Category Archives: Voting and Democracy

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

April 2019

The right and responsibility to participate in our government motivates NETWORK’s mission to educate, organize, and lobby for justice. We believe that every person is called to work to promote the common good through our political system. This sacred right must not be violated.

The influence of money in politics, gerrymandering, varied methods of voter suppression, felon disenfranchisement, and other anti-democracy tactics limit the impact of individuals’ participation on our policies. The variety of ways that voting rights and fair representation are undermined at the local, state, and federal levels makes it difficult to see the total effect on our democracy. As a result, our political reality moves further from a system of fair representation and elected officials who are accountable to their constituents.

Together with faith and secular partners, NETWORK is working to restore the influence of individuals in our representative democracy. Recently, the For the People Act (H.R. 1) passed in the House of Representatives, signifying a groundbreaking shift of power in favor of participation. While H.R. 1 has little chance of a vote in the Senate, its strong passage in the House and the building momentum around the country are clear indications of pro-democracy support. It may ultimately fall to the next Congress to take action, but H.R.1 is clearing a path to strengthen and protect our democracy.

Until then, NETWORK, along with our partners, will continue to oppose threats to participation and promote the right to vote, advocate, and have fair representation in our democracy.

 

Working for Fair Participation in the Public Sphere

By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network

The Gospel of Matthew tells us we cannot not serve God and money. After hearing God’s call to “rebuild My Church,” a young St. Francis famously renounced his wealthy merchant father and all his worldly possessions. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics,” we are reminded that that means everyone must have an equal say in the public square.

Following the Gospel example of Jesus and taking our cues from both St. Francis and Pope Francis, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) leads an interfaith coalition, “Faithful Democracy” working on the issue of money in politics. The coalition looks at this issue from both a faith and legislative perspective. It is imperative that we institute reforms in the areas of campaign finance, voting rights, and good governance for a fully functioning and representative government. FAN has called for those reforms since the Citizens United decision nearly a decade ago.

Now, there is a newfound energy on Capitol Hill for these good governance reforms. Join us as we bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth and implement vital reforms that are necessary to have a fully functioning and healthy democracy.

Patrick Carolan has been the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) since 2010. FAN is an advocacy voice for the entire Franciscan family in the United States representing over 50 different institutions nationwide. FAN is inspired by both the Gospel of Jesus, and by the example of Saints Francis and Clare, to transform U.S. public policy related to our core issues: peace making, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.

 

State-Level Barriers to Voting

By Colleen Ross, NETWORK Communications Coordinator

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our conception 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 are making it harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on voters of color and low-income voters who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics were implemented after 2013, when the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards. Up until this decision, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula set by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements for any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots that they wanted to implement. In Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the formula was no longer accurate, dissolving the preclearance requirement for areas it had previously applied to: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Since then, states have been able to freely implement restrictive voting requirements and 23 states have chosen to do so.  Now, these discriminatory laws must be challenged after the fact—essentially setting up an unjust competition to reinstate fair elections through expensive litigation. Meanwhile, the resulting election outcomes and disenfranchisement cannot be undone. Cases of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. While excessive money in politics and gerrymandering distort the results of elections across the country, it is important not to lose sight of the ways states prevent eligible citizens from even casting their vote.

 

Incarceration does not Negate Citizenship Rights

By Joan Neal, NETWORK Senior Fellow Government Relations and Strategy

In the United States, there is both an expectation and an assumption that every citizen has the right to vote. The Constitution fails to explicitly state that all citizens have the right to vote, but future amendments have made it very clear when the vote cannot be denied: on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay poll tax or any other taxes, and age (for anyone at least 18 years old). Yet, at the federal and state level, formerly incarcerated citizens are routinely denied their right to vote despite the fact that they have served their time and paid their debt to society. In fact, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that strips returning citizens of their right to vote.

As of 2016, The Sentencing Project found that more than 6 million formerly incarcerated people have been denied their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. This number has grown exponentially since the 1970s, largely due to the War on Drugs and the resulting increase in incarceration. Currently, approximately 2.5% of the total U.S. voting population – 1 of every 40 people – is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this policy of disenfranchisement; as of 2016, one in every 13 Black adults could not vote as the result of a felony conviction.

