The Necessity of Fiction in Social Justice Work

Stories are at the forefront of activism. As voices by and of the oppressed reach larger audiences, as they pierce what’s called ‘the national conversation’, stories become actionable through protests, policies, subtle changes in everyday decisions. But what if underlying events are complex or resistant to naming, manifest in polyphonous narratives, almost reaching the point of noise?

It had been done before. Peter Weiss used the form of cantos, collages of voices, in his 1965 play The Investigation, depicting the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. In it, nameless participants from both sides of the trial interchangeably streamline their experiences, alternating horror upon horror of concentration camps. Most recently, the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich used a similar approach as she put together Voices from Chornobyl and most of her other recent works. The Ukrainian-born Belarussian writer describes the realities immediately preceding and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, war in Afghanistan and Chechnya, economic crises. She uses her past experiences as a journalist, ‘documenting’ what she allegedly heard and recorded from individuals she had known.

Recent questioning of Alexievich’s approach inspired me to write this post. Sophie Pinkham just published an article about Alexievich’s work, suggesting that the Nobel laureate rose to acclaim by evading both the truth and the myth in her nonfiction. Pinkham writes that Alexievich had reworked the facts and narratives for dramatic effects. She had altered some stories to reach a deep emotional resonance, adding or removing what she deemed necessary in the construction of dramatically powerful pieces. The dates and facts of the transition to the post-Soviet are recorded, but the human, visceral grappling with broken lives and loves is too intimate to enter history books. For this fact-based fictionalized nonfiction, can we blame Alexievich?

In my new assignment as a St. Joseph Worker at Mary’s Pence, I am learning that writing about social justice issues entails a similar transformation of stories into the personal, almost intimate language of values. My coworkers advised me to watch a practical tutorial on ‘vision, values, and voice’ from I was surprised to find the striking similarities between literary nonfiction and this approach to writing for social justice causes. Here, the emphasis on values, on the converging stories of individuals. Specifics can be up to debate and disagreement. Values and emotions, however, are more universally shared. One can reach an opponent by an appeal to values rather than the contestable givens.

This appeal is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is necessary to frame stories of injustice into discourse that is familiar with everyone. On the other, this very framing actually distances one from the subject of the narrative. The familiarity of values and discourse becomes soothing, turning audiences complacent. Values can be appropriated by different sides of discourse, re-modeled.

There is a danger in a discourse-laden appeal in terms of values. Specifics, albeit contestable, can be more emotionally brutal than the value-speak floating about on social media. That same social media, glossed-over with sleepy eyes. I’m setting this as a reminder to myself as I work on communications at Mary’s Pence.

Paradoxically, fiction is more direct than reality. It strikes directly into the mindset, using storylines and carcasses long familiar. It is a fascinating idea, to borrow from fiction to reach audiences otherwise uninterested in social justice.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter how journalistically correct Svetlana Alexievich was in her collages of voices. Her prose is necessarily fictionalized, necessarily powerful.


This guest contribution was written by Svitlana Iukhymovych. Svitlana is a recent graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where she studied literature and psychology. She works in communications and development at Mary’s Pence as the 2016-2017 St. Joseph Worker. Svitlana is from Shepetivka, Ukraine and previously worked with the Center for Victims of Torture and Open Farms-Open Arms, MN.



A Call to End Gun Violence

As women committed to nonviolence, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet call for an end to gun violence in the United States of America. We are a congregation of 1,123 vowed members who oppose the escalating violence, which is fueled by hatred, intolerance, discrimination, racism, extremism and ignorance in our nation. Violence is leaving in its wake too many broken hearts and spirits by indescribable suffering. Families are torn by violence in the home, schools and streets. Violence seems to be the new norm in the nation and world. It is a public health and moral crisis that is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of people in our country.

We are committed to a comprehensive approach to gun violence prevention that focuses on prevention of all forms of homicide, suicides, and unintentional shootings. We support the restriction of access to assault weapons. We call upon Congress and state and local officials to enact gun laws that include making assault weapons illegal, insuring comprehensive background checks on those purchasing guns at tradeshows, online and in stores.

