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During Black Maternal Health Week, We Call on Congress to Pass the Momnibus Act

During Black Maternal Health Week, We Call on Congress to Pass the Momnibus Act

Caraline Feairheller
April 14, 2021

This week, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), and 77 original cosponsors introduced a resolution recognizing Black Maternal Health Week, “to bring national attention to the maternal health crisis in the United States and the urgent importance of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women and birthing persons.”

The United States has a maternal mortality health crisis that must be addressed. Around the developed world, pregnancy-related mortality rates are falling, except in the United States – where birthing people are dying at a morally unacceptable and rising rate. Approximately 700 women die each year due to pregnancy-related causes with an additional 50,000 experiencing severe health complications from pregnancy. This crisis is most severe for Black birthing people, who are dying 3 to 4 times the rate of their white counterparts. This is a tragedy for our society and for the families who have lost loved ones, and the racial disparities are unjust and sinful.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the barriers to accessing care and exacerbated the already existing racial disparities. Congresswoman Adams, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus pointed this out, saying, “Black Americans were one of the hardest hit communities during this pandemic, and Black and Hispanic mothers accounted for a majority of COVID-19 cases among pregnant women in the United States.” We must dismantle the systemic racism in our health care system and our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to build anew together.

Earlier this year,  members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R.595/S.346) to address the maternal health crisis. In a country where at least 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, the Momnibus helps to fill current policy gaps in receiving care.  This comprehensive legislation seeks to address social determinants of health, invest in community-based organizations, fund research development and data collection, and invest in efforts to diversify the perinatal workforce. In total, the Momnibus is a combination of 12 standalone bills that have been introduced or reintroduced into the 117th Congress. NETWORK is proud to support the Momnibus Act, applauds the Black Maternal Health Caucus for its leadership, and calls on Congress to pass this critical legislation immediately. The Momnibus includes the following legislation:

The Social Determinants for Moms Act (H.R.943):

Introduced by Representative Lucy McBath (D-GA-06), this legislation recognizes that social determinants of health, defined as the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play; affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. By focusing on these social determinants, this legislation will address the root cause of gaps in care by establish a task force to coordinate federal efforts to address social determinants, provide funding for safe and quality housing for pregnant people, extending Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) eligibility periods for new moms, and invest in funding research that will explore environmental risk, transportation barriers, and more.

The Kira Johnson Act (H.R.1212):

Introduced by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC-12), this legislation is named after Kira Johnson who, despite being in excellent health, died from a hemorrhage after delivering her son Langston. Unfortunately, Kira’s story is not unique in the United States. In order to combat the complex causes of maternal mortality and promote accountability, this legislation invests in community-based organizations that are leading the charge to support outcomes for Black pregnant and postpartum people and women of color. It provides support for bias and anti-racism training programs as well as establishes the Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs within hospitals so families can report instances of racial or other types of bias.

Protecting Moms Who Served Act (H.R.958):

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), this legislation seeks to uncover the reality for the more than two million women veterans in the United States and their maternal health outcomes. As so little is known about maternal health among veterans, this legislation will commission the first-ever study on the maternal health crises among veterans; with a specific focus on racial and ethnic disparities and identifying potential mental and behavioral risks. Following the study, recommendations will be made to healthcare providers. The legislation will  also provide funding towards ensuring coordination takes place between Veterans Affairs and non-Veterans Affairs facilities, facilitate access to community resources, and offer childcare and parenting classes to veterans.

Perinatal Workforce Act:

Introduced by Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI-4) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), this legislation addresses the lack of access to maternity care found in both rural and urban communities. More than 1/3 of counties in the United State are considered ‘maternity care deserts meaning that more than 7 million birthing people live where there is no or limited access to maternity care. Specifically, this legislation establishes grant programs to increase access to maternity care providers, provides guidance to states on diverse maternal care, will allow programs to increase number of nurses and other health care workers, and fund studies on barriers that prevent women from entering maternity care professions.

