Category Archives: NunsontheBus2018

Reflection: A Modern Day Ark

Reflection: A Modern Day Ark

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
November 1, 2018

As the midterm elections near, events are unfolding with disturbing, rapid-fire developments, and the partisan, hate-fueled rhetoric is only ramping up.  What I’m feeling is, I imagine—along with the majority of other Americans—is akin to a child helplessly watching her parents bicker and demean each other, all the while sensing that the marriage is failing.

Last week I sat out a few days from the Nuns on the Bus tour and worked back at our office in Washington, D.C. During those days:

  • A caravan of thousands of desperate Honduran migrants gathered at the border of Mexico, preparing to head north. The President pounced on the optics to whip-up fears among his supporters in advance of the election and transformed the Hondurans into a dangerous threat.
  • A man mailed over a dozen bombs to high-profile progressive “targets” around the country. He had never been interested in politics before but was inspired by the President’s call to “Make America Great Again”.
  • Finally, a conspiracy fueled anti-Semite entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and massacred eleven Jewish brothers and sisters for their work with refugees.

In so many ways, these are feeling like “Biblical times.”

I could not have planned a better way to spend the month leading up to the midterms than riding on Nuns on the Bus—it’s like an antidote to the deeply unsettling news cycle.  The gifts of the bus are manifold.  First, I am surrounded by spirited, kind women with a hope-filled vision that resists that downward spiral.  Second, we are driven (figuratively and literally) by the mission of sharing that hope with other like-minded people who desperately yearn for it.  We also visit communities where people of goodwill and creativity collaborate to lift up human dignity and support the most vulnerable, which in-turn inspires us.  There is a buoyancy and joyfulness to the Bus that is ineffable.  In Biblical terms, I’d compare it to a mini-Ark where hope and a vision for a better future manage to float just above the deluge of fear and violence.

When it came time to get back on the Bus after my hiatus I felt unsure whether a pre-election road-trip about tax justice was appropriate on the heels of the worst anti-Semitic act of violence in our nation’s history.  We would be kicking-off the final homestretch to Mar-a-Lago just as families of the victims began sitting shiva.  Would a “Fiesta for the Common Good” celebration seem callous and insensitive in light of the tragic happenings taking place?

Now, heading into the final day of the trip, I’m confident that this is exactly when and where we should be.  The Nuns on the Bus demonstrate our support and commiseration with the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in the best way we know how: by carrying on, maintaining hope and spreading the message of social justice.  We can’t look away from the kind of hatred and evil that led to the murder of 11 innocent people. But we also have to leave room to remember the love and goodness that exist in this world.  We travel in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters from the Tree of Life, inspired by the words of their Talmud:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

Reflection: Hello to Mar-a-Lago, Goodbye to the Bus

Reflection: Hello to Mar-a-Lago, Goodbye to the Bus

Sister Michele Morek, OSU
November 5, 2018

The following originally appeared on Global Sisters Report.

Full disclosure: I was on the bus for only the first and last weeks. In total, it was a marvelous, enriching, depressing, heartening and exhausting pilgrimage of 21 states, 27 days and 54 events. I can’t imagine how the Network staff managed for the full four weeks. It’s hard work!

But here’s some good news. There are lots of concerned and caring people across our country who are worried about what the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will do in the long run to most U.S. taxpayers, especially the most vulnerable. The people who weren’t worried? Well, we even converted a few of them.

We were not advocating doing away with taxes; after all, we drive on interstates and use Medicare and public libraries, too. We were seeking tax justice and urging people to make tax policy a major factor in their voting decisions. After all, tax policy affects pro-life issues, economic issues, justice, peace — just about any issue that concerns Catholics and other people of faith.

On our pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, we stopped to meet many politicians, to encourage them to be accountable for what their tax-related decisions are doing.

Most of the politicians we tried to see refused to meet with us. Were they embarrassed? A fitting symbol for those politicians was the cardboard cutout of U.S. Rep. Rod Blum that his constituents in Iowa’s 1st District brought to the Oct. 17 Cedar Rapids rally. They said they bring the cardboard version of Blum along to these gatherings because he never makes himself available to them.

