Tag Archives: voting

Living Out of Our Shared Humanity

Living Out of Our Shared Humanity

We Lose Ourselves When We Disown Our Neighbor

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM
June 26, 2024

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, pictured here at a Jan. 9 rally to save asylum, is NETWORK’s Grassroots Education and Organizing Specialist.

It should be simple. Our faith propels us towards caring for one another. Scripture commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. More specifically, Exodus instructs us: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If you ever wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to them.”

These passages read as if they could guide our country. However, somewhere along the way, our politics took a turn. Instead of centering our commitment to welcome the stranger or care for our neighbors, we began pitting ourselves against one another. Instead of striving for unity and the common good, we began using one another as step stools to reach the next highest rung of the ladder.

As certain groups tried to attain a higher status, the divide in our country grew. How did this happen? Perhaps, it was when the notion of the achieving “American dream” took us out of living in community and into a large house with a white picket fence that divided us from our neighbors. As we move into our own insulated neighborhoods, we risk losing the recognition that we depend on one another. When we allow borders and fences, ZIP codes, and railroad tracks to physically, socially, and spiritually divide us, it becomes easy to pit one person against another.

And yet, we know that this is not how democracy or the common good flourishes. We know that division only serves as a kindling for hatred and fear of “the other.” When we lose sight of the people around us, it becomes far too easy to categorize the “other’s” struggles as a problem not worth fixing. We forget that what affects one of us, affects all of us.

Last year, in NETWORK’s Thriving Communities campaign, we named this. A thriving community is not possible unless every person has what they need to thrive. Every person is integral to our community. When one of us—or a group of us—falters, we all falter. Like the often-repeated phrase during COVID, “We are stronger together.”

At NETWORK, we also talk about building an inclusive world where we all work together to transform our politics and structures of racial, economic, and social injustice. We must recognize the dignity in every person, no matter their political party, religious tradition, nationality, race, gender, etc. As a Sister, I know that it is easy to claim that I work to ensure that we all have the opportunity to live abundant lives, but in practice this is more difficult. We run the risk disowning or dehumanizing our neighbor or, worse yet, picking and choosing who we want to identify as neighbor.

In his message to the World Meetings of Popular Movements in 2017, Pope Francis said,

“The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus. […] But here we also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience, and persistence.”

What does this mean for us? In both big and small ways, we might be called move outside of our routines and comforts to begin to build authentic relationships with one another. If we do not build these authentic relationships, we will not see ourselves as members of one community. This is not a ”one and done” performance, but a lifelong commitment to being neighbor to one another. It is a commitment to border and boundary crossing so that we can begin to understand someone else’s self-interest, to understand worlds and viewpoints different than our own, and to witness to a future full of hope.

This story was published in the Quarter 2 2024 issue of Connection.

A Future for Freedom

A Future for Freedom

We Must Never Stop Dreaming of a Better World

Joan F. Neal
June 17, 2024
Joan F. Neal, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer at NETWORK

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

It’s usually dangerous to look back on previous eras of history as somehow better. Nostalgia too often masks racism and other egregious injustices more widely accepted in times past. However, one positive hallmark of some recent past decades is people’s capacity to dream.

Past generations had a lot to say about the American dream; they embraced the concept of all people having the ability within their grasp to make the life they wanted for themselves. In the fight against slavery, Jim Crow, and second-class citizenship, most Black Americans embraced Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community where all are free and equal. Dreams push us toward action, because they imbue the lives of those who have them with hope.

We all want to live lives of hope, lives oriented toward having what we need to flourish and find fulfillment. The word for that is freedom, true freedom.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond their control, today’s younger generations do not feel the hope to dream. Millennials and Gen Zers have had their adulthoods defined by financial crises, spiraling economic inequality, and an unrelenting experience of being priced out of American success and the freedoms that only democracy conveys, ones that their parents and grandparents took for granted. This is no accident. This is the result of 40 years of deliberate public policy choices that divested from families and communities and directed greater and greater wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer extremely rich individuals.

Pope Francis has described this phenomenon as young people feeling “crushed by the present,” unable to dream of a better future. Young people without hope should be a warning to us all that our ability to experience or exercise freedom is in danger. When people lose faith in a system’s ability to deliver for them, the system is in jeopardy. Is it any surprise then that the world has witnessed a global decline in democracy for the past 17 years?

We cannot afford for freedom to be relegated to the history books as a curious anomaly of the late second millennium. No, it is in the best interest of all people on the planet for there to be a future for freedom. For a picture of what the alternative offers, we can look to a country like Russia where the corrupt rule of a few oligarchs violently suppresses its opposition, leaves its own people without hope, and brutally attacks the freedom of its neighbor, Ukraine. But we can also look to the oppressive structures we permit in our own politics — such as inaction on immigration reform or refusing to make the tax code more equitable — that also robs people of freedom and their future.

