Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

The Intersection Between the Heart of Christ and Juneteenth

Leslye Colvin 
June 29, 2020

Upon hearing of a program being offered at the local cathedral that addressed poverty and the Church’s social justice teachings, I knew it was for me. Through JustFaith, I was provided insight to the heart of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Having entered this church as a young child in an apartheid state, I had already gained a deep appreciation of Moses and the Exodus from the Black Protestant Church. I also recognized the strong similarities between the enslavement and subsequent struggles of the Hebrew people, and those of us as African-Americans. The connection and assurance of God’s presence in the midst of ineffable suffering was as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. 

My family entered the Catholic Church amidst the racial segregation of the mid-1960s. While the priests and parishioners welcomed us, I know our lived experience was not shared by all African-Americans, not even for those who identify as cradle Catholics. It was years later in JustFaith that I saw my families experience of welcome as a clear example of the Church’s social teaching on human dignity. This was transformative as I began to feel a pull towards a professional path guided by these principles. However, before that would unfold, the economy crashed and I became a ninety-niner, one who who received 99 weeks of unemployment benefits during the Great Recession. 

An acquaintance called to ask if I would be interested in an internship with the archdiocese through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a unit of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that addressed domestic poverty. I promptly completed and submitted my application. A short time later, I was offered the position. While it was part-time and with no benefits, it was an opportunity to move beyond unemployment  and to do work that resonated with me. The new path was appearing.

By the time my internship began, there had been two significant changes that were causes for concern but I did not have the luxury of walking away from the opportunity.  My first surprise was learning my acquaintance had resigned and been replaced. The second change was another reason for pause. The CCHD internship was a part of Social Justice Ministries and, in this archdiocese, functioned under Catholic Charities. With the change, the internship and Social Justice Ministries, which would become Justice and Peace Ministries, was moved to a new unit named Communications and Advocacy. The Advocacy component included Disability Ministries, Jail and Prison Ministry, and Respect Life Ministry as well as Justice and Peace.

The decision to combine Communications with Advocacy was problematic in the best of circumstances. Communications is responsible for representing the interests of the institution, primarily the archbishop and the archdiocese. Advocacy is charged with encountering those on the margins with the heart of the Gospel. There is an inherent tension between the two units requiring discernment and contemplative action from leadership.

On the first visit to my new office, I was escorted by the head of Communications and Advocacy. The short walk had only one memorable moment. For no apparent reason, I was told, “We don’t talk about liberation theology.” Not wanting to rock the boat before it left shore, I did not response. Although two weeks later, I was offered a full-time position in Justice and Peace Ministries, the director’s comment was a precursor of the challenges to come and, in time, I would begin to reclaim my voice.

How do you tell an African-American woman not to discuss liberation theology? Although the distorted slaveholder’s Christianity of the United States, present in Catholic parishes and Protestant churches, has denied it for four centuries, liberation flows through the veins of the Gospel and the heart of Christ. Jesus was a man who lived under oppression, yet his words are clear, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives. . .” 

On this Juneteenth of 2020, the nation remembers the last enslaved people of African descent who learned of their freedom in Texas more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Shamefully, the oppression of chattel slavery was replaced by the era of Jim Crow and institutionalized racism that we continue to resist as did our ancestors. As “Black Lives Matter” is proclaimed, may our nation follow the guidance of James Weldon Johnson as we “Lift ev’ry voice and sing ’til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.”

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 19, 2020

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration in the Black community and grown to become the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.

This Juneteenth we must pause and acknowledge the immense gap between the freedom promised in 1865 and the freedom delivered. The Emancipation Proclamation formally ended slavery in the Confederate States, and later the 13th Amendment ended slavery across the United States, but white enslavers and white Union victors established new rules that intentionally limited the freedom of Black people and families for decades after that.

The new reality still allowed white former enslavers to set wage and work conditions. White structures restricted employment opportunities for Black people while creating new forms of powers to control “idleness” – an excuse police used to arrest Black people, imprison them, and force them to work for little or no wages. Newly “freed” Black people and families faced violence and terror as they attempted to leave their former enslavers. Firsthand historical accounts of formerly enslaved people recall multiple insistences of lynching and shootings. The system of slavery adapted into new systems of white control over Black people.