We turn to the God of mercy and peace, the God who wipes away every tear, to give us the strength to be instruments and forces of change, to be messengers of unity and reconciliation.

Pope Francis on Gun Control

“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

(Speech to US Congress on September 24, 2015)

Winding Down the Year- Gratitude from a St. Joseph Worker


I can hardly believe that I am sitting down to write my farewells. This year has been an incredible experience, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible. Each season brought its own opportunities and challenges; and now, as we head back into summer, I would like to take a little space to reflect on all this year has meant and to thank all of you for part in making this community such a welcoming and inspiring place.

Working in the Justice Office has brought me deeper understanding of the lessons I began learning as an undergrad at St. Kate’s: to value women’s leadership, to explore and grow in my spirituality and love of God, to seek solidarity in community, and to live in a way that is both simple and sustainable. It’s no coincidence that these are also the pillars of the St. Joseph Worker program!

Over the year, I learned what I can do to help break the impasse in our politics through the wise words of Sr. Simone Campbell and Dr. Fatma Reda. Workshops taught me about the “CSJ Way” of Community, Spirituality, and Justice. I met Sisters of St. Joseph, Consociates/Associates, and Partners in Mission from all across the U.S. and beyond at the Congregation and Federation meetings in New York. Perhaps most striking of all, I found an amazing friend and mentor in Megan Bender, who continuously amazed me with her dedication, hard work, and creativity in/for the work of justice.

In August, I’ll be heading to Berkeley to start my masters in Biblical studies at the Graduate Theological Union. It will be a big change, and I’m going to miss all of the friends I’ve made this year. I am comforted to know that throughout all the newness of this transition, I will have the strength, courage, love, and brilliance of the CSJ community to guide and support me.

It has been a joy and a privilege to work within the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet & Consociates. Thank you all, and God bless!


Elea Ingman, SJW




“Lord, make me a means of your peace.”

A statement from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul, regarding the Orlando shooting:

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, express deep sadness at the news of the killings of so many individuals during the tragic shooting in the Orlando nightclub.

We join Pope Francis, President Obama and church and civil leaders worldwide in expressing “the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred.” (Vatican Spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi)

We extend prayers and heartfelt sorrow to the families of all those who were killed and injured as well as to all involved first responders and medical personnel and to the people of Orlando.

We weep with you and mourn with you and join the network of those praying with and for you around our country and world. We realize ever more deeply the need to acknowledge the need for stricter gun control and the need to confront bigotry in any form among the people of God.

May the God of love, mercy and grace comfort all who mourn and grieve. May our faith strengthen us and our hope give us new resolve to work untiringly to bring the justice, peace, freedom, equality and non-violence for which our Redeemer died.

“Lord, make me a means of your peace.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
St. Paul Province

Knowing that Jesus Welcomed Everyone to the Table – from June 2015

Summer Justice Reading Suggestions

At the last Justice Commission meeting of the year members pitched books as a continuation of our conversations on social justice over the summer. Here is the product of our brainstorm, and I hope you will take the time to indulge in these thought-provoking reads over the next 3 months . Enjoy!

  1. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
  2. Saving Septic Cyril by Sara Alexi
  3. A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin
  4. The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  6. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  7. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  8. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
  9. Night Flying Woman by Ignatia Broker
  10. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
  11. People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  12. Ostriches, Dung Beetles and Other Spiritual Masters: A Book of Wisdom from the Wild by Janice McLaughlin
  13. The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  14. The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization by Vincent A. Gallagher


SDG #5: Gender Equality and the Impact of Pornography

Last March, I attended the UN Commission on the Status of Women and was again deeply impressed by the dedication and concern of women from all over the world regarding the discrimination against and violence toward women.   It is commonly accepted that women are deeply connected to all the Millennium Development Goals, since the greater majority of those in the lowest economic level, worldwide, are women and their children.  The Sustainable Development Goals were intended to continue the work on the elimination of extreme poverty and to build a future that we want for the world.  Every issue that is addressed in these roles directly impact women.