Data to Save Moms Act (H.R.952/S.347):

Introduced by Representative Sharice Davids (D-KS-3) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), this legislation builds off the 2018 Preventing Maternal Deaths law by promoting greater levels of representative community engagement in Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs). MMRCS gather key stakeholders together to listen to the experiences of pregnant people and how these stories can inform health quality measures that promote safe, culturally competent, patient-centered maternity care. Also, this legislation invests in improving data collection and maternal health research at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs.) Finally, this legislation will establish the first-ever comprehensive study to understand the scope of the Native American maternal health crisis, who are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.

Moms Matter Act (H.R.909/S.484):

Introduced by Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representative John Katko (R-NY-24), this bipartisan legislation addresses the unique challenge maternal mental health conditions as “mental health conditions are one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths.” This crises is disproportionately felt by Black birthing people who are at increased risk for suicidal ideation and intentional self-harm during pregnancy and postpartum. This legislation will make investments in programs that support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders, create initiatives that address stigma, and invest in suicide prevention programs. Also, it will provide funding to grow and diversity the maternal mental health care workforce in order to create culturally-competent care for pregnant and postpartum people with maternal mental health conditions.

Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act (H.R.948/S.341):

Introduced by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), this legislation addresses the maternal health crises of pregnant people who are incarcerated, as they face a heighted risk for maternal mortality. The consequences of the United States addiction to mass incarceration from 190 to 2016 has resulted in the number of women in prison increasing nearly 742%, of those who are incarcerated it is Black women who are imprisoned at twice the rate of white women. This legislation will seek to end the immoral practice of shackling pregnant people, provide funds for reentry assistance programs, funds for diversionary programs to prevent incarceration of pregnant and postpartum people, and study the negative implications of Medicaid coverage termination for incarcerated mothers.

Tech to Save Moms Act (H.R.937):

Introduced by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-32) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), this legislation recognizes that digital tools, such as telehealth services, can play an important and unique role in addressing maternal health in underserved areas. Specifically, this legislation will promote integration and development of telehealth, provide grants to ensure high-speed, reliable internet access; promote digital tools designed to address racial and ethnic disparities, and study the use of new technology in preventing racial and ethnic bias.

IMPACT to Save Moms Act (H.R.950/S.334):

Introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), this legislation recognizes that maternal care payment options affect maternal health outcomes. The legislation will establish a new Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that promotes equitable and quality maternal health outcomes for pregnant people covered by Medicaid. It also develops strategies to ensure continuity of health insurance coverage for pregnant and postpartum people, including presumptive eligibility for Medicaid/CHIP programs, automatic reenrollment in Medicaid/CHIP for birthing people, and prevents any disruptions on coverage during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and up to one year postpartum.

Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act:

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), this legislation recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemics has worsened the already existing and immoral maternal mortality crisis in the United States. Pregnant people are at a significant risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes and Black women experienced a disproportionate number of deaths. This legislation makes targeted investments to advance safe maternal health outcomes during COVID-19 and beyond. It will require COVID-19 data collection be disaggregated by pregnancy status, ensure vaccines are safe for pregnant people, and establish a take force for creating safe birthing experiences during COVID-19 and potential future disease outbreaks.

Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act (H.R.957/S.423):

Introduced by Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), this legislation recognizes the reality of climate change exacerbating risks for pregnant people. As climate change results in greater air pollution and heat exposure, pregnant people and their infants are at risk and the legacy of environmental racism leaves Black mothers particularly at risk. This legislation will establish research opportunities on the relationship between climate change and pregnancy, design programs to identify climate change risk zones for pregnant people and their babies, provide health professional training on how to mitigate the risk of climate-change related risks, and provide funding to improve infrastructure.

Maternal Vaccination Act (H.R.951/S.345):

Introduced by Representative Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), this legislation will provide funding for programs to increase maternal vaccinations rates and develop maternal vaccinations campaigns with community-based partner organizations and trusted leaders.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is a necessary and comprehensive collection of 12 bills that must be passed into law in order to address the immoral legacy of the United State maternal mortality crisis. NETWORK Lobby urges members of Congress to quickly pass the Momnibus, in its entirety, in order to honor the essential dignity of each human person.