Clearly, the denial of the right to vote for so many citizens produces unequal representation in the political system. It effectively silences the voices of people who have not lost their citizenship but who are prevented from exercising their full range of rights. Research shows that the results of several close national and state elections would have been decidedly different if formerly incarcerated citizens had been allowed to vote. Voting restoration will not only give returning citizens a say in their own governance, but will help them to feel a connection to society again. For the millions of formerly incarcerated people living, working, and paying taxes in their communities, it will be a deterrent to recidivism, will restore their dignity as human beings, and, most importantly, will make our democracy more truly representative.

 

Resisting the Influence of Money in Politics to Restore Our Power

By Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause

Our democracy faces a crisis not seen since the 1970s. Some elected officials and states continue to suppress the votes and voices of Americans; self-interested politicians cherry-pick their voters; the Trump administration continues to undermine our Constitution and the rule of law; and special interests, big-monied lobbyists, and multi-national corporations have a megaphone in deciding policies that our government makes while our children and our communities often suffer the consequences of those rigged policies.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is the biggest, boldest democracy reform package introduced since the Watergate era. It would restore the rule of law, stop hyper-partisan gerrymandering, strengthen the right to vote for all citizens and empower the voices of all our nation’s people. It contains many bold reforms, such as: small-donor citizen-funded elections, disclosure of secret money in politics, and closing loopholes to prevent foreign money from being spent in U.S. elections.

Citizen-funded elections are an especially important part of H.R. 1 because they allow individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities, who may not always be connected to sources of money, to run for and win elected office. In my home state of Connecticut where I helped lead the successful fight for the Citizens’ Election Program, the program is making a difference in the types of policies that are debated and passed in the state legislature, and it is shifting power from lobbyists and big-money corporations back to the people.

Nearly all the reforms contained in H.R. 1 have been tested and proven at the state and/or local level, often with Common Cause state chapters leading those efforts. Last November, Common Cause supported more than two-dozen pro-democracy reform ballot initiatives, more than 90% of which passed in red, blue, and purple states and localities, often with strong bipartisan support. We detail those initiatives, including six successful state initiatives to reduce the influence of money in politics, in our “Democracy on the Ballot” report. Additionally, with the beginning of many states’ legislative sessions this year, we have already secured several key voting reform victories in 2019.

We, and all the incredible allies in the faith community and other organizations, must continue fighting to “hold power accountable” to make sure that the voices of all people, regardless of the size of their wallets, can be heard in our democracy.

Karen Hobert Flynn is the president of Common Cause, which since 1970, has been working to hold power accountable through lobbying, litigation, and grassroots organizing. Our non-partisan, pro-democracy work has helped pass hundreds of reforms at the federal, state, and local levels. We now have 30 state chapters and more than 1.2 million members around the country who are working to strengthen our democracy. Read the “Democracy on the Ballot” report at www.commoncause.org/resource/democracy-on-the-ballot

 

The Impact of Gerrymandering on Voters, Elections, and Lawmakers

By Celina Stewart, Director of Advocacy and Litigation, League of Women Voters

Gerrymandering comes in two forms—racial or partisan—and has been happening since before the Constitutional Convention of 1787; no party is innocent in using their political power to influence what they want. But what is gerrymandering? Where did it even come from?

In1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting bill, creating a new voting district designed to favor his party. In the end, the district was curvy and long—much like a salamander. So foreign was this shape that a Boston Gazettecartoonist added claws, wings, and fangs, naming it “The Gerry-Mander”. Just like that, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Since then, very little has changed. Legislators have simply found new and innovative ways to accomplish the task. Some of this “innovation” stems from the evolution of technology. For example, as the United States entered the Digital Age, the development of computers and their ability to store, sort, and hold an enormous amount of information allowed political parties to gerrymander faster and methodically. So, why does this matter? Because voting data can now be exploited, in a way like never before, to distort our democracy; and politicians can pick their voters instead of voters electing their politicians. It’s a game politicians win before it even starts, and voters are the pawns.

Many of the gerrymandered maps created in 2011 during the last redistricting cycle ensured that no matter who voted, the outcome was already determined. This was achieved, with mathematical precision, by either “packing” or “cracking” minority voters into various districts. Gerrymandering tactics employed in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina, coupled with the gutting of Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), created the perfect storm for rampant voter suppression across the country.