Along the journey, we educated people about the U.S. tax policy. The best educational tool we used was a visual representation that Network staff designed, which I described in a previous blog. The Nuns on the Bus acted out a human bar graph, taking the role of real people who represent each economic quintile, including the top 1 percent, and corporations.

That’s why we chose to end with a demonstration at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private golf club and resort, an icon of inequality.

But first, on Nov. 1, we had a busy day with one more site visit, one more legislative visit and rally, and an enthusiastic town hall. (Oh, and a 15-minute stop to wade in the lovely warm Atlantic waves at West Palm Beach.)

The site visit to a multi-story affordable care residence for elderly people of limited financial means run by the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corporation underlined what we had heard all along our four-week trip: the need for affordable housing and health care. Like others, this pleasant residence, which boasts a beautiful view from the 10th-floor laundry room, is endangered from effects of the tax bill and has a waitlist of hundreds of people. Most will die before they can move in.

On Nov. 2, we awoke to a lovely warm day for our slow drive by Mar-a-Lago and gathered at a park with another bus that had been on the road for six weeks, educating people about health care, and many decorated private cars full of people joining us in our protest, some who came from faraway states like Minnesota.

We couldn’t call it a parade because we could not get a permit. As Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell said, it was just a few vehicles that just happened to be all going in the same direction at the same time. It was punctuated by a few random honks from car and bus horns. Some local politicians and Adrian Dominican Sr. Carol Coston, the first executive director of Network, joined us.

All 10 Nuns on the Bus got out and walked in front of the bus for a few blocks right across the bay from Mar-a-Lago. We paused to yell encouragement to some construction workers and to send a blessing of positive energy and love across the water to the 1 percent at Mar-a-Lago.

As we crossed the bridge to Mar-a-Lago, we kept an eye out for police, but the only ones we saw along the way seemed to be there to help us safely turn back on the main road by stopping the other traffic. We sent a blessing their way, also.

Returning to Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, we carried the posters from every town hall expressing the problems and solutions the participants suggested. Akron, Las Vegas, Chicago: You were all there with us. And we were all greeted by a mariachi band, lots more supporters and a “Fiesta for the Common Good,” which featured a potluck feast, some wonderful speakers and groups of protest singers like the Raging Grannies.

We returned to the hotel, sent our beloved bus and its driver, Glenn, back to Nashville, and said our tearful goodbyes to our fellow nuns and the Network staff. What a talented group, including the staffers on the bus, the advance team that drove before us to set things up, and the ones back in the Network office we didn’t get to see!

This does not happen very often, but words fail me. I will just note my favorite memories of the trip:

  • The opportunity to work with the Network staff and the sister volunteers. Wow. Friends for life.
  • The individual people I talked to in the cracks at site visits, after town halls, at the bus-side rallies after visits to congresspeople. People concerned about justice.
  • The joy and the hope on the faces of the crowds who met the bus. It replaced the fear and anger in their hearts, at least for a day.
  • The AFL-CIO workers who brought us a cooler of drinks for the road and the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

My lessons: Don’t give in to the idea that good is not winning in the end! Collaboration is everything! And from Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles: God is a God of second chances!

I will also remember a few specific pleasures: finding grits and collard greens on the menus. Watching the vegetation change from saguaro cactus in Arizona to Spanish moss in the South. Our prayer together in the morning. Of course, there were a few minor annoyances, like one sister who said she was surprised to find such creative things happening in the South!

The message on the back of our bus from Pope Francis said it all: “A good Catholic meddles in politics.” But this was a great ecumenical experience, with a Jewish rabbi blessing our bus at Santa Monica beach and many congregations hosting us along the way: Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist. People of all faiths and no faiths joined us to say, “Reasonable revenue for responsible programs.”

Si, se puede!

Reflection: Listening to Hear, Not to Respond

Reflection: Listening to Hear, Not to Respond

Siena Ruggeri
October 16, 2018

I had the pleasure of accompanying the NETWORK Nuns On The Bus and their local allies on a small part of their journey across the United States to tell the truth about tax justice. The sisters held a Town Hall for Justice on the campus of my alma mater: Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

I came home for two purposes— to see family I’ve been far away from, and to welcome my D.C.-based NETWORK coworkers to my home. This visit reminded me of the importance of community in justice work. My two worlds came together that Sunday— the community I do the work for, and the community I do the work with.

