparations

All of us want the freedom to live where we want and to have the resources we need to care for the people we love. For too long, law makers in D.C., state politicians, and businesses, have created inequity in home ownership, the job market, safe police tactics, and more — harming Black economic progress. Some blame and shame Black people for the negative outcomes that flow from this inequitable treatment.

But we know that this is wrong. By divine right and according to our Constitution, all of us are to live free, equitable, and thriving lives. To do this, we must reckon with the original sin of slavery–as it is at the root of racist policy, abuse, and violence that we see in our politics, churches, and economy today. The time is now for a federal reparations study commission.

Thank you for your Spirit-filled photos

Thank you, your words mattered!

Beloved Field,
Thank you for participating in the President’s Day Letter Writing Campaign to the White House. Your advocacy for reparations is appreciated — especially at this moment when the creation of an H.R.40-style reparations commission is up against a tight deadline. The Network team and I are  honored that you significantly bolstered our efforts to mobilize the Biden Administration to sign an executive order to create an H.R.40-style reparations commission.

Many justice-seekers shared selfies and candid photos featuring letters, mailboxes, and post offices. It was wonderful to see your Spirit-filled posts on social media and in our NETWORK email inbox. I am delighted to share the images here.

Your actions during Black History Month came shortly after Representative Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced H.R.40 in January 2023 in the 118th Congress. This year marks 34 years since Representative John Conyers (D-MI) first introduced the bill. Mr. Conyers and several advocates, like the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, based the proposal on the President Reagan-signed legislation that gave Japanese interned during World War II reparations from the United States Federal Government.

Since last year, NETWORK Lobby has co-sponsored and led numerous direct actions for a reparations commission. We believe that this work is sacred. The Reconstruction effort of 1865-1877 gave our country an opportunity to find a path to equality, however, politics were chosen over humanity. White supremacy defeated repair. While redress is long-overdue, H.R.40 offers another opportunity to finally begin to repair our country’s original sin.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you for praying for reparations during Black History Month, Together as well as sending letters to President Biden. Your prayers are still needed! I kindly suggest re-watching Faith in Reparations to guide your prayers and reflections. This fantastic  event featured Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic faith leaders — and the presentation of a Sister Letter signed by Women Religious — calling for President to implement a federal reparations commission.

I’m thrilled with what we’ve accomplished together, and I know we will do so much more!

In solidarity,

Jarrett

Jarrett Smith, Government Relations Advocate

Join the Campaign!

Let us know you will send a letter to President Biden.

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