Still, Black families celebrated. Their joy and celebration was and continues to be an act of resistance and resilience in the face of racial oppression.

The Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and the continued fight for Black liberation against state-sanctioned oppression in this century are the continuation of century-old attempts to right the wrongs based in the United States’ original sin, the enslavement of Black people.

The forces of white supremacy and white racism are so powerful and so pervasive that we see day in and day out examples of blatant disregard for Black lives at the hands of the State police agents as well as white vigilantes seeking to assert dominance over Black lives. We see disregard for Black people’s health in hospitals, leading to higher rates of illness and death. We see disregard for Black workers who experience higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than white workers. The system was never set up to provide equity for Black Americans. We must work for radical change based in Black liberation for the good of our whole nation.

My heart breaks every day recognizing how my own behavior has contributed to Black oppression. It is long past time for white people to acknowledge how we contribute to this long-standing system, benefit from it, and have responsibility to tear it down. “All lives matter” is a slogan for those who refuse to acknowledge the unique and life-altering privileges being white provides. The privilege to have doctors take your health concerns seriously. The privilege of being able to walk by police officers without triggering their fear and a potential attack.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a holy movement calling us to affirm the life and dignity of Black people. In his life and in his death, Jesus was a member of an oppressed community, not the powerful. We cannot claim to follow the life and message of Jesus and remain silent in the face of racism today. Like the delay in emancipation for people who were enslaved in Texas in 1865, the pain and suffering of Black people in the United States has been going on far too long today.

We solemnly say the names of those we’ve lost to violence and systemic racism. We watch as our brother George Floyd died with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 second as he cried in vain for the breathe of life and for his dead mother. We won’t be silent anymore.

Hope grows as resistance grows. The streets across the U.S. and around the world have become alive with prophetic witness. This is church in the street, proclaiming the sacred truth, “No one is truly free until we all are free” To the Black community on this day of remembrance, I commit to working with you restructure our society to ensure equity for the Black community. To the white people marching in the streets and in virtual spaces, I see justice in your eyes. To the white Sisters and Brothers clinging to the false God of white supremacy or white silence, I call you to true discipleship.

Malcom X said, “I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”

This Juneteenth, let us acknowledge the sinful history of slavery in our country, mourn the people harmed and killed by white violence and inhumanity, and honor the resilience of the Black community. This Juneteenth let us recommit ourselves to use our hearts, minds, and souls in the service of racial justice, a justice far too long delayed.

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

On May 22, 2020 I published a reflection in Global Sisters Report about the vows of religious life and their significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the vow of obedience. As I continued to reflect in the following days, I considered how my reflection about obedience could be re-oriented toward a different narrative not of my choosing.

The unfortunate demands made by the President Trump before Memorial Day weekend pushed for houses of worship across the nation to reopen their buildings. While his ultimatum was directed at States, the pressure it puts on faith leaders and their communities to begin congregating in the middle of a pandemic is very real.

As a woman religious, I know the importance of religious services and joy of coming together in person with a community of believers. These are central in the lives of many people of faith, myself included, and it is very difficult to go without them. But we aren’t making this sacrifice without cause. We are doing this because lives are at risk if we gather again too soon, without the proper protections in place.  As Rev. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of the Conference of National Black Churches, said: “We are out of the buildings because our people are important.”

Our unfortunate reality offers a case study of what prophetic obedience might look like. Because of President Trump’s pressure, faith leaders are even harder-pressed to defend their authority as they discern the risks, benefits and precautions of opening houses of worship and exposing their flocks to the virus. Congregants’ personal choices about how and when to resume in-person gatherings also became more complicated and contentious.

In these days of uncertainty and ineffectual national leadership, people of faith cannot afford to relinquish our own judgement. Decisions like these cannot be made based on ideology or a particular political agenda but should be centered on love of neighbor, with a special concern for the most vulnerable.

Faith leaders can model the thoughtful, nuanced discernment that prophetic obedience calls for at this unique time. The path forward will require leaders and congregants to do the hard work of listening, exercising patience, and carefully considering the real risks.