Learn more about each of the bills included in the Momnibus Act here.

NETWORK Urges Congress to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

NETWORK Urges Congress to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

Gina Kelley
April 14, 2021

Ahead of the expected House vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) NETWORK sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives urging them to support this legislation as it eliminates loopholes in existing legislation, helps break harmful patterns of pay discrimination, and strengthens workplace protections for women.

Our faith teaches us that just and equal pay is necessary to recognize the dignity of work. Almost six decades after the landmark Equal Pay Act was signed into law, the gender and racial pay gap persists and this legislation takes a necessary and immediate step towards ending this immoral reality. Women, especially women of color, have been carrying a devastating burden for decades. Equal pay cannot be up for debate. Women have been economically exploited and treated as second-class citizens since the inception of this country. Widespread wage discrimination continues that legacy today. The Paycheck Fairness Act takes a necessary step towards ending systemic wage theft and discriminatory practices against women.

The choice could not be clearer. Now is the time to support women. NETWORK advocates strongly urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act because of the victories it achieves for working women across the country.

Read Our Vote Recommendation Letter on the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.7)

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

Joan Neal and Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
April 13, 2021

The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act (H.R.1693/S.79) is bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

The EQUAL Act was introduced in the House on March 9, 2021 by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL) and Don Bacon (R-NE-02). Across the Capitol, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously introduced the bill on January 28, 2021.

Before introducing the bill, Senator Booker said, “For over three decades, unjust, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness… I encourage my colleagues to support the EQUAL Act as a necessary step in repairing our broken criminal justice system.”

While there are many provisions within the justice system that produce discriminatory and racist impacts, the crack/powder sentencing laws are among the most obvious. For many years now, science and experience have shown us there is no difference between use of crack or powder cocaine. Neither one is more or less addictive nor produces more violent behavior in the user. The difference is that crack cocaine has historically been used in more urban communities of color, specifically Black communities, while powder cocaine has more often been found in whiter, more suburban communities. The racial implications couldn’t be clearer.

Furthermore, the sentencing disparity between these two drugs has contributed significantly to the growth of mass incarceration in this country. According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system by passing the EQUAL Act (H.R.1693/S.79).

Join NETWORK’s Virtual Lobby Day on May 12 to lobby your Representative to pass the EQUAL Act in the House! Learn more and register here.

The Racist Filibuster Must Go for Us to Build Anew

The Racist Filibuster Must Go for Us to Build Anew

Sister Simone Campbell
March 25, 2021

The Senate filibuster — currently 60-vote threshold to close debate on a bill and move to a vote — is a relic of the Jim Crow-era that has blocked democracy reform, civil rights protections, and health care expansion for far too long. Since its inception in 1806, the filibuster has been weaponized against people of color to block bipartisan legislation that addresses structural racism and inequality in the United States. Catholic Sisters and NETWORK advocates do not accept antiquated traditions steeped in a racist past to prevent progress and will mobilize across the country to end the racist filibuster.

Constitutionally, bills require a simple majority to pass — just 51 votes in the Senate.  However, the filibuster is a procedural tool which allows senators to block legislation from receiving a vote at all if there are 41 of them that oppose the bill. For centuries, elected officials in the minority have used the filibuster to stop common good, anti-racist legislation from passing and becoming law. In the 19th Century, white Southern Senators used the filibuster to kill Reconstruction and the earliest civil rights bills in order to maintain white supremacy. In the 20th Century, anti-lynching legislation which was widely popular among Congress and the United States people was consistently blocked by a small minority in the Senate. The use of the anti-democratic filibuster as a tool of white supremacy had direct consequences: racist lynching mobs killed an estimated 4,400 Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. To this day, Congress has failed to pass federal anti-lynching legislation. In the Civil Rights Era, Senators employed the filibuster to prevent desegregation and voting rights legislation from becoming law.

The racist application of the filibuster is a clear legacy of the rule, and it continues today. Senators are exploiting the power of the filibuster to block critical legislation meant to dismantle systemic racism and known injustices in the 117th Congress.  The For the People Act, the Justice in Policing Act, the Equality Act, the PRO Act, are all bills that deserve a vote and stand a real chance of passing but for the filibuster rule.  The filibuster is not protecting voters in the minority party; it protects politicians set on preserving the status quo. We cannot allow an arbitrary Senate rule with no grounding in the Constitution to block legislation that enjoys widespread bipartisan support by voters across the country.

The Senate has a moral duty to use this opportunity to end the filibuster.

Add your name to join the Catholic Sisters and activists of NETWORK calling for the elimination of the Senate filibuster.

Women’s Equality Requires Raising the Wage

Women’s Equality Requires Raising the Wage

Gina Kelley
March 24, 2021

This last year has been a challenging one for all us, but women have carried a heavy burden throughout this pandemic. In 2020, women’s unemployment hit its highest since 1948 with Black and Latina women facing higher rates of unemployment than white women and men. In February 2021, it was reported that women, in particular women of color, had lost 5.4 million jobs—nearly 1 million more than men. Women have also had to leave the workforce as the pandemic has closed schools and childcare facilities leaving many women to take on this essential caretaking role. This pandemic has not created inequalities, instead it has exploited what was already there.

March is Women’s History Month and the 24th is Women’s Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day marks the day in the year when women earn what men did the previous year, meaning it takes 15 months for women to earn what men do in 12. On average, women are paid 82 cents on every dollar a man makes meaning that on a typical 9:00-5:00 workday, women start working for no pay at 2:40 p.m. These Equal Pay Days continue throughout the year with Mother’s Equal Pay Day in June, Black Women’s in August, Indigenous Women in September, and Latina Women in September.

Clearly, working women, particularly women of color, are facing a devastating economic reality. While the American Rescue Plan achieved major victories for families across the country, it failed to raise the minimum wage. Raising the wage is essential to closing the gender and racial pay gap that has harmed marginalized communities for centuries.

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 proposes slowly increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over 5 years and ends subminimum wage practices for tipped, youth, and disabled workers over a 6 years. The tipped minimum wage is a currently only $2.13 an hour and creating one fair wage of $15 would greatly benefit women who represent more than two-thirds of tipped workers. Coupled with the Raise the Wage Act, Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides more remedies for gender pay discrimination.

So what would a $15 minimum wage mean for women?

Of the 32 million workers whose pay would increase from the Raise the Wage Act, 59% are women and more than a quarter have children. That means 19 million women would benefit. Nearly 1 in 4 of those women are Black or Latina. Women, and in particular women of color, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs due to historical gender and racial occupational segregation. According to recent reports, women working year-round, on average, would see an increase of about $3,500 in wages annually. For Black and Latina women, this figure increases to $3,700. 3.4 million Black women and 4 million Latina would see this substantial and transformative pay increase. Additionally, 8 million mothers across the country would see similar benefits giving them the capability and power to support their families. Analysis of 2019 data found that among mothers who would get a raise, 65% are primary or sole breadwinners for their families and an additional 19% are co-breadwinners.

It could not be clearer: women need a fair wage and a chance for economic security. No one can survive on $7.25 and those in opposition to raising the minimum wage are keeping women and Black and Brown communities in poverty. Closing racial and gender wealth disparities and recovering from an economic crisis demands immediate action.  Raising the wage to $15 allows families to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Women need justice and equality now. This Women’s History Month and this Equal Pay Day show solidarity with working women and join the fight to raise the wage.

American Rescue Plan Must Protect Incarcerated Populations

American Rescue Plan Must Protect Incarcerated Populations

Caraline Feairheller
March 4, 2021

Nearly a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape the daily lives and policies of everyday people – from social distancing to mask mandates. However, nearly a year later the Congressional response to protecting and ensuring the health of people who are incarcerated has failed to measure up. This moral failure is coupled with the fact the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and disproportionately incarcerates people of color.

