Show Up and Choose Solidarity

2024 Brings This Ultimate Choice

Joan F. Neal and Mary J. Novak
February 13, 2024
Joan F. Neal, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer at NETWORK

Joan F. Neal, NETWORK Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer

On New Year’s Eve of 1929, only two months after the stock market crash had plunged the world into the turmoil of the Great Depression, the author Dorothy Parker sent a telegram to newspaper columnist Robert Benchley that read: “You come right over here and explain why they are having another year.”

Parker’s exasperation at facing yet another year might resonate with justice-seekers today, as we reflect on the spectacle in our politics that was 2023 and contemplate a presidential election cycle ahead of us that promises to be as exhausting as it will be consequential.

The exhaustion stems from the fact that we care and believe people of faith and goodwill can come together to affect positive change in federal policy. We believe this can have immediate and long-term impacts in building the common good. And this commitment to the common good also helps us to see clearly that we have a couple of stark choices before us this year as to how we proceed.

Mary J. Novak is NETWORK’s Executive Director

First, and most consequentially, is the choice of future direction for this country. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. framed this choice very aptly in the title of his final book: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

In 2023, we saw elected officials choose chaos over community time and again. This came in the form of proposed slashes to human needs programs that would have harmed millions of people. It came in the willingness to shut down the functioning of the federal government to meet extremist demands. It came in arbitrarily removing the Speaker of the House for reaching a deal to avert a government shutdown, and then filling the post with a 2020 election denier whose views on Christianity and government make him, by definition, a Christian nationalist. And in the shadows of this chaos, we have a former U.S. president promising to use the power of the government to punish his political enemies should he be returned to power next year.

Robert Reich points out that this chaos serves a purpose, “to persuade the rest of America that the nation is ungovernable as a democracy and therefore in need of an authoritarian strongman.” This issue of Connection includes the 2023 Voting Record, which reflects the sad fruits of this chaos and systemic breakdown: a Congress that has passed few bills and delivered very little for us, the people.

In sharp contrast to this grim spectacle is the choice of the common good, of investing in a future for this country that values every person and every community, a choice in which all of us have what we need to flourish and reach our potential. This is the vision of Catholic Social Teaching and the aim of NETWORK’s policy agenda and advocacy work. It is a society that believes, as Pope Francis said last year, in “todos todos todos!” — the inclusion and participation of everyone, not just a wealthy and privileged few.

The second consequential choice that awaits us in 2024 is the choice to show up and choose solidarity. This can be more challenging than it sounds for many people of goodwill. The chaos on display in our politics and in our society today is intended to exhaust us, to tempt us into thinking all options are equally bad and there is no point in working for something better. In the most recent installment of NETWORK’s “White Supremacy and American Christianity” webinar, we explored the cost of the choice to do nothing: the election of people at every level of government who are committed to dismantling our democracy and eliminating the possibility of a just and equitable political system.

But, as we have seen many times in recent elections, when people actually show up and exercise their citizen power, this outcome is far from inevitable. Let us approach this year grounded in the conviction that we can overcome this threat to our freedom and participatory democracy. With the Spirit, whose fruits include joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness and faithfulness, we can prevail. Let us all show up and choose solidarity over chaos.

This story was published in the Quarter 1 2024 issue of Connection.