Community organizing and advocacy is different when it’s centered on your own community. I did not feel like the D.C. insider looking in on “Middle America,” but rather an active participant in this struggle.

Regis is located in a working-class Latinx neighborhood that is quickly being replaced by luxury condos and artisanal coffee shops. Students are struggling to find affordable housing while the cost of their education continues to accelerate. Families, many of them families of color, are being pushed out of Denver and the neighborhoods they were instrumental in establishing.

The east Denver communities I taught in (Montbello and Green Valley Ranch) are home to working class people of color who have been pushed out of Denver’s heart and into the plains: far away from well-funded schools, accessible grocery stores, and reliable public transportation.

Twenty miles north of Denver, I’ve seen my hometown of Lafayette gentrify. Our town’s identity as a town was founded by the Mexican-American working class as an affordable and more racially diverse alternative to Boulder. It is now becoming a higher-altitude Silicon Valley. I know I can never afford to buy a house in the town I grew up in, let alone afford to have a family here.

My own family relies on Medicaid. Every time I hear a Washington politician attack Medicaid and people with preexisting conditions, I think of my family back in Colorado. If Medicaid continues to get cut, my sister could lose the ability to live independently as a young woman with a disability.

The Coloradans attending the Town Hall for Justice were telling similar stories. They shared their worries about our chronically underfunded schools switching to four-day weeks, our people with disabilities losing their Medicaid coverage, the skyrocketing cost of living that prevents us from finding affordable housing and child care, and the rapid development that is pushing so many people to the margins. My community expressed the same truth I knew— Colorado may appear to be a booming economy, but that economic growth has been unequal, and has pushed the people who made Colorado what it is to the margins.

It was heartening to know I was not the only Coloradan concerned about these issues. Being separated from your community can be alienating; it’s frustrating when not enough people in D.C. offices understand what’s happening 2,000 miles away in the Colorado plains and foothills.

If I could pick a word to describe the town hall, it was cathartic. My friends and family expressed to me how good it felt to be heard by people in Washington who had a genuine drive to take their stories to heart and do something about it. It reminded me of the privilege it is to be trusted with these stories and have the capacity to do something for my community people while on Capitol Hill. I also felt less alone in this struggle; I was reminded of the amazing, like-minded people in my network who are doing the same work on a more local level. We’re all mending the gaps together.

NETWORK is people-powered, and now I have a greater understanding of what that means. The stories of people on the ground is what fuels us. It was an important reminder of why I do this work. It can be easy to get caught up in the individualistic story of my work and my job and my career and forget that social justice work is about amplifying other people’s stories.

It is too easy to become removed from the realities of the groups we advocate with on the hill. It is tempting to fall in the mindset that you are advocating “for” these groups and stop taking the time to listen to their worries and their hopes. These realities are painful— it is much easier to read a report or a policy briefing than to look someone in the eye and listen to their fears. Even worse, a lot of the time there’s not a satisfying response to alleviate their pain. It is because NETWORK takes the time to listen that makes us better advocates and better allies to the people we represent in Washington. I’m grateful to work for an organization that reinforces the importance of listening.

The Nuns on the Bus is of course about telling the truth about taxes and economic inequality. I think its real strength, though, is not its telling of the truth, but its listening to the truth of many Americans who feel left behind and dismayed by the inhumanity and moral ruin exhibited by members of Congress. Washington’s elite can deny our facts and our statistics, but they cannot dispute the stories we collect on the road. In a society dominated by talking points, hot takes on Twitter, and 30-second political ads, listening is sacred.

Listening is the foundation of allyship and solidarity. If I’ve taken anything from this experience, it’s the importance of reaching out and listening. We may not be able to come up with all the answers, but we all have the capacity to listen. True democracy exists in relationships. If we’re serious about fixing our political system, it’s not enough to prescribe solutions. We must do the hard work of building community, and the first step of that is taking the time to be present and listen. The Town Hall for Justice showed me what’s possible when you take that first step, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.

View more photos from this event here.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.