See NETWORK’s 2024 Equally Sacred Checklist, to support you in educating yourself as a faithful voter on the “equally sacred” freedoms at stake in this election and beyond.

Catholic Social Teaching talks a great deal about freedom. It really matters. If a person lacks freedom, then they do not have what they need to make a true moral choice, including the choice to live into the potential and the dream that God has for every one of us to thrive, no exceptions!

At NETWORK, we see the brokenness of our public policies as structures of sin, that destroy people’s freedom and the common good. That is why, this year, NETWORK is focusing our election priorities on six freedoms:

  • Freedom to be Healthy
  • Freedom to Care for Ourselves and Our Families
  • Freedom to Live on a Healthy Planet
  • Freedom from Harm
  • Freedom to Participate in a Vibrant Democracy
  • and Freedom to Live in a Welcoming Country that Values Dignity and Human Rights.

You can read more about these later in this issue of Connection. Whether it’s health care, immigration, climate change, or one’s economic situation, we see this year in terms of the human freedoms at stake. We must ensure that these freedoms are reverenced and more deeply enshrined in our politics and our public policies, so that future generations experience the freedom to dream.

This story was published in the Quarter 2 2024 issue of Connection.

Dreams of Inclusion

Dreams of Inclusion

Inaction by Congress Costs DACA Recipients the Ability to Participate Fully in a Democracy They Help Make Flourish

Sydney Clark
June 11, 2024

Ivonne Ramirez speaks about her experiences as a child immigrant and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program participant during Mass at Mary Mother of the Church Parish in St. Louis. Photo: Sid Hastings

Ivonne Ramirez was 8 when her family migrated to the U.S. from Mexico City. They arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, where her father and a sibling had been living for about a year.

“It took seven days to get to St. Louis,” Ramirez says. “I was mostly walking to cross the border. It took a lot out of me.” Her father, a police officer, left Mexico due to safety concerns after raiding a money-laundering operation inside a bar. He was only able to bring one of his children. Ramirez journeyed with her mother and three other siblings.

“I was sleep-deprived, and people kept telling me, ‘If you keep going, you’re gonna see your dad’,” she says. “Not seeing my father for a year felt like a lifetime.”

A few years after the family reunited, Ramirez became eligible for the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which began in 2012 as an executive action by President Barack Obama. This year marks a decade for Ramirez as a recipient.

She and her family still resides in St. Louis. She works full-time doing quality control for a medical equipment company. On weekends, she serves as a catechist at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson, Missouri. “It feels like home. I’ve been here for most of my life,” Ramirez says.

Shut Out

While DACA has allowed Ramirez to attend school and get a driver’s license and a work permit, the realities of being a recipient remain at the forefront. She is one of roughly 580,000 active DACA recipients.

“Our permits and status allow us to be here for two years, and then we have to renew six months before,” she says. “This year, I’m OK, but next year, I have to start thinking about sending all the paperwork and the fee, which is $495. How will I get that extra income to pay for that?”

Recipients are ineligible to vote in federal elections, and Ramirez’s voting rights are nonexistent. Some states and municipalities allow noncitizens to vote in local elections like city councils, mayoral and school boards. Missouri is not one of them.

“If you pay your taxes, contribute to society, and show that you’re a model citizen, I don’t see why the efforts to put something permanent for [us] aren’t there,” Ramirez says.

In 2022, NETWORK honored Ramirez as one the organizations’ inaugural “Social Poets,” young justice-seekers whose lives and work define the challenges and possibilities of the coming decades. Unfortunately, permanent legal status for undocumented people in the U.S. remains an unaddressed challenge.

Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, deputy directory of federal advocacy at United We Dream and a DACA recipient. Photo: Diana Alvarez

At its height, DACA had around 840,000 recipients, says Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, deputy director of federal advocacy at United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country. A DACA recipient herself, she was 14 when her family migrated to the U.S. from Brazil. Macedo do Nascimento calls DACA the largest “victory of the immigration movement in decades.”

The program, however, has faced ongoing legal battles since its origin, leaving recipients in constant limbo.

“Many don’t know how much danger the policy is in,” Macedo do Nascimento says. The latest challenge happened on Sept. 13 of last year, when Texas federal judge Andrew Hanen ruled again that DACA is unlawful. Now, DACA will likely revisit the Supreme Court in 2025.

Although Hanen blocked new program applications, he left DACA unchanged for existing recipients during the anticipated appeals process. Recipients can continue to renew and apply for Advance Parole, which allows certain immigrants to leave the U.S. and return lawfully, said Macedo do Nascimento.

Bruna Bouhid, senior communications and political director at United We Dream, at a UWD Congress in Miami. Photo: United We Dream

“You feel like you’re on a roller coaster,” says Bruna Bouhid, senior communications and political director at United We Dream. “You never know if this will be your last chance to apply or if, in a year or six months, you will lose all those things you had planned for or worked hard to get.”

Bouhid, who became a recipient at 20, says the legal fights reveal that DACA will “not be our saving grace. We need something permanent. We need citizenship.”

Government Inaction

“It’s really up to Congress to find and support the solution,” says Christian Penichet-Paul, assistant vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Forum. “It’s the only branch of government that can ensure DACA recipients and other young DREAMers can stay in America long term and potentially become lawful permanent residents.”

Penichet-Paul says distrust among both parties and lack of courage helped derail legislative action and execution. He also predicts immigration reform talks in Congress will not advance during this election year.

“Democracy is such a precious thing, and it can take a long time to come up with a compromise,” Penichet-Paul says. “Sometimes, getting to the right place requires multiple little steps.”

As to when a policy window might open up, he notes, “It’s always said that Congress works best on a deadline. Unfortunately, that might be the next Supreme Court decision.”

Penichet-Paul stresses that there is bipartisan agreement and existing text that can serve as the bill that “finally provides permanence for young DREAMers who’ve been in America since they were little kids.”

One option could be a new version of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, first introduced in 2001. A version introduced last year by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would permit noncitizens brought to the U.S. as children to earn permanent residence aft¬er meeting specific education or work requirements. Durbin and Graham introduced similar legislation in the last three sessions of Congress.

Ivonne Ramirez speaks to parishioners at Mary Mother of the Church Parish in St. Louis. Ramirez, one of NETWORK’s “Social Poets,” has been a DACA recipient for the past decade. Photo: Sid Hastings

Additionally, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2023, which would tackle the sources of migration, reform the visa system, and “responsibly manage the southern border.”

“We can have a pragmatic system, looking at who needs and wants to migrate, but let’s create a system that is fair and humane for everyone,” Bouhid says.

Ramirez admits that she’s “a little scared” for the looming 2024 election but encourages those eligible in her community to vote.

“A lot of Americans know at least one, if not many, DACA recipients and immigrants,” she says. “If you get to know them and understand why they came to the U.S., you would happily vote in honor of them.”

Ramirez says her Catholic faith inspires her to be vocal about the challenges immigrants face.

“I never want to stop talking about us and why we need to become citizens,” she says.

Penichet-Paul says immigrants have grown up as “American as any U.S. citizen in many ways” and take civic participation and community service seriously.

“Immigrants are often some of our strongest allies in maintaining democracy and the institutions that allow our democracy to prosper,” Penichet-Paul adds. “Democracy can coexist with DACA and immigration. They’re about good governance and ensuring that people can reach their full potential, nothing more, nothing less.”

Sydney Clark is a New Orleans native and multimedia producer based in Washington, D.C.

This story was published in the Quarter 2 2024 issue of Connection.

Move Past the Unserious

Move Past the Unserious

People Who Want Action on Immigration Should Look to These Proposals

Ronnate Asirwatham
April 2, 2024
NETWORK Government Relations Director Ronnate Asirwatham, a woman in a pink jacket, holds a microphone and speaks from behind a podium with a sign, "Invest in Welcoming Communities." Many other advocates with similar signs stand behind her.

NETWORK Government Relations Director Ronnate Asirwatham at the September 2023 Welcoming Communities press conference on Capitol Hill

Words have consequences. And almost nowhere is that truer than when dealing with immigration.

People like to think they are true to their word when they say they want action on immigration and care about finding practical solutions. After all, immigration is a serious issue that touches millions of lives and practically every community. We should adopt serious proposals. But what does it mean to be serious?

Many people, especially elected officials, betray their unseriousness by how they talk about immigration. Unfounded claims of a “migrant crime” wave are dangerous and inaccurate. These claims feed into racist tropes by fueling fear and hatred towards immigrants and people of color, making our communities less safe.

Fearmongering gives cover to politicians wishing to pass or enact terrible policies. The recent legal attack by the Attorney General of Texas on Annunciation House—a series of shelters that serve migrant people across the Southwest—is one small example of right-wing extremists attacking people seeking safety, as well as the people of faith who serve them.

We have also seen this type of attack in extreme bills against immigrants and people who welcome them in the state legislatures of Arizona, Idaho, and Georgia and the U.S. Congress. Instead of putting forward workable solutions, Congressional extremists keep pushing for unworkable, failed proposals that the American public has rejected. They think this is a good way to pass unpopular policies, but providing a veneer of legality for attacking immigrants makes everyone less safe.