Fast forward to 2019 – We now have 20/20 vision of the impact rampant gerrymandering and the Shelbydecision have made: Lawmakers choose their electorate without any checks in place to stop, discourage, or limit the practice without court intervention. For more than two decades, voters have existed in a system that favors the powerful and well-connected, enabling self-serving politicians to game the political system in ways that undermine the very essence of the U.S. Constitution. In a system like this, voters simply are disempowered.

Principles of fair governance are not hard to understand or articulate. If we want our government to truly represent all the people, then all our votes must count, and that’s what makes gerrymandering so dangerous. It’s why we must all be determined to fight for redistricting reform and relentlessly defend our democracy’s promise of “one person, one vote.”

Celina Stewart joined the League of Women Voters as Director of Advocacy and Litigation in April 2018.The League of Women Voters of the United States encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.League m77embers in all 50 states and in more than 700 communities register new voters, host community forums and debates, and provide voters with election information they need.

 

Census: The Foundation for Fair Representation

By Sister Quincy Howard, OP, NETWORK Government Relations Specialist

For the more than a year, the NETWORK community has advocated and lobbied Congress for adequate funding to support an accurate 2020 Census count. The Census’s potential future impact on billions of dollars of federal funds allocated to local communities for infrastructure, schools, and other vital services is deeply concerning to us. The census is a crucial tool for maintaining our safety net programs and providing for the needs of communities. The decennial census count also lays the foundation for our democratic systems. Census data is used to apportion Congressional representatives; determine the votes of each state in the Electoral College; and draw state, local, and congressional districts. Therefore, failing to accurately count all persons in the United States would be enormously damaging for, and potentially undermine, our democracy.

The federal government is constitutionally obligated to count all persons in the United States, both citizens and non-citizens alike, in the decennial census. After the 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution established a democracy premised on the idea that all persons—no matter where they are from, regardless of whether they can vote—deserve equal representation in our government. This precept aligns with our own Catholic Social Justice principles which promote the dignity of every person and the right and responsibility to participate in politics and society. Ensuring a proper count of the nation’s population to apportion representatives requires an “actual enumeration” of the people. This “actual enumeration,” specified by the Constitution imposes a clear duty on the federal government: to count all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or not and whether they were born in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The Trump administration, however, is once again threatening to undermine the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 Censuscount by including a citizenship question. Under the current climate of fear, mandating such a question would have a chilling effect on response rates in immigrant communities. The ill-conceived addition of the question circumvents the Constitution’s requirement to obtain an accurate count of all persons living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The Census occurs only once every ten years, and there are no do-overs. These numbers could lock our nation into an unfair count and inaccurate representation for at least a decade and possibly longer. The repercussions of an unfair, inaccurate count are immense, so we must do whatever we can to ensure that every person counts in the 2020 Census.

How H.R. 4 Would Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

How H.R. 4 Would Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
April 29, 2019

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.

In contrast, under the Section 5 process the Justice Department provided quick, inexpensive reviews and decisions on proposed changes to voting requirements or procedures. The vast majority of proposed changes to elections were cleared and there was space to appeal decisions when they were not.  It was a system that worked; the VRA without this preclearance mechanism is not working.

This Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will be conducting a hearing on “Protecting the Right to Vote: Best and Worst Practices.” Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), who is also a professor of Constitutional Law, the First Amendment, and Legislative Process, will lead the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee in this effort to get to the bottom of voter suppression today.

For six years, Congress has made multiple unsuccessful legislative attempts to update the preclearance formula and restore this crucial provision of the VRA. Part of the process to adopt a preclearance formula that the courts will uphold is gathering and documenting evidence of efforts to disenfranchise voters. Congress is currently building this record to demonstrate ways in which jurisdictions have changed laws to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color. Most recently, we can look to states like Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, and Alabama for flagrant examples of manipulated election procedures that effectively suppress the vote of communities of color.