Pastor Dave Simpson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland put it well:

An open letter to the President:

You have declared that churches are to be reopened.
My church has never been closed.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “church.” A church is not a building. The church is the people of God called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. This virus has certainly not stopped the church from being what we have been called to be – the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. The people of God who are Good Shepherd Lutheran Church have continued to care for each other and reach out to the community and beyond.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “worship.” Worship is not only – or even especially – what happens in a church building on Sunday mornings. Worship defines us as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to worship the God who creates and saves us with everything that we do and everything that we are. We worship our God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Our building may be closed, but we are still the church and we have not stopped worshiping. God has blessed us with new and enhanced ways to be church together as even technology has been sanctified (set apart for God’s use) for accomplishing the mission that has been laid before us.
Our building will be open again – when the time is right. It will be open again when we can gather in a way that does not put our members or our neighbors at unnecessary risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our building will open when we have a plan that manages the risk and we have the resources to put that plan into action.
When our building opens, it will be to glorify God, not to make any secular or political point or to advance any agenda, nor will it be to assert our “rights.”
Until then, we will go on being church. We will go on worshiping online and, more importantly, in our community and in the world.
We are the church.
We are, and will remain, open.

Originally published on Pastor Dave’s Facebook account.

The Forgotten Ones

The Forgotten Ones

Maria Gomez and Bibi Hidalgo
June 5, 2020

The majority of eligible Americans have now received stimulus checks through the CARES Act, except for the excluded workers — the forgotten ones — who we depend on in many facets of our lives. These forgotten — but essential — workers pick the ripe fruits we eat; they cook the warm meals at our favorite take-out restaurants; and they sanitize checkout devices at grocery stores late into the night so that we will be less afraid of COVID-19 when we shop. Regardless of their legal status, they disinfect our surroundings and feed us.

As one of the 1,400 Community Health Centers across the country that serves families below the poverty line, Mary’s Center in the Washington, D.C. region is on the frontlines of this crisis. We have seen the health and job insecurity that our nation now confronts through the eyes of the 60,000 adults and children we have served annually since 1988. Each day the people who reach out to us are seeking life-saving medicines, health care, shelter, food and income. Our telemedicine team ensures that line cooks and sanitation workers have access to hypertension and asthma medications. Our counselors talk with them when they experience emotional hardships. Thousands of people — 54,000 to be exact — had a total of 270,000 visits to our five centers in 2018 and that number is now growing significantly.

Across the U.S., community health centers serve 29 million people, which is close to 10 percent of the population. No hospital system in the U.S. serves a number that size. Yet as it stands today, millions of low-wage workers and their families are in danger of collapse, unless we can work together as a whole society — philanthropy and big business, local and state government, families and communities — to ensure everyone overcomes the COVID-19 crisis and that we build a more resilient society.

In the absence of a unifying government, we need to do this ourselves.

We can accomplish this by having federally qualified community health centers in major cities partner with business executives and philanthropies to create a national plan that will stem this crisis and help rebuild the country. Last week Congress passed another stimulus measure providing small businesses loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. It remains to be seen whether any of the small and micro-businesses in our community that hire our clients gain access to the program. Up until now that hasn’t been the case. In the meantime, their workers are facing the despair of day-to-day survival.

National nonprofits, foundations and government bodies are having urgent calls daily to determine how they can provide relief to community organizations in addition to any stimulus operating support. If the 2008 financial crisis is any lesson though, it is time we flip the script and have community organizations lead the national conversation about what is sorely needed.

Ten million families still lost their homes despite the 2.7 million families who benefited from mortgage modifications supported by the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Programwhich took a top-down approach to problem-solving. By the time resources arrived to community organizations providing housing counseling to Latinx and African-American families who had been misled by lenders to take out subprime mortgages, it amounted to table crumbs that did not leverage local knowledge of how to build trust, engage and serve the most economically vulnerable.

Community Health Centers across the nation are eager to collaborate with the private sector and state and local governments to find solutions. We can help large corporations track the patterns we see on the ground with the pandemic and the resources that are needed to rebuild communities and ultimately a robust economy. Pharmaceutical companies can ensure that frontline community health centers across the United States have a steady supply of diabetes, asthma and life-saving medications available. Health care distributors can ensure we have medical supplies, such as masks, bandages and thermometers.