This xenophobic rhetoric is like that which brought gunmen to the Pittsburgh synagogue and the El Paso Walmart. Unserious people can still create serious threats, and the policies of deterrence and the rhetoric of racism these politicians are proposing will make all who live in the borderlands and people of racial and religious minorities everywhere unsafe.

We must focus on what constitutes a serious immigration policy proposal; luckily, we have plenty of examples. At the end of January, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released its immigration principles for the second session of the 118th Congress. These principles, comprised of 18 policy proposals within a framework of four pillars—immigration reform, jobs and the economy, border safety, and regional migration concerns—are what serious immigration policy looks like and what people of faith and goodwill should push Congress and the Administration to adopt.

  • Increase funding for asylum processing and legal representation programs for adults and guarantee access to counsel for asylum seekers in federal custody.
  • Create family reunification programs for additional countries to assist with backlogs.
  • Facilitate access to work authorization for newly arrived immigrants.
  • Fund community-based case management programs that decrease immigration detention.
  • Protect Dreamers and DACA recipients.
  • Provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals.
  • Update the registry cutoff date through H.R. 1511, the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929.
  • Advance immigration protections through H.R. 3194, the U.S. Citizenship Act.
  • Establish a humanitarian visa for pre-screen asylum seekers.
  • Expand protections for minors seeking to be reunited with parents holding legal status in the U.S.
  • Protect undocumented spouses or parents of military members by providing a path of legal residency and eliminating the threat of deportation.
  • Advance protections for agricultural workers through the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2023.

These are serious proposals that can create real change by actually addressing the problems created by our broken immigration system. Any person, elected or otherwise, who claims to be serious about the border and immigration but isn’t embracing these proposals is not serious. In fact, they are very likely trying to use the plight of suffering people to get you to buy into a “solution” that will only cause more suffering and put more people in danger. And that’s serious.

This story was published in the Quarter 2 2024 issue of Connection.

The Ripple of One Person’s Vote

The Ripple of One Person’s Vote

Contribute to the Love That Saves the World

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU
March 5, 2024

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, NETWORK Chief of Staff

Waiting in line outside a school gymnasium in the early morning hours. Feeling the chill of November in the air. Greeting the poll workers. Making selections on an electronic menu screen. The experience of voting is many things, but not many people would probably think of it as helping us grow holiness. But listening closely to Pope Francis, it’s clear that this election year offers yet another opportunity for many people to journey closer to the God who loves and saves the world.

In his 2018 letter on the call to holiness, Gaudate Et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Pope Francis waded into explicitly political waters when he cautioned against limiting one’s political concern and advocacy to just one or two issues, as so many Catholics tend to do in the U.S. “Equally sacred,” he affirmed, are the lives of people in poverty and all who are rejected and discarded by society. “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in the world,” he wrote.

That same year, the Vatican’s doctrine office also published a document on “certain aspects of Christian salvation.” This document rejects “individualistic and merely interior visions of salvation” as being against the “economy through which God willed to save the human person.” People must journey beyond themselves, out into the world, to participate in the grace of the salvation story that culminates when “each person will be judged on the concreteness of his or her love.” (Placuit Deo #13)

This, too, is political.

See NETWORK’s 2024 Equally Sacred Checklist to support you in educating yourself as a faithful voter on the issues and concerns that are “equally sacred.”

Voting is concrete. It is an act. It is a choice. It’s an imperfect choice because voters are often not faced with specific policy proposals but with individual office-seekers who may be better on particular issues than others and whose performance, once elected, can be unpredictable. Will they advocate for people on the margins? Are they able to be bought by wealthy corporate interests? Do they take the weight of responsibility of their office seriously? The answers to these questions can and do produce wildly different outcomes.

But what remains is this: In the act of voting, a person creates a small ripple in the social fabric, a ripple that may end up part of a more significant current or movement that impacts the lives of millions of other people– for good or ill.

Using one’s vote for ill often means voting as a means of lashing out against people or groups of people whom voters have been told to fear, such as migrants and other people struggling to survive on the peripheries of society.

Voting may take only an instant, but the harm inflicted by bad immigration policy compounds over the years. It is felt in the lives of families and children who might never recover from the devastation they experience.

Even more could be said about the pain intentionally inflicted on Black and Brown communities by the stoking of Christian nationalist and white supremacist narratives. What does it mean for this country that so many neighbors voted this way?

