Category Archives: Staff

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.

Arrest a Nun, Not a Dreamer

“Arrest a Nun, Not a Dreamer”

Mary Cunningham
April 25, 2018

Catholic sisters held these signs as they gathered with around 200 other advocates during the National Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers on February 27, 2018. Members of the Catholic community met on Capitol Hill to demand a legislative solution from Congress for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who face uncertainty about their legal status in the United States. PICO National Network organized the day of events along with Catholic organizations including: Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., Franciscan Action Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pax Christi USA, and NETWORK.

The event highlighted Dreamers’ precarious position and called on advocates and people of faith to move towards action. Sister Quincy Howard, OP, a Government Relations Fellow at NETWORK, attended and reflected on the way we are treating Dreamers in this country: “I hope that people’s eyes and hearts can be opened to the suffering of these young people who have done nothing wrong. Dreamers are our teachers, our students, and our neighbors, and our government is currently threatening them with exile from the only home they know.”

The day began with a press conference outside the Capitol building with speeches from Sister JoAnn Persch, RSM, Father Tom Reese, SJ, and others. After the speeches, the attendees recited the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary together. The crowd then moved into the Russell Senate Office Building and those who chose to participate in the civil disobedience formed a circle, singing and praying together in the center of the rotunda. After issuing several warnings, Capitol police arrested around 40 Catholic leaders, many of them women religious.

Sisters participated in the act of civil disobedience because they felt it was a moral imperative and a small sacrifice compared to the lived experience of the Dreamers. Sister Diane Roche, RSCJ, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation at the Stuart Center in Washington, D.C. said “If there is an issue worth getting arrested for, this is it. This is my first time ever, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do to stand in solidarity. It is a small enough thing compared to what they are going through.”

The action was a stark reminder that although Dreamers and supporters are organizing and advocating tirelessly, Congress has still failed to pass a legislative solution that will protect them from deportation. Each day that goes by, Dreamers face more uncertainty about their future.

As Sister Ann Scholz, SSND,  LCWR Associate Director for Social Mission and NETWORK Board member, said: “Our mission as Christians is to welcome those who are in need as we would welcome Jesus. So really, we can do no other than be here today to stand with Dreamers and ask our elected officials to provide the welcome that is theirs because they are created in the image of God just as we are.

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

Cover 1

Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son

Jeremiah Pennebaker
April 12, 2018

“I hope you gettin’ in that Word!” I can hear my Pops telling me every time I pick up the phone to dial him, and I’m flooded with premature guilt because I am in fact not “gettin’ in that Word.” I can’t really remember the last time I really sat down and had a dedicated devotion or spent intentional time studying the Bible. Don’t tell my dad that – it’s looks bad if the pastor’s kid is skipping out on Bible study. It’s not that I’m rejecting the gospel or trying to rebel against my parents, but it’s more so just a disconnect for me. I feel much more faith-adjacent than I do faithful. I have a desire to be faithful and to understand what it means to have a relationship with God, but I feel that I’m living in a strange and distant land far from the luxuries of “The Kingdom.”

I spent all of my formative years in the church. Travelling to different churches across Louisville, I heard my dad speak fervently and passionately about Jesus and put together sermons that would “hit you on the way home” and really make you think. There was one point in my adolescence that you couldn’t tell me that my dad and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. weren’t the same person. I was all in for this Christianity and faith stuff. I was involved in any aspect I could be with the church, even to the point that we started our own gospel rap group (I still cringe when I remember some of my “raps”). We had a church of our own, we had worked hard and gotten a building, membership was growing, and I was convinced that we were supposed to be the next megachurch… until we weren’t.

It still feels like a blur, but the disconnect happened in 2011 when we lost the church amongst a series of unfortunate events for my family. I know so many stories in the Bible discuss how the believers and the disciples struggled, but their faith remained or that God showed them the way. But that hasn’t been my experience. My experience has been watching my parents grapple with debt and discouragement while clinging to their faith traditions. Around the same time, I began learning about how faith has been used as propaganda for domination since the beginning of time. My experience has been attempting to reconcile my beliefs with a world that I’m constantly learning is much more nuanced than black and white or good and evil. I’m trying to reason with all the things that I think versus the things I know, all the while I feel my relationship with God fading away. It feels like the disconnect grew into a gap and then that gap into a chasm. To me Jesus went from a friend to the friendless to that friend on Facebook who you don’t talk to anymore, but they’re always reposting inspirational quotes.