Together with major grocery chains and wholesale companies, we can ensure that low-wage workers who did not receive a stimulus check have provisions to feed their families. By working together, we can create a stabilization supply-chain to feed, clothe and shelter the forgotten ones. The ones who are ultimately indispensable to you, me and all of us as a nation.

Maria Gomez is president and CEO of Mary’s Center, a Washington D.C. region Community Health Center, and Presidential Citizen Awardee @MarysCenter.

Bibi Hidalgo is co-founder of Future Partners LLC and served as an economic policy appointee in the Obama White House and U.S. Treasury @BibiHidalgo.

Originally published at TheHill.com.

What Can the New Deal Tell Us about our Future?

What Can the New Deal Tell Us about our Future?

Lee Morrow
May 18, 2020

We are at a national turning point. The coronavirus pandemic has decimated our economy, creating an unemployment level not seen since the Great Depression. We know that there will be long term impacts from this crisis, but we’re at a juncture where we have to choose: do we solve the problems of the past or double down on an economy that kills? To create an economic system that values all of our workers and provides for all in need, we will need a far-reaching legislative agenda. This is necessary and within reach. There will be a national struggle to create structural change. In order to better understand the obstacles that social justice advocates will face as we work for change, we must learn from past historical struggles that led to critical social justice legislation.

In the 1930s, our nation faced struggles that mirror our own today. In the Great Depression, unemployment reached 25%. There was collective agreement that federal policy could bring the economy back from the brink. The Democrats won the presidency and majorities in the House and Senate on a platform of relief, recovery, and reform. This platform became the New Deal. This vast package of legislation passed between 1933 and 1939 included laws that created the Social Security Administration, put people back to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps and Public Works Administration, invested in low income regions through the Tennessee Valley Authority and Rural Electrification Act, and reformed banking and labor through the Glass-Steagall Banking Act, National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Securities Exchange Act which created the Securities and Exchange Commission. New Deal laws provided financial relief to individuals, employed millions, built nation infrastructure and public housing, protected labor, and regulated an out of control finance industry.

In hindsight, these massive legislative changes seem like common sense given the scale of the Great Depression. But at the time, there was push-back. Republican legislators were against the New Deal because of conservative anti-welfare ideology, but their influence was small due to Democratic majorities. In order to pass his legislation, President Roosevelt spent more time building coalitions of support within the Democratic Party. That included appeasing populist Democrats who wanted more wealth redistribution and labor protections, as well as joining forces with racist Southern Democrats who supported segregation. FDR’s choices have had far reaching consequences.

The President answered challenges from his left by proposing tax reform and supporting protections for labor unions. This pressure had a profound impact on federal policy, and to this day the right to organize labor is protected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that FDR created. The President also chose to work with Southern Democrats to pass his signature New Deal policies, allowing segregationist legislators to include local control of new programs. This led to many of the most important New Deal programs being unavailable to people of color in Southern states. The impact of this choice can be seen today in our generational racial wealth gap.

FDR’s biggest obstacle to his New Deal was the Supreme Court. In 1935, the conservative majority court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act and its Public Works Administration. In 1936, the justices struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act and its ability to adjust crop prices. These laws were signature achievements of the New Deal, and the President initially attempted to pack the courts in order to nullify the threat. This backfired spectacularly, with bipartisan rebuke. These losses forced FDR to redouble his efforts to pass legislation that could withstand scrutiny by a conservative Supreme Court.

There are many lessons to learn from the New Deal era. The most obvious is that this historic package of legislation could not have passed without single party control of the government. Negotiations were still needed to gain support for the New Deal, but it never could have happened without Democratic majorities and a national mandate from the voters. Elections have consequences.

The second important lesson is that negotiations have long term impacts. By giving into the demands of Southern Democrats, FDR left people of color out of the New Deal recovery and set them back for generations. Progressive pressure also forced FDR to go further than he originally planned, with positive consequences for all working people. Deals with the devil must be fought against, and progressive pressure can make a difference.

