Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

By Sister Susan Francois
October 20, 2017

Dear Rep. Ryan,

By now, you may have noticed that you are the focus of a little project by Catholic sisters in this country who are concerned about the devastating effects of proposed cuts to the federal budget. In particular, many of us are seriously worried about potential cuts to human-needs programs that will harm the most vulnerable members of our society.

I know you already received an in-person, not to mention televised, message from Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Erica Jordan. I don’t know Sister Erica personally, but I thought she did a pretty good job of framing the critical moral questions we need you and your colleagues in Congress to grapple with around the budget.

Ultimately, if we are to be a government of, for, and by the people, then we need to take into account not just numbers, but the real lives of people. Furthermore, for those of us for whom our Catholic faith provides a moral compass, we know that Jesus challenges us to have a particular concern for those who are living in poverty and struggling to provide for their families in our harsh economic reality.

Sister Erica, of course, spoke to you as one Catholic to another. Over the years, you have been vocal about your faith. I remember clearly being impacted by your response to the address of Pope Francis to Congress. It was so very genuine.

“He’s been calling for a dialogue and talking about very important principles about the dignity of every human person and how we need to attend to this,” you said then. You also cautioned against politicizing the pope’s message. “If a person tries to politicize this speech for some issue or partisan gain, that diminishes from the message itself.”

Everything gets politicized these days, doesn’t it? Politicized and polarized. If you think about it, our entire lifetimes (I’m about two years younger than you, according to your Wikipedia profile) have been a time of hyperpolarization, leading to the current gridlock in Washington and a decided lack of helpful discourse and debate in the public sphere, let alone dialogue!

I am heartened that you value Pope Francis’ call to dialogue. I also hope that if and when you read this letter, it will be received in the spirit with which it is intended — namely, dialogue.

In your conversation with Sister Erica on CNN, you shared your appreciation for the model of Catholic organizations that help the poor. You expressed that they do a “fantastic job in spite of government doing wraparound benefits for the poor to make sure that they get to where they are — from where they are to where they need to be.”

My religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, sponsors and supports nonprofit services for low-income women in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Seattle with a similar model. Both the York Street Project and Jubilee Women’s Center provide such wraparound services, treat the whole person, and assist the women they serve on their journey to self-sufficiency.

I found it interesting that you referenced the year 1985 in your response to Sister Erica, because that is around the time my sisters started both these innovative programs.

I agree with you that we need to encourage and support such programs, but as partners with government, not replacements for our civic duty to promote the general welfare. Such programs do not do a fantastic job in spite of government, but in tandem with life-giving government programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which are in jeopardy in the budget proposals under consideration. At the York Street Project, for example, CDBG funds support the job readiness program at Kenmare High School, helping women who previously dropped out of the public school system to find jobs that will support their families.

You also told Sister Erica that we need to look at how we measure success in anti-poverty programs, shifting focus from dollars spent to outcomes.

“Is it working?” you asked. “Are people getting out of poverty?”

I agree that these are the key questions, but helping people get out of poverty requires an investment, not budget cuts. Program effectiveness is not free.

The women who come to Jubilee Women’s Center and York Street Project are motivated to break the cycle of poverty, as are the dedicated staff who journey with them. Yet the path from homelessness to stable housing is not an easy one. It is also complicated by real-life factors. Fifty-three percent of the women at Jubilee are survivors of domestic violence; 49 percent are coping with mental health challenges; 28 percent have physical health challenges; and 17 percent are in recovery from substance abuse. Knowing all this is one thing, but actually meeting the residents and hearing their stories of resilience is powerful.

At the same time, their resilience and our programs are not enough. Our creative and persistent staff navigate a patchwork of constantly changing government programs to help the women find stable permanent housing, including housing and urban development funds for rental assistance and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps working moms keep the lights on with a minimum-wage job. To be honest, we need more funding, not less, to reach the outcomes you name.

Take the example of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These are not just alphabet soup, but federal programs that add up to real soup for hungry kids and their parents.

