Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

How Will We Answer the Summons?

How Will We Answer the Summons?

Rebecca Eastwood
May 9, 2018

Although I have lived in Washington, DC for the past four years and have grown and learned so much in our nation’s capital, I will always be a proud Iowan.

Often confused with places like Ohio or Idaho, Iowa is known for things like corn and caucuses. The events of May 12, 2008, however, permanently marked Iowa on the map for a different reason.

Headlines in the weeks that followed read:

Immigration Raid Jars Small Town

Immigration Raid at Meat Processing Plant in Iowa Largest Ever in US

I was 16 at the time and attended high school in Decorah, IA. When the news reached our classrooms that day of helicopters and federal agents surrounding the meatpacking plant in Postville, the town next door, I was confronted with the reality of our broken immigration system that, because of my privileged background, I never before had to consider.

We would soon learn in the hours and days following that what transpired was the largest worksite immigration raid (at that time) in U.S. history. As I reflect on the events that day ten years ago I recognize it as the moment that truly summoned me to social justice work.

For a town of approximately 2,400, Postville was one of the most diverse communities in Northeast Iowa. In addition to a number of other distinct communities, Postville was home to a large Latino/a population. Drawn by the promise of opportunity, education, and safety, families set down roots in Postville.

The raid tore these roots apart. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested almost 400 people working at the kosher meatpacking plant, AgriProcessors, in the span of a few hours. Agents descended on the plant, chased, shackled, and carted away mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.

Children came home from school to empty houses. Community members took refuge at St. Bridget’s, the local Catholic church, terrified they would be next or that they would never see their family members again. The raid upended the schools, economy, and families of this small community.

In the chaotic weeks following, the local community stepped up to attempt to repair what our federal government had ripped apart. Centered in St. Bridget’s, volunteers helped people find their family members, the majority of whom were detained in the Cattle Congress buildings, prosecuted en masse, and eventually deported.

Through this response effort, I spent some time volunteering, mostly using my high school Spanish to entertain children while their family members did all they could to pull their lives back together.

This experience would never leave me. I could not forget the child asking when they would see their dad again or the mother trying to keep her family fed while wearing an ankle monitor. I was shaken out of my complacency and forced to answer the question: who am I summoned to be in the face of this injustice? Answering that question led me to Washington, DC to advocate for policies that would keep families together and uphold the dignity of migrants- attempting to prevent other communities from experiencing the same trauma as Postville.

The raid seared into our collective memory the devastating impact of inhumane immigration policies. We no longer need to look back a decade, however, to remember the suffering caused by immigration raids.

Only one month ago, ICE conducted the largest worksite raid of the Trump administration. The circumstances were all too familiar: agents surrounded a meatpacking plant in Tennessee. They arrested nearly 100 people. Terrified families gathered at the local Catholic church for support.

In the past year, the federal government has targeted thousands for detention and deportation, including those who have lived here for decades. They have systematically rescinded legal status for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). They are separating families seeking safety at our southern border.

Who are we as a nation summoned to be in the face of these injustices? Will we challenge harsh, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy? Will we demand a system that recognizes migrants as whole persons worthy of dignity? As people around the country observe the ten-year anniversary of the raid we pray that in answering this summons we will never mark another anniversary like this.

Postville is everywhere. How will we respond?

Becca is the Advocacy Coordinator for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington, DC. The Columban Center is the national advocacy office for the Columban fathers, a Catholic order of priests and lay missionaries living and serving in 15 countries. Her advocacy work focuses on immigration, environmental, and economic policy.

Laura Muñoz Lopez: Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network:
Laura Muñoz Lopez

April 18, 2018

Laura Muñoz Lopez is a former NETWORK Government Relations Associate. She currently works as a special assistant for Immigration Policy at American Progress in Washington, D.C.

How did you first learn about NETWORK?

I was visiting D.C. to see Pope Francis and decided to go to the Nuns on the Bus “last stop party” (at Tortilla Coast) in 2015. Sister Mary J. Curcio told me about the Associate Program over chips and margs, and the rest is history!

What inspired you to get involved and join NETWORK?

I knew the 2016 Presidential Election was going to be historic, and as I was graduating and finding what was next for me, I wanted to be more involved in immigration policy. Learning about NETWORK, their work, and mission seemed like the next step.

What issue area are you most passionate about?

Immigration! All aspects of it, but specifically permanent protections and citizenship for Dreamers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and the millions of undocumented parents who brought their children to the US for a better life. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is also an immigration issue that has not received the proper attention it needs.

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

Recently, I have been invited to participate in town hall and county council meetings to ask Montgomery County, Maryland to fund the deportation defense fund aimed at helping undocumented immigrants who have been detained and/or are in deportation proceedings. I also recently participated on a panel hosted by the Montgomery County League of Women Voters which highlighted the importance of community safety to ensure immigrants feel safe and secure in the presence of local police. I will be speaking with the Montgomery County Young Democrats later in April on the impact of immigration policies in the local community.

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

I grew up keeping my immigration status a secret, so when I was able to obtain DACA and live my life without secrets, I realized that sometimes the most powerful advocacy tool is your voice and your story. Through sharing my story and truly listening to others’ stories of struggle and success, I have realized that we draw our strengths from our moments of weaknesses and when we share our experiences we help others overcome their challenges.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice?

Growing up as undocumented and living below the poverty line, my church was always a place of safe haven and help. Our church in South Carolina often provided assistance with bills and gifts at Christmas because my parents couldn’t afford them. When it was time to go to college, my church gave me a scholarship to help in my studies. Beyond these gifts, the church and my faith taught me that it is our duty as humans and people of faith to help whenever it’s possible to do so. I try my best to “pay it forward” because that’s what our faith teaches us to do.

Who is your role model?

My role model is my mother – Liliana. She left her entire family — who she is extremely close with — at the age of 26 with her two young daughters in hopes of finding and creating a better future for them in the United States. Such a sacrifice is not decided on lightly and my mother has never regretted her decision. She works as much as she can, gets underpaid and yet never complains because she is thankful to have the opportunity. My mother is my role model because she gave my siblings and me everything she dreamt of, and so much more.

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

“If not you, then who?” This quote has given me the strength and motivation to continue to work in a policy area that not only is very personal to me but is extremely difficult, and at the moment is causing more harm than good to immigrants across the country. If we, as individuals who have a duty to care for one another and help each other succeed, don’t take action to create change, who will? We are the change we are waiting for.

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

On a personal level, I was able to adjust my immigration status from a DACA recipient to receive permanent residency in the U.S. – the country I have called home for almost 22 years. Another accomplishment was seeing the immigration movement expand to communities that were not involved before, but who saw the harm the current administration has and continues to cause our communities. As an activist, I always welcome and am overjoyed by the intersectionality of issues that allows people to come together in the pursuit of justice for all underrepresented people.

What are you looking forward to working on in 2018?

I will continue to work on immigration policy and activism as much as I am able to. My work for 2018 includes trying to ensure Dreamers and DACA recipients are protected from deportation so they are able to stay in the communities they call home as well as working with local organizations to foster conversations with immigrants and nonimmigrants to make sure their communities are safe and welcoming.

Revisiting the History of Irish American Progressives

Revisiting the History of Irish American Progressives

Timothy Meagher
March 16, 2018

On this St. Patrick’s Day, when Republicans in Congress named Ryan and McCarthy mutter darkly about the corruption of the poor by big government, it is important to remember that for most of their history in America, most men and women with such names, Irish Catholics, embraced government and what it could do for them and others.  It was not because Irish American Catholics were unwilling to work hard, they were; or to live frugally, and put money in the bank, they did.  Yet as a people so poor, with no useful skills or capital, and confronting discrimination in the private marketplace (“No Irish need Apply”)  work and frugality alone  were often not enough for them to survive, much less prosper in America.  Private philanthropies, run by hostile elites, offered them little help: only “charity scrimped and iced,” as John Boyle O’Reilly, the editor of the Boston Pilot, wrote, “in the name of a cautious, statistical Christ.” Empowered by their voting numbers, many Irish American Catholics thus looked to government for jobs, and pushed politicians to provide the small services they needed to tide them over crises: coal in the winter; a place to live after a fire.

By the 1890s, however, as the second major depression in twenty years rocked the American economy, immigration escalated into the tens of millions, and festering slums spread throughout cities, politicians’ petty handouts and charities’ cautious penny pinching was no longer enough.  Reformers, bearing the new name “Progressives,” began to insist that the government address the problems of workers and the poor. These Progressives are often described as enlightened middle or upper class, WASP women and men awakening to the crises of the city.  Many of them were, but Irish American Catholic people and politicians became involved in this struggle too.  Newly powerful Irish American Catholic representatives in the New York New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois legislatures fought for causes such as: a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, factory safety, and public housing.  In Oregon, Irish American Catholic settlement worker, Caroline Gleason, teamed with Fr. Vincent O’Hara to pass a minimum wage and maximum hours law for working women, the first in the country.  Meanwhile Irish Catholic women like Mary Shinnick and Elizabeth Moloney were in the forefront of fights for “mothers’ pensions” in Illinois and Massachusetts.

Twenty years later, more than fifty Irish American Catholics served in the House of Representatives at the high point of the New Deal and the vast majority consistently delivered strong support for the Roosevelt administration’s government relief, social security, public housing, and federal minimum wage legislation.  Meanwhile, veterans of Catholic Charities services, Jane Hoey and Mary Irene Atkinson worked in the Roosevelt administration, as Head of the Bureau of Public Assistance and Director of Child Welfare services respectively

This tradition would not end in the 1930s, but has endured among many to our own time.  It has drawn inspiration from Catholic Social Justice, from people like Monsignor John A. Ryan, for example, called “the Father of the Minimum Wage,” and from common good and anti-aristocratic themes in American and Irish republicanism.  For the most part, however, Irish American Catholics eschewed theories of left or right.  They were looking for practical solutions to concrete needs.  They had no fear that government help would somehow sap their commitment to work or self-improvement, but they could remember when a government’s failure had left a million of their relatives dead on the hillsides of a Famine-stricken Ireland.  They saw no reason, then, why a democratic government like the United States, should not help its people when they were in need.

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Meg Olson
March 8, 2018

There is no doubt about it: 2017 has been a rough year for justice seekers. As I write this, I am sitting with the devastating reality that before leaving on their holiday vacations, Congress passed a bill that will increase taxes for taxpayers in the lowest brackets, cause 13 million people to lose their health insurance, and exacerbate our nation’s already staggering racial wealth gap. And this is just one example of how Congress and the Trump administration are hurting people living in poverty, people of color, immigrants, labor, women, the earth…

Some days I look at my postcard of Dorothy Day’s famous adage and think, “Dorothy, I DO have the right to sit down and feel hopeless! Nothing is working!”

And yet, I know that I need to pursue Gospel justice with joy and persistence and approach situations with hope and welcome. And, as the lead NETWORK organizer, I am called to model this joy, hope, and welcome for you, our members, who reach out on a daily basis, asking what else you can do to pass the Dream Act or save the Affordable Care Act.

If I take a step back from the immediate crisis at hand and look at this past year, I can actually muster up quite a bit of hope. I just have to accept that in these challenging times, I need to adjust my expectations about winning.

In my early days of organizing, I was taught to think of multiple answers to the question, “What does winning look like?” Yes, the ultimate “win” is stopping harmful legislation or passing a bill that supports the common good. However, “winning” also looks like people committing to taking action, strengthening relationships with those who share their values, and building power.

So here’s how I’ve seen NETWORK’s members and activists win in 2017:

  • You’ve committed to taking action by making over 50,000 phone calls to Congress this year; going on more than 40 in-district visits; and attending town halls, rallies, and even protests.
  • You’ve strengthened your relationships with your fellow NETWORK members, with organizations led by Dreamers, and members of other faith based organizations such as Bread for the World and Faith in Indiana.
  • You’re building power in your congressional districts. I know that because our Government Relations team will gleefully tell me when they get back from the Hill, “Congressman Pete King’s Legislative Assistant started our meeting by thanking NETWORK and crediting our members for urging Rep. King to get on Rep. Scott Taylor’s letter to get a solution for Dreamers before the end of the year!” or “Congresswoman Brooks’s staffer said that the Congresswoman told her about the great meeting she had with NETWORK members!”

We’ve got a long road ahead of us to mend the wealth, income, and access gaps in our nation, especially for people living in poverty, women, people of color, and those living in the intersections of those realities. But I have hope that in 2018, NETWORK’s members and activists will commit to taking more action, continuing to deepen their relationships with fellow justice-seekers, and building even more power.

And yes, I believe that we will win!

Black Women and the Making of Catholic History

Black Women and the Making of Catholic History

Mehreen Karim
February 28, 2018

This Black History Month, we looked into our shared history to shed light on notable Black women who have influenced the Catholic Church and community. These Black women and others too often go without their due credit for their teaching and the social change they have inspired. The foundational elements of our faith, especially teachings for justice, can be recognized in the work Black women have done to dismantle racism for centuries. Even through devastating periods of racism and oppression, these women have lived out a deep commitment to justice.

Saint Josephine Bakhita,FdCC (1869-1947)

Impact: Born in rural Sudan, kidnapped and sold into slavery, she converted, gained her freedom, and became a Catholic Sister; canonized in 2000 and named patron saint of Sudan.

The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita reflects the resilience she demonstrated in the face of every trial she experienced. Saint Josephine Bakhita was born in western Sudan, native to the Daju people. As a child, she was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and traded between numerous families. After over a decade of being held in slavery, Bakhita was left in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice, Italy. Years after being taken to Italy, Bakhita refused to leave the Canossian Sisters’ convent and was found by a court to have been free since arriving in Italy, since slavery was illegal there.  Josephine Bakhita then became a Canossian Sister and spent five decades as a member of the religious community. After her death, Sister Josephine Bakhita was canonized and became the only patron saint of Sudan. Saint Josephine Bakhita has become an inspiration for many who fight for freedom – both physical determination and spiritual liberty.

Sister Antona Ebo, FSM (1924-2017)

Impact: Civil Rights leader

“I’m here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.”

In response to Bloody Sunday, one of history’s most gruesome assaults against Civil Rights activists, Sister Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary, made her mark as the only Black Catholic sister marching in Selma. Prior to her freedom fighting, Ebo had ambitions to attend nursing school. She was rejected many times until she was the first of three African-American women to enter the St. Mary’s Infirmary School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri in 1944. After earning multiple degrees, Sister Antona became a certified chaplain and was a founding member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference in 1968. Her landmark participation in the Civil Rights movement founded the rest of her life’s work in dismantling racism. Sister Antona continued her anti-racism activism for decades after Selma, participating in national movements as recent as the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri before she passed away in 2017.

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990)

Impact: Nationally-recognized teacher and scholar who promoted education for Black Catholics

“I come to my church fully functioning…I bring my whole history, my tradition, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gift to the church.”

In the heart of protestant Mississippi, a nine year old Thea Bowman converted to Roman Catholicism. As a teen, she joined the Fransiscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Bowman’s parents rightfully feared for their daughter’s ambitions—moving to a white majority city and religious community would prove to be a challenge for any African American, nonetheless a woman religious. Thea would spend years embracing her African American identity, resisting racism, and changing the way African Americans are received in Catholic society. Bowman spent years teaching at schools and universities until she became a consultant for intercultural awareness for the Bishop of Jackson. Here, Bowman spread her wisdom, joy and African American pride through outreach to diverse communities of the Catholic faith. Thea Bowman created and legitimized a way of worship for Black Catholics. Her life’s legacy will live on in the many institutions founded in her name, most relevantly The Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation, which has raised money to put over 150 African Americans through college.

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP (Present)

Impact: founding Director of Augustus Tolton Program for African American Ministers at Catholic Theological Union

“I became a woman religious but that did not preclude my also being an educator, psychiatric social worker, community organizer, liturgist, choir director, spiritual director, and theologian.”

No list, no matter how exhaustive, could cover the depth of Sister Jamie T. Phelps’ impact on Catholic culture, society, and academia. Phelps was a teenager when she unsuccessfully attempted to join a high school run by Adrian Dominican nuns. Phelps explains that they were “concerned how she, as a young black woman, would adjust to living in all-white environment.” Only a few years would pass until Phelps returned to the Adrian Dominicans and became a Dominican sister herself. Sister Jamie Phelps continued to exert her mind and heart as she piled on professional and academic merits. After earning a doctorate from Catholic University of America, Phelps explored the intersection of sexism, racism, and economic disparities in Catholic society. Today, Sister Jamie Phelps studies these topics in her published research and teaching at various universities.

Dr. Diana L. Hayes (Present)

Impact: First Black woman to earn an S.T.D. (Doctorate of Sacred Theology)

“I am because we are—because African Americans, we see ourselves as a family.”

In her life’s work and teachings, Diana L. Hayes deconstructed the nuances of spirituality in African American Catholic culture. Hayes is the first black American woman to earn a Pontifical doctorate, Sacred Theology degree (S.T.D.) from the Catholic University of Louvain in addition to three honorary doctorates. She was a Professor of Systematic Theology in the Theology Department at Georgetown University where she specialized in Womanist Theology, Black Theology, U.S. Liberation Theologies, Contextual Theologies, Religion and Public Life, and African American and Womanist Spirituality.

