'Nuns On The Bus' Bring Their Message to Democratic Convention | WGLT

'Nuns On The Bus' Bring Their Message to Democratic Convention

Jul 28, 2016

The Nuns on the Bus say they were inspired by Pope Francis' statement that "a healthy politics is sorely needed."
Credit Judith Valente

After spending time at the Republican Convention last week, the group of Catholic sisters known as the "Nuns on the Bus" are now in Philadelphia for the Democratic Convention to press for their "Mend the Gaps" social justice agenda.

Sister Richelle Friedman, a Presentation Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary who joined the tour a few days ago, said the nuns found a marked difference at both conventions in both tone, diversity and political concerns. 

In Cleveland, she said, "When people would be asked what's your hope, what makes you hopeful, there was a kind of shrugging of shoulders in terms of what's happening in our country."

She said among Democrats, "I'm feeling a positive sense, more of an enthusiastic sense. The people I've met seem hopeful."

Friedman said the nuns are non-partisan but feel strongly about such issues as closing the income gap between rich and poor; universal health care; affordable housing; a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and family-friendly workplace policies.

"People think we need a single payer (health care) system. People think we need a minimum wage that is much higher. Housing everywhere we go is an issue ... And even though we don't have Pentagon spending on our 'Mend the Gaps' agenda, it surfaces at all the places we go," Freedman added.

"Mend the Gaps: Reweave the Fabric of Society" is the theme of the nuns' bus tour, a reference to the widening gap they see between rich and poor in America.

Friedman contrasted the tone between the Republican and Democratic conventions as "night and day."

"There was a lot of negative focus in the Republican convention on everything that is wrong in our country and very, very little by way of solutions offered," she said.

The sisters have nonetheless encountered many low and moderate income people who support Republican candidate Donald J. Trump.

Freedman said many of those supporters say they are attracted to Trump's  "can do, I would say somewhat macho thing, but without much of a sense of what would would his policies really be. There isn't maybe a depth of understanding or a lot of questioning."

She said the sisters have handed out cards comparing the positions of both Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on a variety of issues, including tax reform, minimum wage, health care and immigration.

The Nuns on the Bus tour was the brainchild of social justice activist Sister Simone Campbell, who is executive director of Network, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group. Because of her work for the poor, Sister Simone was invited to speak at the 2012 Democratic convention. 

 Freedman, who works as policy director for the D.C.-based Coalition on Human Needs, said she is struck by the racial, ethnic and religious diversity she sees among Democratic delegates.

"I saw a Jewish and a Muslim young man hugging each other and wanting their picture taken. That coming together was quite poignant for me," she said.

No matter which party or candidate prevails in November, Freedman said the country will need mending.  

"That is going to be a huge challenge.  It's going to be a lot of work. The people in our workshops say we need healing and we need to work together. It's been neat to hear those on the local level talk about working in a bi-partisan way. We need people to see that," she added.

The Nuns on the Bus tour has visited 26 cities in 13 states over the past two weeks. The eight sisters on board head for home on Friday.