Stories/reflections from some who participated in local efforts in the following states:
Sr. Marge O'Gorman, FSM (from an article she wrote for her congregation and parish newsletter)
The week of Labor Day, from Tuesday to Friday, a “Nuns on the Bus” van traveled over 1000 miles in Missouri to visit eight congressional representatives with the message that the Ryan Budget is an “immoral document.”
This trip was planned during the LCWR annual meeting in St. Louis, August 7-10. Alice Kitchen from Kansas City was in town to attend a Mary’s Pence reception before the conference. She was a classmate of Sister of Social Service, Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK. Alice, a co-member of the Sisters of Loretto, met with Simone to get an okay and then planned the van tour together with Loretto Sister Mary Ann McGivern. Missouri is one of the states that hosted a state Nuns on the Bus tour, modeled after the national nine state tour sponsored by NETWORK in June.
I joined the tour on Friday, September 7th when the van went to Columbia to visit staff members in Blaine Luetkemeyer’s office. Five of us met at the office for a 10:30 appointment--Alice, Mary Ann, Mary Poepsel, a local Columbia resident, Precious Blood Brother Daryl Charron and myself.
We met around a table in Luetkemeyer’s office where Alice outlined the Principles of a Faithful Federal Budget to Keri Stuart and Tanner Smith.
Quoting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter to Congress about the Ryan Budget, Mary Ann explained that it fails a “basic moral test”. The budget would raise taxes on low income families and cut taxes for those in higher income brackets and corporations. It would cut programs that serve as safety nets for those who are poor, cutting food assistance and school meal programs. Daryl added that education cuts would affect students from preschool through college. Mary and I talked about health care benefits. Not only would benefits be cut, but the budget eliminates the Affordable Care Act, denying coverage to 60 million Americans. These are cuts that endanger basic right to life issues for families.
While we were at the office, eight adults and one baby from two local churches joined us. None of them were Catholic; they came from a Disciples of Christ Church and a United Methodist Church. They wanted Representative Luetkemeyer to know that they “stand with the sisters.”
After pointing out the provisions of the Ryan Budget that would devastate lower income families, Alice explained the principles that NETWORK uses from Catholic Social Teaching to analyze legislation. Alice, speaking for the group, proposed legislative and budgetary policies that reflect the common good, the dignity of the person and of work, and protect those who are poor. This requires recognizing the role of government, providing access to health care, giving people the opportunity to work and meeting critical human needs.
The meeting lasted over an hour. The staff listened to what our group had to say. They told us which points their representative has supported in the past. They asked questions and presented their concerns. While we could see that they approached most of the issues we brought up from a different perspective, they were respectful and seemed interested in hearing from us and learning about our proposals. One of the staff members was especially interested in the specific points we objected to and what we had to suggest as alternatives. They seemed concerned that cuts have to be made to bring the national debt in line and decisions about what to cut are not easy to make.
The conversation we had in Columbia was similar to those that the van riders had at the other legislative offices they visited. At all of the offices, local constituents also gathered in support of the NETWORK message. At one office, fifty people showed up to offer support.
I was pleased that our congregation was able to support Nuns on the Bus. Besides my participation, we gave a donation to help pay for the costs involved in the bus tour. I appreciated having the opportunity to advocate for those who are poor and at the margins of our society and to do it in collaboration with others as a demonstration of strength in standing with those in need.
Being at a legislator’s office gave me a chance to explain my values and views that I hold deeply even in the presence of staff members who views differed widely from my own. I was able to notice that they did listen to the point of view we represented and they had a greater openness to considering new policies than I had anticipated.
In the present polarized political environment, I am convinced of the importance for all of us to voice our truth to those in power. The effort is an act inviting civil discourse and public debate. It encourages new possibilities, compromise and reconciliation. It fosters good will.
I believe speaking out against injustices always makes a difference if not in a bill or law in ourselves and the person we speak to. It shows the beautiful side of our human nature. It shows courage and enough love for another to stand up for him when he has no voice and cannot stand up for himself. As Bono, the leader of U2 said to politicians and faith leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in 2006, ending hunger is "not about charity; this is about justice and equality."