Sister Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, (Present)

Impact: Current Executive Director of Pax Christi USA

“I never thought I could be a sister because I had never seen a black sister. I had never seen a sister who looked like me.”

As a child, Sister Patricia Chappell could not imagine she would become not only a Catholic sister, but the Executive Director of a large Catholic organization. Though Sister Patricia has only recently entered the national limelight as Pax Christi USA’s Executive Director, she had always been a mover and shaker working for racial justice in the Catholic sphere. In the eighties, Sister Patricia Chappell worked in vulnerable areas of Philadelphia and delivered substance-abuse intervention services to African-American youth and their families. Sister Patricia was president of the National Black Sister’s Conference in Washington and also the co-coordinator of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur’s Anti-Racism Team. On the ground, she worked as a program specialist at the Takoma Park Recreation Center in Maryland, in youth centers in Hyattsville, Maryland, and as director of youth ministry at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church in Washington. D.C. As the Executive Director of Pax Christi USA, Chappell steers the organization and the community to work for justice by organizing and speaking out on racism and other issues. Sister Patricia hopes her work and leadership will connect to everyday Catholics and bring more people into the movement.

During Black History Month and throughout the entire year, we recall the spirit-filled lives and ministries of these Black Catholic women and many others. Let us follow their example and their guidance as we work for racial justice in our communities, including our faith community, and our country.

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

February 27, 2018

Congressman Joseph Crowley represents New York’s 14 congressional district and is Chair of the House Democratic Conference. This year, Congressman Crowley received a 100% on NETWORK’s voting record for the sixth year in a row. (View the 2017 voting record.) His six-year record is the longest out of anyone currently serving in Congress. NETWORK spoke to Representative Crowley to learn about how his Catholic faith and his lived experiences inform his political decisions.

How does your faith inspire your work in Congress?
I was raised to live by the Golden Rule: ‘Do to others as you would like them to do to you.’ This has guided me in life and inspired my work in Congress. It is simple: we need to treat others with the same compassion and empathy with which we all want to be treated, and put forward just and fair-minded policies that ensure opportunity for all. This means doing the right thing and working hard to ensure that my constituents from Queens, the Bronx, and all Americans can enjoy the brighter future they and their families deserve.

What is the proudest vote you have cast this year?
I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. That’s why I voted against the so-called “American Health Care Act,” which would have stripped access to quality health care for millions, and punished children, seniors, and those with pre-existing conditions. I am very proud to defend the right of Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care, but also know we must do even more to make sure health care is available to all.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced this year?
A big challenge has been President Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees, including his heartless decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has upended the lives of nearly one million talented DREAMers who contribute to their communities and the American economy. These young people have all the qualities our nation was built upon and should be welcomed here.

What about this past year has surprised you the most, politically?
I’ve been appalled by the completely inadequate response to the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. President Trump and congressional Republicans have treated the victims of these natural disasters like second-class citizens, when they are as American as you and I. I visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria and witnessed the extensive devastation there. We need to do more to ensure that everyone living there has the resources needed to rebuild and recover, and I’ve promised our fellow Americans there that the federal government commitment to them will continue for years and decades.

What policy area will you focus most on in 2018?
There are too many important policies to pick just one. But an issue I’m especially passionate about is ensuring that hard-working Americans have access to affordable housing. Housing is one of the most basic human needs and the lack of affordable housing is a crushing burden for many families in Queens and the Bronx and across the U.S. This year, I introduced the Rent Relief Act – legislation to help those struggling to balance the high costs of rent with the needs of their families. It would put money back in the pockets of renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income each month on housing. This is an extraordinary way for us to build the middle class and secure the financial stability of working men and women.

When times seem difficult, what keeps you motivated to continue working for the common good in Congress? 
My constituents in Queens and the Bronx. Meeting with them and hearing directly about their passions, dreams, and hope are always motivating and inspiring. Despite all the challenges we face, I’ll continue to defend our values and provide good solutions for my constituents and all Americans.

How have you seen policies you’ve promoted in the past positively affect your constituents and our nation?
Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has positively improved the quality of life of my constituents and of millions of people across the nation. The ACA has expanded coverage, reduced costs, and improved our health care system. We need to continue protecting this accomplishment and come together to improve health care so every American has access to affordable and quality care.

