(RNS) — A progressive Catholic group is kicking off a new nun-led bus tour ahead of the midterm elections that organizers say is designed to “hold congressional Republicans accountable for their votes” on taxes and health care.
Sister Simone Campbell, a nun and lawyer who heads the Catholic social justice lobbying group Network, launched the “Nuns on the Bus Tax Justice Truth Tour” at a press conference Monday morning (Oct. 8) in Santa Monica, Calif. Organizers said the new campaign will involve 30 Catholic nuns attending 54 events in 21 states, concluding Nov. 2 outside Mar-a-Lago — President Trump’s Florida golf resort — with a “Fiesta for the Common Good.”
After opening her remarks by speaking briefly in Spanish, Campbell expressed hope that the tour will draw attention to policies that benefit poorer Americans and push back against what she characterized as Republican efforts to curtail them — especially the recent GOP tax bill, which was signed into law by President Trump in December 2017.
“Nuns on the Bus is headed on the road today to expose the lies about the Republican tax law and hold the people who voted for it accountable ahead of the 2018 midterms,” she said at the event, which was live-streamed on Facebook by Network and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's team. “We have to end the unpatriotic lie of individualism, and instead recognize the constitutional truth of 'We the People.'”
She noted the contrast between a group of nuns and Mar-a-Lago, saying, “We can step away from policies that say we have to live in a gated community and ‘protect what I’ve got.’ No, the truth is there is enough to go around.”
At one point, Campbell, whose organization has been deeply critical of Republican economic policies, stopped and pointed to a map of the planned tour route emblazoned on the bus behind her. The schedule includes stops in 14 congressional districts — many of which also boast sizable Catholic populations — of elected officials who voted in favor of the tax law. The route also includes several states such as Nevada where Democrats are currently facing heated elections for U.S. Senate.
“It’s a little erratic but very strategic,” she said.
Campbell was joined at the event by representatives from Little Lobbyists, an advocacy group for children with special medical needs, as well as Pelosi and California Rep. Jimmy Gomez.
Pelosi, who called Campbell an “angel” and “a missionary for faith, hope and charity,” echoed the nun’s criticism of the GOP tax bill and insisted on the importance of programs she said Republicans may cut, such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“Pope Paul VI, he said, ‘if you want peace, work for justice’ — and there is no justice in this tax bill,” Pelosi, a Catholic, said. “There is no economic justice. There is no social justice. There is no environmental justice. There is no budget justice.”
She noted that nun-led support for the Affordable Care Act proved crucial to its final passage in 2010.
“At the time when the bill passed I said, ‘Thank God for the nuns,’” she said. “The nuns were our blessing. They made all the difference in the world.”
Pelosi was one of several speakers who harped on the importance of the rapidly approaching midterm elections. She pointed to the potential impacts of recent GOP-led efforts in the House to institute stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
“Who we elect matters,” she said. “If you’re talking about children, would it be a statement of your values to give a tax cut — 83 percent of it — to the top 1 percent, while cutting off food stamps for America’s children?”
“No!” the crowd yelled back.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, who has been involved in several demonstrations decrying the Trump administration and its policies, closed out the event with a “blessing of the bus.”
“We send you off with blessings — go! — and help free us from a politics that invisibilizes and marginalizes and disenfranchises and steals from those who need the most,” she said as the crowd raised their hands with her in blessing.
Campbell may be one of the best-traveled nuns in her order, the Sisters of Social Service. The author and activist helped Network launched its first Nuns on the Bus tour during the 2012 presidential campaign, challenging then-House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan's proposed budget and highlighting faith-based charities that could be harmed by the cuts it proposed.
She went on to become something of a celebrity in progressive circles, delivering a prime-time speech during the 2012 Democratic National Convention that resulted in a standing ovation. Her advocacy has a played a role in protest efforts against the Trump administration: Campbell and Network organized against the Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, for instance, and recently campaigned to stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(This story has been updated.)