Despite all of this confusion, I’ve never necessarily left the faith space. My passion for justice has led me to being in several faith spaces. I went to a Jesuit college where I was heavily involved in the Center for Faith and Justice, and I currently work for a Catholic non-profit, but there’s still this chasm. I recognized this when I was asked at NETWORK, “How does your faith inform your desire to do justice?”. To be honest, I’m not sure how it does. My desire to do justice comes from my frustration with injustice, but I’m not sure where my faith comes in outside of “be a good person and you get to heaven.”

On one hand I’m a very rational person. I can rationalize a lot of the reasons that I should and could create this relationship with God. I can rationalize and recognize how my foundation of faith has led me to my passion for social justice. I can rationalize that the racist, sexist, and homophobic interpretations of the Bible are not the only context in which “that Word” can be understood. I can rationalize and recognize who I believe God is and recognize and validate my friends who are LGBTQIA+. On the other hand, I’m an unashamed hopeless romantic and I can recognize when that connectedness of a relationship is there and when it isn’t. I can recognize my feelings whenever I’m in a space trying to explain my faith or talk about God. And I can recognize that my heavenly father (or mother) feels more like a step-parent. It’s those things I haven’t been able to reconcile, and maybe I’m not supposed to. I just hope that God’s still waiting on me to come home if I ever do figure it out.

What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

What Are Members of Congress Saying on Public Charge?

NETWORK will be updating this page with the latest statements.

“What will the Trump Administration do next? Since day one, we have witnessed a series of attacks by the administration targeting immigrant communities around our nation. This latest back-door attempt to leverage public health and efforts to deny legal immigration benefits, seeks to circumvent Congress and ultimately restrict family reunification. This ill-advised proposal will make it difficult for individuals seeking legal entry or permanent residency in the United States to care for their family through the use of social services that they are legally entitled to use. This rule fails to uphold the values of our nation and will force individuals to choose between putting food on the table for their children and being granted legal status.” –Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

“Let’s be clear— current law already prevents the vast majority of immigrants from accessing Federal means-tested public benefits. That’s not what this proposed rule is about. This is about denying immigration benefits and keeping families apart. It would essentially force families, including citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need—like medical care or Head Start—and reuniting with loved ones.  This rule will not only harm immigrant families, it will undermine decades-long efforts to improve the health and well-being of our communities and our nation.” –Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19).

“The Trump administration’s proposed ‘public charge’ rule is a dangerous attack on immigrant families. For centuries, immigrants fleeing economic hardship, persecution, and violence have found opportunity in our country to do what is best for their families. This proposal imperils that ability and forces immigrant families to make the tragic decision between basic necessities and their future in our country. I urge the Trump administration to rescind this heartless proposal, cease its baseless attacks on immigrant communities, and stop inserting nativist principles into policies that directly contradict American values.” – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03). 

Original post with statements can be found here.

What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

Mary Cunningham
April 11, 2018

At the heart of the American experience lays the dazzling idea of the American Dream. We profess the dream proudly, holding it as a symbol of our nation’s deepest values: acceptance, equal opportunity, and prosperity achieved through hard work. Yet, how can we profess this to be true if not everyone is given an equal chance to prosper and if we penalize people for utilizing the very programs that are designed to help them get ahead?

On March 28, 2018 the Washington Post relayed the latest update on the proposed public charge rule, which could change the process for immigrants seeking legal residency. The draft of this change has not been formally published and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget for approval. This proposed public charge rule demonstrates another attempt by the Trump administration to restrict family-based immigration and cut off access to public benefits that help families meet their basic human needs. Yes, this rule, if it comes to pass, would apply to families who have come to the United States legally in search of a better life. These are the people who have gone through the system and as our Republican friends like to say patiently “waited their turn in line” to obtain green cards. These are the families and individuals who would be penalized if this proposed rule comes to fruition.

