Democracy at Risk

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

After the election of George Washington in 1789, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin if the United States was a republic or a monarchy.  He responded, “A republic, if we can keep it.”

Under norms of rationality, the recent Wisconsin democratic primary would never have happened.  Governor Tony Evers sought to postpone the in-person Democratic primary because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders issued by his own office.  This appeal was denied by the conservative Wisconsin state supreme court and later denied by the similarly-conservative U.S. Supreme Court – a Supreme Court which, by the way, cast their votes on this remotely, a privilege not granted to Wisconsin citizens. Television cameras focused on thousands of primary voters wearing masks, trying to position themselves six feet apart from each other as they stood in line for as long as two hours.

These people risked their lives not only to exercise a fundamental right, but to do their civic duty, when seeking absentee ballots could have protected them.  As they reached the interior of the voting sites, they had to stay within two feet of poll workers… many of whom were elderly and therefore part of a vulnerable population. Wisconsin voters carried signs reading, “This is crazy,” and “Is this democracy?”

This irrational and irresponsible decision could infect many citizens with the virus and cost lives.  It was later discovered that nine thousand absentee ballots requested earlier by voters were never sent, disenfranchising people who followed the rules to vote absentee.

Voter suppression is not a new phenomenon.  Numerous barriers to voting came to light during the 2018 mid-term election.  In Dodge City, KS, the polling site was moved from a centrally-located area to the outskirts of town more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, making it more difficult for the poor and Hispanic citizens to vote.  In North Dakota, Native Americans were deprived of the opportunity to vote because they did not list an address when registering to vote; reservations do not have street addresses.  In Georgia, many African American voters were removed from the rolls because they had not voted in the previous two elections.

After the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision to weaken the landmark voting rights act, many states lost no time eliminating polling places. Arizona closed 320 sites in 13 counties. Southern states have closed 1,200 voting sites. There was one common denominator in these closings: the large majority was in areas populated by people of color.

Voter suppression is real and growing. I believe in light of this obvious weakening of fundamental democratic rights, Benjamin Franklin would answer the question about our nation much differently today.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

In a time of quarantine, is the real problem inside?

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

COVID -19 has upended the lives of millions around the world.  All of our institutions now have to find ways to survive now and recover after this pandemic is over.  Churches, considered the rock of spiritual and emotional support for many, now have drive-through anointing and confessions. As the stock market plummets, jobs are lost and social support systems are weakened. We are in an alien land without a road map.

Much critical attention needs to be focused on what is going on in homes around the country.  COVID-19 has changed the context of children’s lives, with school closings, activities outside the home eliminated, and in-person counseling no longer possible. With once-reliable support systems no longer available, tensions increase and instances of domestic violence and child abuse have become more frequent. Skyrocketing unemployment and loss of emotional support systems fuel fear and anger, with child abuse or violence against a spouse too often the result.

Few have thought of the collateral damage of the virus, like victims of rape or sexual assault, who may stay away from overrun hospitals for fear of exposure to the virus.  Undocumented immigrants may fear going to the hospital and being reported to ICE.

Pro Public summarizes the problem facing many: “Social workers from the front lines of America’s beleaguered social service system, which strains to care for millions of vulnerable people in the best of times, sound the alarm during the current reality.  They have written, urging that the country not overlook a secondary crisis growing out of the global pandemic: that those who already live on the margins, many of whom rely on counseling face-to-face for support and survival, will suffer out of public view, behind closed doors, kept shut to keep the virus out.”

During this time of long-term uncertainty, much can be learned from the 12-step programs used by those in addiction recovery. Living for today … getting through a period of difficulty one day at a time, is an important form of coping and self-care. Don’t look to the trip you planned in July or the wedding in October. Concentrate on getting through each day to the best of your ability.

Likewise, the final step of most recovery programs states that the key to maintaining our own emotional well-being is to help others. In this case, the mantra, “We will get through this together,” needs to focus on the most vulnerable, who are often alone already. It’s not always hard to see the families who are on edge – now is the time to reach out with a wave on the street or a call or a text. Just as staying in during this pandemic may save a life, reaching out while we are all behind closed doors may do the same.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

How Far Have we Come in 50 Years of Earth Day?

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

April brings thoughts of the beauty that surrounds us. Flowers with a rainbow of colors abound, and the gray of winter disappears. Even though we are limited in our movement because of the coronavirus, the beauty is there to inspire. April also brings to mind Earth Day and all that has happened since April 22, 1970, when Senator Gaylord Nelson hosted an environmental teach-in.

Fast forward to 2020 and we find rubble in many forms:

  • the United States withdraws from the Paris Accord
  • the EPA suffers drastic cuts
  • the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are weakened
  • changes in the Endangered Species Act threaten all wildlife
  • scientists are ignored

 

Is there any good news in today’s reality?

While our government is ignoring an environmental crisis, individuals are stepping up with a determination that inspires. Students have made the streets their new classroom, drawing attention to climate change and the urgency of the most critical concern of our day. While that may not make parents or principals happy, their voices need to be heard—this is their future!

I have been impressed by students who are collecting plastic bottle caps.  These caps are sent to a company that produces benches and picnic tables made from this normally-discarded plastic.  More individuals are refusing to use plastic straws, instead using metal straws, or simply drinking from the glass.

Informed citizens know the state of our plastic-infested oceans.  The Pacific Ocean is now called ‘plastic island” because it contains an amount of plastic twice the size of Texas, harming marine life and destroying ecosystems. We dump 150 million metric tons of plastic in all of our oceans, and add eight million tons each year, according to the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. One survey found plastic in 94% of our tap water.

What better time than this “Earth Month” to make a difference with our choices and our voices.

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Bring Back the Common Good

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

“Every Storm Runs Out of Rain.”
Maya Angelou

 

Our nation – and indeed, the world, has been set on its heels by the COVID-9 corona virus. But throughout this dark storm, we are blessed with the occasional glimpse of light and hope.

A television story features six-year-olds writing thank you notes to health care workers.  School bus drivers deliver lunches to children at home because schools have been closed… and for some children, this may be the only meal they eat all day.  Donations are pouring into food banks and to workers who have lost their jobs. People are tipping generously as they go through a drive-through for meals. For all of the negatives we are facing, we are being reacquainted with the concept of “common good.”

We are in a time of deep reflection. Who are we as a country? Deep political divisions are obvious. Racism is ever-present. We face an ever-expanding economic divide. We now share vulnerability. I believe we will soon come to the realization that we, too, are Milan, South Korea, China, and New York. Even though we must now stand six feet apart, we must come together with a desire to help each other, putting aside political differences.

We have become a country of tribes:  red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, urban vs. rural.  We are the western version of the Sunnis vs. the Shiites.

The center of Catholic social teaching and indeed, of every faith tradition, is the common good.  We find wisdom in these words from Vatican II’s Gaudim et Spes, “The Church in the Modern World.”

“It is imperative that no one indulge in a merely individualistic morality.  The best way to fulfill one’s obligation of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organization devoted to bettering the condition of life.”

Whenever Congress is deliberating bills, and state houses are deliberating bills, I ask myself, “How does this affect the common good?”

We are witnessing a sociodrama of a tug of war in congress.  As government bodies seek to divide a large piece of our economic pie, they struggle with who will get the largest pieces.  I believe the greatest concern needs to be about “the least of these…” the working poor, restaurant workers, factory workers… not major bailouts of large corporations.

Many of us remember the banks in 2008, when it seemed to many that banks seemed to benefit over the good of individuals. We have a chance now to do better.

That is a summary of the dispute.  Those who roll up their sleeves and go to work every day cannot make it on a $600 bailout.  Everybody wins when the poor and middle-class win.

As we have done with 9/11, we can and will get through this together.

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

The Struggle Continues

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

As we observe Women’s History Month, we celebrate resiliency, determination, courage, and success, always mixed with struggle. As women met in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848 to plan the “what next” that was needed to achieve the right to vote, they knew the struggle would require a long-term commitment and a willingness to withstand verbal and physical violence.  They would be pelted with tomatoes by men and women, imprisoned and subjected to verbal abuse every step of the way.

The year 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. We celebrate the model of courage that this achievement represents, and the continued progress towards equality, including the rights to serve on juries, own property, receive credit in their names, and work in law firms.

Today, one of the greatest and most important challenges that women face is achieving the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. The Violence Against Women Act was originally approved and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. It expired in February 2019, and the 2019 Violence Against Women Act was passed by the House of Representatives in April 2019.  The bill has been stalled in the Senate since then, due to opposition by the NRA.

In 2019 bill includes a provision to restrict partners – spouses and boyfriends – who have been convicted of stalking or abuse from accessing firearms. The bill also expands protections for Native American women, immigrant women and transgender women.  This bill can save lives!

Representative Katie Porter of California recalled her experience of dealing with domestic violence.  She testified that the first time she called police after being beaten, the officer who arrested her told her that if she called again, her children would be taken away from her. In December 2019, a Texas police officer was shot and killed by a man who would have been denied a firearm under the Violence Against Women Act. More than 5,000 Alaska Native and Native American women have been kidnapped and/or murdered – all would have been protected by the Violence Against Women Act.

Before we pop the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate the centennial of our right to vote, we are challenged to stand with women suffering from violent abuse from a partner.  Like our foremothers, we are in the struggle for the long haul for the rights and protections of our sisters.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog