Nuns on the Bus
Editor’s note: This post was written by Richelle Friedman, CHN’s Director of Public Policy, on Saturday, July 23. Richelle is currently traveling with NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus, who are on the road (including at the Republican National Convention last week and the Democratic National Convention this week) to call on elected officials and candidates to Mend the Gaps in income and wealth inequality in our nation. Learn more about Nuns on the Bus and view their schedule here, and follow Richelle’s adventures via Twitter.
It’s my second day on the bus and I feel an immense sense of gratitude for the people we’ve met, the stories they shared, the work they are doing and the hope they convey. This morning we left New Hampshire where we learned that it is one of the wealthiest states with a poverty and unemployment rate lower than the national average, but their $7.25 minimum wage keeps many families unable to afford food and modest housing which is costly. The state boasts of no income tax but property tax is out of site. Bonnie who drove the shuttle from the airport was being downgraded to a cheaper older trailer in her trailer court because she couldn’t afford the $1300 rent on her 1972 trailer. The ‘Citizens’ Legislature’ has 400 House members who meet from January to June and make only $100 per session so only the independently wealthy or retired can afford to serve which can impact the legislation they are willing to pass. Nonetheless, the over 100 present at last night’s caucus were enthusiastic and hopeful that they could effect change on key mend the gap issues.
Our Companion on the journey, Eileen, enthusiastically announced we just entered her home state of Massachusetts as we crossed the state line this morning. We soon found ourselves warmly welcomed to the rally on the lawn of Boston College High School. How could one not be impressed by the speakers? Sharon has volunteered for 35 years at Haley House where services include job training and housing done with mutual respect for those they serve. Job training included creating the Bakery House Café, host of the delicious lunch we enjoyed. Reverend Ellen Frith, herself disabled, is an untiring advocate for access for those with disabilities. Peter Buck put a face on Equal Exchange that works to bring products from worker cooperatives in Central America to the global market guaranteeing a profit to farmers thus mending the wage gap for these coop farmers. I loved the ‘can do’ attitude of Darius and Rita engaged in the ‘Fight for $15.’ Said Darius, “We deserve better than working 3-4 jobs and not seeing our kids.”
We Nuns on the Bus often comment that we receive more than we give. The speakers in Boston gave us hope as they work to be inclusive, creative and loving in their approaches to the work they do.
The third state we traveled to today was Rhode Island. Our first stop was McAuley Village founded by the Sisters of Mercy. We were privileged to hear the stories of the women in transitional housing who expressed deep gratitude to the staff there for their support, love, patience and help in navigating the educational, housing and service systems. One person singled out for her kindness was Sr. Joan with phrases like, “If I didn’t have someone like Sr. Joan I don’t know where I’d be…. This woman is so beautiful…. She is so awesome.” One middle school young boy came over and gave Sr. Joan a warm hug before he left the room. The program includes two other sites – McAuley House where meals are served and hospitality offered, and the Warde-robe which is a volunteer-supported thrift store offering quality used clothing and household goods.
We had supper at Amos House. The sparking new dining area with its entire wall of windows made for a bright and inviting space. I was struck by how grateful those I sat with were for the meal they’d received. Some were residents of one of Amos House’s transitional or supportive housing units and some came in from the streets. Tyler spoke with pride about marking his third month of being clean.
A big event of our days is a 2-hour caucus wherein participants grapple with the NOTB mend the gap issues. When we arrived at St. Michael’s parish in Providence we were greeted by a band! It seems this band shows up at rallies, demonstrations, and events like ours to add some spirit. They successfully manage to bring new energy to we NOTB who were showing signs of weariness after a long day. The caucus of over 100 first talked about areas problematic to Providence and Rhode Island. Among the issues they raised were a recent defending of mental services, poverty in the schools as indicated by a 97% rate of kids eligible for free and reduced lunches, a legislature where too much power is concentrated in the hands of the Speaker of the House, and the list went on. The best part of the caucuses is when small groups are asked to talk about what it would look like if those problems with were addressed. After their visions for a better future are shared, a sense of hope fills the room.
At each of the events those gathered pledge to do their part to create a better reality and are invited to sign the bus. The bus is ready to move on with the nuns and the thousands we take with us that we’ve met and who have signed the bus.