The third lesson is that a conservative Supreme Court will attempt to stop legislation they believe goes too far. FDR’s initial plan to change the composition of the court was a failure. The only way around this threat is carefully crafted legislation and a strong legal defense.

These three lessons – that elections are critical, negotiations have consequences, and conservative courts will be an obstacle – are important learnings for our current moment.

We are months away from a national election in which control of the Presidency, House, and Senate are on the line. Depending on who wins that election, legislative negotiations will make or break our ability to protect vulnerable communities and respond to the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And any legislation that is agreed to will have to pass the legal tests set by conservative courts.

It is our duty to learn from the past, work for the common good, and rebuild our nation for all people. To end this crisis and create an economy that reflects Catholic Social Justice, we need to embrace this challenge. We have the power to create a society that promotes justice and the dignity of all in the shared abundance of God’s creation.

NETWORK Activists Build Support for Mend the Gaps Agenda

NETWORK Activists Build Support for Mend the Gaps Agenda

Alex Burnett
May 12, 2020

During Congress’s February recess, over 100 NETWORK members visited 85 Congressional offices in 28 states. The purpose of these visits was discussing their Representative’s performance on NETWORK’s 2019 Congressional Voting Record. The 2019 Voting Record evaluated whether Members of Congress voted in accordance with Catholic Social Justice and NETWORK values. While we scored 10 votes in the House, we were unable to score the Senate, which took no substantive votes on Mend the Gap issues in 2019.

Many NETWORK members met and spoke directly with their Representative about their score. These justice-seekers emphasized the importance of federal legislation in advancing racial, economic, and gender justice. Additionally, they highlighted NETWORK’s work to mend our nation’s gaps in Washington, D.C. and across the country. In-district meetings like these help NETWORK members build relationships with their Representatives, which are critically important for NETWORK’s advocacy.

As a token of gratitude, Members of Congress who scored over 90% on our Voting Record received a congratulatory certificate. NETWORK members delivered these certificates to 72 Congressional offices in 27 states, marking the largest number of in-district visits organized by NETWORK in the past five years.

We are proud to celebrate elected officials who consistently demonstrated integrity in turbulent times. For Representatives with lower scores, NETWORK members urged them to prioritize their most marginalized constituents in 2020 and attempted to find common ground in our values moving forward.

Though NETWORK’s inability to score the Senate was frustrating, I felt beyond grateful for our members’ dedication and energy. I corresponded with 46 NETWORK activists in 10 states and felt frequently moved by their moral clarity.

NETWORK members across the country understood the importance of Congressional action, spoke urgently about the need for change, and relished visiting their Representative’s office. Your passion for justice gives me hope!

Alex Burnett is a 2019-2020 NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate.

Sr. Johanna Rickl, CHM, Sr. Lynn Mousel, CHM, and Roberta Shadensack (CHM Associate) meet with Representative Loebsack (IA-02)

NETWORK member Karen Menzie spoke with Matthew Key, a staffer in Representative John Carter’s office (TX-31)

Sister Bernadine Karge, OP and Sister Benita Coffey, OSB with 100% voter, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)

Gloria Romero Roses presents a 100% certificate to Raul Martinez Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff for Representative Donna Shalala (FL-27).

In Wisconsin, Margaret Wood presents Rep. Ron Kind (WI-03) with a 100% certificate.

100% voter Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) meets with Srs. Jeanie and Elaine Hagedorn, CHM and other constituents and justice-seekers.

Sister Phyllis Tierney, SSJ congratulates Rep. Joseph Morelle (NY-25) on his 100% voting score

Essential Workers Bill of Rights

Essential Workers Bill of Rights

Gerri DiLisi, a NETWORK member in Lansdale, Pennsylvania wrote this Letter to the Editor which was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As Pennsylvania reopens, we must protect anyone whose job makes them vulnerable to the coronavirus. The Inquirer reported that Philadelphia unions called for new city regulations, but we also need national laws. Our essential workers kept us going during this shutdown, leaving their homes so trash is collected, grocery stores are stocked, and children of other workers are cared for. But most essential workers aren’t being paid a livable wage and can’t access health care.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.) have introduced an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to ensure these workers access to health and safety protections, robust compensation, and paid leave. On behalf of the Southeastern Pennsylvania NETWORK Advocates Team, I call on Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to support the Essential Workers Bill of Rights. Our workers have sacrificed for us, and it’s time for us to give back.

Gerri DiLisi, Lansdale

This Letter to the Editor was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

COVID-19 Illustrates and Amplifies Racism

COVID-19 Illustrates and Amplifies Racism

Alex Burnett and Colleen Ross
April 24, 2020

NETWORK’s advocacy is rooted in ensuring all have what they need to live healthy, dignified lives. COVID-19 is a new, global challenge to this mission. Both the health dangers as well as the economic ramifications of COVID-19 are very real threats to human life, but these threats do not affect everyone living in the United States the same way.

Due to centuries of systemic injustice, people of color in the United States are experiencing additional hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our federal government’s response must take this into account and prioritize assistance for communities of color in ongoing legislation.

Higher Rates of Infection and Death for People of Color

Across Washington, D.C. and every state that has collected coronavirus data by race and ethnicity, people of color are suffering and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white people.

For the Black community especially, the number of people who have been infected with COVID-19 and died as a result of COVID-19 is vastly disproportional. Majority black counties have three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority white counties, according to analysis done by the Washington Post. Data collected from the states by Mother Jones further illustrates the disparity for the Black community:

  • In Wisconsin, Black people represent 6% of the population and nearly 40% of COVID-19 fatalities
  • In Louisiana, Black people make up 32% of the state’s population but almost 60% of fatalities
  • In Kansas, 6% of the population is Black and yet Black people account for more than 30% of COVID-19 deaths

These higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death for the Black community are a direct reflection of the systemic racism present in our nation’s healthcare, housing, workforce, and society. Centuries of denying Black people access to quality health care, as well as other social determinants of health, have led to more Black people having chronic illnesses or underlying health conditions that lead to negative COVID-19 outcomes. COVID-19 is putting a spotlight on the deeply embedded racial inequities that impact health and well-being in the United States with or without a pandemic.

Workers of Color: Increased Risk, Cuts, and Unemployment

While many white professionals can work remotely during this crisis, a disproportionate number of people of color continue working public-facing, “essential” jobs. The Labor Department reported 30% of white workers and 37% of Asian American workers could work from home in 2017 and 2018, while 20% of Black workers and only 16% of Latinx workers could do so.

Despite anti-discrimination legislation, the U.S. labor market remains highly racially segregated, with more people of color in low-wage positions in health care, food service, childcare, public transportation, and shipping. Because these industries sustain the U.S. economy, “stay-at home” orders haven’t applied to their largely Black and brown workforces, meaning “essential” workers of color face heightened danger. According to a March 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute, 80.3% of Black workers and 83.8% of Latinx workers cannot practice safe social distancing by working from home.

Within two months, the coronavirus crisis has left thousands of workers of color sick, dead, unemployed, and uninsured. In New York City, Black and Latinx people are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of whites, partially because many cannot work remotely. In majority Black cities and on Native American reservations, employers are firing workers of color at skyrocketing rates, leaving thousands without health insurance and income amidst a global pandemic.

Despite these circumstances, workers of color are leading movements for occupational safety and improved benefits. In Rhode Island, frontline healthcare workers, who are largely women of color, have repeatedly rallied for higher hazard pay, better personal protective equipment (PPE), and safer staffing levels. Amazon warehouse workers, who are primarily Black and Latinx, have organized numerous walkouts since the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, demanding safer working conditions. These movements demonstrate that workers of color are actively pressuring lawmakers and employers to mitigate COVID-19’s racist impact. As justice-seekers, we support these efforts and call for elected officials and business leaders to value people over profits.

Greater Economic Losses for People of Color

The COVID-19 virus is both a public health crisis and an economic one, and people of color are disproportionately affected on both counts. NPR found the U.S. March jobs data showed worse rates of unemployment for people of color, with the share of white people who are employed falling by 1.1%, while Black people had a 1.6% drop, Asian Americans 1.7%, and Latinos 2.1%.