But the opposite is also possible. A person can use their vote to build up rather than tear down, show welcome rather than hostility, and contribute to love rather than hate. And in an election year that looks to be decided by a small number of people in a few states and localities, the choice of one person to choose solidarity, to make their vote an act of love, is as consequential as it’s ever been. It might just play a part in saving the world.

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

Lessons for Democracy in 2024

Lessons for Democracy in 2024

Advocates Agree That Voting Remains a Powerful Tool and Act of Engagement

Don Clemmer
March 1, 2024

One of the reasons politics seemed so broken in 2023 might have been because so many people separated the exercise of power from service:

  • A faction of the U.S. House of Representatives kept trying — and failing — to make the very functioning of the government contingent on deep cuts to human needs programs.
  • A former president on the campaign trail promised that a return to power would mean annihilation of his opponents.
  • And at the state level, restrictive voting laws continued to threaten the participation of all people in a system that shapes their lives.

It all raises the question of the overall health of democracy in the U.S. and its prospects for weathering the 2024 elections — in the presidential race, Senate, House, and state-level contests. Advocates, academics, and leaders in the areas of faith and politics agree — and shared with NETWORK’s Just Politics podcast last year — that current threats to democracy require vigilance and action. Action includes rooting out Christian nationalism, opposing voter suppression, forging broader political alliances to work common problems, and showing up to vote.

The Place of Faith in Politics

Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld

“This is much bigger than just elections,” says Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, who notes that the world has witnessed a global decline in democracy for the past 17 years. In consolidated democracies like the U.S. and Brazil, this has occurred because people elect populist, authoritarian leaders. “Just beating those leaders doesn’t mean that democracy is restored.”

Celina Stewart

“The threat has always persisted. The tools that are used each election cycle sometimes change, or sometimes they just get scaled in some way or another,” says Celina Stewart, chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation for the League of Women Voters, of the particular threat of voter suppression. “Voting rights is really about empowering people to engage in their community, to have a voice in selecting the person or the group of people who will represent their interests.”

“When we start suppressing votes, and we start suppressing knowledge, we’re heading down a very dark road,” says Sr. Anita Baird, DHM, a member of NETWORK’s board. “As a church, we have failed to speak out on many of these issues.”

Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

As the threat of Christian nationalism has grown more visible in U.S. politics in recent years, NETWORK has vocally denounced the movement, as have other religious groups. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) is one of them.

“Christian nationalism takes that Gospel of love and perverts it into this false idol of power,” says Amanda Tyler, BJC’s executive director. She says it’s incumbent on Christians to call out where public assertions of Christian identity stray from the teachings of Jesus.

She adds, “When we look around at all the injustice in the world today, we desperately need, I think, that authentic Christian witness to try to call us to live in a more just and equitable place.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, assistant leader of the House Democratic Caucus, has a similar response to colleagues who separate their Christian identity from concrete service.

“I ask them: Show me what you mean. Don’t tell me what you mean. Show me,” he says, citing from James 2:16 that one cannot say “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed” and do nothing to help someone. “You have to feed them. You have to clothe them. Because faith without works is dead.”

In the face of chaos spurred by Christian nationalism in the body he has served for over 30 years, Clyburn says he has begun reaching out to members of different factions within his own party, recognizing that they “need to demonstrate some leadership in the very near future to make sure this country doesn’t to go over the edge.”

Inaction Is Not an Option

“We need democracy to deliver more for people who have been left out,” says Kleinfeld. And in bridging that connection, she sees Catholics as having a special role. “Almost every other religious group is on one side of the aisle or the other. It’s really quite stunning. Catholics are the only group that are pretty evenly divided in Republicans and Democrats.”

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, Joan F. Neal, and Colin Martinez Longmore interviewed a range of democracy advocates and experts for Season 3 of the Just Politics podcast, produced in collaboration between NETWORK and U.S. Catholic magazine.
To hear more from the conversations encapsulated in this article, visit uscatholic.org/justpolitics
or networklobby.org/just-politics-podcast/

Kleinfeld advises, “What you need to start doing is both talking to people on the other side but then working with people on the other side on things you find you agree on. And this is really important, because finding those instances of agreement requires some deep conversation. It also requires constructive engagement with the system. … It can show people that the government can work. It can show people the humanity of the other side. And ideally it eventually moves into more political change.”

Rep. Clyburn says that fixing its own faults is something that makes America great.

“COVID-19 exposed some faults in our system that needed to be repaired,” he notes. And that inspired him to bring together Members of Congress from rural districts to get access to broadband included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The result was a $65 billion investment to make high-speed internet available to all people in the U.S.

Baird agrees that promoting policy that affords people what they need to participate more fully in society amounts to “strengthening the foundation of our democracy,” which gives future generations a better chance to realize the dream Dr. King talked about.

