The roots of NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby date back to December 17, 1971, when 47 Catholic Sisters from numerous U.S.-based orders gathered for a weekend meeting in Washington, DC, to “explore how women religious might speak out as one voice to our federal government on behalf of ‘justice for all.’” Animated by a belief that “faithfulness to the Gospel demands that we also work to change unjust systems that perpetuate economic inequity,” these women decided to form a “network” of Sisters to “lobby for federal policies and legislation that promote economic and social justice.”
In 1997, NETWORK was one of more than 100 leftist organizations that co-sponsored and launched the so-called “Progressive Challenge,” in an effort to unite their activities and talking points under a “multi-issue progressive agenda.” To view a list of many of these co-sponsors, which worked closely with the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Today NETWORK is composed of thousands of members who serve as the organization’s sole source of financial support. They live in every state and congressional district in the United States; some reside in other countries. Many are Catholic Sisters; some are priests, deacons, and brothers; most are lay people. To keep these members abreast of its activities and priorities, NETWORK sends them its quarterly magazine, Connection, as well as its e-mail Legislative Update. Moreover, the organization encourages its members to publicly articulate their positions on key issues by writing letters to the editors of their local newspapers; contacting their congressional representatives through NETWORK’s Legislative Action Center; participating in educational events; and promoting legislative advocacy in their communities. NETWORK also dispatches professional lobbyists to Washington on a regular basis.
The bulk of NETWORK’s attention is devoted to the following major issues:
Economic Justice: Asserting that “each person has a right to the conditions for living a decent life, including nourishment and a safe place in which to raise a family,” NETWORK calls for “an economy … which makes adequate resources available to all” by means of federally enforced, radically redistributive fiscal policies designed to “reverse economic disparities.” Toward that end, the organization supports the abolition of “tax policies that favor those with the most over those with less”; “a strong safety net” of public assistance to help the poor meet their “basic human needs”; “a federal budget that promotes jobs and creates meaningful work when insufficient jobs are available through private markets”; and a structure of “progressive taxation” that requires the wealthy to “invest the most [money] in the common good.”
Hunger: Claiming that “hunger is widespread in the United States,” NETWORK urges an increase in “federal programs that provide immediate food assistance.”
Global Economic Justice: Rejecting the free-trade policies that “have unevenly benefited people and, in some settings, [have] constrained economic development among the millions of people who live in poverty,” NETWORK advocates “fair trade” practices that would be more beneficial to workers in poorer countries.
Housing: NETWORK seeks a guarantee that “those with the least economic power” can have “access” to what it calls the “essential human right” of “affordable, safe housing.” The agent best suited to bring about such a state of affairs, says NETWORK, is the federal government.
Jobs and Labor Issues: According to NETWORK, all people are entitled to earn a “living wage” and to be protected from the injustices of “wage theft.” The organization also stresses the need to ensure “equal pay for women and men,” contending that women currently are underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform: NETWORK calls for a “realistic path to earned legalization for people in the U.S. without status.” It also supports the DREAM Act, which which would allow illegal-alien students to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents, and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
Healthcare: NETWORK lauded the passage and signing (in March 2010) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as “a historic step” but supports additional steps as well, including offering health insurance to illegal aliens.
Peacemaking: A member of the United for Peace and Justice coalition, NETWORK contends that America should cut its defense budget; “help rebuild countries like Iraq that have been damaged by our military action”; and “develop ethical foreign policies that emphasize conflict resolution through multilateral diplomacy instead of unilateral U.S. military action.”
Ecology: NETWORK believes that “government investment in transportation, construction … and infrastructure development” should “go green,” a measure that would entail not only a diminished reliance on fossil fuels, but also the “rehabilitating/retrofitting of public housing and public buildings so they will become energy-efficient.”