From the onset of the pandemic, it was clear that the enclosed nature and overcrowding of jails, prisons, and detention centers would make social distancing impossible. The failure to adequately address these challenges has resulted in 1 out of every 5 people in prison being infected the loss of and the loss of thousands of lives. While incarcerated, many inmates face barriers to access health services such as expensive medical co-pays especially considering how incarcerated people typically earn 14 to 63 cents per hour which is equivalent to charging a free-world worker $200 or $500 for a medical visit.

The moral failing to protect the health of those incarcerated extends beyond the walls of the prison as upon release returning citizens face intersecting obstacles of low wages, lack of affordable housing, and barriers to government sponsored safety net programs. These harmful barriers to eligibility to exacerbate the hardships of families at a time where an unprecedented number of people are experiencing food insecurity and unemployment.

Our country’s addiction to mass incarceration has jeopardized the health of millions of people. In order to Build Anew, Congress must reintroduce and pass the COVID-19 Corrections Facility Emergency Response Act in order to cover costs of testing, treatment, and provide community support services. , Congress must eliminate health care costs for those who remain incarcerated. Finally, Congress must remove barriers of eligibility to government safety net programs and increase the benefits provided by those programs to better meet the needs of families.

Download the full list of NETWORK asks in the next COVID-19 relief package. 

Don’t miss your chance to advocate for the American Rescue Plan with NETWORK. Text “JUSTICE” to 877-877 to sign up for NETWORK’s text alerts.

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

Black History Month: Honoring those who Resisted Voter Suppression

India-Grace Kellogg 
February 22, 2021

During this year’s Black History Month after a contentious election, we honor the Black women and men who organized and advanced Black voting power and political representation and recognize the ways white supremacy has shaped the U.S. political system to minimize Black votes and voices.

Following the 2020 election, which hinged on record-breaking voter turnout – especially Black voter turnout – in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, multiple sitting Members of Congress refused to certify the Electoral College vote. President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Georgia were overtly racist, and even after the violent mob attack on the Capitol, when the vote to certify was held in the early hours of January 7, 2021, eight Republican Senators and over 100 Representatives held firm with former President Trump.

This challenge to Black voters’ power echoed our nation’s last challenge to the Electoral College in 1876 during the election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes.

1876: A Backlash to Black Political Participation during Reconstruction

Prior to 1876, there had been a surge of mobilization within the Black community. During the first two years of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Black people throughout the South organized Equal Rights Leagues and held state and local conventions to demand suffrage and equity. Congress granted Black men the status and rights of citizenship in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and state constitutional conventions held in formerly Confederate states between 1867-69 were the first time that Black and white Americans participated in political life together. 265 African-American men were elected delegates to these conventions that re-wrote state constitutions, almost half in South Carolina and Louisiana.

Initially, under the protection of the 15th Amendment and because of the overwhelming majority of Black citizens in the South, Black voters had strong voting power during Reconstruction. In Congress, 16 Black men served during Reconstruction and more than 600 Black state legislators were elected, with hundreds more holding local offices across the South. The first Black men to serve in Congress were Senator Hiram Revels of Mississippi and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina. (It was nearly a century from their elections in 1870 until voters elected Representative Shirley Chisholm the first Black woman in Congress in 1968.)

Challenging the Electoral College Results

The outcome of 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes was unclear from the beginning. When the electoral vote was received by Congress, Tilden held 184 votes and Hayes held 165 votes. However, claims of fraud, intimidation, and violence that had been used to invalidate votes in the South, and Oregon delivered two sets of conflicting electoral votes to Congress.

These conflicting results presented an opportunity for Southern Democrats who had lost power in the South after the Civil War. They wanted to restore their control of governments in the South and to remove the last of the federal troops whose purpose had diminished to protecting governments in small areas surrounding state houses in the capitals of New Orleans and Columbia. An agreement was reached for Hayes to pull out the remaining federal troops in the South in return for a pledge to uphold the civil and voting rights of Black and white Republicans. As a result, filibusters were ruled out of order and Southern Democrats forced through the vote, declaring Hayes the winner with 185 electoral votes two days before he was inaugurated.