You voted with NETWORK 100% of the time for the past six years, which is the longest record for any current members of Congress. How does it feel?
Extremely honored. From protecting and improving our health care system to creating economic opportunity – my positions on our nation’s most pressing issues are always guided by the common good. I’m proud to be an ally of NETWORK in working toward economic and social transformation in our communities.

Do you have any advice for advocates inspired by their faith to engage in politics?
Turn your faith into action and never underestimate the power of your voice. Now more than ever, your engagement is making a difference.

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

My Family’s Immigration Story

My Family’s Immigration Story

Monsieree de Castro
February 21, 2018

Allow me to tell you all a (very common) story about “chain migration,” a portion of the immigration system the current administration and members of Congress are trying to eliminate.

In 1977, my father was petitioned by my aunt, who was living in Seattle, to come join her in the United States using the sibling category of family reunification (what some offensively refer to as “chain migration”). The waiting process for family visas can take decades, and my father waited 17 years to have his papers approved for him to come to the United States. It wasn’t until 1994 that we as a family finally stepped foot on American soil for the first time.

It has been 24 years of struggling in a country that more often than not makes you feel unwanted for your brown skin and foreign customs, but also 24 years filled with triumphs and success. My parents have held multiple jobs since we first came to this country, from caregiver to custodian. Today, our family has grown and my siblings and I lead successful lives and are all contributing taxpayers and members of the community. Of my siblings, we currently have a Director working in social services at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, an IT professional working for Paul Allen’s business/philanthropy, an accountant providing her skills at a hospital, and finally, the youngest and most Americanized sibling, foolishly pursuing her dreams in the most American way possible; living and working in politics in Washington DC hoping to contribute to the country that has given so much to her. Additionally, major props to my awesome parents and each of my siblings who all own their own homes, collectively owning 5 pieces of real estate across the Seattle area (I’m clearly the millennial of the clan, probably eating avocado toast instead of buying a house).

My family’s story is not at all unique. This is the story of millions of Americans who come here seeking the opportunity for a better life. This is the simplified version of the story, leaving out the heartaches of visas that were never approved after years of waiting, and parts of our family that continue to be split apart (no, you can’t “bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” there are countless restrictions). This is also the story of a privileged family that was lucky enough to have a pathway to pursue the American dream and citizenship, and had the economic stability to wait 17 years to have a visa approved.

The current administration claims that the program that allowed my family to come and succeed in the United States needs to be eliminated for the sake of the “economy and the future of America”. But Mr. President, I am CERTAIN that allowing families like mine to be welcomed into this country is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the success of our economy and future of our great nation.

Monsieree de Castro is a former NETWORK associate. She currently works at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

Allison Berkowitz
January 20, 2018

To say 2017 has been transformative for the United States — especially for women — would be an understatement.

January 21st, 2017. Maybe it was because Carrie Fisher had recently died, Star Wars was back in the lime light, or because I needed a spark, but the movies’ themes rang true and deep to me. Before leaving for the Women’s March, an image of Ms. Fisher was seared into my mind: Princess Leia, guns drawn, with the text, “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance.” It stuck with me. When I arrived in D.C., the first protest sign I saw was a quote from Rogue One: “Rebellions are Built on Hope.” I marched proudly all day, hand-in-hand with my feminist husband, reflecting on these themes (a call to duty, class war, fearing for the future, to name a few). We vowed 2017 would be a year of action. A promise kept.

I didn’t realize it, but the march was a major turning point for many (I can’t tell you how many incredible activists I met this year whose efforts were born out of the march). For me, the changes were profound. In 2016, I moved to Maryland so I could attend a prestigious PhD program. I had a background in community organizing and intended to get back to the good fight, but I felt learning research skills would allow me to better speak truth to power. I had good intentions, but more and more of my time was being spent in the resistance. In March, I helped lead a group of social work students from all over the country to the Capitol, where we lobbied our legislators to vote for people-centered laws being considered. In April, I did several teach-ins on how to be a legislative advocate. I got very involved in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants by analyzing and defending proposed laws which sought to protect them, both at the state and federal levels. I also wrote countless op-eds.

Much of May through July was spent working with the grassroots, anti-poverty group, “RESULTS.” The Baltimore chapter’s leader was on maternity leave so I co-led in her stead. I helped keep the group organized, met with legislators, and pleaded to protect the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): an evidence-based method of combatting poverty. We also fought to protect other safety nets, such as Medicaid and SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”). You see, by August, we knew the tax reform fight was coming and we were trying to sound the alarm.

By the time September rolled around, it became clear I needed to quit the program and enter an uncertain future. Making the decision to leave research was scary, but confirmation came quickly that I’d made the right choice. Within a week, I began working on a US Congressional campaign I’d volunteered for in the past for a single mother, Allison Galbraith, in MD-01. Advocating during the day, campaigning at night, it was hectic but electric. I felt energized by this new sense of purpose. In November I was accepted into a doctoral program which allowed me to continue this work, something a purely research focused program could not offer me. I also found a job as an Adjunct Professor, teaching Advocacy & Social Action to master’s level social workers. Dr. King said you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith. I felt very lucky steps were continuing to appear beneath my feet.

While my colleagues and I had been beating the “tax reform” drum since August, in December, we went to war. We fought passionately and painstakingly. Much of my time was spent calling, emailing and visiting legislators, writing op-eds, attending town hall meetings, and protesting the unjust bill in D.C. I was in excellent company, routinely storming the Capitol alongside fierce fighters like Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, Ady Barkan, and many other wonderful individuals from around the country. We shared our stories, and many of my friends — including clergy, people in wheelchairs, teenagers, and 80 year olds — participated in nonviolent civil disobedience. They chose to be arrested to bring attention to the “abomination of a bill” as one clergy member put it. Despite our best efforts, as you know, the tax bill passed and Trump signed it into law on December 22nd. We cried that day. But as I’d done on Wednesday — November 8th, 2016 – I encouraged my friends to take the time to weep, and then come back to the fight.

Now here we are. We madly mourn our losses and wildly celebrate our successes, like the special election of Doug Jones or our victories in Virginia. And we plot how to get out of this mess. I am comforted everyday by the myriad of Americans stepping up to run for office. I myself learned last month no Democrat was going to run for an open seat in my district for the Maryland House of Delegates, so I’m doing it, and you can too! For those of you contemplating running, someone gave me this gift, so let me pass it on to you: you ARE qualified, and if you’re waiting for someone to ask, I’m asking you: don’t just march – RUN! For those not interested or able to run for public office, please support those around you. We are better together, and we can turn our country around. To get back to those Star Wars’ metaphors, it’s been an incredible year in the resistance and we’re just getting started. To those struggling in these trying times, take heart, things can be different if we work for it. That said, it’s my great hope to see you in the rebellion!

Allison Berkowitz is a social work doctoral student, an instructor of social action to master’s-level social workers, and an active legislative advocate for several groups and causes. Originally from Florida, she spent three years in Alaska and has settled down in Maryland. Allison believes in people and tries to make the world a little better each day. Find her on Twitter@AllisonForAll

Remembering Sister Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ

Remembering NETWORK Lobbyist Sister Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ

The NETWORK Staff
January 3, 2018

“Catherine is a woman of vision—and is led by a vision of what God desires of us—justice, truth, and a dignified life.” (Ann Curtis, RSM)

“We really cannot measure the value of her service to women religious in the United States and in the world.” (Miriam Therese Larkin, CSJ)

“Catherine knows in her bones how Washington works and whom to talk with to get something accomplished…her leadership is a unique blend of friendship and astute analysis.” (Simone Campbell, SSS)

Former Network Director Sr. Kathy Thornton RSM wrote: “It is perhaps on Capitol Hill that [Catherine] has had the strongest impact, commanding attention with her intelligence and unwavering determination as an advocate for those unduly burdened by the injustices of society. …  Catherine has become a formidable presence in the halls of Congress.

Jean Stokan, policy director of Pax Christi USA:  “When Catherine walks the halls of Congress, she parts waters. Heads turn and useless chatter ceases when she enters a room.”

 (Tributes to Catherine Pinkerton when she received the 2006 LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award )

On December 28, 2017, Sister Catherine Pinkerton, CSJ passed away in Cleveland surrounded by the local CSJ community. Catherine Pinkerton was a sister of St. Joseph for 78 years. She served as the president of both her congregation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), was involved in other organizations of women religious, and received the LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award in 2006.

As a skilled NETWORK lobbyist for more than 25 years, Catherine traveled the halls of Congress time and time again to speak truth to power. Catherine’s personality and her dedication to working for justice inspired the NETWORK community and earned her the esteem and friendship of political greats. In 2008, Sister Catherine Pinkerton was invited to deliver the benediction at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (watch a video of the benediction).

At Catherine’s wake, Sister Simone Campbell reflected on how Catherine’s perseverance and lobbying for comprehensive healthcare reform during the Clinton administration had prepared the way for the Affordable Care Act. Sister Simone shared how happy Catherine was to see it passed just before she retired in 2010.

When efforts to craft comprehensive healthcare legislation faltered in the 1990s, Sister Catherine Pinkerton became a passionate advocate for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance. CHIP was passed in 1997 and has enjoyed bipartisan support since then. Unfortunately, at this moment CHIP lacks any long term federal funding, and states are beginning to prepare for the inevitable end of their CHIP programs if Congress fails to renew funding as quickly as possible. Right now, sixteen states expect to run out of money for CHIP by the end of January.

In her eulogy for Catherine Pinkerton, Christine Schenk, CSJ, admonished all who were gathered to call their members of Congress to ask for full funding for CHIP and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. As Christine said: “I’m serious—Catherine would come back to haunt me if I didn’t lobby for children on her behalf!”

In honor of Sister Catherine Pinkerton’s life and work, advocate for justice today:

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

December 23, 2017

During the fourth week of Advent, we recall the time Mary and Joseph spent preparing for the birth of Jesus – time spent in joyful anticipation. Now, we wait in hopeful anticipation for Christ and strive to shape a world where all children and families are welcomed and cared for, including working families seeking child care.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we are reminded of the families and children across the country whose lives are affected by federal policies. This week, we explore the current reality for working families who struggle to balance work and home life due to lack of affordable child care.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   -John 1:14, NIV

Congress Must Prioritize Affordable Child Care for Families:

Read our legislative update on the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill which seeks to aid low and middle-class working families with access to affordable child care.

“On September 14, two leading Congressional champions for children —Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA)—introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 1806/H.R. 3773). The bill would make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to lower- and middle-class families under 150 percent of the state median income level by capping costs at 7 percent of a family’s budget. The bill would focus on preparing 3- and 4-year-old children for kindergarten and make new investments in training child care professionals.

NETWORK supports this bill because our faith teaches us that children are a gift and blessing from God. Working families are stretched beyond their means and struggle to meet day-to-day expenses like housing and utility expenses.”

Read the entire legislative update here.

Policy Basics:

Providing affordable child care to working families is an important step in helping them strike a balance between work life and home life. According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost of child care per year is typically over $10,000. In order for families to provide child care for their children, they often have to sacrifice other necessities, or chose lower-quality child care programs. To combat this, the cost of child care must be lowered, while protecting the quality of the programs. Helping with access to affordable child care will ensure families have meaningful time together and allow children to reach their full potential.

Here are some suggestions from the Center for American Progress for reformed child care standards:

  • Lower child care costs for low-income and middle-class families to 7 percent of income through a sliding scale.
  • Provide flexibility to accommodate complex work schedules by increasing availability of care for nontraditional hours and allowing parents to choose the care of their choice in a center or home.
  • Increase options for parents by addressing child care deserts and bolstering licensed care in underserved communities.
  • Invest in high-quality programs by promoting quality standards and fair compensation and giving providers the resources and the supports to improve.
  • Expand opportunities for school-age children by providing access to after-school care, summer programs, and care for children with disabilities.
  • Improve compensation for child care providers by setting a floor of self-sufficiency and creating parity with K-12 teachers.
  • Create more well-paying care jobs in the care industry by expanding the supply of child care providers and increasing pay.

Read more from the Center for American Progress on child care reform here.

A Prayer for Child Care for Working Families

Loving God,

In this Advent season, as we pray for the children of our nation, we are reminded of the gift of yourself to the world as a child in Bethlehem. As you shower them with your care and protection, continue to show us ways that we too can enhance their early years among us.

Give them loving parents to nurture their growth and show us the ways that we can support those parents by providing high quality child care that will allow all children to reach the fullness of their potential in the years ahead.  Give providers of childcare the patience and love they need to assist our children to grow and develop.

Inspire our leaders to recognize that investing in our children is investing not only in their future, but in the future of our nation.  Lead us to commit the resources necessary to see that all children receive the care they need to flourish and succeed in the years ahead.

Amen.

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND