Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

The Gifts of Intentional Community

The Gifts of Intentional Community

Erin Sutherland
March 12, 2019

In conjunction with my year as a NETWORK Associate, I have been living in intentional community at the Anne Montgomery House organized by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ).  Our community consists of two RSCJ sisters, one RSCJ Associate working at a local university, one woman working at a public policy and research organization, and me.  The five of us bring many different gifts to our community.  The RSCJs have guided us in prayer and reflection each morning and night, we all take turns making communal meals and sharing stories over the dinner table, and we bring our expertise from our work in social justice in the many workshops and community events we’ve held.  I knew living in community with Catholic sisters would be a unique opportunity, but I didn’t realize until months after moving in just what a gift I was being offered.  The values intentional community cultivates- respect for others, putting others before oneself, and service- are extremely valuable, especially for someone like me in a transitional stage of my life.

After undergrad, I moved to Panama to teach English at a university. There, I lived with a multigenerational host family who truly welcomed me as one of their own.  Growing up in a military family, I never lived close to my extended family, but in Panama, I was around my host parents’ children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and cousins on almost a daily basis.  My host family’s commitment to relationships was something I was really missing when I moved back to the States a year later, and that was what I was seeking most when I asked to be a part of Anne Montgomery House.

Grassroots Mobilization Associate Erin Sutherland with some of the Anne Montgomery House community.

My past few months here have truly been an answer to my prayers and have helped me grow as a woman in my faith.  It has been a joy to pray together in the quiet of each morning before I go to work.  It has meant the world to know that I have a supportive community who has my back as I go through the graduate school application process.  It has been healing to gather around the dinner table, all of us bursting with stories to tell from our days at work or distraught over the latest headline and find rapt conversation partners.  Instead of participating in the constant news cycle hysteria, my community members have helped remind me to slow down and turn my energy towards more fulfilling emotions.  But living in community is also about the choices one makes every day to live in love.  It has been challenging at times to support each other through times apart, sickness, and the busyness of our daily lives.  It is only through accepting and committing to each other on both carefree days and difficult ones that we are truly breaking open our hearts to allow the Divine to become the center of our actions.  I am so grateful to have been invited to live in community, and for the direction it has provided in living out my faith.

Finding Inspiration and Sharing Hope for the New Congress

Finding Inspiration and Sharing Hope for the New Congress

A Conversation with Representative Ayanna Pressley

Before Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) was sworn into the 116th Congress, we spoke with her about her hopes and expectations for the upcoming session. We look forward to the leadership Representative Pressley and other new members of Congress bring to Capitol Hill to advance policies that mend the gaps in our nation.

Connection: What are you looking forward to working on when the new Congress begins?

Representative Pressley: I intend to be an activist leader on all issues of consequence to the people I represent. People don’t live in checked boxes, they live in intersectionality, and are impacted by many different policies. During my campaign, I developed—in partnership with community—a wide ranging Equity Agenda, focused on addressing the persistent disparities in Massachusetts’ 7th District. One of the issues I called out was the epidemic of gun violence and trauma—I intend to make that a priority, and have already secured commitments from Democratic leadership to bring common sense gun control to the floor of the House, but I will also be a leader on issues like healthcare, environmental justice, and transportation equity—all of which are critical to my constituents.

Connection: How does your faith inspire your work as an elected official?

Rep. Pressley: I’m often asked about my political education, and while people tend to focus on the time I spent working for Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II and Senator John Kerry, the truth is that the values that have informed my work as an elected official first took root as a child, when I attended Rain or Shine Baptist Church in Chicago, where my grandfather, Rev. James Echols, was the pastor. The values of inclusive leadership, empathy, and compassion, which are a through-line of my career in elected office, were first introduced to me in the Church, and I continue to carry them with me today as a woman of abiding faith.

Connection: How have you seen policies you’ve promoted in the past positively affect your constituents and our nation?

Rep. Pressley: One story that I believe is emblematic: when I ran for the Boston City Council, I ran on a platform of elevating the voices of women and girls. Sitting in my first school budget hearing after I was elected, I asked every department head who came before us how they policies they were proposing would impact girls—their answers were sparse at best. Now, eight years later, those department heads come to our budget hearings with binders full of information on how their policies will affect female students, about teen pregnancy, and push-out, and the school to prison pipeline. This progress only happened because someone asked the question. We must continue to ask the difficult questions that will lead to real progress.

Connection: When times are difficult, what keeps you motivated to continue working for the common good?

Rep. Pressley: I often begin my days with a verse from a book called The President’s Devotionals, by Joshua DuBois, which helps motivate me during more challenging times. One of my favorite affirmations from this book is entitled “a Gentle Battle.” To paraphrase, it says that each morning we awake to a gentle battle. Of all the negotiations and decisions of our day, this gentle battle is the most important. Will we go in the direction of worry, weariness, and indifference—or in the direction of joy, of peace, of equality and justice? Even through the most difficult times, I remain committed to the latter.

Connection: Do you have any advice for advocates inspired by their faith to engage in politics?

Rep. Pressley: I would say, simply, “do it”—our Democracy needs your voices. For our government to be truly representative, we need a diversity of passionate, committed voices around the table. If we want to see values like compassion, dignity, and social justice reflected in our public policy, then we need to invest the sweat equity necessary to elect activist leaders and hold them accountable. Change can’t wait, but it also won’t happen on its own; we need to work to create it.

 

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This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Sister Simone Campbell
February 24, 2019

Reflecting on Experiences from the Road to Mar-a-Lago

As we traveled more than 5,000 miles on the 2018 Nuns on the Bus trip, I was struck by the fact that at each of our 13 lobby visits (or attempted visits) constituents told us that their member of Congress would not meet with them. The most extreme was Representative Peter Roskam (IL-06) whose office was in a private airport building in West Chicago, Illinois. The building is secured by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and no one could enter the building unless they had been screened by TSA. Additionally, groups could not hold rallies outside the building because it was a “safety issue.” So, this embattled Congressman was protected by TSA while his constituents and our bus had to hold our rally 2 blocks away from the office. I was stunned! This is not democracy!

This experience has fueled my New Year’s resolution to make democracy work. There are many new members of Congress and we need to make sure that they have opportunities to meet and listen to their constituents. Members need to hear the stories of the people in their district in order to create effective responses to the challenges that they face.

This was highlighted for me when the bus stopped in Columbia, South Carolina and we held a roundtable conversation with local service organizations. Representative Jim Clyburn (SC-06) joined us for the roundtable and we learned of the varied needs of the people in his district. In a freewheeling discussion, we learned many things, including:

  • Columbia has the sixth highest eviction rate in the nation and the state of South Carolina needs more than 4,000 new units of affordable housing, but none is being built.
  • Agriculture is the second largest industry in South Carolina and tourism is first. Both industries are highly dependent on immigrants to flourish. Yet exploitation and hostility toward immigrants is all too common. Anti-immigrant policies and attitudes are making it difficult to find employees for both industries.
  • Latino men are attacked frequently. Undocumented people are unable to use banks in South Carolina, so they must make their transactions in cash. This makes them lucrative targets for robbery. The increase in assault is terrifying the undocumented community, but they are afraid to report these crimes for fear of being deported.
  • There is basically no effective public transit for low-wage workers in South Carolina. Transportation is one of the biggest challenges that workers face.

Towards the end of the conversation, one of the participants noted that each of the agencies gathered represented is a good “charity” serving a particular need. But in that conversation they saw that the issues were complex and interrelated. She said each organization needed to keep working on their individual issue, but also needed to work systemically to improve the structures of our society.

It is by sharing our perspectives and our stories that we can find commonality. In that shared experience we can see new levels of complexity and perhaps find more effective solutions. This is what we are seeking to do at NETWORK. This year we are continuing our efforts to listen to people around our nation and learn from their experience. We need to understand the lived experience of communities in our nation if we are going to advocate for policies for the 100%. This is our goal for 2019.

As we continue in our work for justice, let us ground our advocacy in the lived reality of our communities. Let us exercise holy curiosity as we meet people with different perspectives and experiences. This effort to understand will be the way to discovering community that can make a “more perfect union.”

 

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This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

Alannah Boyle
February 19, 2019

Here at NETWORK as a member of the Grassroots Mobilization team, I have spent the last week excitedly working with our field and our team in preparation for February Recess meetings, which take place while Congress is out of session every February.

Before I began my Associate Year at NETWORK, I hadn’t realized the importance of in-district lobby visits, and building relationships with staff who both live and work in my community. Building relationships with in-district staff can help lead to a meeting with your Member of Congress themselves. In these meetings, you can learn about your Member of Congress’s priorities and goals, and how you can work with them in the future. We are all experts in our own lived experience, part of which involves where we live. Our Members of Congress have to split their time between living in our community and living in Washington, D.C., so our expertise and relationships in our community can be very helpful to our Member of Congress. It is important that we share our expertise, and our values, with our Member of Congress’s office.

As part of NETWORK’s February Recess preparations, members of our Grassroots Mobilization team and our Government Relations team gave a webinar. Our Grassroots Mobilization team outlined pro tips and best practices for lobbying. Our Government Relations Team then provided a policy briefing. This February Recess, NETWORK members are lobbying on Mend the Gap bills that are moving this session, including HR 1: For the People Act, Raise the Wage Act of 2019 and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

If you missed our webinar on how to conduct a lobby visit, you can watch it here. If you set up a February Recess Lobby visit, please feel free to contact the Grassroots Mobilization staff here. We’d love to help you plan your visit and hear how your visit went afterwards!

A Special Message from Nuns on the Bus

A Special Message from Nuns on the Bus

“We the People” Can Create Change!

Meg Olson
January 29, 2019

What a month it has been! As we recover from the anguish of the longest shutdown in our nation’s history, I’ve heard from activists all across the country what a whirlwind of emotions it has been. Despite the cruel insistence for wasteful spending on a border wall from Republicans in the Senate and the White House, it’s been comforting for us to remember the people we met along the road last year during our Nuns on the Bus tour.

During Nuns on the Bus, we heard from people all across the country committed to the common good. We are so inspired by you and all activists working for a more kind and generous vision for our nation and lobbying our elected officials, together. November 6, 2018 was a great day because “We the People” came together to create change.

We created the video above to renew our hope and commitment for the work ahead. Help us continue to care for the 100% in our nation, and take this message to newly elected officials by staying involved with NETWORK and sharing this video on Facebook or Twitter.

Faces of Our Spirit-Filled Network: Elena Hung

Faces of Our Spirit-Filled Network: Elena Hung

Elena Hung
January 24, 2019

Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do.

I am a mom, a lawyer, and as I like to refer to myself, an accidental activist.  Like so many across the country, I started speaking up and becoming involved after Inauguration Day in January 2017.

In response to threats of health care repeal efforts, I became very concerned about what would happen to my family and families like mine if we were to lose the protections for pre-existing conditions, ban on lifetime limits, and guaranteed coverage for essential health benefits like emergency care, hospitalizations, and prescription drugs.  I co-founded Little Lobbyists, a family-led group advocating for children with complex medical needs and disabilities, and showed up on Capitol Hill with our children to tell our health care stories.

I am also a co-chair of Health Care Voter, a national campaign to hold elected officials accountable for their votes on health care.

How did you first learn about NETWORK and what inspired you to get involved?

I heard Sister Simone speak while she was with the Nuns on the Bus, and I was hooked!  I loved her message on the fight for social justice and for the common good.

What issue area are you most passionate about?

For the past two years, my public advocacy has focused on health care and disability rights.  However, at the core of everything I do and believe is that we are only true advocates if we engage in inclusive advocacy.

When I advocate for health care for those with complex medical needs and disabilities like my daughter, that includes immigrants with disabilities, LGBTQ people with disabilities, people of color with disabilities, people of all faiths with disabilities, those living in poverty with disabilities.  And when I say disabilities, that includes all disabilities whether it be mobility, sensory, mental health, intellectual or developmental disabilities.  It includes our friends with chronic health conditions, in recovery from substance abuse, and those living with trauma.

Elena Hung speaks at the Fiesta for the Common Good, the Nuns on the Bus’ closing event of the 2018 Tax Justice Truth Tour.

How are you engaging your community on important social justice issues?

I have worked really hard to put the stories of medically complex and disabled children front and center.  This includes empowering families with the tools to share their stories and working closely with a number of organizations to build a platform to make that possible.  Little Lobbyists families across the country have shared their stories at press conferences, rallies, town halls, social media, local and national media interviews, published op-eds and articles in digital media, and other public events and forums.

How has your advocacy for social justice shaped your view of the world?

I believe in the power of stories to change hearts and minds.  I also believe that these stories bring us together, for we have more in common than not.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice? 

I feel a great responsibility and an even greater honor to be part of something so much bigger than myself.

Who is your role model?

In the past two years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team.  She is simply amazing.  Her record speaks for itself — she is a master legislator, a talented leader, and a fierce advocate — but what you don’t hear in the news often enough is that she is also incredibly warm and kind. She’s a living example of how you are never too important or too famous to be kind to someone.  I have introduced her to countless families and children and the respect she shows them is mesmerizing.  She takes the time to listen — and somehow remembers everything!

She is also really tough; I am so inspired by the way she is able to shrug off the constant public attacks against her and focus on doing her job.  She is a one-of-a-kind role model not just for me but also for my daughter.

Is there a quote that motivates or nourishes you that you would like to share?

“Go big or go home.”  This is what I kept saying at the beginning when I first started speaking up and what I say to this day.  Every act, every message, every plan — I want to reach as many people as we can in the most powerful and authentic way possible.  I believe in dreaming big dreams and aiming high … and surrounding myself with people who aren’t afraid to do the same.

What social movement has inspired you?

The leadership by young people has been incredible.  Whether it is the March of Our Lives students against gun violence or Dreamers for a path to citizenship, their voices have been life-changing.  I too believe the young people will win.

What was your biggest accomplishment as an activist in the past year?

I co-founded and led an organization that was often credited with helping put a face on health care.  I am so proud to have helped educate so many on the needs of medically complex children by empowering families to speak up and normalize disability.

What are you looking forward to working on in the coming months?

There is so much work to do!  I look forward to growing the Little Lobbyists community, helping more families share their stories.

I want to highlight the intersections between disability and all the social justice issues; There is not a single issue — whether it be health care, immigration, climate change, criminal justice, education, gun violence, employment, or voting — that does not impact the 1 in 5 Americans that lives with a disability.

A Faithful Reflection on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A Faithful Reflection on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Colleen Ross
December 11, 2018

On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly. To mark the 70th anniversary of this event, the Carter Center, founded by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, published a new compilation of Biblical texts that support the human rights proclaimed in the groundbreaking United Nations document. Sister Simone Campbell contributed, along with 14 other faith leaders, to the final document titled, “Scripturally Annotated Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Religious texts have been used against marginalized communities for too long. To counter this, we must declare the truth of religious teachings that liberate all of God’s creation. At an event launching this document, President Jimmy Carter said: “One of the main reasons for inequality and oppression of women is that the primary translators of religious scriptures were men.”

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in 1948, it was a direct response to the horrors and sins of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Now, this new pairing of scripture and human rights is important in our current time, when both religious texts and legal particulars are used to avoid fulfilling the responsibilities we have to our sisters and brothers who are suffering and vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

About the connection between Article 25 of the UDHR and the parable of the Good Samaritan, Sister Simone writes:

This story of the Good Samaritan outlines the basic call to care for our neighbors. Jesus says that the Samaritan (an outcast in Judaism at the time) took the man who had been attacked by the side of the road and took extravagant effort to ensure that he was housed, fed, and received healthcare.

UDHR Article 25, in a sense, extends the compassion evidenced by the Good Samaritan and posits a set of basic rights around human well-being: food, clothes, housing, health care, social security. The special needs of mothers and children (note the specific concern for children born out of wedlock) receive special focus here, as also in the Bible. Each person and family is entitled to the basics of life, with special attention to times and cases of special vulnerability, so that each can live in dignity.

Many more parallels can be drawn between Christian religious teachings and these universally declared human rights. May all of us, and especially our political leaders, be inspired by faith or civic responsibilities to ensure that all people can fully claim these inalienable human rights.

Read the full document on the Carter Center’s website.

Doing Good during the Holiday Season

Doing Good during the Holiday Season

Maggie Brevig
November 18, 2016

The holiday season is upon us and three uniquely American events are quickly approaching: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. If family differences or rampant consumerism threaten to dampen your festive mood, one reason for hope is the emergence of #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

#GivingTuesday is a movement to lift up the generosity of people worldwide on a coordinated day of giving. By using the power of social media and personal relationships, #GivingTuesday encourages ordinary people to come together and make a huge impact for nonprofit organizations. Last year, over 700,000 people in 71 countries donated online and sent #GivingTuesday messages on social media.

