Category Archives: Staff

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Bearing Witness to the Pain of our Immigrant Family Calls Us to Action

I have shed tears watching the news coverage of ICE raids in work places. I have watched the separation of children, including very young children, from their parents in horror. I have had tears in my eyes as Temporary Protected Status for vulnerable people is ended without regard to the lived realities in these countries. I am shocked as the Republican Party, which always prided itself on being the party of “family values,” sets out with calculated cruelty to tear families apart. In the process, they are tearing the heart out of our nation.

But tears are not enough.

Pope Francis in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate, challenges us with the insight: “The only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?” (Paragraph 102).

So how do we stand in the shoes of these immigrants? For some in Chicago it is being part of a prayer ministry for detained immigrants. In New Jersey, just across from New York City, it is providing detained people with basic necessities like stationery, stamps and international phone cards. In southern California, it is in providing parish identification cards and safe havens when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is around. In Minnesota, it is state organizing to provide actual protection for undocumented families. On our southern border, it is leaving water along the paths immigrants travel. In schools, colleges and, universities, it is making education accessible for undocumented children and young adults.

Everyone engaged in these and myriad other ministries is putting themselves in the zapatos (shoes) of the immigrant.

As I don’t spend my time doing this direct work, I sometimes wonder how am I putting myself in these sacred shoes? I am lead once again to the crying need for systemic change in our immigration policy. Our nation is being torn apart. Our values are being trampled. Our people are being hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, a mother told me that her first grade son came home extremely worried. He feared that his parents would not be there for him when he came home from school. He and his pals at school were talking about what had happened to one of their pal’s parents. His anxiety was high as he blurted out in tears: “It isn’t fair!”

I know that primal cry. It resonates in my being. I want to stand up and say STOP! This is my part – and yours. Together we are called as the NETWORK community to lobby Congress to change these unjust laws. But it isn’t just our own members of Congress that need to hear from us. We can get our friends around the country to contact their members of Congress too. We need to be missionaries of the common good for our family members who are suffering.

If we are going to reclaim our country, we must act according to our faith values. We will put ourselves in the shoes of those seeking our help and do all in our power to change these unjust laws. I commit to you that I will not step back from the fray even when my heart is broken and I want to flee. Will you act with me in the face of this mounting horror?

It is in this struggle that we might come to know the holiness that Pope Francis talks about. He tells us that it is marked by perseverance, joy, passion and boldness, community and constant prayer. Let us continue our advocacy, knowing that in our time this is the Gospel path. Let us respond together to the invitation: Come Follow Me!

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

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Mary Cunningham
July 20, 2018

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas are just miles apart and yet they are worlds away. As you explore both, you notice the cities blend into one another: people living on one side, working on the other, Spanish and English spoken in both, and a shared industrial vibe. And yet, the cities remain two distinct realities – divided by a large border wall, 18 feet high in some places. People on one side are trapped by low wages, poor working conditions, violence, and persecution, and on the other trapped by their own minds and biases. But there is a deep inequality between the two countries, and, in the United States, an explicit denial of the experiences of people living south of the border – people most of us have never even met. It baffles me how a barrier can create not only physical separation, but a separation that is strongly emotional and visceral.

In early July I went to the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time. Working at a federal advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., I am constantly reading news about what’s happening at the border: people fleeing violence in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, debates on funding for the border wall, family separation, the list goes on. Despite this, I always felt a desire to go the border – to meet people and hear their stories. D.C. is geared towards engaging with immigration on a policy level, but it often feels disconnected from what’s happening on the ground. This trip was a chance to immerse myself in the reality of the border—learning about the working conditions for people on both sides, the process for seeking asylum, the experience of migrants, the conditions in detention centers, Customs and Border Protection, and more. It was a chance to learn, but also a chance to feel the impact of the border and the precise division it creates.