Throughout April and May, the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections is holding a series of field hearings on voting rights and election administration. Hearings have taken place in Standing Rock, ND; Halifax, NC; and in Cleveland, OH. Still to come are field hearings in Alabama and Florida to review and hear testimony about the impacts of new voting and registration laws on communities of color. These hearings are the opportunity to examine what voter disenfranchisement in the 21st Century looks like—so we can prevent it from happening.

In late February, Representative Teri Sewell (AL-07) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) introduced the 116th Congress’ high-priority legislative fix to restore and extend these key provisions of the VRA. It’s not the first time that a “Shelby-fix” bill has been introduced since 2013, but this year it’s coming on the heels of an historic election in which rampant and flagrant voter suppression was apparent. H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) has also already passed in the House and specifically named this as a crucial component for democracy reform.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (VRAA), H.R. 4, represents the most robust and inclusive proposal to revise the criteria for determining which States and political jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance requirements. Specifically, the formula proposed in VRAA subjects any jurisdiction with 15 or more voting-rights violations over the past 25 years to 10 years of federal preclearance. The threshold would be lowered to just 10 violations if any of them were committed by the state itself. VRAA is not solely a defensive measure. It’s intended to be punitive, to deter people who take advantage of the fact that there are few real consequences for officials found in violation of the Constitution. The VRAA would add teeth that the Voting Rights Act didn’t have even at full strength. While alternate bills are already emerging with less-expansive formulas, NETWORK strongly supports H.R.4 as the way to quickly address and end voting rights abuses that have become commonplace across our country.

NETWORK Urges Representatives to Pass H.R.1

NETWORK Urges Representatives to Pass H.R.1

Colleen Ross
March 7, 2019

All signs point to the House of Representatives voting on the crucial H.R. 1 “For the People” bill tomorrow. In preparation for this vote, NETWORK sent a letter to all House offices encouraging members of the House to vote for H.R. 1.

Follow NETWORK on Twitter and Facebook for more updates on the vote tomorrow!

Sister Simone writes:

“Our Catholic faith teaches that we have a responsibility to participate in politics out of a concern for the common good. It was Pope Francis who—when asked about the Catholic obligation to participate in the civic arena—responded that “A good Catholic meddles in politics”.  At the core of NETWORK Lobby’s effectiveness as an advocacy organization is the ability to engage a broad membership around ideals of a just society.  This is how we influence legislators’ policy decisions.  Our work is predicated on a functional democracy where lawmakers are held accountable and constituents trust that they are taken into account…

NETWORK Lobby is urging Congress to support this bold, wide-ranging legislation. These reforms are desperately needed and overwhelmingly desired by the American people. Failure to pass the full reform package will only increase widespread suspicions and disillusionment among the electorate. As it stands, H.R.1 is solidly rooted in successful state efforts to breathe new life into our democracy. NETWORK urges quick passage to begin restoring faith in our government.”

Read the full letter here.

NETWORK also joined a letter of support for H.R. 1 authored by the “Faithful Democracy” coalition, signed by more than 25 faith-based advocates and congregations.

Find the interfaith letter here.

Finding Inspiration and Sharing Hope for the New Congress

Finding Inspiration and Sharing Hope for the New Congress

A Conversation with Representative Ayanna Pressley

Before Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) was sworn into the 116th Congress, we spoke with her about her hopes and expectations for the upcoming session. We look forward to the leadership Representative Pressley and other new members of Congress bring to Capitol Hill to advance policies that mend the gaps in our nation.

Connection: What are you looking forward to working on when the new Congress begins?

Representative Pressley: I intend to be an activist leader on all issues of consequence to the people I represent. People don’t live in checked boxes, they live in intersectionality, and are impacted by many different policies. During my campaign, I developed—in partnership with community—a wide ranging Equity Agenda, focused on addressing the persistent disparities in Massachusetts’ 7th District. One of the issues I called out was the epidemic of gun violence and trauma—I intend to make that a priority, and have already secured commitments from Democratic leadership to bring common sense gun control to the floor of the House, but I will also be a leader on issues like healthcare, environmental justice, and transportation equity—all of which are critical to my constituents.

Connection: How does your faith inspire your work as an elected official?

Rep. Pressley: I’m often asked about my political education, and while people tend to focus on the time I spent working for Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II and Senator John Kerry, the truth is that the values that have informed my work as an elected official first took root as a child, when I attended Rain or Shine Baptist Church in Chicago, where my grandfather, Rev. James Echols, was the pastor. The values of inclusive leadership, empathy, and compassion, which are a through-line of my career in elected office, were first introduced to me in the Church, and I continue to carry them with me today as a woman of abiding faith.

Connection: How have you seen policies you’ve promoted in the past positively affect your constituents and our nation?

Rep. Pressley: One story that I believe is emblematic: when I ran for the Boston City Council, I ran on a platform of elevating the voices of women and girls. Sitting in my first school budget hearing after I was elected, I asked every department head who came before us how they policies they were proposing would impact girls—their answers were sparse at best. Now, eight years later, those department heads come to our budget hearings with binders full of information on how their policies will affect female students, about teen pregnancy, and push-out, and the school to prison pipeline. This progress only happened because someone asked the question. We must continue to ask the difficult questions that will lead to real progress.

Connection: When times are difficult, what keeps you motivated to continue working for the common good?

Rep. Pressley: I often begin my days with a verse from a book called The President’s Devotionals, by Joshua DuBois, which helps motivate me during more challenging times. One of my favorite affirmations from this book is entitled “a Gentle Battle.” To paraphrase, it says that each morning we awake to a gentle battle. Of all the negotiations and decisions of our day, this gentle battle is the most important. Will we go in the direction of worry, weariness, and indifference—or in the direction of joy, of peace, of equality and justice? Even through the most difficult times, I remain committed to the latter.

Connection: Do you have any advice for advocates inspired by their faith to engage in politics?

Rep. Pressley: I would say, simply, “do it”—our Democracy needs your voices. For our government to be truly representative, we need a diversity of passionate, committed voices around the table. If we want to see values like compassion, dignity, and social justice reflected in our public policy, then we need to invest the sweat equity necessary to elect activist leaders and hold them accountable. Change can’t wait, but it also won’t happen on its own; we need to work to create it.

 

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This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Driving Our Democracy Forward with Conversations and Community

Sister Simone Campbell
February 24, 2019

Reflecting on Experiences from the Road to Mar-a-Lago

As we traveled more than 5,000 miles on the 2018 Nuns on the Bus trip, I was struck by the fact that at each of our 13 lobby visits (or attempted visits) constituents told us that their member of Congress would not meet with them. The most extreme was Representative Peter Roskam (IL-06) whose office was in a private airport building in West Chicago, Illinois. The building is secured by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and no one could enter the building unless they had been screened by TSA. Additionally, groups could not hold rallies outside the building because it was a “safety issue.” So, this embattled Congressman was protected by TSA while his constituents and our bus had to hold our rally 2 blocks away from the office. I was stunned! This is not democracy!

This experience has fueled my New Year’s resolution to make democracy work. There are many new members of Congress and we need to make sure that they have opportunities to meet and listen to their constituents. Members need to hear the stories of the people in their district in order to create effective responses to the challenges that they face.

This was highlighted for me when the bus stopped in Columbia, South Carolina and we held a roundtable conversation with local service organizations. Representative Jim Clyburn (SC-06) joined us for the roundtable and we learned of the varied needs of the people in his district. In a freewheeling discussion, we learned many things, including:

  • Columbia has the sixth highest eviction rate in the nation and the state of South Carolina needs more than 4,000 new units of affordable housing, but none is being built.
  • Agriculture is the second largest industry in South Carolina and tourism is first. Both industries are highly dependent on immigrants to flourish. Yet exploitation and hostility toward immigrants is all too common. Anti-immigrant policies and attitudes are making it difficult to find employees for both industries.
  • Latino men are attacked frequently. Undocumented people are unable to use banks in South Carolina, so they must make their transactions in cash. This makes them lucrative targets for robbery. The increase in assault is terrifying the undocumented community, but they are afraid to report these crimes for fear of being deported.
  • There is basically no effective public transit for low-wage workers in South Carolina. Transportation is one of the biggest challenges that workers face.

Towards the end of the conversation, one of the participants noted that each of the agencies gathered represented is a good “charity” serving a particular need. But in that conversation they saw that the issues were complex and interrelated. She said each organization needed to keep working on their individual issue, but also needed to work systemically to improve the structures of our society.

It is by sharing our perspectives and our stories that we can find commonality. In that shared experience we can see new levels of complexity and perhaps find more effective solutions. This is what we are seeking to do at NETWORK. This year we are continuing our efforts to listen to people around our nation and learn from their experience. We need to understand the lived experience of communities in our nation if we are going to advocate for policies for the 100%. This is our goal for 2019.

As we continue in our work for justice, let us ground our advocacy in the lived reality of our communities. Let us exercise holy curiosity as we meet people with different perspectives and experiences. This effort to understand will be the way to discovering community that can make a “more perfect union.”

 

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This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

The Importance of In-District Lobby Visits

Alannah Boyle
February 19, 2019

Here at NETWORK as a member of the Grassroots Mobilization team, I have spent the last week excitedly working with our field and our team in preparation for February Recess meetings, which take place while Congress is out of session every February.

Before I began my Associate Year at NETWORK, I hadn’t realized the importance of in-district lobby visits, and building relationships with staff who both live and work in my community. Building relationships with in-district staff can help lead to a meeting with your Member of Congress themselves. In these meetings, you can learn about your Member of Congress’s priorities and goals, and how you can work with them in the future. We are all experts in our own lived experience, part of which involves where we live. Our Members of Congress have to split their time between living in our community and living in Washington, D.C., so our expertise and relationships in our community can be very helpful to our Member of Congress. It is important that we share our expertise, and our values, with our Member of Congress’s office.

As part of NETWORK’s February Recess preparations, members of our Grassroots Mobilization team and our Government Relations team gave a webinar. Our Grassroots Mobilization team outlined pro tips and best practices for lobbying. Our Government Relations Team then provided a policy briefing. This February Recess, NETWORK members are lobbying on Mend the Gap bills that are moving this session, including HR 1: For the People Act, Raise the Wage Act of 2019 and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

If you missed our webinar on how to conduct a lobby visit, you can watch it here. If you set up a February Recess Lobby visit, please feel free to contact the Grassroots Mobilization staff here. We’d love to help you plan your visit and hear how your visit went afterwards!

New Congress, New Methods of Communication: Social Media’s Evolving Political Influence

New Congress, New Methods of Communication: Social Media’s Evolving Political Influence

Lindsay Hueston
January 31, 2019

Multiple progressive politicians have cemented a new way of campaigning and keeping constituents informed: showing their authentic selves online, as a means to engage with their constituents and a national audience more genuinely. The embrace of social media as a legitimate political tool reflects a changing dynamic in U.S. politics, one which favors real people and experiences over polished messages and canned rhetoric.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Examples abound: newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez making mac and cheese on Instagram, with Senator Elizabeth Warren mimicking the strategy and opening a beer after announcing her exploratory committee a few weeks later. Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke even live-streamed his visit to the dentist.

These politicians are unabashedly using their platform to deliver not only glimpses into their personal lives, but to convey more authentic reactions and opinions, providing the public with a sense of participation. Bringing people into the political process—even if it is from the screen of a smartphone—is a surefire way to engage unlikely voters in politics.

No longer are today’s politicians glossed over, seemingly flawless, and untouchable. Instead they broadcast themselves to the public through the likes of Instagram and Twitter. It is the very popularity of their unscripted humanity—their willingness to cook on camera, drink, share their skincare routine, or get their teeth cleaned—that reveals the general population’s thirst for approachable politicians. In a world where high-power Washington officials have become increasingly stratified from the people they represent, this type of refreshing social media engagement narrows the gap between representative and constituent.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Politics are ultimately about human issues, and the use of social media brings these topics back down to a human level. The greater public can instantly connect with a representative from their mere fingertips; political power is becoming more democratized as people decide who their most popular elected officials are via social media. Political clout, then, lies only a few viral tweets away.

Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke

Yet social media’s glimpse into the inner workings of today’s politicians does not always produce a positive result. Notably, President Trump continues to fire off tweets in lieu of consulting with his staff and making thoughtful major policy decision. The power of social media in politics, however, is far vaster than merely his rapid-response, incendiary tweets may indicate.