Perhaps the goal that the Commission directly targeted was the Goal 5:  Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  Achieving this goal would perhaps bring about the achievement of all the goals, since women would be included directly in every peace effort and all decision making bodies.  Women tend to more concerned with the safety and health of their children and families, and would thus insure more effectively that outcomes would benefit both.

I have believed that attending to and changing the root cause of any problem is the most effective way of solving those problems, it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what is the root cause.  I have asked myself continually, why is there such an imbalance among the genders, and when some equality is achieved, why has the cost of doing so been so high?  Another question is why there is so much resistance to bringing about equality, sometimes even from women.   Is it because women tend to want to please and to have a certain peace and security in life that they have bought into their assigned role?  Is it a lack of awareness of what some women in our world are actually going through?

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) delved into some of these issues.  Women from every country gave presentations and reports on the situation of women in their respective countries and what they are doing to bring about greater gender equality.  Part of the solution is becoming aware of the plight of our sisters wherever they may live and listening to their stories and what has worked for them.

One big impression which has stayed with me comes from a workshop on women and pornography.  Many women are trafficked into participating in pornography, which means they are kidnapped or duped and then most often face brutality and drug abuse to prevent their escape.  What pornography does to women, besides the abusive nature, is reduce women to being sex objects.  There is no love here, only lust.

Pornography is harmful to men, as well.  Research is showing that pornography blunts emotions in men for other positive relationships.  The presenters described what they call the culture of pornography that is being developed in the United States.  Young men are introduced to pornography at a very young age and girls are being groomed to pornography in the way they dress and look.  The models used in pornography show beautiful slender women in scant clothing and provocative poses.  These have often become role models for our young girls.  Even advertising often presents poses which are sexually provocative for women as the ideal and for the young men to assume positions of dominance and power, often surrounded by beautiful women.    Hollywood and music stars contribute to this image.

Pornography has grown into a multi-billion industry.  What was once condemned is being held up as ideal.  And for much of this, society is unaware of the harm it is doing.   Some are getting wealthy at the expense of women, girls, boys, and also men, while others are becoming victims.  Perhaps all of society are victims unaware.

Some statistics that blew me away and deeply concerned me are:

  • Porn Sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.  30% of the Internet industry is pornography.
  • The United States is the largest producer and exporter of hard core pornographic DVDs and web material.
  • Mobile Porn was expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2015.
  • Teen Porn more than tripled between 2005-2013.
  • Out of 304 scenes analyzed, 88.2% contained physical aggression. Perpetrators were usually male; targets of aggression overwhelmingly female.
  • Youth who look at violent x-rated material are six times more likely to report forcing someone to do something sexual online or in-person versus youth not exposed to x-rated material.
  • Roughly two-thirds (67 percent) of young men and one-half (49 percent) of young women agree that viewing pornography is acceptable.
  •  Nearly 9 out of 10 (87 percent) young men and 1 out of 3 (31 percent) young women report using pornography.
  •  Internet pornography was blamed for a 20 percent increase in sexual attacks by children over three years

(from “Enough is Enough” an organization dedicated to child safety)

Important links:

FBI — Child Pornography Victim Assistance


Written by guest contributor  Mary Ellen Loch, CSJ, from the Congregation of St. Joseph, Wichita Center



Plastic Panic! Ways to better reduce, reuse, and recycle at home & work

Last post I said that I would offer some tried-and-true cleaning solutions, but alas, my fellow St. Joseph Workers and I have not had a chance to experiment…yet. (Expect pictures!)

Instead, this week I offer some thoughts on one of the banes of modern existence: plastic. It sits in our landfills, it clogs our water, it absolutely refuses to break down. And those little tiny numbers that are supposed to tell you if it’s recyclable or not—what do those even mean?

Fear not, servants of sustainability, for I have scoured the internet and bring to you both knowledge and power!  First up:


Plastics by the Numbers


Here are the seven standard classifications for plastics, and the recycling and reuse information for each type:

#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, and is found in most water and pop bottles, and some packaging. It is intended for single use applications; repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial growth. PET plastic is difficult to decontaminate, and proper cleaning requires harmful chemicals. Polyethylene terephthalates may leach carcinogens.