At the beginning of the week we helped serve dinner at Nazareth Hall, a shelter for migrants recently released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention centers. Although there was a language barrier, the stories of the people we served food to were written all over their faces. We noticed the timidity of the group as they entered the dining hall and the slight relaxation that took over as they realized they were finally in a safe place. One woman came up to us after dinner with tears in her eyes, holding each of our hands for a few brief moments, as she repeated, “thank you.” We also got a tour of Annunciation House, a shelter for undocumented immigrants started by Ruben Garcia. (This is one of the only shelters available for migrants who are undocumented.) Interacting with migrants who had just been released from detention was a grounding experience. I spoke with one man from Cameroon who had been detained for 18 months. When I asked how that was, he just shook his head despairingly, claiming, “horrible.” It was evident that the conditions in detention centers are deplorable. Many local advocates we met with told us “make no mistake: these are prisons.”

In addition to helping at local shelters, we met immigration advocates and attorneys such as Anna Hey, Deputy Director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS). Anna gave us an overview of the particular barriers facing migrants coming to the United States, explaining the snares they often get caught up in the legal process. Among all the things Anna shared with us, what stood out to me the most were the discrepancies between the number of people granted asylum from state to state, depending on where their case is heard. (In New York, New York the grant rate is 85%, while in El Paso the grant rate is a mere 6%.) Additionally, Anna noted how the whole “wait in line” argument is complete bologna. Some people applying for immigrant visas or Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) may have to wait over 20 years! Hearing about this and the lived experience of the clients Anna works with exposed the undeniable reality of our dysfunctional immigration system.

Towards the end of the week we crossed the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. While there, we visited the Bibloteca Infantil, “El Buen Pastor,” a children’s library started by Cristina Estrada. Cristina explained how the limited economic opportunity in Juárez dissuades many people from finishing their education. Maquiladoras (foreign-owned and run factories) are common in Juárez and many Mexicans – often multiple members of the same family– end up working in them. We talked to a representative from Foxconn (an electronics manufacturing company), who told us that the starting wage is around $60 a week. Broken down, that means that at least three members of a family would have to work to make ends meet. Recognizing that many Mexican young people see factories like this as their only path, Cristina’s mission at the children’s library is to provide a space for young people to learn, study, and grow. She provides books for students and helps tutor them so they are able to recognize the value of education and where it can lead them. When one of our group members asked Cristina what she hoped to accomplish, she replied with tears in her eyes, saying her dreams had already been fulfilled. Seeing so many kids achieve their educational goals over the years is her greatest accomplishment.

This immersion trip brought me many things, but perhaps among the most important was that nothing is more powerful than the power of experience. Some elected officials choose to paint the immigrant population with broad strokes, calling them criminals, drug traffickers, or burdens to our country. But how fair is that, when these are people just like us, who each carry their own pain, struggles, and joys? There are so many stories that simply don’t get heard, because we don’t have enough time or space to tell them. While I know this immersion trip and these stories won’t change immigration policy overnight, they certainly changed me. I find hope at the individual level, where the stories of each individual person we meet transform our hearts and minds and push us in subtle ways to see anew. As the Columban motto goes, “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.”

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?

 

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

Claudia Brock
June 6, 2018

Every election my mom likes to remind my sister and me of the time we accompanied her to vote in the 2000 presidential election. At the ages of 4 and 6, we were convinced that voting was one of the most glamorous and exciting things an adult could do. After all, you had to be 18 and you got to have a say in who ran the country. On Election Day, my sister and I donned our finest tutus and costume jewelry to accompany our mom to the polls for this truly sophisticated event. Imagine our disappointment when we walked into our local elementary school’s cafeteria and waited as our mom went into the voting booth, only to head out the door five minutes later. I’m not sure what my sister and I hoped to see, but we were grossly unimpressed.

When I voted for the first time in the 2012 election, the experience was completely different—entering a voting booth at a local park pavilion felt plenty exciting. I had carefully researched all of the candidates on the ballot and even called my county election commission to make sure I could bring my notes into the booth with me. I took, and still take, my right to vote very seriously because not only do I help elect leaders I think will benefit my community, but I also understand that thousands of women fought for my right to be in the voting booth.

The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex, was originally introduced in Congress in 1878 and was finally passed 41 years later on June 4, 1919 and submitted to the states for ratification. Suffragettes had marched, protested, and lobbied for the inclusion of women in the vote since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York. For 71 years, these women built a grassroots movement, but they also were imprisoned, endured physical and sexual assaults, were disowned from their parents, and had their parental rights terminated as a result of their work and beliefs.

Despite their work for greater access to democracy, these women failed to address the dual oppression of racism and sexism faced by Black women. Suffragettes barred Black women from the movement and presented voting rights as an extension of white supremacy to make it more palatable to other white Americans. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory polling laws like voting taxes and literacy tests, that Black women secured the right to vote.

In the United States, those who vote have more representation than those who do not. This is a problem when you consider that there are still efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, including the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, strict voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, polling place intimidation, voting roll purges, and more. As I reflect on my first time voting, I realize my experience was ripe with privilege: I had the time and resources to go to the polls, my name was not purged from the voting roll, I was not asked to show ID, I was not harassed at the poll, and there were enough poll workers present so my voting lasted only 10 minutes.

Voting is a great step in reducing inequality of all kinds and achieving racial equity through public policy. It plays a large role in the allocation of government resources, who benefits from public policies, and the size of government. If you are able to vote, you should! You can register here. Around the anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, use your voice to advocate for voting rights to create a more perfect and inclusive union.

President Trump’s Plan to Take Back Funding from the Children’s Health Insurance Program

President Trump’s Plan to Take Back Funding from the Children’s Health Insurance Program

Kaitlin Brown
May 29, 2018

Just as supporters of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) thought they could relax after the popular health insurance program was renewed for ten years with bipartisan support, Congress is again threatening to cut funding. This past winter, months after federal CHIP funding expired, families waited nervously as funds began to run low and states started to send out notices to families, warning them of the possible end of the program. At the eleventh hour, funding for the program was approved, and families across the country let out a collective sigh of relief.

Now, however, there is a new threat to CHIP. Last week, the Trump administration sent a request to Congress to begin a rescissions process. This is something that hasn’t been done since President Clinton, and is a bit complicated. At the President’s request, Congress has 45 days to take back money they previously allocated. They need to pass this by a majority vote, but they also have the option to not take back any of the money.

President Trump’s rescission request asked Congress to take back $7 billion from the CHIP program, along with money from some other social safety net programs, including housing. Some of the money (around $5 billion) is money that had been given to the states but was not spent. In programs like CHIP, more money is given to the states than what is expected to be needed, in case of increased expenses and these extra funds are usually re-appropriated to other health and human services programs if they are not used.

The other $2 billion is money that is set aside in what is called a contingency fund. This is money that can be used in the case of an emergency, like a natural disaster, or Congress failing to fund the program in a timely manner. Last winter, this was the fund that was used to help ensure kids in the program continued to have coverage while Congress stalled on funding the program.

White House officials argue that the money is unlikely to be used, and wouldn’t take healthcare away from kids. However, without the contingency fund last year, millions of children would have lost healthcare coverage. And while some of the money has not been used, it has traditionally been absorbed back into other healthcare programs that need it.

Instead, this funding President Trump requested to have taken away from CHIP will be used to drive down the deficit caused by last fall’s $1.3 trillion tax cut. After giving tax breaks to millionaires, Congress has faced pressure on the huge deficit it created and decided to try and decrease the deficit by taking money from CHIP. While the rescission package isn’t guaranteed to take healthcare away from children, the damage this will do is enough to make families nervous. After last winter’s unfortunate CHIP battle, families deserve peace of mind about their children’s health insurance, not further cuts to undo the damage caused by tax cuts for millionaires.

The First Step Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough

The First Step Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Joan Neal
May 25, 2018

The House just passed the First Step Act, a bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Despite the claims of the bill’s supporters that it will make the prison system fairer and more effective, this bill will not alleviate the overcrowded, discriminatory nature of our federal prison system.  In fact, while it contains some modest reforms such as prohibiting shackles on pregnant women during child birth; adding some educational, job training and personal development programs; and providing limited opportunities to earn ‘time credits’ toward early release, the bill fails to include provisions to overhaul and fundamentally transform the nation’s justice system.  Research shows that we need both sentencing and prison reform to achieve meaningful change in our criminal justice system.  The First Step Act, focusing only on the back end – more geared towards limiting prison time after someone is incarcerated — is inadequate to achieve that goal.

Backed by the White House (Jared Kushner and President Trump), the bill has the support of various individuals and factions of conservatives, including the Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, most House Republicans (especially members of the House Freedom Caucus), Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who previously co-sponsored the bi-partisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and some moderate Democrats.  Even with all of that support, the First Step Act fails to address some of the big problems in the current criminal justice system: racial disparities, chronic prison overcrowding, a focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation, and the exorbitant costs of incarceration, borne by the government, tax payers, prisoners and their families.

Moreover, some of its provisions could actually have the opposite effect of its intent by putting in place policies that are more discriminatory toward inmates of color and women.  For instance, it calls for the development of a “risk assessment system,” to be implemented and overseen by the current Attorney General, who has a history of opposing sentencing reform, supporting punitive rather than rehabilitative policies and practices, and targeting immigrants and immigration related offenses.  This bill may well do more harm than good.

Supporters of the bill argue that we must make a choice:  either we pass prison reform or sentencing reform.  There is no possibility to do both.  It’s false to say there is only one choice.  For several years, a comprehensive, bi-partisan bill – the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act – has been gathering support in both houses.  Clearly, passing comprehensive criminal justice reform is possible.  We do not have to choose one or the other.

Meaningful criminal justice reform requires both front and back end changes.  Congress should, therefore, abandon the First Step Act and take up the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act instead.

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Mehreen Karim
May 24, 2018

WHO: My elementary school teachers couldn’t fathom why a 9 year old kid would be ecstatic to wake up at unkind hours of the morning, only to begin a day long fast from food and water. Fourteen years later, my adult peers grapple with the same doubts when hearing that Muslims voluntarily fast and actually reap boundless pleasures and joys from Ramadan. As one of the foundational practices of Islam, all Muslims in good health (excluding children and those that are pregnant, nursing, ill, or menstruating), are required to participate in fasting during Ramadan. That’s at least a billion Muslims.

WHAT: Ramadan is one of the holy months in the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims fast from dawn till dusk every day of this month. By abstaining from food, water, and sinful behavior, Muslims devote their entire days to purging bad habits and implementing better ones. From a young age, I fell in love with Ramadan for its heart-changing virtues. I was, in fact, the 9-year-old that loved to rally her siblings at 5 AM to sleep-eat breakfast foods and chug glasses of water. And at every sunset, I was comforted by the sight of family coming together for the sole purpose of breaking fast and praying together—no questions asked—for thirty days.

WHEN: Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Historically, God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the month of Ramadan.

WHERE: Muslims are fasting in every country around the world. You can find us breaking fast at home, a restaurant, or at any local mosque. Every night of Ramadan, communities come together at local mosques to provide a free dinner to all who wish to join. If you ever want to experience the foods, customs, and hospitality of Muslims during this blessed month, drop by a mosque near you at sunset!

WHY: Thirty days of restraining from food, and yes, even water, comes off as an unreasonable and often dreadful experience to the average onlooker. However, the physically challenging practices of Ramadan rarely compare in difficulty to the equally crucial practices of self-improvement and spiritual growth. Holding off on a staff lunch is a cakewalk (pun intended) in comparison to holding off from lying, backbiting, jealousy, greed, and every other toxic sentiment you may come by in a regular day. The mental challenge of fasting from one’s bad habits and inner demons is perhaps the most taxing, and therefore, the most cleansing form of self-restraint Ramadan enables. When understanding the “why” of Ramadan, one must correct a common misconception: to restrain oneself is not to deprive oneself.  Reward lies in restraint.

When fasting, we are dusting off our relationship with God— polishing it with the utmost attention to detail. We reflect on the crevices in our faith, noting that each crevice is proof that there is only ever more room to grow towards our Creator.  The greatest unsung truth about Ramadan is this– Muslims dedicate 30 days of the year to forging heights in our spirituality, expanding the bounds of our mental health, and living out our love for God in honest self-revelation.

Growing up with a Working Mom

Growing up with a Working Mom

Claudia Brock
May 12, 2018

My mom has been a working mother all of my life. When I was born my mom was working at a health sciences college in Omaha and in my baby book there are several photographs of me having some tummy-time on the floor of her office and of her rocking me in the on-site day care center. When I was in kindergarten my mom founded her own nonprofit, Concord Center: a mediation and conflict resolution center serving families, individuals, businesses, schools and community groups. In her office she has a picture frame with photos of my sister and me the year she started her organization: my early 2000s school picture featuring some missing teeth,  and a picture of my curly-haired, three-year-old sister.

Starting her own non-profit while my sister and I were young children meant creating a family-friendly work environment and flexible schedule were essential. My early memories include playing with my sister in my mom’s workspace, coloring on her whiteboard with dry erase markers, watching Disney VHS tapes on a small television in her office, and roller skating around her conference room table. My mom’s flexible schedule allowed her to pick me up from school and spend time with me in the afternoons. But I also have memories of accompanying my mom to meetings and attending day camp if my sister and I had a school holiday that could not be accommodated by my parents’ work schedule.

I feel very lucky to have grown up with a working mom. As a young girl I benefitted from seeing my mom as a boss, a leader, a collaborator, and a problem solver and learning that being a dedicated mom and an engaged worker were not mutually exclusive. I grew up around coworkers who respected her in both a professional and personal capacity. I am proud of my mom’s career and feel grateful that she and my dad always spoke about their careers as a way to share their gifts with the world, and as something tied to their own spirituality and concern for community- they had vocations, not jobs. When I envision my own future it always involves being a working mother.

While I so admire my mom’s accomplishments I am very aware that she had to make professional sacrifices to be fully available to my sister and me. In fact, it is a national trend for women’s careers to have family-related interruptions more often than men’s careers. These interruptions contribute to the gender wage gap and limit the number of women in top-level jobs.

As with most issues, the rights and privileges extended to working parents have a class and racial dimension. People who make more than $75,000 a year are twice as likely as those who make less than $30,000 to receive paid leave, with only 14% of workers in the United States having access to paid family leave. Balancing childcare and work often lead todifficult decisions for many families, and in particular African American families who, “are doubly penalized by lower wages and higher rates of parental labor force participation.”

The United States remains one of the wealthiest nations and yet the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers. In the U.S., 1 in 4 new mothers go back to work just 10 days after giving birth. So this Mother’s Day let’s ask policymakers for family friendly workplaces; for paid leave, flexible hours, and affordable and accessible child care in addition to making mom breakfast in bed- it’s the least we can do.

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Mary Cunningham
April 30, 2018

“He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ ” – St. Bernardine of Siena

On May 1, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Pope Pius XII established this feast day in 1955 to honor St. Joseph and celebrate the Catholic Church’s commitment to the dignity of labor. St. Joseph cared for Mary, his wife, and Jesus, his son, through his work as a carpenter, representing for us the ideal of dignified work and faithful contribution to the common good. His example reminds all workers to participate in God’s continuing creation each and every day through our own labor.

As I reflect on St. Joseph the Worker, I am reminded of the teacher strikes emerging throughout our country in the past few months. Beginning in West Virginia –and growing to Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma– teachers are uniting to demand higher wages and better conditions for the schools where they teach. The teachers rallying are from states with some of the lowest salaries for educators in the country. They are calling for more state funding for public education, which is currently inadequate.

In a pivotal move, teachers are leaving their classrooms to go on strike. In West Virginia, the teachers hoped to point out not only inadequate pay, but also changes to PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency), a health insurance company that covers state employees. They also wanted to highlight the large number of teacher vacancies (700 in West Virginia) resulting from poor school conditions and low teacher pay. In Colorado, teachers rallied at the State Capitol for various reasons, among them fear of changes to retirement and pension plans. United for a common mission, these teachers have gained national attention, and in some cases, secured greater education funding.

Like teachers, workers across professions are joining together to demand just wages and benefits for their work. At the Christian Care Home  in Ferguson, Missouri, healthcare workers participated in a 104 day-long strike because the nursing home mishandled vacation and violated  the contract for time off  for its employees. Around 65 full-time employees and 25 part-time workers participated in the strike, which eventually led to a 20 cent an hour raise to $9.85 an hour. Christian Care Home also agreed to cover health insurance rates and cover payouts for unfair labor practices. This is another striking example of what it looks like to take action to secure dignified labor.

As we celebrate St Joseph the Worker today, we recall all workers who have experienced injustice and sought better working conditions for themselves and those around them. The teachers going on strike, and all teachers across the United States, are shaping our education system and forming the young women and men who will soon enter the workforce, and serve as our politicians, engineers, and innovators. Their contribution to the common good cannot be understated. All workers deserve dignity, fair compensation, and safe work environments that allow them to shape our shared future and contribute to the common good.

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Mary Cunningham
April 26, 2018

In his recently-published apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad,” Pope Francis explores what it means to be holy in a world often tainted by egoism and a disregard for the marginalized. He calls us all to follow Jesus in order to embody His holiness and live out His mission in the world. In one section of the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis lists the “signs of holiness in today’s world:” Perseverance, Patience and Meekness, Joy and a Sense of Humor, Boldness and Passion, Community, and Constant Prayer. What do these mean, and how do they apply to our own lives and our advocacy?

Perseverance, Patience and Meekness

“They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.” (#112)

Working for justice can be draining. I am always amazed by our lobbyists who constantly advocate for policy goals that may or may not be realized. It is difficult to measure how much one lobby visit or one conversation can influence a policy maker. While our lobbyists might not feel immediate satisfaction from their actions, they continue to do this work because they are hopeful that through advocacy we will move towards a more positive future. As we continue in our work for justice, it is important to look towards our ultimate goal to avoid being weighed down in moments of distress.

Joy and a Sense of Humor

“Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’”  (#125)

In our political climate it can be hard to find joy, let alone a sense of humor. The current administration makes daily decisions that threaten the livelihood of our sisters and brothers both in the United States and across the world. In the face of this adversity, it is important to cultivate the inner sense of joy and positivity we need to move forward.

At NETWORK, I find joy in my co-workers, who find time to engage with one another in meaningful ways even when they are bogged down with hill visits, or grassroots organizing. I also find joy in the hope that our work will contribute to promoting the common good and dismantle the oppressive systems currently in place.

Boldness and Passion

“God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14).” (#135)

Going to the fringes requires a willingness to enter into moments of discomfort and leave our own privilege. One of our goals at NETWORK is to engage in dialogues and actions surrounding racial justice. As a white person, I often struggle with these conversations. I try to make sure I am being respectful in the language I use, while also acknowledging my own privilege, which can be uncomfortable. In the advocacy space, it is important not to let our fears overcome our passion. We are human. God calls us to enter into difficult conversations and to be bold so that justice can be advanced. Complacency is resignation. As Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

Community

“Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).” (#146)

It’s a human tendency to think we can do everything on our own. Sometimes it feels easier to do it that way instead of consulting our sisters and brothers for help. However, in our work for justice, we must always seek out our neighbors. Our Grassroots Mobilization team constantly puts this into action by building advocates teams across the United States and mobilizing them to be active voices in their communities. We also see this sense of community in our spirit-filled network at NETWORK that participates in action alerts, webinars, and more. Without them, out work would not be possible.

Another key part of advocacy is building relationships with other organizations advancing justice and lifting up the work they are doing. At NETWORK we work on our Mend the Gap issue areas, but we can only cover so much! Without the great work of our partner organizations, the uphill battle towards economic and social justice would be a lot more challenging. When we recognize the value of community, we are all able to combine our unique strengths to work towards a common goal.

Constant Prayer

“Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where all is peaceful and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence. In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us.” (#149)

Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of discernment by asking, how do we faithfully follow God? Being in prayer with God means being in conversation with Her and asking where do you most need me? Although this can be unclear, only in talking to God can we ensure that we are doing all we can to live out Her mission.

A huge part of our work for justice requires listening and bearing witness to what is going on around us. We must occasionally set aside doing and focus on openness: letting God’s will enter our hearts and our minds. We have to remind ourselves of why we are doing this work. Only then can we ensure we are truly living out God’s call for us.

Overall, there is a lot to take from the pope’s apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis assures us that we are all called to be holy in our own unique way. The “signs of holiness” are the means through which we can animate our advocacy and achieve holiness in our lives.