As an organization founded by Catholic sisters working directly with people and communities impacted by injustice, NETWORK’s mission is to transform the systems that cause individuals and families to struggle with poverty, lack of access to healthcare, broken immigration policies, and more. Every day members of the NETWORK community are working to mend the gaps and improve access and opportunity for all Americans. If you are inspired by NETWORK’s mission, I invite you to support NETWORK on #GivingTuesday, and encourage your family and friends to do the same!

While we may spend time on Thanksgiving reflecting on the people and experiences that have impacted our lives, #GivingTuesday invites us to think about how we can give of ourselves to support others. Where and how you choose to give is up to you. The most important part, is that you share your reason for giving with your social networks and encourage them to join you. I’m starting to make my list now, of the organizations I plan to support on #GivingTuesday, and I hope you join me in giving back after a long weekend of holiday celebrations!

Give Now

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Remarks from Nuns on the Bus in South Bend

Nuns on the Bus in South Bend

Jessica Brock
October 19, 2018

The following remarks were delivered by Jessia Brock, attorney, at the Nuns on the Bus Rally in South Bend.

Good afternoon.   Your presence here is so important.  Thank you for being here.  Your voice needs to be heard.  And your vote is your voice.

My name is Jessica Brock.  I am an attorney here in South Bend, and my law practice has primarily served people living below the federal poverty line.  Most of my clients rely on income from SSI or Social Security Disability.  They rely on Medicare or Medicaid for healthcare coverage.  And they rely on other human needs programs like housing vouchers and food stamps in order to make ends meet, put food on their tables, and keep their families safe. I see on a daily basis how these programs make the difference, quite literally, between life and death.  One unexpected and expensive life event  – like the illness and death of a loved one or flooding like we experienced in February – can put a family barely making ends meet in serious financial trouble, and it is often difficult if not impossible to recover from such a setback.

In South Bend, almost 1/5 of the population lives below the federal poverty line.  That means there’s no wiggle room in the household budget – certainly no money for big, unexpected expenses.  The poverty rate here for whites is about 17%, for people of color as a whole it’s about 33%.  For African Americans in South Bend it’s about 42%.  Not only do we have income inequality.  We have racial inequality.

Republicans passed an immoral tax law in 2017, which prioritizes tax cuts for the highest income brackets and biggest businesses on the dime of basic human needs.  In 2017, the federal deficit went up 17%, and Republicans are blaming this on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  The truth is the immoral tax law is to blame for the deficit increase as well as increased government spending approved by the Republican-controlled Congress.  We do not have reasonable revenue for responsible programs.

People here are already struggling to meet basic needs.

  • There are women, survivors of domestic violence, in South Bend who are unable to afford to change the locks on their homes in order to protect themselves and their children from their abusers.
  • There are older adults in South Bend who cannot afford to pay for their burial.  They may have a family burial plot, but they can’t afford to pay for the cremation/burial and transportation to be buried with their loved ones.
  • We lost my father unexpectedly to brain cancer this April.  A simple funeral can easily cost $10,000.  All of the expenses were due upfront.  That’s a financial burden many cannot handle.

The truth is that Social Security and Medicare are paid for through separate payroll taxes.  They do not add to the national debt.  In fact, Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus right now.  The sad truth is that we are using the Social Security trust funds to finance our overspending on programming that does not meet basic human needs like being safe in our homes, having food to put on the table, healthcare, and dying with dignity.  We are robbing human needs programs in order to cut taxes for the rich and for big business.

There seems to be little we can agree on these days, as our leaders have played on our fears in an effort to divide us.  But there is much we have in common.  We all want to be safe.  We all need to eat and sleep.  We all want to be healthy, and we will all get sick.  We will all encounter unexpected, traumatic, and expensive life events that can quickly change our financial stability.

At times, it can seem like there is nothing we can do.  But that’s not true.  We can vote.  It’s free.  It doesn’t matter who you are, each vote counts the same.  Your vote is your voice.

Vote!  If you think that the government shouldn’t take from the poor to benefit the rich.  Vote!  If you want reasonable revenue for responsible programs.  Vote!

It’s We The People.  It’s us.  And we have a job to do.  No one can do it for us.   Let’s get out and vote!

View more photos from this event here.