Products made of #1 (PET) plastic should be recycled but not reused.

#2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use.

Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable.

#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys, and blister packaging, the sheathing material for computer cables, to make plastic pipes, window frames, garden hoses, arbors, raised beds and trellises.

PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.

Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable. While some PCV products can be repurposed, PVC products should not be reused for applications with food or for children’s use.

#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.

Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable. You need to check with your local collection service to see if they are accepting LDPE plastic items for recycling.

#5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals. When you try to open the thin plastic liner in a cereal box, it is polypropylene. PP is also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope.

PP is considered safe for reuse. To recycle products made from PP, check with your local curbside program to see if they are now accepting this material.

#6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is most often used to make disposable styrofoam, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and “peanut” foam chips. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction.

Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the world have bits of polystyrene lapping at the shores, and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction.

Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene products. Most curbside collection services will not accept polystyrene, which is why this material accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. While it is difficult to find a recycler for PS, some businesses like Mailboxes Etc. which provide shipping services are happy to receive foam packing chips for reuse. Polystyrene should be avoided where possible.

#7 – Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)

The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category.

Number 7 plastics are used to make baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” by the recycling label #7.

A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.”

#7 plastics are not for reuse, unless they have the PLA compostable coding. When possible it is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food. PLA coded plastics should be thrown in the compost and not the recycle bin since PLA compostable plastics are not recyclable.

– See more at:


Recyclebank is another “save the Earth, earn points, win things” websites, similar to the Joulebug app. Its focus is more on education, and you can earn points just by reading articles or watching informational videos on the site. There is a plethora of information, including a place to put in your zip code to find out what’s recyclable in your area and a question & answer area Recyclebank also has its own an online store, and you can use points to get discounts off of products or shipping.

Pros: By far, the most user-friendly and beautifully made website I’ve found so far. Unlike many of the other sustainable sites I’ve reviewed, this one is obviously made for a web browser, not an app. Plus, you can earn/win/buy rewards with your points, including things like magazine subscriptions or the chance to win an Amazon gift card, or you can even donate your points to one of Recyclebank’s listed charities.

Cons: Despite how beautiful the website is (or maybe because of it), Recyclebank feels a lot more serious, rather than fun. Like Eartheasy, there is simply a lot of information to take in, and it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.


If you’re looking for a way to reuse the plastic around your house and you’re not content with simply recycling, then take a look at

Precious Plastic

For all those DIYers out there, this is for you! Precious Plastic is a new venture that shares blueprints for personal plastic recycling centers! The website is fantastic, so I highly recommend checking it out (and sharing it with everyone you know). I, personally, am incredibly excited about the potential of Precious Plastic to help reduce the plastic waste already present in our communities while we work to reduce the amount of plastic we consume overall.

Precious Plastic has six initiatives. From their website:

1. Develop Machines

For the past two years we have been developing machines to recycle plastic waste, locally.

2. Share, for free

The machines are developed using basic tools and materials. We share all the blueprints open source online. This way people around the world can build them.

3. Spread the know-how

In order to build these machines people need to know that the blueprints are available. We need to spread the know-how to every corner of the world.

4. Create

Once the machines are build people can start experimenting, creating and producing new products from their local plastic waste.

5. Clean up

The primary goal is to recycle as much plastic as we possibly can. This would clean up our shared environment, improve living conditions and possibly create financial value!

6. Community

An important aspect of the project is to create a world wide community of like-minded plastic savers. People working for a cleaner future, sharing knowledge, helping each other, and collaborating.

What can you make?


You can make a number of different products with each machine. Lamps, jars, bowls, vases, baskets, and the list goes on. Your creativity is the limit!


You could create tools for you or your community. Making buckets, boxes, handlebars, thread, bricks, and much, much more!

Raw material

The plastic could also be transformed into granulate or filament for 3d printing machines, closing the loop.

For more info, you can watch the video below, or visit

Thanks for your participation in the efforts to reduce the plastic clutter plaguing our Earth!


Written by Elea Ingman, SJW