“We’re called to be in the political marketplace and to speak truth to power and to do it within the context of the Gospel and the social teachings,” she says. One failing Baird laments is how the racial divide in the U.S. makes it much harder for people to find solidarity with one another.

“If I’m white and poor in America, I don’t see what I have in common with poor people of color in America,” she notes. “But you have more in common with poor people of color than you have with the wealthy — that you have nothing in common except the color of your skin!”

Baird recalls that, when Dr. King called for a poor people’s campaign, that’s when people got upset. “When he started talking about bringing people together from every different background,” she says, “that became a threat to the power structure.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts speaks outside the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 6 as she and Senator Peter Welch of Vermont introduced the Inclusive Democracy Act. The bill seeks to end felony disenfranchisement, a measure that disproportionately keeps Black and Brown people in the U.S. from voting.

Stewart of the League of Women Voters affirms the value of getting engaged: “So often in my interactions with people, they don’t always recognize how important their perspective is. They think everyone may feel that way, they don’t know the value that it brings. And every voice, collectively, has so much power.” Baird says that — especially as a Black woman — she struggles with people who say they are so demoralized by U.S. politics that they aren’t going to.

“Things do change. It may not change as quickly as we want or in the exact way that we want,” she says, but, “people died for the simple right to vote.”

Stewart asserts that who we elect matters: “Those are now people who make decisions on behalf of your family, on behalf of your life, your access, your ability to move and have potential services around the country,” she says. “And so it’s a really big deal, not only election day, but the impact of who’s elected.”

Kleinfeld says some people are resistant to holding onto a system that seems to be broken, but she cautions, “There’s not been a better system for peacefully changing power, peacefully choosing leaders who represent you. And that’s a lot to throw out.”

“Perhaps we have to go through this to realize how fragile democracy is, but what a gift it is,” says Baird. “I think we have to understand the power of the vote, the power of people coming together.”

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

Legislative Review of 2023

Legislative Review of 2023

One of the Most Dysfunctional, Unproductive Congresses of Modern Times

Laura Peralta-Schulte
February 19, 2024

Laura Peralta-Schulte is NETWORK’s Senior Director of Public Policy and Government Relations.

Following the 2022 midterm elections, 2023 brought “divided government” to Washington, DC as Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Presidency and U.S. Senate remained under Democratic control.

Policymaking is always more difficult with a divided government because only compromise allows success. The federal system, by design, encourages deal-making and compromise, half-measures, and rare bipartisan achievements. The reactive nature of the federal system often frustrates those seeking revolutionary change.

The first session of the 118th Congress stands out as a year of abject legislative failure. It was a year of squandered opportunity, petty infighting, and deep frustration. The blame for this lack of progress lies directly at the feet of the House Republican Caucus and, by extension, former President Trump.

It is no secret the two major parties have competing visions on key policy issues. The key distinction between the parties is generally informed by what they believe to be the federal government’s proper role. These differences profoundly impact the lives of vulnerable people and the earth, our common home.

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda requires an active federal government to address the social sins of the day: a broken, inhumane immigration and asylum system, shocking levels of wealth inequality and an ever-growing wage gap, increasing levels of child poverty, destruction of our planet, and more. NETWORK, in Washington and through the actions of our members back home, plays a critical role in bridging the divides to build support for core policy initiatives informed by Catholic Social teaching.

Why does this session stand out as being particularly troublesome? The design of the federal system remains the same; however, the norms of the system — civility and goodwill at minimum to a member’s party — have vanished. The problem did not start this year; institutional norms have slowly eroded, dating back to the speakership of Newt Gingrich and the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. The Trump administration accelerated this decay in Washington leading directly to the insurrection of January 6 and an attempted overthrow of the 2020 election.

The schism in the Republican party is most apparent in the House of Representatives and exists between two distinct factions: institutionalists, a quickly shrinking number of Members who respect traditional norms and recognize the need to compromise, and radicals, those who view compromise as capitulation and weakness and act with little regard for the institution or their fellow Republicans.

Tension between the two factions has been displayed in the House since the beginning of the term. This first became apparent during the nomination of Rep. Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House. A group of hardline House Republicans blocked McCarthy from securing the speakership to extract policy concessions to their radical agenda. McCarthy won the speakership after 15 humiliating votes. The nomination debate foreshadowed the tumult that was McCarthy’s short tenure as Speaker.

It is critical to note that Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have largely rejected chaos, instead opting to collaborate with Senate Democrats to achieve mutual policy objectives. As 2023 came to a close, it was sadly apparent that a core issue that intersects both House and Senate Republicans’ agenda is a strong desire to end the U.S. asylum system and “build the wall.”