Long term economic fallout from this crisis will likely hit communities of color hardest, expanding the already-significant racial wealth and income gap in the U.S. Hispanic, Black, and Native American families lost the most in wealth and income during the Great Recession, with homeownership and wealth never fully rebounding for these communities.

Now, the effects of economic downturn will impact communities of color again, both in the long term as well as the short term. In these uncertain times, families, especially families of color, are struggling to stay housed as well as put food on the tables.

For immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families, the federal government’s response to COVID-19 has left them out. The CARES Act stimulus checks for individuals and families do not accept an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), which prevents up to 20% of Latinx people from receiving this assistance, according to Orson Aguilar, executive director of UnidosUS Action Fund. NETWORK is advocating for Congress to extend this assistance to taxpayers using ITINs, and to include them in future financial assistance.

Both the short and long-term economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic must be taken seriously, and the racial realities must be addressed to prevent further growth of the racial wealth and income gap.

Escalation of Anti-Asian Racism and Prejudice

Following the emergence and spread of the COVID-19 illness, there has also been a rise in anti-Asian racism in direct words and actions. In the United States, racist incidents have been reported across the country. At the same time, President Trump and his administration have deliberately used incorrect, racist terms to refer to the virus. Using incorrect, racist terms instead of the official name for the virus: COVID-19 or the coronavirus, creates undue hardship and diverts attention and energy that needs to go toward protecting all people from illness and additional suffering.

This anti-Asian racism is not new, but a re-emergence of long-standing racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for centuries. Now, faith leaders and elected officials, as well as actors and athletes have stepped in to renounce this racism and call our nation to a more just, more inclusive way of being during this difficult time. Anti-Asian racism, whether from an average person or from the President, have no place in our response to this global pandemic.

Serious Risks for Incarcerated and Detained Individuals

Because coronavirus spreads through touching, coughing, and sharing close physical space, the pandemic is wreaking havoc on U.S. prisons and detention centers, where Black, Latinx, and Native American people comprise over 60% of the population. In many prisons, including the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana, administrators have not released people or implemented social distancing measures, putting incarcerated people at considerable risk of contracting COVID-19. Such inaction, combined with already widespread medical neglect and unsanitary conditions, caused hundreds of incarcerated people across the country to contract and die from coronavirus in March and April.

As of early April, in federal prisons, seven inmates have died of COVID-19, and almost 200 more inmates, as well as 63 staff, have been infected. Migrants detained in San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center feel particularly afraid of dying from coronavirus-related medical negligence, citing lack of testing kits and soap, according to Buzzfeed News.

Disturbed that COVID-19 is exacerbating already unsafe medical conditions, incarcerated people and their allies are organizing for freedom, justice, and safety. In Michigan and Arizona, hundreds of cars rallied outside of prisons, demanding the immediate release of every incarcerated person. In Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California, incarcerated people and detained migrants launched hunger strikes to advocate for their release from medically unsanitary conditions. Thankfully, some of these activists have won victories. After a staffer at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts possibly contracted COVID-19, Mario Rodas Sr., an incarcerated migrant, worked with the ACLU to secure his release. The ACLU is litigating similar cases in Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Additional Reading:

To learn more about the impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, we recommend the following:

Stop Blaming Black People for Dying of the Coronavirus
By Ibram X. Kendi published in the Atlantic April 14, 2020

4 reasons coronavirus is hitting Black communities so hard
By Eugene Scott, published in the Washington Post April 10, 2020

Latinos disproportionately dying, losing jobs because of the coronavirus: ‘Something has to change’
By Marco della Cava, published in USA Today April 18, 2020

How the coronavirus is surfacing America’s deep-seated anti-Asian biases
By Li Zhou, published in Vox April 21, 2020

The Economic Fallout of the Coronavirus for People of Color
By Connor Maxwell and Danyelle Solomon at the Center for American Progress, April 14, 2020

Mass incarceration could add 100,000 deaths to US coronavirus toll, study finds
By Ed Pilkington, published in the Guardian April 22, 2020

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Senator Tom Udall
April 17, 2020

This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.

