Category Archives: Voting and Democracy

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
November 5, 2019

We know how quickly a year passes. Today is the first Tuesday of November; we have exactly one year before Election Day 2020 and so much is at stake. The presidency and control of Congress depend on the outcome next November, but the well-being of our democracy itself also hangs in the balance.

Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” Over 70 years later, his assessment still rings true.

Our democracy has never been perfect, but in 2020 we are at a pivotal moment for the democratic ideals of our nation. It is time to affirm that the people elect their government and that every vote counts.  Creating a fairer, more representative democracy should always be the goal.

While our democracy has always been a work in progress, there are key ways that it’s been undermined, particularly in the past 20 years. We are watching as these broken pieces come together, culminating in very real implications for how our government works — or doesn’t — and who benefits. NETWORK and our partners in the faith community are marking this benchmark occasion with a call to Restore the Voters Covenant. Our statement of purpose highlights the moral concerns about the state of our democracy in 2020 and articulates the principles we hold dear.

We at NETWORK are working with the Faithful Democracy coalition, a multifaith collaborative effort.  We are united around these basic democratic principles and are called to draw attention to the ways that our foundational democratic systems are under threat. Our community of congregations and faith-based advocacy organizations are ready to take a faithful and hard look at the state of our democracy. Together we will commemorate this important year by highlighting some of our biggest democratic hurdles and how we can overcome them as faithful individuals, communities and policy makers. Beginning in late November 2019, Faithful Democracy will roll-out bimonthly toolkits, each focusing on a different threat to our democratic systems.  It is time to faithfully repair the voters’ trust in our elections and ensure that our system aligns with our democratic ideals.

Stay tuned for future information about:

  • Protecting the right to vote and equal access to the ballot
  • Ending the corrosive influence of money on our democracy
  • Securing the integrity of our elections systems from foreign interference
  • Ensuring that redistricting and representation is fair and reflective of voters
  • Getting out the vote!

DACA Heads to the Supreme Court

DACA Heads to the Supreme Court

Giovana Oaxaca
October 16, 2019

The executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has withstood a number of legal challenges over the years. In a few short weeks, however, the delicate future of more than 700,000 DACA recipients will face yet another test. On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the DACA cases that the Supreme Court is considering to review this fall term. Although there exist legislative solutions, such as the Dream and Promise Act which passed the House and the Dream Act and SECURE Act (introduced in the Senate), Congress has so far failed to pass meaningful protections for undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action and temporary protected status. This has deferred the DACA matter to court cases, which have put a halt to the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA in September 2017. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching effects by deciding the fate of the program for the near future.

The stakes have never been higher. In a recent survey, over fifty percent of DACA recipients reported that they fear being detained or deported from the United States at least once a day. An even greater share of DACA recipients surveyed reported that they feared being separated from their children. The Supreme Court’s decision will alter the reality for the millions of DACA recipients living and working in the U.S. If the Supreme Court rules with the Trump Administration, this would leave thousands stranded with few recourses, in the very place they call home.

Brief Overview

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was terminating DACA, a decision that was been met with instant legal pushback. More than ten cases were filed challenging the administration’s decision. After a number of judges issued preliminary injunctions protecting the program, the administration appealed to the Supreme Court.  Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court granted the administration’s petition, agreeing to hear arguments for three cases on November 12th, 2019. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the DACA cases and an array of other high-profile cases are expected in June 2020.

Speculated Outcomes

Legal advocates, allies, and organizations are bracing for the court’s ruling.

  • The court may conclude it may review the administration’s decision. It may then rule that the termination is unlawful or lawful. A ruling stating that the action was unlawful would be good for DACA recipients because it would mean that the administration should not have terminated DACA under its reasoning at the time. The court may rule that the administration’s decision was lawful. This would be bad for DACA recipients because it would mean the administration could begin rolling back the program. It is also possible that the court could find DACA itself unlawful at this time. This would mean that the government could stop accepting renewals of applications.
  • The Supreme Court may decide not to review the administration’s decision to terminate. A ruling along these lines would mean that the administration could commence rolling back the program; it could also mean that a future administration could reinstate it.