White Supremacy Curtails Reconstruction

The Supreme Court had already begun to limit the scope of the Reconstruction laws and Constitutional Amendments, beginning with the Slaughterhouse Cases which limited protection of the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment of the United State Constitution. However, with the removal of federal troops following President Hayes’s inauguration, white political leaders in the South began suppressing Black votes as the pledge to protect voting rights was quickly abandoned. While the Reconstruction Amendments remained in the Constitution, a new web of laws and requirements made voting nearly impossible for Black citizens. Under new gerrymandered election districts which reduced Black voting power, the Jim Crow era swept the South, creating a framework of voter suppression that has continued to evolve in face of reforms.

White political leaders in Southern states put in place literacy tests, poll taxes, moral character tests, and grandfather clauses targeting Black voters. Black voters who could pass these barriers then faced the threat of violence or property or job loss in retribution for attempting to vote. Additionally, the disenfranchisement of felons blocked many black voters. Black people were often arrested in the South on false charges or for vague crimes, such as “crimes of moral turpitude”, and sent through a criminal justice system that profited from black prisoners’ free labor when they were incarcerated. The over-criminalization of the Black community meant that the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affected Black voters in the South. These strategies reversed much of the progress that had been gained since the Civil War, with Black voting power reduced to less than 1% and the upward trend of Black men elected to office from southern states quickly ended.

Continued Voter Suppression

While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the landscape of voting in the South for Black voters especially, voter disenfranchisement still continues throughout the U.S. With Black Americans still overrepresented in the prison population, bans on voting due to criminal history continue to impact Black communities more than any other. Since Shelby County v. Holder, struck down the requirements of federal oversight, many states have passed additional voting requirements that are only subject to litigation after the fact. State across the country have begun to redistrict, require stricter voter identification, shut down polling locations, and limit early voting. While on their face these changes may seem to be aimed at reducing voter fraud, the reality is that these new restrictionsdisproportionately disenfranchise voters of color and minority communities.

The rhetoric surrounding voting, amplified by former President Trump, has disguised the true effect of the changes to voting requirements. Government-issued photo ID requirements effect minorities more than white voters, as minorities are less likely to have the needed forms of identification. Despite the argument that voting roll purges prevent voter fraud, the real impact of these purges is that many valid votes cannot be cast because voters were unaware that they had been removed from the voter rolls. Polling location closures, overwhelmingly in communities of color, result in longer wait times or travel time. This makes voting much more difficult and in some cases impossible due to lack of transportation or working hourly jobs. The conversation surrounding voter fraud and the barriers that are put in place to “fix” this so-called fraud have strong ties to the compromise of 1876 which marked the beginning of the Jim Crow era.

But the fight to achieve true voting rights and equity remains strong and in the last two elections there has been a resurgence of energy to fight voter suppression. While a major struggle in 1876 was the end of Reconstruction in the South, the 2020 election was a demonstration of the power of Black people successfully organizing against the racial inequality still existent today. The result of the Jim Crow laws put into place after Federal troops were withdrawn still haunt our nation and dog communities of color with their pervasive legacies and new iterations. Despite this, representation of black communities has grown steadily over the past 20 years. In fact, the most recent Congress, was the most diverse Congress ever to be elected to office.

Black Voting Rights Advocates Continue Leading the Movement

This progress would not have been possible without Black organizers’ efforts to mobilize voters. Black-led movements to equip and encourage voters, especially in swing states, were spurred on by the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities and the nation-wide protests against police brutality. During the 2020 Nuns on the Bus tour, we met Black organizers like Rev. Tawanda Davis of Soul 2 Soul Sisters in Denver and the staff of BLOC by Bloc in Milwaukee who led successful voter turnout initiatives in key states.

