The nuns with Ohio farmworkers. Photo by Network/ Jennifer Wong
With midterms approaching, the rogue Nuns on the Bus are hitting the road on their sixth cross-country tour, this time to call out GOP members of Congress who voted for the abhorrent 2017 tax cuts. Part of the Catholic social justice advocacy group Network, which focuses on wealth disparity along with health care, immigration and other issues, the nuns will host 54 events in 21 states in a month-long tour that they hope will be "a study in contrasts."
They plan to start Oct. 8 in L.A.'s barrios, talk to non-profits hurt by budget cuts, speak at town halls hosted by GOP pols, and visit with those most affected by GOP greed - "What does it mean if Medicaid is being cut (or) to not have affordable housing?" - especially in towns and districts that are hotly contested or home to Trump allies. They'll end by bringing their righteous stories to Trump's gold-plated, Palm Beach belly of the beast, "the quintessential example of individualism and excess," just in time for its season opening. As always, they say their action "is not about politics, but right and wrong."
The nuns are led by the fiery Sister Simone Campbell, Network's director, an attorney who spent 18 years doing family law for the poor, and the star of a movie sparked by Pope Benedict's blasting of her group several years ago for leading a "wave of radical feminism" that threatened the church by supporting abortion access. In the movie's trailer, Campbell is asked why she became a nun; her chortling response: "Because my parents wouldn't let me go to Woodstock." She shows the same grace and grit in a Democracy Now interview about Pope Francis' recent, unprecedented letter to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on clergy sex abuse that laments, “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” Campbell decries the church's "culture of monarchy," and, asked about gay marriage and abortion, scoffs, "Oh, glory. I am so tired of being obsessed with other people’s sexual expressions or moral choices."
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For the sisters, the bus is "a huge, creative, joyful" political tactic before the midterms, and a key tool for hearing people's stories. "People want to feel like they're listened to....like they matter," says one nun, who stresses the need to use each story to affect policy "and not let it die." To Campbell, "the bus is about community. It's about 'We the people,' the engagement, the sense that we can make a difference together." Especially now, she adds, "We have the power to vote and we need to use it." Plans for the sisters' grand finale at Mar-A-Lago remain vague - "We've got all kinds of harebrained schemes" - but it will likely involve a tax justice parade and a "fiesta for the common good." Whatever: they will persist. "While I find all of this criticism painful, frustrating and shocking...spiritual life teaches us that all things work for the good," she says, and adds with a laugh, "That's the annoying thing about spiritual life."