When I visited St. Joseph’s Home at York Street, I saw the kitchen where staff help mothers learn how to cook homemade meals for their little ones with ingredients that make these dollars stretch to cover the whole month. This is no easy task on already-limited funds, and the proposed federal budget decreases this life-supporting funding.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. And in any case, you will be receiving hundreds, if not thousands, more letters from Catholic sisters sharing real-life stories like these.

Please, Speaker Ryan, take these messages to heart. Consider them part of an ongoing dialogue, one that seeks to break through the partisan bickering and polarized debate and find common ground to serve the common good. I implore you to help craft a federal budget that attends both to the general welfare of our nation, but also the particular needs of the most vulnerable families in our country.


Reposted by permission of Global Sisters Report.

[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.]

Talking Faith and Taxes

Talking Faith and Taxes

We all pay taxes. Let’s talk about it! Here’s a framework for approaching a conversation about taxes:

1. Begin with faith or values. Many faith traditions have teachings on taxes and economic justice.

    • Judaism has long preached about justice, and a just social order. The word tzedakah is connected to the obligation we have to make acts of financial charity towards people who are poor, carrying with it the idea that wealth is from God, and those with financial means have the responsibility to ensure those who lack resources are cared for and given the opportunity to eventually succeed on their own.
    • From the same religious foundation, Christianity embraced the ideals of social justice preached by Jesus. Early Christian communities stressed collective well-being and called upon one another to sacrifice for those who were poor and marginalized. Often, they created funds from community collections in order to provide goods and services to the widowed and poor. Most Christian religions continue to emphasize just economic practices and acts of charity.
    • Islam upholds the practice of Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam. Initiated by the prophet Muhammad, Zakat is the obligation to give a portion of one’s wealth out of concern for those who are poor or dispossessed. In addition to its obvious use on earth, Zakat is seen as necessary for one’s salvation.

2. Discuss options for our tax system. There are three main types of taxes.

    • Progressive — A higher rate is paid by higher income brackets than lower income brackets (Note that this is achieved by applying higher marginal tax rates to higher levels of income)
    • Flat — A flat tax applies the same rate of taxation to all payers
    • Regressive — A lower rate is paid by higher income brackets than lower income brackets

3. Talk about what we don’t pay

    • Tax Expenditures encourage certain activities and benefit certain groups, and they come in three basic forms: deductions, exclusions, and credits.
    • Not all tax expenditures are bad — the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lifts more families out of poverty than any other program, but others give wealthy corporations a sizeable cut on the taxes they pay that contribute to the common good.
    • The issue is that the government doesn’t count expenditures in the budget. Since these aren’t listed as expenses they’re often overlooked. Once a deduction is written, the money we could have collected is largely forgotten and the money we miss out on could lead to belt tightening and cutting in places that aren’t really at fault.

4. Think about the benefits we share in as a result of tax revenues

    • Whether it’s a public good that we all benefit from or a program that benefits certain groups, our tax revenues care for the common good in our nation and across the world.
    • Many of the programs funded by our taxes go to providing services or care for the marginalized that our different faith traditions call us to care for—those who are poor, sick, hungry, or otherwise vulnerable.

It really is up to us to decide what we want to do with our taxes, and the way we spend our tax dollars reflects our priorities as a nation. Start a conversation with a neighbor, family member, or friend about how our tax system can best provide for the common good.

For a more in-depth discussion of these topics, download NETWORK’s tax justice curriculum “We the Taxpayers” at: www.networkadvocates.org/WeTheTaxpayers

Originally published in Connection magazine. Read the full issue here.

Getting Tax Reform Right for Our Nation

Getting Tax Reform Right for Our Nation

US Representative Mike Thompson (CA-05)
August 7, 2017

Economic inequality is a real problem that too many families face. Incomes have not kept up with the cost of living, and hardworking Americans are struggling to get by. So as Congress considers reforming our tax code, it must focus on leveling the playing field for the middle class and working families.

