Recovering Democracy

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”

Catherine of Siena

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Now would not be a good time for anyone in the United States to take a stress test.  Having experienced the deadliest pandemic in 100 years, witnessed racist violence in cities across the country, and endured deep political divisions that have made movement on urgent social issues impossible to address in Congress, we face an unimaginable crisis.  The mind-numbing attack on the US Capitol on January 6 left most of us reeling and trying to comprehend what was happening.

As I attempt to process the reality of a coup, and insurrection of thousands of “proud boys,” neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists, I come to the realization that truth has been missing in action for the last four years.  Social media has provided a platform for lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories gone mad.  Finally, Facebook and Twitter have halted President Trump from using the platforms indefinitely, but this action comes much too late.  The power of anyone occupying the presidency and using social media or standing in front of a camera can sway millions, make it impossible to pass legislation, and bring fear to those who just want to be reelected.

Conspiracy theorists have written a script of lies that they dressed up as truth. “The election was rigged,” a mantra promoted by the president, continuously fed through social media, and promoted even before the election. The seeds for a violent coup attempt were planted early.  The consequences were obvious: the lives of governors and secretaries of state, the speaker of the house, and the vice president were threatened. Five people died… another Capitol officer committed suicide days after the attack.

By Tyler Merbler from USA – DSC09523-2, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98637510

Lies led to the storming of the Capitol by domestic terrorists armed with military-style assault weapons, explosives, tear gas, guns, knives, confederate battle flags, waving racist hand signals. They wore shirts that mocked the Holocaust and carried flags that said, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.”

This white mob was on a mission to take prisoners and demand the election be overturned.  They were fed Gospel-like lies of the deep state taking over lives and Trump was the savior of the country.

The property that was destroyed – windows broken, doors torn down, computers stolen, can be replaced.  Can the human spirit be revived?  Can trust in the government be restored?  Can political parties do the hard work of promoting the common good, and put partisanship aside?  The biggest challenge: can lies be addressed vigorously and immediately?

We have had a leadership vacuum in our political world for years.  Sins against truth continue to be found in all of our institutions, including our own Church.  Truth has taken a beating in social media and in many avenues of communication.  Our “better angels” need to demand that truth permeate all platforms, or simply wait for the next coup.  What is more important than resuscitating truth and restoring a democracy?  Maybe then someone will write volume 2 of PROFILES IN COURAGE.

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

A Wounded Healer

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

If you ever heard a voice that sounds like a gentle breeze, it may be that of Christopher 2X (formerly Christopher Anthony Bryant).  This peace activist is one known widely. A man who chooses never to have enemies, only people who need healing, who need a class on hatred and racism, and who is a cure for this toxic disease.

Christopher 2x’s childhood troubles began at 14, when he began dealing drugs.  He served months at a juvenile facility.  He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade, was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1984, and served three years in prison.  The final chapter of his criminal career was in 1990 when he violated parole and was charged with cocaine possession and went to prison for three years.

If Hollywood looked for a story of someone who decided to turn his life around, this would be it.  Christopher Anthony Bryant would become the “wounded healer.”  After converting to Islam, his life began to change, and he took the name Christopher 2X.  He wanted to become a voice of calm and reason in Louisville, a city plagued with police violence against African Americans.  He did not choose to use a megaphone.

Christopher 2X

He has counseled youth about nonviolence and staying away from drugs. He has led prayer vigils for families who have lost loved ones to violence.  If families ask, he speaks to the media on their behalf.

After the murder of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old woman murdered by police in her apartment whose death sparked months of protests across the country, he supported her family, met with Kentucky’s Attorney General, and facilitated grand jury members speaking out after the verdict.

As the New Year begins, we again pray for peace, and for peacemakers who can lead the way.  Christopher 2X is one who continues to model the peacemakers we need.

One political operative stated his giftedness clearly: “He has the ability to get people in the same room who would not think to speak to each other.  He can find common ground with anyone and bring people together.” What a gift in a period of tribes and deep political division!  His is the story of a high school dropout who received an honorary doctorate, a convicted felon that became a trusted partner with the FBI, a former drug dealer, now a community leader.

When addressing the issue of racism, he speaks from his personal experience from elementary school to the present.  This has been a “roller coaster ride,” as he describes it.  He treats racism as a disease, and chooses to take the high road, to be a voice of reason.  Christopher 2X often says he was born on this earth for a reason and this is his message to young people with whom he meets every week.  His mantra to them: “You were birthed into the world for a reason, regardless of conditions that beat you down.”

President Trump just granted Christopher 2X a pardon for his crimes in his early life.  Let the country say AMEN!  He did not ask for a pardon because he is too humble for that.

As we end 2020, we can celebrate the life of a peacemaker who never stops working, considers praying and recognizing all people as worthy, not as enemies, as essential work. In a world of chaos, we are blessed to hear a soft voice.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Starting Over

It is time to say goodbye to 2020.  Please applaud! Whenever we cross the threshold of a new year, there is an atmosphere of hope, and now more than ever, hope is the focus for millions.  We hope that a COVID 19 vaccine will be effective, that Republicans and Democrats will work together and get things done to improve the lives of millions, and hope for racial justice.  The list for real change is endless.

President-elect Biden and the 117th Congress will face a mountain of issues demanding action:  an economic recovery plan, expansion of the Affordable Care Act, concrete action on addressing climate change, and immigration reform.  As one in six people in the United States faces hunger and millions face eviction, non-partisan action is critical.  We have had twelve years of a partisan tug of war with the working class, immigrants, and people of color always on the losing end. Executive orders from the President will not adequately solve relentless social problems.

In a past issue of NETWORK CONNECTION, Network compared the FY 2017 federal budget of President Obama and the 2019 federal budget of President Trump.  The comparison is a display of the devaluing of the common good:

FY 2017                                 FY 2019

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity        $733 million                               $0

Department of Education                                            $69.4 billion                          $63.3 billion

Federal Work Study                                                     $983 million                           $200 million

Housing and Urban Development                             $48.9 billion                           $39.2 billion

Center for Medicare and Medicaid                            $2.9 billion                              $2.4 billion

Low Income Home Energy Assistance                       $3 billion                                     $0

SNAP  (formerly food stamps)                                    $82 billion                              $73 billion

“Show me your budget and I will tell you what your values are.” This quote from former Vice President, now President-Elect Joe Biden, is a simple truth.

Will the votes on bills to come in 2021 be in support of the common good?  I dream of the following: an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour; an immigration reform bill that unites families and leads to a path to citizenship, with “dreamers” (DACA) granted citizenship; climate change bills that reverse the weakening of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, green jobs and responsible, common-sense gun legislation.

In a season of hope, there is much to hope for and work for, with renewed confidence.  I believe the spirit of John Lewis is with us in the ongoing work of “righting the ship” of a country hitting rough waters.

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

The Rush to Kill

“No government is ever innocent enough or just enough to lay claim to such absolute power of death.”

                                                                                  Sr. Helen Prejean

 

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

As we patiently await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the backdrop in the United States provides a violent contrast for those in federal prisons.  Following the order of Attorney General William Barr, thirteen prisoners housed in federal prisons will be executed before January 20th.  Before this decision, the federal government had not killed a person incarcerated on death row in 17 years.  This unprecedented killing spree leaves many unanswered questions.  One raised by many Catholics is why William Barr received the Christifideles Laici Award at the National Prayer Breakfast in September.  This award goes to those who “exemplify selfless and steadfast service in the Lord’s vineyard.”  Still waiting for an answer!

Brandon Bernard (40) was executed at 9:27 pm on December 11 for a murder committed with four other teenagers in 1999.  In 2018 his legal team discovered that the trial prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense.  This was the basis for Bernard’s appeal.  This fact changed the minds of six of nine living jurors who sentenced him.  Kristin Corella, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, states:  “A case like Bernard’s shows how our criminal legal system chooses finality over fairness.”

Bernard was one of a disproportionate number of African Americans receiving the death penalty.  According to the ACLU, “The color of a defendant and victim’s skin plays a critical and unacceptable role in deciding who receives the death penalty in the United States. People of color have accounted for 43% of total executions since 1976 and 55% of those awaiting executions.”

According to his lawyers, Bernard expressed his hope that his death might move the country to a future when one would not pointlessly and maliciously kill its own citizens.

Photo by Pat Sullivan, AP

In another unfathomable move, William Barr and President Trump have called for additional methods of execution, including firing squads, hanging, poison gas (inhaling nitrogen gas), in addition to the current methods of lethal injection and the electric chair.  What is next, a coliseum with lions?

Unfortunately, our country has been focused on a horrific pandemic, an economy in shambles, and a deeply divided political scene.  It is unlikely that those being executed in federal prisons will make the headlines.

Let us take a moment to remember in prayer:  Alfred Bouglois, Brendan Bernard, Orlando Hall, Christopher Viola, William Lecroy, Keith Nelson, Leynord Mitchell, Dustin Lee Honken, Wesley Ira Purkey, Daniel Lee and Billy Joe Warkey.

May their executions lead us to a peaceful and just way of dealing with violent crimes in our country.

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Remembering Ukraine

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Once again, our Dominican family focuses on December as “a Dominican Month for Peace.” From Columbia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, and now Ukraine, we direct our attention to a country struggling with the effects of violence and war.

UNICEF, a worldwide nonprofit organization providing relief to Ukraine, describes the situation as an ongoing challenge, especially for children: “After seven years of conflict, women and children in Eastern Ukraine remain extremely vulnerable. The conflict is taking a heavy toll on civilians: regular ceasefire violations, damage to homes, and social infrastructures lead to mine contaminations and limited access to services.”

Dominicans have long been a presence in Ukraine, first in the 13th century, and survived through the reign of the Austrian emperor, Joseph II, who closed many monasteries.  With the arrival of Soviet authorities, services in churches were stopped, and many Dominicans were expelled or killed.  In 2020, Dominicans are focusing on peace as it applies to the youth of Ukraine.

International Dominican Justice Promoters tell us that Dominicans are working with youth through the St. Martin de Porres Center in Fastiv, caring for socially disadvantaged children: orphans, street children, sick children, and children from disadvantaged families.  Since the beginning of fighting in Eastern Ukraine, the center has accepted 220 children from the combat zone, offering the opportunity to recover in a safe environment.

The situation is dire for children.  According to HOPE NOW there are between 70,000 – 110,000 orphans in Ukraine, housed in 650 institutions across the country.    Most are considered “social orphans” because of abuse, abandonment, or extreme poverty.  Many with disabilities die because they do not get the medical treatment needed.

Ukraine arrived in this situation after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  With independence came instability and an economic downturn.  Factories closed. Soviet daycare programs ended. Poor medical care meant the early death of parents. Because of abuse and neglect, many children depended on orphanages to survive.  At age 16 the children must leave the orphanage and are not able to provide for themselves due to a lack of basic skills.  It is estimated that 60% of those leaving orphanages turn to crime or prostitution to support themselves.

Thanks to the work of Dominicans in Ukraine, this bleak scene has received some light.  We are surrounded by the need for justice and peace in our world, and Ukraine stands out as a troubling and dangerous place for youth.  We stand in solidarity with Dominicans there in prayer and moral support.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog