Category Archives: Voting and Democracy

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP
June 26, 2020

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act, legislation introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton that would finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people who call Washington, D.C. their home. NETWORK supports this legislation and the movement to secure equal representation and equal rights in the U.S. Congress for the District of Columbia.

In a letter sent to Representatives today, we write, “With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.”

The House vote on H.R. 51 could be a significant step forward for Democracy, as Rep. Holmes Norton said on twitter, “Neither chamber has passed the DC statehood bill in DC’s 219-year history. This is the beginning of the end of taxation without representation and the start of consent of the governed for DC residents.” We urge all representatives to vote yes on H.R. 51!

Read NETWORK’s full letter to the House of Representatives below, or download as a PDF.

 

 

June 25, 2020

Dear Representative,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges you to vote YES on the Washington D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51). H.R. 51 is a vital piece of legislation that will finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people that call Washington D.C. their home.

Voting representation is the foundation of our democracy and it is past time to extend it to the people of D.C. Even with the passage of the 15th Amendment and the success of the women’s suffrage and Civil Rights movements, District of Columbia residents have remained disenfranchised from voting since its establishment. Today a population the size of Vermont—all neighbors to our nation’s epicenter for democracy—are stripped of their most fundamental right to vote. Our nation cannot proclaim to be the world’s strongest democracy when we deny hundreds of thousands of people political representation simply because of their zip code.

With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.

As people of faith, we believe that it is every citizen’s right and responsibility to participate in the political process as an expression of their inherent dignity. Our nation was founded on the principle of self-governance, but the people of D.C. do not have control over their own laws or their own budget. Residents of the District must no longer be denied this sacred right and responsibility—it is time for Congress to act.

Our status quo maintains that these Americans are not worthy of fully participating in our democracy. This historic vote brings us closer to achieving the ideals articulated in our founding documents. We urge a quick passage of H.R. 51 in the House of Representatives to grant Washington D.C. the sovereignty, rights, and dignity of statehood. Additionally, NETWORK Lobby urges a NO vote on any MTR’s introduced on the floor that diminish the pro-democracy reforms that H.R. 51 accomplishes as currently written.

Sincerely,
Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Government Relations Advocate, NETWORK

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

The Seventh Anniversary of Shelby: A Reminder of the Fight to Restore Voting Rights Protections

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP and Eva Sirotic
June 25, 2020

This week marks the seven-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Shelby decision, which was passed on June 25, 2013, gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), leading to states and localities across the country to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions voters in the United States. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

NETWORK is calling on the Senate to pass legislation that restores the Voting Rights Act and provides critical emergency election funding to prepare for this November’s election. In 2020, with COVID-19, we are still seeing the implications of voter protection inequities. Congressional failure to address the Shelby ruling in 2013 combined with a global pandemic are wreaking havoc on our elections. A series of botched primaries in the midst of a deadly virus has revealed how a racist system that fails to protect voting rights ultimately harms the entire nation.

The debacles we saw in the Wisconsin primary, and subsequently in Georgia, are warnings for the upcoming general election. While it may be hard to distinguish motives—suppression, intimidation, incapacity or indifference—it is clear that a racist system enabled these outcomes. Protections written into the Voting Rights Act—and gutted in the Shelby ruling—were designed to avoid exactly this type of disenfranchisement. H.R. 4, a bill that would restore these protections, passed the House last year but languished in the Senate for months prior to the pandemic. Today, passage of the VRAA is more urgent than ever.

The Senate also has an obligation to provide $3.6 billion in emergency funding for state and local capacity to run fair and accessible election in a pandemic. The adjustments necessary to ensure that every eligible voter is counted in COVID-19 cost money and take time. There are only four months for states and local election officials to be ready. The Senate’s failure to act now is a dereliction of duty and risks disenfranchising millions of voters in the 2020 general election.

To learn more about the legacy of racism in our election systems, watch Suppressed: The Fight to Vote. This 37-minute film documents how the election system in Georgia failed voters at multiple stages in 2018. And please join NETWORK Lobby and the United Methodist Church on June 30th for a panel discussion about these same threats to November’s general election in COVID-19. RSVP for the discussion.

Eva Sirotic is a rising third-year at the University at Virginia majoring in Global Studies. She is passionate about issues related to social justice, particularly women’s rights and racial equality. Outside of the classroom, she works for Take Back the Night, a sexual violence prevention organization and The Fralin Museum of Art in Charlottesville, VA.