It’s been over thirty years since Congress made comprehensive changes to our tax code. A lot has happened in the interim—and our policies haven’t kept pace. We’ve seen the rich get significantly richer while the middle class keeps shrinking. Congress has the power and responsibility to change this trend. We can and should focus on reforms to create good, stable, high-paying jobs and help the men and women in our communities take advantage of the opportunities available to them now.

For instance, I’ve spoken with a number of my constituents who are trying to care for their kids, work a fulltime job, and go back to school so they can land a promotion or change careers. They are superheroes trying to do it all for their families, and they could benefit greatly if Congress expanded access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps millions of students and working families pay for college.

We should also look at policies that combat inequality. Expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, for instance, would provide more families with a place to call home. Improving the Child Tax Credit to keep pace with inflation would ensure families with young kids are able to pay their bills. I’ve co-sponsored legislation to expand all of these tax credits and provide additional help to everyday Americans.

These are not the only solutions, but they should be part of the discussion. Unfortunately, a number of my colleagues seem to think tax reform simply means tax cuts. That’s just not true.

It’s especially irresponsible to just cut taxes for the wealthiest among us—forcing everyday Americans to carry the bulk of our nation’s tax burden. Unpaid-for tax cuts create serious shortfalls, forcing our government to borrow more and more money. As lenders cut checks to federal borrowers, there could be less financing—and opportunities—available to entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop shops, and new startups. That’s bad for economy, American ingenuity, and anyone who wants to achieve their dreams.

We can make our tax code fairer, more competitive, and more efficient, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of a ballooning national debt. And Congress shouldn’t make promises it can’t keep.

While the corporate tax rate is in need of reform, simply slashing it to 15 percent is not going to help middle class families. It benefits big businesses that in some cases already pay less than their fair share in taxes while shipping jobs overseas. Tax cuts alone will not solve our problems. We need comprehensive reforms and programs that put people first.

We need to have the difficult conversations about what’s fair and what’s best for our communities. Tax reform isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if we want to close the wealth gap and help our families thrive.

Partisan rhetoric and ideology can’t be allowed to divide us. One party alone shouldn’t make changes to a tax code that affects all of us. We need to make sure we address the concerns of all our constituents, regardless of party.

As a senior member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, I’m ready to work with Chairman Kevin Brady and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make our tax code fairer. But make no mistake: Democrats will oppose any tax plan that only helps the rich get richer while forcing working families to shoulder even more of our country’s tax burden.

Originally published in Connection magazine. Read the full issue here

Welcoming the Northern Virginia Advocates Team

Welcoming the Northern Virginia Advocates Team

The newly organized Northern Virginia Advocates Team is working hard to support NETWORK’s goals in a variety of ways. Meet some of the members:

Team member Nancy Sheehy met Sister Simone a few years ago, but as a stay-at-home mother, she says: “I didn’t see myself being part of the NETWORK effort at that time.” In 2016, she helped register voters leading up to the election and soon after joined the team. Recently, Nancy participated in a lobbying visit to Senator Mark Warner’s office.

Mary Farrell writes, “To me, NETWORK is faith in action; going forward with the love and learning our faith has given us, bringing Jesus to the world. We hear it from Pope Francis! We all have a duty to do good, and NETWORK has given me the opportunity; for that, I’m very grateful.”

Stephanie Conley (also known as Nana Stephanie) heard about NETWORK’s advocacy on healthcare from Mary Farrell. Stephanie says, “As a former nurse, I am particularly concerned about healthcare. After participating in several visits to Congressional representatives urging them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a suitable replacement, I decided to join the team.”

Barbara Hazelett, explains, “The NETWORK vision and call to Mend the Gaps inspired me to dedicate a significant portion of my free time to furthering this mission.” On behalf of the team, Barbara has taken the lead in reaching out to interfaith organizations with common interests and to members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates.