One of the problems of solving poverty and hunger in the U.S. is that for too long we have looked at poverty as due to a shortcoming in the poor themselves rather than also due to a shortcoming in our policies.
There is a story that takes place in a small village in Africa. It is right after the rainy season and a man has just awakened and is emerging from his hut. As soon as he steps from his hut he immediately hears some screams coming from the river. He runs down to the river's edge and sees a man struggling in the current. He extends a broken branch out to the man and is endeavoring to help him out of the water when another man comes floating down. He helps the first man out and runs back to the hut to get his wife to help and sends his son for the rest of the villagers. As soon as they feel they have everyone out another man floats down caught in the current. The man decides to walk up the river to see what is causing the problem. He finds the bridge has been washed out at a place that is deceivingly shallow. People are trying to cross even with the bridge washed out and getting caught in the current. He asks a man nearby to warn the people not to try to cross and he starts down the road to get help to fix the bridge.
To me this is what we were doing. In our case we were trying to go up the river and fix the bridge before it collapsed. We were trying to prevent changes that would make it harder for people to cross the river. Can we make a difference? I think we always make some difference when we speak out like this. As the old African saying goes, do you think you are too small to make a difference? Try spending a night in a room with a mosquito."
Mary Poepsel (Parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes)
During the very hot first week in September riding in a van across Missouri highways, I admit I had doubts about how the election would turn out. We riders talked about many things; the hunger in our communities, high rents, over-populated prisons, over-burdened military families, the crazy habits of our cats, Mother Church and our own life stories. We agreed there was only one party even remotely representing common people. Still, I wondered if Catholics in particular would see their way clear to follow a truly pro-life path and support the party with ideals to address the fiscal mess our leaders have wrought that would not punish the least among us.
Our little group climbed out of the van time after time to be met by other like-minded, dedicated folks waiting in the broiling sun. Sadly I’m not convinced we converted any of our federal Republican legislators, most of whom were re-elected, during our visits with their associates. They seem to hear and heed only those who agree with them that social programs and the people who rely on them are the problem. Republicans still point to the Ryan budget as the best solution despite the repudiation of the November election.
So, the work is not finished. Good people, persist. Never doubt that Sister Simone and the ringing voice she brought to the debate helped turn the tide. We must continue to speak out about the grand bargain being bandied about in Washington D.C., and most especially oppose cuts to Medicaid. Unfortunately, Missouri with our majority-held Republican state legislature has a bleak record on this vital program, ranking 39th in scope of services. The Supreme Court’s decision may have disastrous results here.
Because we are few in number, I believe it was the Holy Spirit who got our message out to enough voters on November 6th to make a critical difference. Now we must continue to work through His graces to reach the ears of congressional members to sway their votes toward a just resolution of our fiscal dilemma. A fair compromise is sorely needed with sacrifices shared in proportion to benefits derived over the past twelve years or more. Americans know a raw deal when they see one. Now we must get Congress to understand that we’re on to them and their moneyed backers and some of us will not be silenced. Who will speak for the poor if not me and you? Visit, call or email your senators and representatives to let them know we are watching.
Alice Kitchen, Co member, Loretto
One particular episode on our Missouri NOTB trip around the state was in the southeastern town of Cape Girardeau on the west side of the Missouri river. We met with the staff of Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R) 8th District. The people who joined us from her district were religious women, union workers, and ordinary citizens. One woman brought her two young middle schools daughters with her. They joined us in the session. She said nothing the whole time. Afterwards while we were getting our pictures with the Congresswoman's staff in front of our van she brought her daughters up to me to say "thank you" for being present and witnessing to what you believe. In her community she cannot talk freely for fear of being ostracized. She works for federal probationers and in that role it is understandable that she cannot share her thoughts in the workplace but she went on to say she does not dare share her thoughts in her community with others. She wanted her daughters to see what religious woman stood for and see them express their voices with those in elected office. I will never forget that conversation.
New York (Sept. 24, 2012 “Nuns on the Ferry”)
Mary Clark (Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign)
“The ‘Nuns on the Ferry’ action really helped reignite our coalition advocacy efforts on Staten Island, calling on Rep. Michael Grimm to put the needs of everyday New Yorkers first, before those of the already-well-off,” said Mark Hannay, Director of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign, and downstate coordinator for Restore the American Promise. “Now in the literal wake of Superstorm Sandy which hit parts of Staten Island hard, we are continuing those efforts by calling on him to prioritize recovery and rebuilding efforts over massive spending cuts that will undermine the efforts of FEMA, New York State, and New York City to provide vital relief and assistance over the coming months. People feel very strongly about this now.”
New York (Oct. 2, 2012, Johnson City & Hillcrest)
My reflection on the “nuns on the bus” journey:
#1 – the joy in having 60 individuals representing churches of different denominations, social justice activists and just interested individuals show up on short notice with great enthusiasm to hear from a group they heard about and had respect for.
#2 – the amazing outpouring of love, support and affirmation for all nuns as witnessed by those that responded by telling their stories, planned supportive actions and prayer services; sent letters, wrote articles, e-mails, added Facebook stories or simply turned out in droves to see them when they came to their towns.
#3 – the positive proof of what can happen when the media does cover social justice issues with more than just a minimum effort.
#4 – the pleasure of seeing eyes opened wide when they learned the facts vs. the myths of those who should be working for those Jesus called “the least among us” and those who do.
Sponsors: The Broome County Council of Churches Peace with Justice Committee The Justice & Peace Resource Center Citizen Action
New York (Oct. 16 Rochester)
Sr. Beth LeValley, SSJ
As people - beyond our planning - poured into our Mercy Center breakfast beginnings and missioning prayer, I thought it is "All of Us on the Bus" - and so it was. All were cheerful, flexible, marveling at the deep, meaningful, challenging talks by our local "poverty” program leaders at each stop. We were joined at times by representatives from the offices of Representatives Louise Slaughter and Tom Reed, and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand all donating Constitutions which were handed out along with other materials.
We also handed out information on the importance of voting and we purposely chose this week at it preceded a major organizing effort by The Children's Agenda for the Children's Sabbath on returning the child care funding to the 2010 level. And many signed letters on this. (We went to Albany last week to deliver 2000 plus letters to staff of our majority Assembly leader Silver and majority Senate leader Skelos and to Governor Cuomo - a huge success....with so many parts feeding in.)
The people of St. Michael's provided both fine food and an unexpected tour of their magnificent church. Our two key notes at their lunch were two priests, one an icon in the Hispanic community, another new and serving our migrant neighbors. Many good questions, much note-taking and deep pondering occurred. Our first of two "formal" buses was the last to arrive at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse for the final meal and ending prayer - and so the people led in the end - and continue to suggest what might be next.
Phyllis Tierney, SSJ
Dr. John Ghertner, a local physician who is a strong advocate for immigrants’ rights, offered to drive his 12 passenger bus for us on October 16. He was deeply moved by what he witnessed as Sisters and others who work with persons in poverty in our Rochester area shared their stories. He followed up by writing an Op Ed which appeared on the Rochester D & C Website and was later printed on the Feedback page of our Rochester CITY newspaper.
The quote I like best:
“The Nuns on the Bus have taught me that poverty is a crime. The criminals are our politicians and we aid and abet this criminal activity. It is our responsibility as citizens to support the needs of everyone in this country and not let a single child go to waste. These are our children. And now I consider these Nuns are my Sisters.”
For more on the Rochester events, see http://www.ssjrochester.org/system/resources/0000/0188/Just_us_203.pdf
Ohio (Oct. 10-15, 2012)
Carren Herring, RSM
I only intended to ride the Ohio bus for 24 hours because of my schedule and took one change of clothing. When I got on the bus and heard stories like the woman who just wanted to learn enough so she could read her mail, seniors who were in safe, low/moderate income housing, the dad who had been a Head Start child and is now a successful father of a family, I called home and asked others to cover my responsibilities so I could ride the 1,000 miles in 5 days.
I experienced the gratitude of people for the work of sisters over many years throughout the State of Ohio. I was awed by the hospitality we received at each stop and grateful for all the support of people who made the trip possible. We may be old, but we have power with the people and are a sign of hope in these dark times.
