Nuns on the Bus 2018: Hello to Mar-a-Lago, goodbye to the bus

The crowd that met the Nuns on the Bus at their Nov. 2 closing rally at the Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Florida (GSR photo / Michele Morek)

Full disclosure: I was on the bus for only the first and last weeks. In total, it was a marvelous, enriching, depressing, heartening and exhausting pilgrimage of 21 states, 27 days and 54 events. I can't imagine how the Network staff managed for the full four weeks. It's hard work!

But here's some good news. There are lots of concerned and caring people across our country who are worried about what the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will do in the long run to most U.S. taxpayers, especially the most vulnerable. The people who weren't worried? Well, we even converted a few of them.

We were not advocating doing away with taxes; after all, we drive on interstates and use Medicare and public libraries, too. We were seeking tax justice and urging people to make tax policy a major factor in their voting decisions. After all, tax policy affects pro-life issues, economic issues, justice, peace — just about any issue that concerns Catholics and other people of faith.

On our pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, we stopped to meet many politicians, to encourage them to be accountable for what their tax-related decisions are doing.

Most of the politicians we tried to see refused to meet with us. Were they embarrassed? A fitting symbol for those politicians was the cardboard cutout of U.S. Rep. Rod Blum that his constituents in Iowa's 1st District brought to the Oct. 17 Cedar Rapids rally. They said they bring the cardboard version of Blum along to these gatherings because he never makes himself available to them.

A cardboard cutout of U.S. Rep. Rod Blum in front of the bus at the Nuns on the Bus rally at Blum's office Oct. 17 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

Along the journey, we educated people about the U.S. tax policy. The best educational tool we used was a visual representation that Network staff designed, which I described in a previous blog. The Nuns on the Bus acted out a human bar graph, taking the role of real people who represent each economic quintile, including the top 1 percent, and corporations.

That's why we chose to end with a demonstration at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's private golf club and resort, an icon of inequality.

But first, on Nov. 1, we had a busy day with one more site visit, one more legislative visit and rally, and an enthusiastic town hall. (Oh, and a 15-minute stop to wade in the lovely warm Atlantic waves at West Palm Beach.)

The site visit to a multi-story affordable care residence for elderly people of limited financial means run by the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corporation underlined what we had heard all along our four-week trip: the need for affordable housing and health care. Like others, this pleasant residence, which boasts a beautiful view from the 10th-floor laundry room, is endangered from effects of the tax bill and has a waitlist of hundreds of people. Most will die before they can move in.

Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell speaks at the affordable care residence for elderly people of limited financial means that the Nuns on the Bus visited Nov. 1. (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)
The view from the 10th-floor laundry room at the affordable care residence for elderly people of limited financial means that the Nuns on the Bus visited Nov. 1 (GSR photo / Michele Morek)

On Nov. 2, we awoke to a lovely warm day for our slow drive by Mar-a-Lago and gathered at a park with another bus that had been on the road for six weeks, educating people about health care, and many decorated private cars full of people joining us in our protest, some who came from faraway states like Minnesota.

We couldn't call it a parade because we could not get a permit. As Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell said, it was just a few vehicles that just happened to be all going in the same direction at the same time. It was punctuated by a few random honks from car and bus horns. Some local politicians and Adrian Dominican Sr. Carol Coston, the first executive director of Network, joined us.

All 10 Nuns on the Bus got out and walked in front of the bus for a few blocks right across the bay from Mar-a-Lago. We paused to yell encouragement to some construction workers and to send a blessing of positive energy and love across the water to the 1 percent at Mar-a-Lago.

As we crossed the bridge to Mar-a-Lago, we kept an eye out for police, but the only ones we saw along the way seemed to be there to help us safely turn back on the main road by stopping the other traffic. We sent a blessing their way, also.

Returning to Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, we carried the posters from every town hall expressing the problems and solutions the participants suggested. Akron, Las Vegas, Chicago: You were all there with us. And we were all greeted by a mariachi band, lots more supporters and a "Fiesta for the Common Good," which featured a potluck feast, some wonderful speakers and groups of protest singers like the Raging Grannies.

The Network staff that joined the Nuns on the Bus included, from left: Abbey Watson, trip director; Meg Olson, grassroots mobilization manager; Samantha Brown, traveling press secretary; Colleen Ross, communications coordinator; and Lee Morrow, press secretary. Not pictured: Catherine Gillette, grassroots mobilization coordinator; Matt Baca and David Maddox, our advance team; and Paul Marchione, Ashley Wilson, Ryan Thomas and Nicholas Kitchel at Network headquarters. (GSR photo / Michele Morek)

We returned to the hotel, sent our beloved bus and its driver, Glenn, back to Nashville, and said our tearful goodbyes to our fellow nuns and the Network staff. What a talented group, including the staffers on the bus, the advance team that drove before us to set things up, and the ones back in the Network office we didn't get to see!

This does not happen very often, but words fail me. I will just note my favorite memories of the trip:

  • The opportunity to work with the Network staff and the sister volunteers. Wow. Friends for life.
  • The individual people I talked to in the cracks at site visits, after town halls, at the bus-side rallies after visits to congresspeople. People concerned about justice.
  • The joy and the hope on the faces of the crowds who met the bus. It replaced the fear and anger in their hearts, at least for a day.
  • The AFL-CIO workers who brought us a cooler of drinks for the road and the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

My lessons: Don't give in to the idea that good is not winning in the end! Collaboration is everything! And from Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles: God is a God of second chances!

I will also remember a few specific pleasures: finding grits and collard greens on the menus. Watching the vegetation change from saguaro cactus in Arizona to Spanish moss in the South. Our prayer together in the morning. Of course, there were a few minor annoyances, like one sister who said she was surprised to find such creative things happening in the South!

The message on the back of our bus from Pope Francis said it all: "A good Catholic meddles in politics." But this was a great ecumenical experience, with a Jewish rabbi blessing our bus at Santa Monica beach and many congregations hosting us along the way: Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist. People of all faiths and no faiths joined us to say, "Reasonable revenue for responsible programs."

Si, se puede!

[Ursuline Sr. Michele Morek is Global Sisters Report's liaison to sisters in North America. Her email address is mmorek@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @MicheleMorek.]

Read all of GSR's Nuns on the Bus coverage.

Read the latest from The Life: Do you think sisters should be politically active?