The radical nature of House Republican conservatives — in policy and political norms — is nothing less than shocking. Action on key policy initiatives stopped except for must-pass legislation — lifting the debt ceiling and passing two continuing resolutions to keep our government operational. Each bill moved forward only after House Republicans attempted to use the deadlines to alter core human needs programs for struggling families significantly. Then, after failing to develop a consensus among their caucus, the government was kept afloat due to the support of House Democrats under the leadership of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

Cuts to poverty programs are being heralded by House conservatives as necessary austerity measures. The great irony is that the same House conservatives proposing to take food from babies are poised to spend billions of dollars for more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations on top of the $2 trillion spent under President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017.

Then-Speaker McCarthy lost his speakership due to passing a bipartisan continuing resolution with the support of Democrats in September. Compromise is the enemy of House conservatives, regardless of the chaos resulting from policy failure. Chaos is a key tactic and desired outcome.

It is worth noting that these radical members are working very closely with former President Trump in the lead-up to the 2024 election. Many are on record as election deniers and supporters of the insurrection. The former president urged these House Republicans to replace McCarthy in September. He rejected several candidates for Speaker to replace McCarthy, ultimately praising the nomination of ally Rep. Mike Johnson. It bears remembering that now-Speaker Johnson led the effort in the House to reverse Trump’s 2020 election loss.

The first session of a new Congress is typically a time when work gets done before the election cycle begins. Unlike previous congressional terms, the 2024 elections have been front and center in the House from day one. House legislative efforts have relentlessly attacked immigrants and U.S. asylum laws, voting rights, and the LGBTQ+ community.

There have been calls for book bans and ending diversity initiatives, attacks on the Internal Revenue Service as they actively work to ensure wealthy taxpayers pay their taxes, and drastic cuts on all key anti-poverty programs, including WIC, SNAP, healthcare, Social Security, Title One school funding, housing vouchers, and so much more. House Republicans also started formal impeachment processes for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and President Biden.

The House Agriculture bill provides a great example of the harsh austerity measures radical House members are seeking. After successfully making it harder for older Americans to receive SNAP in the new debt ceiling law, key provisions of the Agriculture bill were nothing less than a frontal attack on communities living with high rates of poverty. The bill had cruel cuts in funding to prevent hunger and food insecurity, including hallowing out key programs for fresh fruits and vegetables for children.

Shockingly, the bill would eviscerate long-standing bipartisan support for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at a time of great need. A lack of funding means waiting lists, poorer health outcomes, and other hardships for new families and their babies.

House conservatives are heralding cuts to poverty programs as necessary austerity measures. The great irony is that the same House conservatives proposing to take food from babies are poised to spend billions of dollars for more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations on top of the $2 trillion spent under President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017.

As the year ends, Congress, due to inaction in the House, has pushed all decisions on major legislation into 2024, making this the most non-productive, dysfunctional Congress in the modern era. The House of Representatives completely failed in their responsibility to the American people. As always, the high cost of inaction falls hardest on the most vulnerable.

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

Show Up and Choose Solidarity

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.

It’s Time for an Income Floor

It’s Time for an Income Floor

Recent Crises Prove That We Can End Poverty in the U.S.

Black History Month Update
February 1, 2024

NETWORK is celebrating Black History Month this week with a look at how historical, persistent discrimination and inequity — in housing, employment, education, and more — has widened the wealth gap and has lead to poverty for far too many Black Americans. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), reminds us in her essay that originally appeared in Connection, that there is no reason we can’t live in a world without poverty. There is a path toward a brighter, more equitable future with a guaranteed income.

Leaders across the country carry the same message. Like Mayors for A Guaranteed Income, an organization started by former Stockton, California mayor, Michael Tubbs, who piloted a UBI program in the city with great results. After you read Rep. Watson Coleman’s piece, please check out an interview clip on the PBS Newshour that features Mayor Tubbs.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman
November 29, 2023


Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman has represented New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District since 2015.

My father, John S. Watson, instilled a core value that is my guiding principle: “To whom much is given, much is required.” This mantra from the Gospel of Luke was the impetus for my run for Congress.

Now that I have the privilege to represent New Jersey’s 12th congressional district in Congress, my core belief can be summed up around this concept: In the United States of America, there is a floor below which we should never allow any child, any family, or any person to fall. We have an obligation to ensure that every American is entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness and has an equal opportunity to chase the American dream.

However, many of us know that it is difficult to achieve these pursuits without economic security. Anti-poverty advocates understand the wide array of factors that cause Americans to fall below this floor. It is time for us to evaluate what economic security means for all.

During my time in Congress, I have been fighting to close the wealth gap and ensure that all Americans receive a fair wage; a living wage, which data from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning estimates would be $25.02 per hour, or $104,077.70 for a family of four. It is simply a moral outrage that there are millions of Americans surviving on wages below what is necessary to support themselves and their families. The arbitrary minimum wage — which is variously set between $7.25 per hour and $17.00 per hour depending on where one works — is simply not enough. The inability of millions of families to meet their basic needs, such as food, health care, clothing, and shelter in the richest country in the world is shameful.

Fortunately, we have the power to guarantee all Americans an income sufficient to care for their families in a safe, secure home, to afford quality medical care, and to secure a good education.

The concept of a guaranteed income, or directly giving unrestricted cash to people, offers dignity and self-determination for recipients. A one-size-fits-all approach to providing economic assistance to Americans combats the antiquated and misguided notions of deservedness rooted in distrust. As Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” All people, as children of God, deserve the necessities of life.

Guaranteed income also has historical relevance and was — and still is — a centerpiece demand of the Poor People’s Campaign, the movement to economically empower America’s most vulnerable. Martin Luther King, Jr. praised the idea of guaranteed income, stating that “the dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement.”

My piece of legislation I authored, the Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act, would establish a nationwide pilot program to test the outcomes of a federally funded income support program that would keep more American families from experiencing permanent financial fallout and lasting poverty from a single unexpected crisis.

We have seen the devastating impacts of the pandemic on our economy. At the same time, the government’s response has demonstrated that there is a real and meaningful ability for federal programs to keep Americans out of poverty. The interventions taken by the federal government, in fact, led to one of the steepest declines in poverty in American history including a 50 percent decline in poverty among children. Every effort should be taken to make these programs permanent. The success of lowering poverty during an economic crisis further proves that, in modern economies, poverty is a choice.

Black women sit at the core of our economy, and yet they are routinely the last to benefit from economic booms and the first to suffer from downturns. This instability has a devastating effect on families and communities. The security and stability of a guaranteed income would unleash untold economic opportunities; the ripple from this transformative change would reach all corners of our economy.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that, when John answered to the crowd, he said “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (3:11) What was accomplished to cut poverty during the COVID crisis shows us what is possible when our actions are in line with our priorities. We now have the opportunity to reimagine how we address the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society. There is no reason we can’t live in a world without poverty.  

This story was published in the Quarter 4 2023 issue of Connection. 

Call Elected Leaders to Advocate for Social Justice

Action Alert: Call Your House Representative

Tell them to pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024!
January 17, 2024

Hardworking families need your help right NOW. Call 1-888-738-3058 today and urge Congress to pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024). Republicans and Democrats worked together on this important legislation that would increase the tax credit for hardworking parents who’s low income keeps them in poverty, struggling to make ends meet as they.

The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024) will make meaningful progress toward the goal of ending child poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a half-million kids will be lifted out of poverty and about 5 million more will be less poor. Hardworking families need this tax credit! The bipartisan proposal to expand the CTC was led by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (Oregon) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (Missouri-08). NETWORK calls for its urgent passage. We need your help to get it passed!

How can you help? Call your Representative today to help get the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024) passed?

CALL NOW! Tell Your Representative:
Pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024!

*Dial 1-888-738-3058 to reach your member of Congress.

When you call, here’s what you might say:

“Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR TOWN]. I want to let [REPRESENTATIVE’s NAME] know that our country needs to reduce child poverty–which has doubled since 2022. That’s why I support the bipartisan-supported Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 (H.R.7024). As a NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice advocate, I believe it is immoral for children to go without meals, medical care, housing, and other vital needs. This CTC proposal will give lower-income parents the money they need to properly provide for their families.

Expanding the CTC to more families is more important now than ever. For people in my community, in our state, and across the country, wages don’t cover the high cost of monthly bills, like groceries and childcare. And hardships like this add up–pushing far too many people into poverty. This is not the time for politics as usual. Congress must work together. Will [REPRESENTATIVE’S NAME] work with their colleagues to pass the bipartisan CTC bill immediately?

More about the proposed expanded Child Tax Credit bill

Although it is not as generous as the tax credit in the American Rescue Plan Act, this proposal will provide full CTC benefits to approximately 16 million children who are currently deprived of CTC resources solely because their families do not earn enough money. More than 20 percent, or one in five children, will benefit from this tax credit. 

Under the current law, 19 million children are ineligible for full CTC benefits, solely because their families do not make enough money. The Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 expands the tax credit to include nearly 16 million more children of parents who make lower incomes. While the monthly checks that NETWORK supporters advocated for are not included, this is a meaningful CTC expansion. More than one in five children would benefit.