So what exactly does public charge entail?  Under the proposed draft, individuals would be required to indicate their reliance – and for the first time any family members’ reliance – on public aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and even refundable tax income credits obtained through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). People who depend on these programs, or who have children who rely on them, could potentially be derailed on their path to a green card or even deported. The draft regulation penalizes those applying for lawful permanent resident status if they have big families and if they have limited income. This would be particularly harmful to mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children where parents will have to decide whether their child should use programs like Medicaid or school lunches if such use could lead to deportation of a family member seeking a green card.

So basically, individuals would be forced to choose between catering to their basic human needs or protecting their immigration status. If this rule passes it will have a deleterious effect on families. It would separate families who rely on public aid and increase the risk of falling into poverty for those who do not enroll in public aid programs for fear of being forced to abandon family reunification. An article in the Huffington Post estimates that this proposal puts 670,000 children at risk of falling into poverty. While there is bipartisan consensus that our nation’s children should have access to food, healthcare, and other basic necessities, this rule threatens to upset the balance completely.

The argument in favor of instituting a public charge rule is that those applying for a green card should be “self-sufficient.” However, it is estimated that around the same percentage of native-born Americans use public assistance as foreign-born individuals. Will our brothers and sisters not be able to achieve the American Dream solely because they need health insurance, food or housing for their families? I surely hope not.

We expect more information on the public charge rule soon and will keep you updated with analysis and ways to engage

Returning to Others This Lent

Returning to Others This Lent

Mary Cunningham
March 22, 2018

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12

I have always been struck by the phrase “return to me” in Joel. In fact, I worked on a Lenten reflection guide during college bearing that very name. And yet, it was not until this year that I started to grapple with what the phrase really means and how it applies to me personally. Perhaps by working so closely on a project called “Return to Me” I felt I already fully understood the phrase, giving myself a pass to engage more deeply.

I tend to think of Lent as a personal practice, a way to evaluate my own faith life and identify where I can do better. While this is certainly important in returning to God, this Lenten season, that phrase took on a new meaning for me. As I began my Lenten practice, I realized that returning to God does not just mean focusing on my own prayer life; it also means returning to others.

I moved to Washington, D.C. at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: a new president was elected who has a blatant disregard for the poor and marginalized. We were in new and unchartered territory. Now, working at a lobbying organization, I am often overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news. I constantly question if the work I am doing is making a concrete difference. At the same time, I’ve never felt like I was in a better position to change things.

This year at NETWORK one of my responsibilities was researching and compiling our Lenten resource on 21st Century Poverty. Working on this guide, I realized the importance of being both a witness to the suffering in our world and present to my neighbors. This takes place on both a small and large scale. Who are the people I interact with every day who might silently be suffering? And who are the people that I may not see every day, but who struggle from food insecurity, lack of housing, or low wages that keep them in poverty? I realize that I cannot complete alleviate anyone’s suffering, but I can be more attuned to it and help by asking myself, where can I return to others?

For me, Lent is coming to God, in my own brokenness and in my sadness at the brokenness of the world. In doing so, I am able to see where I can invest my energy and return to others. Then, the approach of Easter brings a promise of spring and new life for the world, where by returning to our neighbors, we return to God.

 

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!

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

Laura Peralta-Schulte
March 7, 2018

2017 was a tumultuous year for our nation. Following the election of President Trump and with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, advocates were fearful of what lay ahead for women, people of color, immigrants, and other communities that had been the target of then-candidate Trump’s consistent attacks on the campaign trail.

President Trump began his Inaugural Address talking about “American carnage”, building walls, and making “America first.” The next day, millions of people marched in Washington and around the world to show their opposition to President Trump’s agenda. Sister Simone Campbell addressed the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. asking people of faith to actively engage in the political debate on behalf of the common good. With that historic mobilization, we began the political action of 2017.

Administrative Attacks on our Mend the Gap Agenda

Two areas of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap agenda were under constant attack in 2017:  healthcare and immigration. On both issues, the Trump Administration used all legal means at their disposal to undo the progress of the Obama Administration. For healthcare, the Administration moved immediately to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by changing regulations under the guise of “flexibility” to limit the program. Later in the year, the Administration refused to advertise and engage in ACA enrollment activities, which was an act of sabotage.

On immigration, including in the area of refugee resettlement, the Administration attempted to fundamentally restructure longstanding programs. This began with issuing multiple Muslim travel bans – which were, until recently, stopped by Court challenges – then concluded the year by announcing a historic cut to the number of refugees the U.S. will settle. The Trump Administration also callously rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program created by President Obama that has protected Dreamers from deportation and allowed them legal work authorization since 2012. The Administration is currently working to remove Temporary Protected Status for large communities of immigrants including those from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Legislative Attacks on Mend the Gap Issues

One of the first and most sustained threats to our agenda came as Republicans in Congress launched their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican members of Congress have campaigned on repealing the ACA since its passage, so it was no surprise when the House moved to repeal the program. Congress also moved to unravel our broader healthcare system by attempting to fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program into a block grant. This proposal would devastate Medicaid and risk the health of millions of Americans who depend on the program.

What was surprising – and inspiring – was that these efforts failed due to the hard work of a diverse coalition of advocates and the engagement of many people all around the country who responded to the attack with determination. The Republicans had planned to repeal the ACA quickly at the beginning of the Congressional session, but ended up fighting to make changes through the spring and summer until they finally failed in July. Network chaired the national faith healthcare table and played an important role in defeating the effort.

Harmful immigration bills became part of the Republican legislative agenda during the first days of the new Congress. Republicans moved swiftly to increase funding for deportations, detention, and border security as well as pass new legislation to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding. Early on, Democrats united and refused to support a bill that included significant funding to build a border wall. This was an early win for our community, and it became apparent that Republicans would have trouble implementing their agenda because of Senate rules (requiring 60 votes to pass legislation) when operating under regular process. That is why the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 51 votes) has been used to try to pass partisan healthcare and tax legislation.

Crisis set in as the Administration rescinded the DACA program in September. Over 800,000 Dreamers who had signed up for protections and who are fully integrated in American communities, schools, and workplaces face the threat of deportation if Congress does not pass legislation that provides protection. Congress failed to pass this critical legislation in 2017 and it remains a key part of NETWORK’s agenda for 2018.

End of the Year: Tax Cuts or Bust

Because of advocates’ success in blocking major portions of the Republican agenda during the first half of the year, when Congress returned after the August recess, the pressure was on Republicans to deliver a win before the end of the year. They moved quickly to a popular issue for the party: tax cuts. Congressional Republicans worked feverishly for the rest of the year to pass a partisan tax bill that gives significant tax cuts to wealthy people and corporations at a loss of $1.5 trillion dollars for our nation. While there were obstacles to passing the bill, in the end Republicans rallied around the tax bill written by and for lobbyists and their rich donors, marketing it as a middle class tax bill that will spur economic growth and raise wages. Unlike earlier debates, there was little Republican opposition to the tax bill and it moved forward at lightning speed. The bill did not receive any Democratic support.

This was a significant loss for NETWORK for two reasons. First, as part of the tax bill, Republicans achieve a year-long goal of destabilizing the Affordable Care Act by including a repeal of the individual mandate. Experts show that this will increase premiums and potentially lead to 13 million people losing healthcare in the near future. Second, the significant loss of national revenue sets the table for Republican leadership to talk about the need to cut the social safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition programs next year. Already, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have indicated that Congress will push for “Welfare Reform” next year.

An Uninspiring Federal Budget Process

Congress did not pass a full federal budget for 2018, deciding instead to put all of their political energy into passing tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Congress adjourned on December 21 after passing a short-term bill to fund the government at current levels through January 19. This sets the stage for further budget action as well as discussions on funding for 2019.

Harmful Neglect of the Common Good

Congress’s single-minded focus on partisan priorities continually got in the way of bipartisan legislation that would have advanced the common good. For much of 2017, NETWORK and partners urged Congress to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) well before the October 1 deadline. For 20 years, CHIP has been a popular, bipartisan program that brought the rate of uninsured children to the lowest level in our history. Congress failed to renew CHIP funding and only passed a temporary funding for the program until March of 2018 when they will try again to achieve bipartisan consensus.

Overall, there are three important lessons we have learned in the past year. First, Republicans are deeply divided on core Mend the Gap issues like healthcare and immigration; it is possible in certain instances to build bipartisan support to block bad bills and, over time, potentially to develop bipartisan legislation to solve problems. Second, in order to be successful, advocates must organize and engage in Washington and, perhaps more importantly, at home. Third, President Trump and Republicans in Washington are fearful of political losses in 2018 and will prioritize “winning” the political fight and the next election over the common good. As we work to resist against unjust policies and to promote the common good, we continue to find our power in diversity and community.

Read NETWORK’s 2017 Voting Record here.

Working With White Folks

Working With White Folks

Jeremiah Pennebaker
February 24, 2018

 “The White Man’s Burden”

 “Take up the White Man’s burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!”

-Rudyard Kipling

In the year 2018, in the midst of a glorious Black History Month, and the premiere of Marvel’s Black Panther, I have been thinking a lot about my white friends. This blog is for all my white friends “in the struggle.” The white friends who are “really down” and who really “woke.” Not the, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a 3rd term!” type of woke, but the “How do I become an anti-racist white ally?” woke. I feel like this piece has been written, shared on Facebook, and discussed a million times before, and I’m surely no expert on what it means to white and “woke.” But being who I am, I constantly find myself in places with white people trying to figure it out, or trying to do the right thing, and that’s tough for both parties.

It’s tough because I’m not the friendly neighborhood Black dude who has all the answers to being a good white person as my white friends awkwardly fumble around with a list of Buzzfeed’s “Top 10 Tips to Being a Better Ally!” There’s an ever-present tension that exists in these spaces because racial justice work is messy and vague. There’s a blurred line between Black people not being “teachers” and white people’s inability to do the work themselves because of the privilege of living in a world made for white people. I’m not sure how to resolve or even ease this tension. Mostly because it’s not my fault it’s there nor is it my responsibility to fix.

The problem is that white people are more or less going to be in the wrong when it comes to a lot of racial justice work. No matter how many times you watch “MTV Decoded” or how often you retweet @deray you’re going to show up in places as a white person. The impact of the white gaze on racial justice work and allyship is one that I believe that many of my white friends/ allies may not understand. I don’t fully understand either, but I recognize my feelings around white people as they practice allyship.

I admit I often get frustrated discussing race and racism with my white friends because it begins to feel like my emotions and experiences are being appropriated. Even when the topics don’t necessarily pertain to personal experiences, it still feels as if people are talking about me like I’m not there. I recognize that my white friends mean no harm and that they are trying to be good white people, but I often feel like I’m put on display as they decide the best way to fix my problems.

Now the reason that I write this is not to tell my white friends to back off or to stop doing the racial work that they’re doing. I write this to say that even though there are wounds and you will make mistakes, you must continue to do the work. I write this to tell my white friends to recognize how much space you take up in racial justice spaces. I write this to tell my white friends that just because your name tag says “ally” that it’s not an all-access pass to Blackness. I feel that this is partially my fault because of how many “cookout” invites or pats on the back that were handed out for the most miniscule displays of humanity.

I greatly appreciate the work that is being done, and history has shown that unless we find Wakanda, “progress” is dependent on how much white people are willing to budge. Just recognize that the work being done is just meeting the basic levels of humanity. Malcolm X said something along the lines of, “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Ultimately, I urge you to take up the white man’s (or woman’s or gender non-conforming person’s) burden and gain the “cold, edged, dear bought wisdom.” What Kipling originally intended as a racist call to colonization is now being thrust back upon you, my white friends, as a call to hold and for you to fully recognize that history and how it impacts the way the People of Color you work with may feel your gaze and your presence. The history, the tension, the anger, and frustration that your peers feel are your crosses to bear, but that does not absolve you of doing the work because at the end of the day it is the right thing to do and working through the tension may just help to ease it.