Kathey Moore says, “Each of us share a commitment to Catholic Social Justice values and take actions that impact ‘the least of these.’” Equipped with training and handouts on the federal budget from NETWORK staff, Kathey visited the district offices of Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Donald McEachin (VA-04). “We laid out our priorities: funding for the 2020 Census, funding for housing programs, no funding for a border wall and more.”

Janet Rife first visited the NETWORK office in 2003 just after the invasion of Iraq, to hear testimony from a group of Iraqi women. She says, “In 2016, I became freshly aware of the importance of NETWORK’s long experience, faith perspective, and tireless work in our nation’s capital. I am the mother of Brian, a 52-year-old man who sustained a traumatic brain injury in 1985 at the age of 20. In the ensuing years, I’ve been his advocate, often writing to legislators and lobbying in Richmond for better options for him and thousands of other Virginians with disabilities. Now, with the draconian cuts that have been proposed to Medicaid, I am highly motivated to be a NETWORK advocate.”

With four lobby visits already completed, the Northern Virginia NETWORK Advocates Team certainly has a bright future ahead of them, full of continued advocacy and growth! Please contact NETWORK organizer Catherine Gillette (email Catherine) if you are interested in joining the team.

Originally published in Connection magazine. Read the full issue here

The Healthcare Fight Still Isn’t Over

The Healthcare Fight Still Isn’t Over

Twitter Healthcare Graphic

Good news: due to incredible pressure from activists around the country like you, Senator McConnell pushed back a vote on healthcare until after the July 4 recess. But we can’t let this delay lead to passage like it did in the House — we’ve got to keep the pressure on! 

Call your Senators at 1-888-738-3058 NOW
to oppose the GOP health plan and protect Medicaid.
Call twice to reach both Senators.

These calls matter whether your Senators are Republicans or Democrats! Here are a few ways you can make noise in your community over the next few days:

  1. Keep making phone calls, and enourage anyone you know in Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, or West Virginia to make their calls as well.
  2. Read the news and write Letters to the Editor. These short messages should clearly state your opposition to Medicaid cuts and the Senate health proposals, and mention your Senator(s) by name. See our tips for getting your LTE published on NETWORK’s website, and send us published pieces at info@networklobby.org.
  3. Meet with your Senator at their office, town hall, 4th of July event, or elsewhere. Bring these:
  4. Post on social media! It sounds silly, but Senators and reporters alike are watching what’s being said online. Find your Senator on Facebook and Twitter, and let them know your thoughts using #Faith4Medicaid, #SaveMedicaid, and #ProtectOurCare. Or share NETWORK’s posts on Facebook or Twitter. You may want to share these graphics:

Medicaid’s Importance for My Family

Medicaid’s Importance for My Family

Janet Miller Rife
June 27, 2017

In 1985, I had never heard of Medicaid.  That year my son Brian, at age 20, sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. Our family was plunged into crisis when we first saw Brian, intubated and unresponsive at Shock Trauma in Baltimore, given minimal chance to survive. Then after five weeks of dramatic ups and downs, spinal meningitis put him back into a coma for four months. As we hoped and prayed for him to come back to us, we were shocked to learn that if he improved, our health insurance had no coverage for rehabilitation.  I soon learned that Medicaid could help Brian, a college student without financial resources of his own. Mt. Vernon Hospital had applied to be a Medicaid provider, but that process took six months.  I learned that the Governor of Virginia had the authority to expedite the application.

Brian at 17. 1982

After sending letters to Governor Baliles from Brian’s primary nurse, parish and neighborhood friends, and even our son Eric’s 8th grade English class, we heard that Mt. Vernon Hospital would take Brian for rehabilitation with Medicaid coverage.  It felt like a miracle!

Once Brian’s inpatient rehab was complete and he walked triumphantly out of Mt. Vernon Hospital with his canes, he received his healthcare through our family insurance.  He lived at home until the mid-90’s and had various job trials, but no employment.  He DID find a mission for himself, giving prevention talks to several thousand high school students.  He was lauded in the community for his message:  “Don’t Drink and Drive – Wear Your Seatbelts.”  We believed he saved lives.  In 1995 when his youngest brother left for college, Brian wanted to live on his own.

Brian practicing walking with neighbor Ken, 1987

We secured a Section 8 subsidized apartment, with part time assistance. But then another brain infection required additional neurosurgery, and Brian was not well enough to return to the apartment, a heartbreaking development for all of us. Spending six months in a nursing home was difficult for Brian and painful for us, but Medicaid paid for the cost of his stay. With perseverance and help from Brain Injury Services, we moved Brian back into an apartment, with Medicaid funding a live-in assistant – much better for him and more cost-effective.

In 2003, Brian became eligible for the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Medicaid Waiver, and moved to his current two-bedroom apartment where two men from Ghana assist him, one five days, one two days.  He requires full-time care now because he has a high risk of falling and his impairments have become more severe over the years.  This stable, community-based arrangement has been very good for Brian who is now 52, and has given us considerable peace of mind.

Brian and his assistant Michael at Camp McCoy in 2015.

It’s now 32 years since Brian’s injury.  Paying for his housing and round-the-clock care remains as important as ever, and recent political developments are very concerning to our family. The Trump administration’s budget proposal cuts over $800 billion from Medicaid over 10 years. The House and Senate healthcare bills would institute per capita caps for Medicaid spending, resulting in a shortfall of hundreds of billions of dollars, leaving states to pay the difference themselves or reduce access to Medicaid.

Today, there are thousands of individuals in Virginia alone who have complex physical and intellectual disabilities similar to Brian’s, some of whom receive services paid for through Medicaid and thousands more who are on waiting lists to receive services.  I know so many of these men, women, children and their families.  Our Catholic faith teaches us that every person belongs to a single and interconnected human family.  We must continue to speak out against plans to take away these lifelines for our brothers and sisters.

Janet Miller Rife is a member of the Northern Virginia NETWORK Advocates Team.

Affordable Housing is Needed for Neighbors to Help Neighbors

Affordable Housing is Needed for Neighbors to Help Neighbors

Steven M. Ziegler
June 15, 2017

With a degree from Chestnut Hill College in reach and a job in a research facility at the University of Pennsylvania, Kiara Wilson could not have a pictured herself living in a shelter nearly two years ago.

“Shelter life is something a child should never experience,” she says. Her children are always her priority and despite their circumstances, she is working to build a better life for them. Much of Kiara’s talk about the shelter focuses on the impact the situation is having on her son and daughter.  Just last month, a man was shot in the street outside the shelter and the shooter attempted to force his way inside. Scheduled meal times create an erratic schedule for her young children.  The attitudes of other parents and children do not mesh well with the way she has raised her own.

Kiara’s journey to success was offset by a combination of domestic abuse, a job layoff, and the attempted suicide of her children’s father. Now, she, her son, 5, and daughter, 4, are navigating the United States’ affordable housing system in order to get back on track.

That system faces serious cuts under the Trump budget.  The proposed $6 billion dollars in cuts to the department of Housing and Urban Development will intensify difficulties for those who already live in public housing, let alone someone like Kiara who is fighting to find a place of her own.

The conditions of the North Philly shelter where she is staying are disheartening at best. Kiara speaks of the lack of empathy displayed by those working in the system and the general sense of desperation among the shelter’s inhabitants.

“This feels like an eternity,” Kiara says of the life she has been living since December, 2015. “Domestic abuse is not taken seriously because, it is not seen as something as serious as mental illness or drug addiction.”

Through conversations, phone calls, and skips through the chain of command, Kiara is inching closer and closer to her goal of permanent housing with her children.

“Once I have my job, it’ll be much easier, but I keep hearing that it’s not too far off. And I’m thankful for everything Mercy has done to get me ready for the next stage.”

