By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Nuns on the Bus leader Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, is taking her national social justice crusade back on the road this political season. The cross-country journey will highlight the impact of the 2017 tax bill on ordinary workers and hold members of Congress accountable for their vote on that bill and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A rally Oct. 8 in Santa Monica, Calif., kicks off the tour which ends Nov. 2 near Mar-a-Lago Club, President Trump’s golf resort in West Palm Beach, Fla. Election day is Nov. 6.
“A couple of sisters riding the bus actually golf,” Sr. Campbell told The Catholic Messenger last week. “We’re going to tweet him (President Trump) and ask him to play golf with them so that they can have a chance to have a longer conversation about policy in a more relaxed environment and tell the stories of the people we’ve seen.”
Sr. Campbell, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, is not a golfer. But she is a recipient of the Pacem in TerrisPeace and Freedom Award, which she accepted in Davenport during the Nuns on the Bus tour in 2014.
All together, 30 nuns will take turns being Nuns on the Bus for this year’s “Telling the Truth about Tax Policy” campaign. Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton, will join the tour Oct. 15 in Omaha and ride to Cleveland, ending her leg of the journey Oct. 21.
“I’m very concerned about the increase in income inequality in this country,” Sr. Cebula said, explaining why she is making her fourth Nuns on the Bus tour. “There seems to be a loss of a sense of the common good. Everyone is expected to fend for themselves.” She said that she learned while living in the Catholic Worker House in Kansas City that the economy does not work for many people. That lesson keeps her motivated.
Now living in Clinton, Sr. Cebula said it troubles her that 38 percent of Clinton County households cannot meet a basic needs budget, according to a United Way report on households that struggle financially across the nation. “Social service agencies here are strapped. Homelessness is increasing. The tax laws are one means of the government trying to take care of the common good. In order for that to happen, we need to have a progressive tax law, not a regressive one. I am concerned about the pressure, the move that is going to happen (or already is) to cut the so-called ‘safety net’ programs as a result of the loss of tax income.”
She is also concerned about erosion of gains previously made in the expansion of health care coverage. Now Congress “is doing things to make it more difficult for people to get insurance at an affordable rate.” As Catholics, she said, “we need to remember that we are all part of the body of Christ. What are we doing here? What are the impacts on ordinary people?
“A huge piece of Nuns on the Bus is to bring the message to people who are really concerned and are in their own ways working day in and day out … who are passionate about building the reign of God, meaning that people are valued; they have a right to a healthy, whole life,” Sr. Cebula said.
The first Nuns on Bus tour hit the road in 2012, with subsequent journeys in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Passage of the tax reform bill at year’s end called for a road trip in 2018. “Now, we’ve seen the results of structuring tax policy to favor the biggest corporations and the wealthiest individuals in our nation. That’s why Nuns on the Bus are going on the road to Mar-a-Lago,” Sr. Campbell said.
The bus will make three stops in Iowa: Youth Emergency Shelter Services on Oct. 16 in Des Moines; a town hall meeting Oct. 16 at Mount Mercy College-Cedar Rapids; and a visit and rally Oct. 17 at the Cedar Rapids office of U.S. Rep. Rod Blum.
Choosing “bus stops” was part of a big equation, Sr. Campbell said. “Where do we have people, where haven’t we been, where are the congressional districts (of Congress members) who voted for the tax bill and a separate bill against health care.” She believes the tax bill’s impact “undermines everything we care about as a nation and goes against everything we believe in Catholic Social Teaching.”
The impact of the tax bill on the lives of the least wealthy has to be addressed as Americans prepare to vote in the general election. “The real challenge here is that all of this money is going to corporations and to the wealthiest in our nation. Only 4 percent of workers are getting a bonus or wage hike due to the 2017 tax law,” Sr. Campbell said, citing Americans for Tax Fairness statistics.
She hopes participants at events during the bus tour will ask candidates for elective office their thoughts on tax policy. Vote for the ones who give the correct answer, she said. What is the correct answer? “Those who have more need to pay their fair share and we all have a responsibility to care for our children and grandchildren. We need to invest in the future.”