Chat: Michelle talks about the issues and the JPIC efforts

February 3, 2011

This chat was held in conjunction with a variety of chats on February 1, 2011. You can view the entire chat at

Columban Fathers:  For our next guest, we stay in the same city, same office, just a door or two over. Michelle helps oversee the Justice & Peace issues for the Columbans.

Columban Fathers: Go ahead and introduce yourself, and if anyone has any questions, send them to us.

Michelle Melcher Knight: Hello everyone! Welcome to the chat! I’m happy to ask any of your questions about our justice and peace advocacy.

Columban Fathers: How does Advocacy and Outreach work, as in how do you and your team have an impact?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Of course, I meant answer any of your questions!

We research the issues that impact the daily lives of the people with whom Columbans live and serve throughout the world.

Columban Fathers: Do you have a set of priority issues you start with?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Based on what we learn we communicate with our members of Congress through letters, phone calls, and vists to ask them to support legislation that will improve the lives of those who are poor and vulnerable

The Society, internationally, has committed itself to two main priorities for the next few years – climate change and migration.

Columban Fathers: Those are issues that affect the entire world, and I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence.

Michelle Melcher Knight: In addition, we look at matters of economic justice and other issues related to environmental justice beyond climate change. We listen to what the missionaries in the field tell us also as a basis for which issues to give our attention

No, we are very internationally focused. We want to be able to speak to the issues that affect people throughout the world – not just in the US or even in countries where Columbans reside but issues that affect all peoples.

We also find that so many of the issues we begin to focus on are very intertwined with other issues.

Columban Fathers: Most Americans are familiar with migration issues here, but what about in the rest of the world? Are they similar to what we in the U.S. experience?

Michelle Melcher Knight: As an example of intertwined issues, we can look at climate change and migration – they seem to be two very different issues but today we are finding that people are migrating because climate change is inhibiting their ability to continue to support themselves in their home lands.

Yes, it’s often surprising how similar the migration issue is in almost every part of the world. People are on the move throughout the world and all of them are simply looking for a place where they can support their families and live a life of dignity.

Comment From Guest: Because of politics, I don’t see anything much happening in climate change. Is it hard to work on an issue like such and expect anything to be done about it?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Most countries are seeing people on the move and it is difficult for countries where immigrants are arriving to understand why these people are coming. But our faith teaches us that we must welcome the stranger!

So we work on legislation that will make “strangers” feel welcome!

Michelle Melcher Knight: Yes, sometimes it is difficult to work on an issue like climate change when we see very little being accomplished. We don’t let that discourage us. We find small ways to make a difference or other avenues of change.

Columban Fathers: Can you provide an example of an issue that’s been improved in part due to your work?

Michelle Melcher Knight: For example, we are looking at rulings coming from the Environmental Protection Agency as a means to combat climate change rather than looking for positive legislation

Our most recent victory was the START treaty. It was voted on in the lame duck session last December and we spent many hours on visits, phone calls and letters to Congress asking for ratification. We were delighted when the Senate did pass the treaty – it will be signed later this month.

Columban Fathers: Last December was a pretty busy month. Are things slower now, and what issues of Columban concern do you hope to see for the rest of 2011?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Sometimes our victories are very small or obscure. last summer we worked with a coalition of groups to have transparency legislation for extractive industries be part of the financial reform package – obscure but important for communities facing devastation from mining.

Congress is getting off to a slow start this year – its’ a new Congress and new committee assignments needed to be made so it takes some time for things to really get going

Columban Fathers: How did you get your start in this line of work?

Michelle Melcher Knight: We are looking at working against passage of the Korea Free Trade agreement in its current form and perhaps some work on cutting defense spending in favor of spending on issues of social justice

Michelle Melcher Knight: I became a citizen activist years ago by joining Bread for the World, a citizens hunger lobby. More recently, I earned my masters degree in social work at The Catholic University of America here in DC

Columban Fathers: How can our readers get involved to help?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Through my studies there, I learned more about Catholic Social Teaching and knew that I needed to work in advocating for social justice – that lead me to the Columbans who have been advocates for justice for decades!

We often send out action alerts, asking for people to write or to call their members of Congress on issues that are being discussed in the legislature.

The action alerts are always posted on our website and on our Facebook page. We also have a Columban advocates Google group which sends out informational emails about ways to get involved.

Columban Fathers: That’s great, Michelle. Any last comments?

Michelle Melcher Knight: Stay informed by reading about our issues on the website and facebook page. We need your help to contact Congress! They always want to hear from their constituents and a letter, phone call or visit does make a difference!


This chat was held in conjunction with a variety of chats on February 1, 2011. You can view the entire chat at