I met Kiara about eight months ago when she enrolled her children at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc. Our curriculum gave her peace of mind about her children’s early education experience as her children are able to benefit from high quality Head Start and Pre-K Counts programming. The collaborative spirit of Mercy has assisted Kiara in preparing for her next steps in life.

“To get something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done,” she says. “A short-term sacrifice leads to long-term comfort, and I’m going to be very comfortable when this is over.”

In Philadelphia today, 186,000 citizens, nearly 12% of the population, live in deep-poverty. Many of them are in situations like Kiara’s. Yet, these aren’t the stories you’ll hear from proponents of cutting public funding for “services” that should be considered human rights. Rather, you’ll hear about abuse of the system and a culture of dependence. Our motto at Mercy is “Neighbor helping neighbor, transforming lives, one person at a time.” We cannot build a community by cutting off resources from its members. Over the next four years, it is my sincere hope that the voices in power can quiet themselves long enough to hear stories like Kiara’s and not simply view them as numbers on a spreadsheet.

4 Mercy Neighborhood Ministries - steven headshot2
Steven Ziegler is the Director of Philanthropy for Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc. He is a Philadelphia native and has nearly a decade of experience as a nonprofit professional.

The McGrath Family’s Medicaid Story

Healthcare: The McGrath Family’s Story

NETWORK members Joe and Rita McGrath of Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania know firsthand why Medicaid is important. It has been critical in keeping their daughter alive and the family from bankruptcy. When preparing for the arrival of their first child, Joe and Rita received the news their daughter would be born with Down syndrome. Some people asked Joe and Rita if they were going to terminate the pregnancy, but for the McGraths, it was never a question. The first few months of Maura’s life were difficult, but the McGraths pushed through the dark days with the support of friends and family.  A little more than a year later Joe and Rita welcomed their second daughter, Michelle.

Now 17 years old, Maura continues to be the blessing her parents have always known her to be. In addition to Down syndrome, Maura is also nonverbal and has been diagnosed with autism and behavioral issues. As a minor living with disabilities, Maura qualifies for Medicaid benefits. Even though Joe and Rita both work, the cost of Maura’s healthcare is too expensive for their family to afford on their own.

An integral part of Maura’s wellbeing is the care Maura receives from her home health aide, Williamina. Taking care of Maura is a full time job and looking after her became more difficult for her mother, Rita, after she fought cancer. Additionally, Joe has Parkinson’s disease. Medicaid provided the necessary funds for the McGraths to hire assistance, and in the past seven years Williamina has become like a family member.

In addition to a home health aide, Maura needs eight different medications, medical equipment and supplies, and frequent doctor appointments. Medicaid covers these costs. Without Medicaid the McGrath family would be in financial ruin. The cost of Maura’s medicine alone would be several hundred dollars every month. These are expenses the McGraths, and many families in similar situations, would be unable to afford without the help of Medicaid.

Joe and Rita have experienced the life-changing impact of affordable healthcare, and there are millions of families like the McGraths that need Medicaid. Each of these human lives is more valuable than cutting costs or turning a profit. We are one another’s keeper and the care Medicaid recipients are entitled to is our shared responsibility.

On March 24, 2017, during debate over the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in the House of Representatives, Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA-13) shared Maura McGrath’s story on the House floor and urged his fellow members to vote no on the AHCA.

Michigan Advocates Lobby

NETWORK Advocates Lobby on Mending the Gaps in Michigan

Meg Olson
April 26, 2017

On Thursday, April 13, 2017, members of the East Lansing Catholic Network, one of NETWORK’s advocates teams, Ed Welch, Joe Garcia, Pat Hepp, and Sandy Maxim met with Representative Mike Bishop (MI-08) at his Brighton, Michigan office.

The focus of the meeting was immigration. Ed, Joe, Pat, and Sandy requested Representative Bishop’s support for a pathway to citizenship and his help in protecting Dreamers from deportation. During the meeting, Representative Bishop acknowledged to the NETWORK advocates that the immigration system is “upside-down,” but stated that immigration will probably not be addressed in the near future because of other pressing issues in Washington, D.C.. Next, the advocates asked Representative Bishop to refuse funding a border wall in upcoming budget legislation.

As a NETWORK advocates team, the East Lansing Catholic Network has met with Congressman Bishop and his staff several times about issues such as the EITC and Child Nutrition Reauthorization. While the Congressman doesn’t always share NETWORK’s vision on how to mend the gaps, the team members continue to build a relationship with him and hold him accountable for his actions in Washington D.C.

Guest Blog: Hope From the Bottom Up

Guest Blog: Hope From the Bottom Up

Robert Beezat
April 11, 2017

For many of us, the last 12 months have been an unrelenting downer. What started as a quixotic run for the Presidency by Donald Trump turned into a victory. That victory has left many of us bewildered and afraid of what the next few years might bring domestically and internationally.

We have seen attacks on immigrants, attempts to take away health care from millions of people, and the removal of a number of environmental protections to name just a few serious threats to what many of us consider matters of social justice and equity.

What has happened to our country? What will happen to our country over the next few years?

These are important questions. Many of them cannot be answered yet. But amidst this pessimism, there are some signs of hope.

On a national basis, people around the country have become active again in our democratic processes. People showed up at airports to assist citizens and immigrants banned from re-entering or entering our country. A massive number of individuals and groups opposed the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In both of these matters, the fight for social justice is not over. But elected officials at the national level have taken note of this surge of citizen activism and are reconsidering the policies they propose and support.

Another positive sign of hope is the growing number of people and organizations who are making part of the world a better place from the bottom up.

An example of this is what is going on in the Greater Racine area. Two grassroots groups have sprung up in the last two years to mobilize the community to address a wide range of issues affecting our area. One group is called Visioning a Greater Racine (VGR). The other group is called Greening Greater Racine (GGR).

VGR is conducting community visioning sessions which involve a diverse group of over 1,000 people representing neighborhoods, schools, businesses, not for profits, churches, and local governments, as well as many individuals who want to make a positive difference. Community goals are being defined, priorities are being determined, and programs are being developed.

GGR is bringing together a broad range of organizations which impact the environment of our area. At these meetings, the organizations are learning from each other, coordinating their efforts, and celebrating their successes.

The GGR movement sprung from Racine Green Congregations, an ecumenical group which formed 8 years ago. Green Congregations’ initial purpose was to share ideas and successes in making their own places of worship more energy efficient. Much has been accomplished along those lines.

Then, based on the broader environmental concerns shared by all worship groups in the community, Green Congregations helped lead the formation of the larger Greening Greater Racine movement. The informal mantra of both groups is: Inform…Inspire…Celebrate!

From an information standpoint, we have all been amazed about how many good things are already happening in our community every day. Good people and good organizations are making a positive difference to quality of life from an economic and environmental perspective.

From an inspiration standpoint, it lifts all of our spirits to meet and work with so many people who are already making a positive difference. As we get to know each other better, build trust, and see new possibilities for future accomplishments, we are filled with hope.

From a celebration standpoint, we make it a point to not take for granted the good work that is already being done to make our community a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

One example of this spirit of celebration first happened in the Spring of 2016 and was repeated this Spring. Greening Greater Racine worked with our local community college, Gateway Technical College, to host EcoFest. 60 plus organizations set up informative and interactive displays of their environmental work at the community college. Close to 1,000 people visited EcoFest both years. People were simply amazed regarding the many positive programs that are already going on. Many have been inspired to join these efforts.

I look at the challenges ahead remembering these words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let us…exult in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I also think of the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We all need to make this period of tribulation an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to pour forth God’s love into our hearts and into our world. And we need to remember that what starts from the bottom up can bring about positive and great change for our communities, our country, and our world.

Robert Beezat is a NETWORK Advocate based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at robert@robertbeezat.com or www.robertbeezat.com.