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

Prioritizing People over Partisanship Is the Faithful Response

On May 22, 2020 I published a reflection in Global Sisters Report about the vows of religious life and their significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the vow of obedience. As I continued to reflect in the following days, I considered how my reflection about obedience could be re-oriented toward a different narrative not of my choosing.

The unfortunate demands made by the President Trump before Memorial Day weekend pushed for houses of worship across the nation to reopen their buildings. While his ultimatum was directed at States, the pressure it puts on faith leaders and their communities to begin congregating in the middle of a pandemic is very real.

As a woman religious, I know the importance of religious services and joy of coming together in person with a community of believers. These are central in the lives of many people of faith, myself included, and it is very difficult to go without them. But we aren’t making this sacrifice without cause. We are doing this because lives are at risk if we gather again too soon, without the proper protections in place.  As Rev. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the board of the Conference of National Black Churches, said: “We are out of the buildings because our people are important.”

Our unfortunate reality offers a case study of what prophetic obedience might look like. Because of President Trump’s pressure, faith leaders are even harder-pressed to defend their authority as they discern the risks, benefits and precautions of opening houses of worship and exposing their flocks to the virus. Congregants’ personal choices about how and when to resume in-person gatherings also became more complicated and contentious.

In these days of uncertainty and ineffectual national leadership, people of faith cannot afford to relinquish our own judgement. Decisions like these cannot be made based on ideology or a particular political agenda but should be centered on love of neighbor, with a special concern for the most vulnerable.

Faith leaders can model the thoughtful, nuanced discernment that prophetic obedience calls for at this unique time. The path forward will require leaders and congregants to do the hard work of listening, exercising patience, and carefully considering the real risks.

Pastor Dave Simpson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland put it well:

An open letter to the President:

You have declared that churches are to be reopened.
My church has never been closed.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “church.” A church is not a building. The church is the people of God called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church. This virus has certainly not stopped the church from being what we have been called to be – the Body of Christ for the sake of the world. The people of God who are Good Shepherd Lutheran Church have continued to care for each other and reach out to the community and beyond.
Perhaps you are unclear about the meaning of “worship.” Worship is not only – or even especially – what happens in a church building on Sunday mornings. Worship defines us as followers of Jesus Christ. We strive to worship the God who creates and saves us with everything that we do and everything that we are. We worship our God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Our building may be closed, but we are still the church and we have not stopped worshiping. God has blessed us with new and enhanced ways to be church together as even technology has been sanctified (set apart for God’s use) for accomplishing the mission that has been laid before us.
Our building will be open again – when the time is right. It will be open again when we can gather in a way that does not put our members or our neighbors at unnecessary risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our building will open when we have a plan that manages the risk and we have the resources to put that plan into action.
When our building opens, it will be to glorify God, not to make any secular or political point or to advance any agenda, nor will it be to assert our “rights.”
Until then, we will go on being church. We will go on worshiping online and, more importantly, in our community and in the world.
We are the church.
We are, and will remain, open.

Originally published on Pastor Dave’s Facebook account.

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

As Congress begins discussions of the next coronavirus response package, NETWORK joins the Faithful Democracy coalition in urging Congress to protect voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter signed by NETWORK and 28 other national faith-based advocacy organizations was sent to Capitol Hill today. The letter says:

“We cannot risk undermining our foundational democratic systems. The federal government must enable states and local jurisdictions to prepare for an historic election, even in the midst of this crisis. Planning and preparations must begin now to protect the integrity of the 2020 election and ensure that new protocols for voter participation are safe and accessible.…

The $400 million for elections in the CARES Act was a welcome start but is woefully insufficient. Faithful Democracy calls for $4 billion in the next response package for the Election Assistance Commission to uphold a safe and secure general election and to support states and localities still facing risks with primary elections”.

Read the full letter with signers.

Finding My Part in the Body of Christ

Finding My Part in the Body of Christ

This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.

Throughout my career, I have been called to respond to different challenges at different times. Our country is facing an enormous challenge right now — one we are all called to respond to. New policies and programs are announced every day that increase suffering and deny the dignity of families and individuals across the country. Too many of our elected representatives are out of touch with the reality of vulnerable communities and do not feel a sense of urgency to respond and meet their needs.

But, we can succeed in making change if we first know our part, and then do it!