This season, before an incredibly important election, we must reflect on the state of our democracy. Democracy represents more than a system of government. It is the sacred affirmation that each voice matters equally in one nation — and that a representative government must be of, by, and for the people.

But today, the American people are losing faith in our democracy. They see the evidence with their own eyes as the wealthy purchase influence in political campaigns and drown out the voices of the people. Voting rights are under assault, foreign adversaries interfere in our elections, and so-called public servants use their offices to help themselves and their friends — instead of the people they are supposed to work for.

Our voices do count. Our voices count when we vote in each election, especially this year. And they count when we organize, march, and speak out about injustice.

But there is no doubt that our democracy is in a crisis.  Since coming to Congress in 1999, I’ve seen firsthand the corrosive influence that big money is having on our political system. The influx of unlimited contributions and secret donations into campaigns has fueled the hyper-partisanship we see across the nation, including in Congress.

Special interests try to dominate the political agenda, to the detriment of the common good. This has obscured the fundamental values that should define our work. Values like social justice. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. Making peace. And caring for our earth.

The money in our politics fuels a disconnect between what people in our democracy want and what Congress is giving them. The people want action on climate change. The people want universal, affordable health care. Economic justice and food security for families. Commonsense gun safety laws. And they demand that we welcome the stranger and treat immigrants as human beings.

These are priorities for the vast majority of Americans.  And there is a direct link between Congress’s inaction on these issues and barriers to the ballot box and our broken campaign finance system.

We live in a representative democracy. But Congress is not representing the people. The 1% are heard, while the other 99% are not.

In Congress, we are fighting for reforms to make our democracy work: increasing access to the ballot box, putting an end to the influence of secret money in elections, and raising the ethical bar in government.

The For the People Act (H.R.1) makes it easier to register to vote and to cast a ballot. In a society where special interests artificially widen and sustain our divisions, it has never been more important to ensure that each and every voice is heard. H.R.1 also returns our campaign finance system to the hands of the people, shining a light on secret campaign contributions and empowering small donors.

We need to put an end to the idea that money equals speech and reign in an out-of-control campaign finance system. And the only way to do that is to exercise our most fundamental and sacred democratic right — the right to vote.

Our democracy cannot be fully realized unless we, the people, vote. We deserve a representative democracy, with elected leaders who understand our concerns and are committed to fight for all voices to be heard. For our common values. And for the future of our democracy in this election and all the elections to come.

Senator Tom Udall represents New Mexico, and is a champion of restoring voting rights to marginalized groups for a more equal and just democracy. 

Pope Francis’s Easter Message of Hope and Dignity

Pope Francis’s Easter Message of Hope and Dignity

Colleen Ross
April 14, 2020

On Easter Sunday, in light of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis stated “this may be the time to consider a universal basic wage.” His message to members of social movements encourages those who are organizing at the margins, thanks them for this work, and calls attention to the inequality and disparities that already exist and are worsened by COVID-19.

We must do the same, underscoring the ways that coronavirus is increasing persistent racial and economic disparities in the U.S and calling for solutions.

In the past several weeks, we have seen a stark separation between those who can afford to “stay home and stay safe” and those who are forced to endanger their health by continuing to work to put food on the table for their families. We have seen coronavirus cases and deaths disproportionately affect Black and brown communities as a result of a combination of factors (access to health care, pre-existing medical conditions, poor air quality, and more) caused by racial segregation and discrimination in the United States.

Pope Francis’s Easter message to the world calls us to re-evaluate our economic response to this crisis and put human life and dignity at the center. Beyond that, he encourages us to reimagine our world after the pandemic, to renew and transform life for marginalized people and communities. He calls us to “shake our sleepy consciences” and “put an end to the idolatry of money.”

We know that all people have dignity and worth, regardless of income, race, or immigration status. At the same time, we see and hear the many ways that our economic system, systemic racism, lack of health care, housing, nutrition, and other basic necessities deny the dignity and life of our neighbors and family every day. Pope Francis’s call to consider Universal Basic Income is a prophetic call to value human life over profit.

May we be bold enough to follow this call, re-imagine our world, and re-order our communal life in the United States.

 

Read Pope Francis’s full Easter address to popular movements of the world.