While this was a national movement, the 2020 Senate run-off election in Georgia was one of the most historic. This success mainly came from the efforts of Stacey Abrams. Abrams founded Fair Fight to ensure all eligible Georgia voters could vote after her historic 2018 run for Georgia Governor ended with clear mismanagement of the election by now-Governor Kemp’s Secretary of State office. Stacey Abrams with other organizers worked to mobilize the vote and were met by Black voters in Georgia as trusted voices. Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock’s successful campaign makes him Georgia’s first Black Senator. This and other elections prove that the power that was seen in the Black vote during Reconstruction is just as strong, but still has not been fully released from the remnants of the Jim Crow laws that sprung up after the 1876 compromise.

Introduced and sponsored by Black members of Congress, the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act present an opportunity to correct injustices in our voting system. With the swearing in of the first woman of color as Vice President, Vice President Kamala Harris, our nation may have come a long way since the end of Reconstruction, but we must remember that the work is not done.

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

The Past, Present, and Future of Black Catholics in the United States

By Joan Neal
November 30, 2020

Black Catholic history is Catholic Church history in this country, although the Church has failed to teach this foundational story. Well before 1619, there were Black Catholics on American soil, beginning with four soldiers who arrived in 1543 in what is now Florida, Texas and Arkansas. They were all Spaniards. Three were white and one, Esteban (Stephen), was Black – and a slave. All were Catholics when they arrived. Clearly then, not all Catholics who crossed the Atlantic were white.

A Spanish settlement was established in St. Augustine, Florida that included fellow Spaniards, Native American, and Black people, slave and free. In The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. wrote that the community and the church of the same name, became the first and oldest home for Black Catholics in the United States.* Over time, archeological excavations in the areas around St. Augustine have uncovered sacramental registers and parochial records for the period 1565-1763. These are the oldest ecclesial records in the United States, and include irrefutable documentation of Black people in the community. Long before the Mayflower arrived in 1620, Black Catholics were in the New World.

Over time, the Catholic Church grew among Black Americans, especially in the South. Despite the persistence of racism and white supremacy, Black people, slave and free, found their “church home” in the theology, ecclesiology and sacramental life of Catholicism. Families passed down the faith from generation to generation, resulting in many Black “cradle Catholics.” The Church evangelized in the community, becoming one of the only avenues for education for Black children.

Through slavery, emancipation, reconstruction and civil rights, Black Americans continued to embrace Catholicism. They brought their faith with them during the Great Migration (1916-1970) from the South to North and by 1970 there were more Black Catholics in Chicago than in New Orleans or Baltimore. But, just as in the South, Northern white Catholics failed to accept them, abandoned their urban parishes as Black people moved in, and fled to the suburbs.

Today, there are more than 3 million U.S. Black Catholics (4% of the Catholic population), 7 active Black Bishops (3.2% of Bishops); 250 Black priests (1% of the nation’s priests) and 1 Cardinal, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC who just became the first Black Cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

It is a testament to the depth of faith, moral fortitude and commitment to the institution that Black Catholics have remained in this Church that has never recognized their history as its own. But the day of reckoning is coming, when the Catholic Church in America will have to face its own participation in and complicity with the sin of racism, make a sincere act of contrition and begin the arduous process of reparation for the harm done to one of the oldest group of Catholics in this country.

 

 

 

*Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., The History of Black Catholics in the United States, (New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1990), 28-31

Affirmation in the Workplace

Affirmation in the Workplace

Ness Perry
September 27, 2019

As a young adult working at a YMCA in a Southern California suburb, I never thought that being out in the workplace was safe. I had come out to my friends, my family and most importantly myself. But, I wondered all the time whether my coworkers knew, and if they did, would say anything to my boss? More seriously, would the clientele think differently of me because I worked with children? Conservative parents are notorious for having perverse thoughts about queer-identified people in the childcare industry. Needless to say, I lived in fear of being fired and ousted by my community for being queer and proud at work. So, I vowed never to talk about my identity at work.

