BY JOSIE SCHUMAN | November 25, 2019
“Before coming on the Teach-In, I felt almost a little bit hopeless,” said Mia Simmons, a student at Jesuit High Portland. “We don’t see a lot of change very quickly. And, it almost feels like people that have power don’t care about these issues.”By providing students with the opportunity to meet with staffers and representatives from their states, the Ignatian Solidarity Network aimed to transform the sense of hopelessness that may accompany social justice work into empowerment for change.
From Friday, November 16 to Monday, November 18, the Ignatian Solidarity Network put on its annual social justice conference, Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, Virginia. Being the 30th anniversary of the deaths of the Salvadoran martyrs and their companions, IFTJ focused on honoring their legacy through the theme of Radical Hope, Prophetic Action.
After spending a weekend delving into the issues of immigration and environmental justice among other issues, more than 1,500 people from Jesuit institutions across the nation turned their radical hope into prophetic action by gathering together Monday, November 18 on Capitol Hill to participate in the Public Witness and Ignatian Family Advocacy Day.
Aligning with Catholic tradition, the Public Witness combined elements of music, prayer, and rallies to ultimately bring immigration and environmental justice, this year’s focus issues, into the public sphere and to inspire students, faculty, and other participants to work for change.
Musician Francisco Herrera kicked off the Public Witness by leading the group in song: “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” Shortly after, Quincy Howard, O.P., a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin and federal policy advocate for social justice at NETWORK Lobby, emphasized the importance of taking action through the political system while maintaining a focus on humanity. “You’re not here to talk politics, you’re here to speak truth,” she said.
Saúl Rascón Salazar, an 18-year-old from Sonora, Mexico, shared his story with the U.S. immigration system and advocated for education access for all students regardless of immigration status.
Abigail Gonzales and Trinity Cooper, two students at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, relayed the necessity of working toward environmental justice, as it is often overshadowed by seemingly more important problems.
Cooper also described the inherent inequality of the current environmental crisis: “It is the voiceless who will be most affected by environmental injustice: the poor, people of color, women. The fires burn unequally.”
Inspired by the energy from the Public Witness, IFTJ participants then met with representatives and staffers to directly advocate for specific policy initiatives that work for immigration and environmental justice.
“To get the opportunity to speak with an actual representative from our state … was a big deal,” said Hannah Stream, another student from Jesuit High Portland.
“He seemed to really take us seriously and care about we were saying, which is awesome that they’re listening to our generation,” Stream continued.
“I think Advocacy Day was the most empowering part of all of it. We just had all these built-up experiences and speakers and heard all these stories and, when it came down to it, we got to speak to a leader,” Simmons said after meeting with her state representative.
“People are listening to us and they want to make a change.”
Check out the recorded Facebook Live coverage from the Public Witness here.
Josie Schuman is a former ISN intern and graduate of John Carroll University. She is currently a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corp at Boston College, pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while teaching 5th grade English. Josie is passionate about faith-based antiracist education and hopes to inspire students of color to use reading and writing as tool for social change.