High-profile businesses, higher education institutions, former national security officials, and religious organizations have joined a litany of amicus briefs in support of DACA recipients. The plight of Dreamers clearly resonates with the majority of Americans. As it stands, an overwhelming majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship. For now, the decision to stay DACA rests in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Sister Quincy Talks Faithful Democracy on Capitol Hill

Sister Quincy Talks Faithful Democracy on Capitol Hill

Colleen Ross
September 25, 2019

Last Friday, Sister Quincy Howard, OP joined New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and interfaith partners on Capitol Hill to discuss democracy reform efforts. Video of the discussion can be found here.

From Senator Udall’s website:

“There is a direct link between our broken campaign finance system and our voting rights system that puts up barriers to the ballot box, and the issues of concern to the faith community,” Udall said. “Issues like gun violence, food security, economic justice, and climate change. The American people, in overwhelming numbers, want Congress to address these issues. But we are not because the representatives in Congress are not representing the American people…We need to put an end to the idea that money equals free speech.  And that corporations are people.  And reign in an out of control campaign finance system.”

The Faithful Democracy Coalition is an inter-denominational campaign that began in the wake of the Citizens United decision.  The Coalition advocates for ending the dominance of big money out of politics, examining the issue from both a faith-based and legislative perspective, and focuses their campaign on the issues of climate change, gun violence prevention, immigration, and private prisons.

“The faith community recognizes how our democratic processes are corrupted at every level: from gerrymandering to voter suppression to campaign finance to foreign intrusion,” said Sr. Quincy Howard, of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “In a secular democracy, elections are the closest thing we have to a sacrament.  NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners call on our government to restore the people’s faith in our democratic systems by securing our elections, ensuring fair representation of the people, and rooting out the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

Read more:

https://www.tomudall.senate.gov/news/press-releases/_photo-and-video-udall-leads-discussion-with-interfaith-leaders-on-democracy-reform

Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
July 17, 2019

After months of twists and turns regarding the possibility of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the Trump administration finally announced the conclusion of this saga last week. The final decision: there will be no question about citizenship included in the census.

This is a victory because including a citizenship question would have prevented a full and accurate count from being completed. The census is constitutionally mandated to count all persons in the United States and census data is used for distributing federal funding, congressional apportionment, and more. So, a full and accurate Census count is vitally important for our nation. The Census Bureau’s own data predicted that, if the question were included, between 5% and 12% of noncitizen households would decline to participate. Additionally, six former census directors and a Census Bureau internal analyst all said a citizenship question would harm the count. Without an accurate count, communities that are undercounted would be under-funded and under-resourced for the next decade.

When the Commerce Department first announced it was pursing the addition of a citizenship question over a year ago, advocacy organizations, voting rights advocates, and community-based partners all responded in strong opposition. Multiple suits were brought against the Commerce Department on the basis of both procedural standards as well as “discriminatory animus.” While the final decision from the Supreme Court did not reject the citizenship question itself, it did reject the justification the Trump administration used to argue for its inclusion. Due to the rapid timeline for printing and executing the impending 2020 count, the Trump administration has finally given up on including the citizenship question on the census.

In order to save face after backing down from the citizenship question, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to gather citizenship data from other federal agencies. We will remain alert for more details of this new plan for compiling citizenship data.

In June, we responded to the Supreme Court decision with cautious optimism. Sister Simone said “I’m relieved to see that the Supreme Court, which can be so divided along partisan lines, recognized that this Republican scheme to reduce the count in the 2020 Census was an attempt at crass manipulation of the data by the Trump Administration.” Now, we remain optimistic about the prospects for the 2020 Census. We are re-focusing on accomplishing a fully representative, fair and accurate count of all people living in our nation so that we can accurately distribute federal funding and political representation until our next count takes place in 2030.

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Updated: June 27, 2019

We at NETWORK, with many of our partners, are naming this week “Shelby Week” in recognition of the six years that have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. 

In the aftermath of the June 25, 2013 Shelby decision – which gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) – states and localities across the country jumped to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions of American voters. 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.

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.

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.

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!