I’ve long been told by a lot of smart people that the nuns who taught them growing up are among the best teachers they ever had. As a Jewish man who attended secular and Quaker schools, I never had the privilege of experiencing that. But I have now.
Like millions of other Americans, I’ve followed the Nuns on the Bus over the last couple of weeks as they went on an inspiring 2,700 mile drive across the country to educate people on the House Republican-passed Ryan budget and the damaging effects it would have on poor, vulnerable and struggling people throughout America.
I was in Washington, DC, where the tour ended—right at the United Methodist Building where The Nation ’s DC bureau is located, in fact. There were about 400 people there—mostly boisterous fans, religious and non-religious alike—and a nice turnout by the press too.
The nuns made their way from the bus to a stage backed by a huge American flag. Eye of the Tiger blared from the speakers. It was a bit funny to hear the theme song from Rocky III accompanying an entrance by seven nuns. But it was also fitting. At a time when our politics is marked by canned speech, rehearsed talking points, and predictable rhetoric, the sisters are dedicated to something that is as courageous as it is unusual:
Sister Simone and NETWORK were the lead organizers of this effort. She has worked on poverty-related issues throughout her life, including as the lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California, which she founded in 1978.
I had the opportunity to speak to Sister Simone about the tour, what inspired it, and what’s next for the Nuns on the Bus. This is what she had to say:
Greg Kaufmann: How did a group of nuns suddenly decide to drive 2,700 miles across the country?
Sister Simone: You know how? We asked for help. I do meditation and try to listen deeply to God’s nudgings, and for me the insight that I had was that with all of this notoriety—we’re not used to having the attention on ourselves—we needed to use it for mission. And in prayer what came to me was, “Ask for help.” So that’s what I did.
We had all of these folks come together to brainstorm, and we don’t remember who first came up with it—but it was a bus trip. That was May 14, and then on June 17 we launched the foolish thing.
Did that sudden notoriety stem from the Vatican’s reprimand back in April of American nuns—for being outspoken on social justice issues and “silent” on issues like abortion and gay marriage?