One way I reflect on the work is by pondering Saint Paul’s writing to the Romans. In his letter (Romans 12:5 et seq.), we are called to realize that we are all joined in one body. We are called to do our part in the body with joy. This has led me to realize that I am called to think of myself, and all of us, as belonging to the body of Christ. This has also led me to know that different parts of the body have different functions to play. We are not all the same. And, a consequence of this insight is that everyone is important in the body, even if their part is different from my own.

Living out my faith has taught me to know that we, together in creation, are all one in our effort to live with integrity and embody justice.

Right now in my role at NETWORK, I’m not feet. I am not hands. I do not do direct service. Instead, I think my contribution at this moment is to be stomach acid. I help liberate energy. I stir people up. I travel the country, meeting people and groups and I help break down food (ideas, struggles, frustrations) to liberate energy. This gives those who are the hands and feet the energy and the ability to do their part.

What part in the body of Christ are you called to be?

Are you the hands, doing the work of justice?
Are you the heart, praying for change?
Are you the mouth, speaking truth to power?
Are you the ears, listening to the experience of others?

Think about what kind of work you enjoy doing, and what is needed in our current environment. Reflect on where you feel most alive and most effective in working for change. Everyone has an important part to play in the body of Christ, even though we might have different functions. And no one is left out of the body of Christ… or out of our care.

What part of the body are you?

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS is the Executive Director of NETWORK Advocates for Catholic Social Justice.

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Building a New Vision for Our Democracy: The Importance of Voting Rights

Senator Tom Udall
April 17, 2020

This reflection is part of our 2020 Lent Guide: Becoming Spirit-Filled Voters.

This season, before an incredibly important election, we must reflect on the state of our democracy. Democracy represents more than a system of government. It is the sacred affirmation that each voice matters equally in one nation — and that a representative government must be of, by, and for the people.

But today, the American people are losing faith in our democracy. They see the evidence with their own eyes as the wealthy purchase influence in political campaigns and drown out the voices of the people. Voting rights are under assault, foreign adversaries interfere in our elections, and so-called public servants use their offices to help themselves and their friends — instead of the people they are supposed to work for.

Our voices do count. Our voices count when we vote in each election, especially this year. And they count when we organize, march, and speak out about injustice.

But there is no doubt that our democracy is in a crisis.  Since coming to Congress in 1999, I’ve seen firsthand the corrosive influence that big money is having on our political system. The influx of unlimited contributions and secret donations into campaigns has fueled the hyper-partisanship we see across the nation, including in Congress.

Special interests try to dominate the political agenda, to the detriment of the common good. This has obscured the fundamental values that should define our work. Values like social justice. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. Making peace. And caring for our earth.

The money in our politics fuels a disconnect between what people in our democracy want and what Congress is giving them. The people want action on climate change. The people want universal, affordable health care. Economic justice and food security for families. Commonsense gun safety laws. And they demand that we welcome the stranger and treat immigrants as human beings.

These are priorities for the vast majority of Americans.  And there is a direct link between Congress’s inaction on these issues and barriers to the ballot box and our broken campaign finance system.

We live in a representative democracy. But Congress is not representing the people. The 1% are heard, while the other 99% are not.

In Congress, we are fighting for reforms to make our democracy work: increasing access to the ballot box, putting an end to the influence of secret money in elections, and raising the ethical bar in government.

The For the People Act (H.R.1) makes it easier to register to vote and to cast a ballot. In a society where special interests artificially widen and sustain our divisions, it has never been more important to ensure that each and every voice is heard. H.R.1 also returns our campaign finance system to the hands of the people, shining a light on secret campaign contributions and empowering small donors.

We need to put an end to the idea that money equals speech and reign in an out-of-control campaign finance system. And the only way to do that is to exercise our most fundamental and sacred democratic right — the right to vote.

Our democracy cannot be fully realized unless we, the people, vote. We deserve a representative democracy, with elected leaders who understand our concerns and are committed to fight for all voices to be heard. For our common values. And for the future of our democracy in this election and all the elections to come.

Senator Tom Udall represents New Mexico, and is a champion of restoring voting rights to marginalized groups for a more equal and just democracy. 

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling refusing to extend the deadline for absentee voting in today’s Wisconsin election. This is further evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing our nation, and our world, to take a hard look at what values are most sacred to us, and demonstrating where our political leaders’ responses are falling short.

Our initial attempts at social distancing had not even run their course before President Trump began pondering loosening restrictions for the sake of the economy. The implication being that economic activity is as important as protecting human lives. The public outcry quickly shut down that debate. People recognized the false choice, when weighing economic activity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy simply has to adjust to the reality of the pandemic. Consensus emerged, at least for now, that protecting public health is the paramount concern, leaving our government and businesses to minimize the economic fall-out as best they can.

Unfortunately, this false choice was also embraced by the majority of Supreme Court Justices yesterday in deciding that the Wisconsin elections must proceed as planned, with no extension for absentee voting, despite the clear and present danger to public health in the midst of the pandemic. Not only was this ruling disturbing for Wisconsinites who now must choose between their right to vote and their safety, but it has grave and disturbing implications for the 2020 election. We are in desperate need of strong public outcry to again reject a false choice and demand that leaders find ways to uphold our deepest values and protect human life.

The Supreme Court’s decision strikes a massive blow to voting rights that defies common sense and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The Justices ruled 5-4 that Wisconsin voters would need to choose whether to comply with public health mandates or to exercise their right to cast a ballot. But, it did not have to be this way.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took a series of desperate executive actions to make emergency accommodations in the state’s election. He took steps to delay the Democratic Presidential primary and extended time to receive mail-in ballots so that Wisconsinites could maintain their right to vote in the new reality of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The Republican controlled legislature challenged each of these actions in court and the day before the election, the Supreme Court’s order reversed the extended deadline for voters to submit absentee ballots. The entire episode is a sad example of how quickly elections are being politicized in the midst of a pandemic. The outcome of this confusing and contentious fight was celebrated as a success for “law and order,” but has undermined both the public health AND the voting rights of the people of Wisconsin.

This false choice between safety and fair voting was avoidable, but the Wisconsin state legislature refused to act to protect the safety of Wisconsinites. This early case study is proof that Congress must act, and act now, to determine a coordinated approach to preparing states for the 2020 election. Without funding and direction from the federal government, we run the risk of massive voter disenfranchisement and will see increasing chaos and civil discord as states scramble to adapt on their own.

NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners are engaged in democracy reform and voting rights advocacy leading up to the 2020 election and into the future. Now, our entire focus is prioritizing the security of the 2020 election and protecting access to democracy as a crucial part of the federal government’s response to COVID 19.

A Faithful Response to “Catholics for Trump”

A Faithful Response to “Catholics for Trump”

After postponing the “Catholics for Trump” rally previously scheduled for March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Catholics for Trump coalition is now launching online. Despite the current coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s re-election campaign is continuing to try to engage Catholics remotely.

This campaign was planned and is now being executed with the assumption that a large group of Catholics will support President Trump’s re-election campaign. I am in favor of Catholics participating in politics — as Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby, that much is clear. Even the Pope calls on Catholics to participate in politics to promote the common good, saying “A good Catholic meddles in politics.”

But I cannot understand how Catholics, following Pope Francis’s urging to participate in politics, could support our current President and his policies. In fact, I believe that participating in “Catholics for Trump” activities, online or in person, directly contradicts the most essential Catholic beliefs.

Catholics are called to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, who above all else, instructs us to love our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized in their society. The Trump administration has turned its back on that call at almost every turn.

In March, I was relieved to read Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s clear announcement that the “Catholics for Trump” rally was not hosted by the Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were not endorsing or affiliated with the rally. As President Trump’s re-election campaign continues, I urge any Church leaders who find themselves in a similar situation to do the same.

In addition to making it clear that the Church does not endorse or support these events, Catholic leaders should continue to make it clear what “side” we are called to be on in these turbulent times. Jesus did not say to vote Democrat or Republican. Instead, Jesus taught his followers, by his actions, to heal those who were sick and align themselves with those who had the least power. That is the “side” we should be on as Catholics.

For Catholics engaging in politics during this election season, I encourage you to join us at NETWORK in being “Mend the Gaps” voters. We have an election toolkit that includes a fill-out-your-own side by side to compare candidates, an LTE writing kit, and questions to ask a candidate at a town hall, and we’re still adding more resources.

President Trump is running on policies that directly contradict long-held positions of the Catholic Church. His immoral immigration policies throw children in cages. He works to expand the death penalty, he participates in what Pope Francis calls “covert euthanasia” by stripping health care and nutrition assistance from families, and he rolls back policies that protect the Earth. His is not a campaign that Catholics can support, and our faith should not be used as a political tool to reelect an immoral President.

 

Get involved: Go to NETWORK’s 2020 Election Toolkit.