I feel the mission and calling of the Nuns on the Bus is not to put their emphasis on politics but on those who are affected by the politics. As I joined the nuns on a Friday evening in Toledo, Ohio for a tailgating gathering before two local high school football teams were to play, I saw them greet every person they passed in the parking lot, hand out special stickers with the Nuns on the Bus logo, converse and pose for photos with several people in the crowd. They even made the local news as one of them tossed a football with some of the students. There were about 10 sisters of various orders that certainly were an inspiration to all who saw them that crisp, fall evening.
(See news article and video at www.northwestohio.com/news/story.aspx?id=812605#.UL0kfmfhc25)
Iowa (Nov. 1, 2012)
Jeanie Hagedorn, CHM
The Iowa Nuns on the Bus trip began with a Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated at the Iowa Capitol, appropriately on All Saints Day! A group of about 75 supporters, including a few elected officials, shared communion to begin the journey. What a fabulous start to a whirlwind day! Groups of cheering supporters greeted us at three central Iowa sites standing in strong solidarity with sisters and our advocacy for the poor. (In the wake of Sandy we were all delighted that Sr. Simone arrived in Des Moines ~ and she was delighted that we got her back to the airport for her return flight!)
[below is] an email from a couple who wanted to (and DID) ride the bus with us to all three Iowa sites!
We would like to be included in your Thursday activities (all of them, if you have room for us). My husband has Multiple Sclerosis and your mission is important to him and a great many others. We are inspired by your living testament of faith in action and would like to be a part of it.
Joey Joseph John and his wife, Lee Ann Marie
Colorado (Nov. 13)
Sheila Durkin Dierks
The day-long journey of two small buses along the front range of Colorado was a courage-builder for the folks who rode. Even though most of us are in the senior category, we all still need the occasional boost that Simone Campbell and her energy brings. The public events in Colorado Springs and Boulder which brought out the press and a large gathering of supporters of social justice causes were encouraging to those who gathered round.
At the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, men and women who use their services, all with back packs and grocery carts, commented that they think no one really cares what happens to them and it's great to have someone show up and talk for the crowd and cameras about everyone's right to decent care.
Maureen Flanigan CoL (and Nuns on the Bus driver)
Simone Campbell Executive Director of NETWORK, wildly popular 2012 Democratic Convention speaker, and Colbert Report guest, visited the Denver-metro area November 12th and 13th. The events were organized and carried out by members of the Nuns on the Bus steering committee, Sr. Anna Koop, Lisa Reynolds, Sr. Mary Kay Brannan, and Sr. Mary Catherine Rabbitt from the Loretto Community in collaboration with many others.
At their September Communities in Common gathering, these members expressed a desire to engage in social justice actions which would express the Gospel values of serving the poor and marginalized. As the Spirit would have it, the Denver religious community was invited to participate in a Nuns on the Bus activity here on the Front Range through Andrea Pasqual, a former intern with Network who now resides in Colorado.
In buses on loan from Mt. St. Vincent Home with magnetic Nuns on the Bus logos attached, our group of 30 drove and sang our way to press conferences at the Meadows Park Community Center in Colorado Springs then 90 miles north to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. On arrival we were greeted by crowds of clergy, social service workers, friends and peace and justice allies. At the two events on Monday and another press conference Tuesday at Senator Michael Bennet’s office, Sister Simone taught us her mantra “Reasonable Revenues for Responsible Programs. She is imploring us to repudiate a budget that seeks to cut deficits and pay for two unfunded wars and two tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the poor, who have already seen budgets slashed and programs decimated. Instead she asked us to consider a “Faithful Budget” proposed by an interfaith group in D.C. “We are called to insist on a Faithful Budget that affirms the life of all God’s children-not just the wealthy few.” (Please go to www.faithfulbudget.org for more information.) -Maureen Flanigan CoL (and Nuns on the Bus driver)
We had a Spirit-filled and exciting ride as Maureen McCormack led us in singing,
Come, celebrate the
day and year, God loving kindness put us here.
It’s our bus day, nuns on bus day. Take note of hour, day and clime.
There’s no such thing as neutral time. It’s our bus day. Alleluia!
Nuns on bus day. Alleluia, alleluia!