As a new staff member at NETWORK, I found that being out at work is not just accepted, it’s celebrated. I don’t know how I lived in the shadows (or in the closet) for so long because of how comfortable I am now. This organization proudly affirms me, my identity, and who I love. As I write, however, I realize how big of a privilege it is to even be able to write this. In little under a month, the Supreme Court will hear a case to decide the constitutionality of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia will be heard on October 8, 2019. This case is not a question of whether the law permits discrimination, it is a question about respecting human dignity. As individuals, we have the right to be ourselves one hundred percent of the time — this includes identifying as LGBTQ+ all the time. I am scared, though. What if our human dignity is not protected under the law? What if my queer siblings and I cannot live in peace without the fear of discrimination? We cannot let the courts, nor any administration revoke the rights that we have been working to gain for so long. I began identifying myself as queer in the workplace because I realized that Marsha P. Johnson did not sacrifice her life for me to be scared.

A verdict will be announced soon, and we cannot and will not be afraid of a negative outcome. Queer is invincible; it is resilient, and we will overcome just as we have many times before. Perry v. Hollingsworth was the first time the Supreme Court overturned a state decision to put a ban on marriage equality. This case proved that we can make progress, but we must unite as a coalition of citizens loving and affirming those affected while being dedicated to social justice efforts.

Honestly, I never thought a faith-based organization would be the place I can present myself in such an authentic way. NETWORK proudly affirms the dignity of all people and the reality that LGBTQ+ people like myself are in need of protection under the law and within the social sphere. When I walk into my workplace, I am queer. When I am working, I am queer. When I am advocating for the rights of others, I am queer. There is no political force nor law that will bar me from being myself, unapologetically.

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Mary Cunningham
July 4, 2018

July 4, 1776: the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Since then, each July 4th we celebrate our nation’s freedom from an overbearing colonial rule and our fervent patriotism. We dress in red, white, and blue, enjoy cookouts with neighbors in our backyards, and watch from picnic blankets as fireworks erupt across the sky. Yes, the day has become commercialized, but the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as pertinent in our current political climate as they were when they were first written.

The document written by our founding fathers clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people. Thus, we see the intricate and fragile relationship that exists between the government and the governed.

Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we have do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what was meant by this term: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

The default on the promise of “inalienable rights” was evident during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and it is still evident today for people of color and all on the economic margins seeking to live freely in the United States. We see this in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, Congress’s failure to pass a Dream Act to protect DACA recipients, and state and federal attempts to impose work requirements on human needs programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. How do these political decisions enhance the life, liberty, or happiness of the people they impact? They don’t.

On a more personal level, we have begun to fail one another, as violent discrimination and exclusion continue to reign. Our nation has endured countless acts of police brutality and racial profiling. I am astonished on a daily basis by the attacks on communities of color, like the recent shooting of high school student Antwon Rose. If we set a standard that “all men are created equal,” shouldn’t we hold all people to that standard, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs?

A few days ago, one of my coworkers sent around a video from the show, Dear White People, to our staff. In the video, the character Reggie reads a poem he wrote for an open mic night—his rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal
that they are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights
Among these life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness
unless you’re loud and black
and possess an opinion
then all you get is a bullet
A bullet that held me at bay
A bullet that can puncture my skin
take all my dreams away
A bullet that can silence
the words I speak to my mother
just because I’m
other
A bullet – held me captive
gun in my face
your hate misplaced
White skin, light skin
but for me not the
right skin
Judging me with no crime committed
reckless trigger finger itching to
prove your worth by disproving mine
My life in your hands
My life on the line
Fred Hampton
Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd
Reggie Green
Spared by a piece of paper
a student ID
that you had to see before
you could identify
me
and set me supposedly
free
Life
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness
for some of us maybe
There’s nothing
self-evident
about it

The Declaration of Independence pronounced the individual rights that cannot be taken away. In 1776, that only included white, male landowners. After much hard work and sacrifice, we know that all people deserve these same unalienable rights. But, we see that as a nation today, we fall despairingly short of this. The words of the Declaration of Independence should not be an ideal or something that we aspire to. They must be the law of the land, the fabric which knits our country together. For if we cannot claim our freedom, what do we have left?