The fact that these stories are now more accessible (due in no small part to the most diverse Congress we’ve ever seen) is a sign of our changing political times. As a Communications Associate at NETWORK, I witness firsthand how social media influences people’s beliefs and perceptions. In this past election cycle I saw an incredible influx of representation of women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, varying religions, and more. This new representation further illustrates the rich narrative that tells the story of the people of the United States.

Featured image from @ocasio2018

For the People Act Introduced in Congress

For the People Act Introduced in Congress

Bold Democracy Reforms in the Making
Sister Quincy Howard, OP
January 15, 2019

This week, as the new Democratic House leadership began implementing their agenda, democracy reform emerged as the #1 priority. Speaker Pelosi, with Representative Sarbanes’ leadership, introduced the For the People Act (H.R.1), broad legislation designed to put the people back in charge of our government. When this bill was introduced earlier this month, it immediately garnered 220 co-sponsors.

The timing and importance of this bill cannot be overstated. Today we see how the manipulation of big data and key SCOTUS rulings (Shelby and Citizens United) have resulted in an impaired democratic system. Last year’s midterm elections revealed a system that allows suppression of votes, distortion of representation and the prominence of moneyed interests to sway election outcomes. Fortunately, the 2018 election also demonstrated a growing momentum across the nation to strengthen our democracy. Local and state ballot initiatives emerged—and many passed—which sought to reinstate the influence of voters in an increasingly rigged system. 

We know that now is the time to act: there is a groundswell of urgency and deep concern for our democracy. There is a growing movement for reforms explicitly committed to ensuring that all voices are heard equally and to advancing the rights of those who have been cut out of the current system. People want to believe in a successful and functional government that truly represents the values of their community. 

Voting rights and fair representation in our democracy are foundational to NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps policy vision for 2020. Just and equal representation for all is a necessary condition for making progress in our advocacy efforts. It takes full representation to pass policies that benefit the common good. At NETWORK, we also believe the right and responsibility to participate in the political process. No individual or community should be disenfranchised by federal policy.

NETWORK is part of a diverse advocacy coalition building momentum by advancing policies that promote just election reforms at the federal level. The For the People Act is a comprehensive package of policy fixes which, combined, are far-reaching in scope. These provisions run the gamut from ethics rules for elected and appointed officials to automatic voter registration, publicly financed election campaigns, and everything in-between.  

H.R. 1 is generally described as having three broad policy objectives:

  1. Ending the dominance of big money in our politics
  2. Ensuring public servants work for the public interest
  3. Making voting easier and improving elections

Within this legislative framework, NETWORK Lobby is focused on policies related to voting and elections. Our faith teaches that we have a responsibility to participate in politics out of a concern for, and commitment to, the common good. This responsibility to participate means each person also has a fundamental right to participate.  

H.R.1 has a bold and comprehensive platform of provisions intended to ensure that all votes count. For the People would begin the process to restore the Voting Rights Act with a series of hearings to investigate modern-day tools used to suppress the vote. [Spoiler alert: many of them are the same tactics banned under the original Voting Rights Act!]  

NETWORK supports additional provisions that improve election integrity by: 

  • Making registration and voting more accessible for eligible voters
  • Improving polling and election operations
  • Restoring voting rights as criminal justice reform

Finally, in line with NETWORK’s advocacy for an accurate Census 2020 count, we support provisions to end gerrymandering.  A democracy that accurately reflects the body politic requires a fair, accurate Census count for fair apportionment and then a non-partisan redistricting process. H.R.1 includes reforms that would separate the redistricting process from politics through independent state redistricting committees.  

A functional and fair democracy undergirds all of the policy goals and objectives that we at NETWORK advocate for. 


Learn more about the broader Declaration for American Democracy coalition and advocacy efforts around H.R.1 on their webpage.

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

NETWORK Government Relations Team
November 5, 2018

The Midterm Elections are upon us — and NETWORK is busy looking ahead to the work that must be done for the rest of the year.

Members of Congress will arrive back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 13 to finish out the final legislative efforts for the 115th Congress. There are some time-sensitive issues Congress must address, as well as others that may be considered if there is time and political will. All the items on the agenda will be affected by two factors: the outcome of Tuesday’s election as well as subsequent leadership elections, especially in the House of Representatives.

With these uncertainties in mind, here is NETWORK’s analysis for upcoming issues in the final days of the 115th Congress.

Must Do: Fund the Government for 2019

Appropriations: Congress outperformed all expectations by passing 7 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2019 before the start of the fiscal year, which began on October 1.  While kudos are in order, NETWORK is urging them to pick-up where they left off as soon as they return and it’s imperative that they finish the job before the end of the year.  Lawmakers have until December 7th to reach agreement on the 5 remaining spending bills which fund programs at more than 10 federal agencies, or risk a government shutdown.  Several of our Mend the Gap issues are among the log-jam.  These include: programs that fund the 2020 census, affordable housing and keep immigrant families together.

Border Wall

The most contentious issue will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security; which President Trump has already threatened a government shutdown if Congress fails to appropriate roughly $5 billion for his border wall.  A government shut-down would be detrimental just weeks before Christmas and would coincide with the anticipated arrival of thousands of migrants trekking toward the Southern border.  NETWORK has joined hundreds of advocacy organizations in calling for Congress freeze spending at FY 2018 levels for immigration enforcement officers, agents and detention beds.   And we urge Congress to pass a separate short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security.  NETWORK is ready to kick our advocacy efforts into high-gear if we perceive threats around funding for our immigration and census priorities.

2020 Census

Funding for the Census Bureau, which requires a significant ramp-up for Census 2020 preparations and planning.   If Congress returns to the dysfunction we saw last year with repeated funding delays via Continuing Resolutions, it could seriously threaten the ramp-up and preparations for our government’s largest peacetime undertaking, the decennial.  Fiscal Year 2019 is the pivotal year leading up to the 2020 Census so postponing full funding would have dire consequences on the preparations and outcome of the count.  While the proposed funding levels from the Senate and the House seem acceptable, it is unclear what the budget impact would be on the impending court ruling on the controversial citizenship question.

Click here to read more about NETWORK’s FY 2019 appropriations priorities.

That being said, there are some outstanding “Maybe” issues that Congress could address: the Farm Bill, Criminal Justice, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Farm Bill: Protect SNAP

There has not been much apparent progress since the Farm Bill moved into conference in August.  One of the primary sticking points in negotiations is the nutrition title and reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The partisan House Bill—which passed by 2 votes on the second try—includes harmful provisions that would undermine the program’s effectiveness and cut nutrition assistance for millions of Americans.  The Senate bill, which saw the strongest bipartisan support of any prior Farm Bill (86-11), makes key improvements to strengthen SNAP without threatening food security of participants.  The 2014 Farm Bill expired this month but, fortunately major programs like SNAP have a funding cushion that minimizes the impact of Congress missing that deadline.  It’s highly likely, though, that the Farm Bill conference committee will kick into high gear when Congress returns on November 13th.  During Lame Duck NETWORK will need your help to ensure that the nutrition title from the Senate bill is what’s ultimately adopted and voted into law.

Criminal Justice

There is wide speculation that the Senate could join the House and take up a modest criminal justice reform package during the Lame Duck session, if 60 Senators agree to proceed.  In May, the House passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Over the summer the President tentatively agreed to include several sentencing reform elements into a prison reform package. The Senate was split on the issue of separating prison reform from sentencing reform but has changed course given the President’s willingness to negotiate a compromise.  While NETWORK supports sentencing and prison reform as a joint legislative package we did not take an official position on the First Step Act.

Read NETWORK’s thoughts on the First Step Act, from when it passed the House, here.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

As Congress concludes work for the year, there is a tradition that of a small group of tax bills that are bipartisan, non-controversial and relatively inexpensive get passed.  This group of tax bills is called “extenders.”  Members of the tax writing committees are now reviewing what their priorities are for any extender bill.  One of the tax initiatives under consideration is passage of “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 548) which expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to meet the housing needs of extremely low income renter households. This credit is the primary tool to encourage private investment in affordable housing development and is responsible for 90 percent of all affordable housing developments built each year.  Since it was passed in the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has incentivized the creation of 3 million affordable rental homes around the country.  NETWORK will work with

Given the national shortage of affordable housing, NETWORK believes it is critical that new build more low income housing units. Passage of this bill will go a long way to meeting the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable low income individuals and families.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.