Sister Mary Ellen Reports In From Nuns on the Bus “Tax Justice Truth” Tour

Nuns on the Bus, a ministry of Network Catholic Social Justice Lobby, took to the road again in October in anticipation of the mid-term elections and to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes on the 2017 Tax Bill and the many attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The “Tax Justice Truth” tour, which began on October 8 in Santa Monica, California, includes 54 events in 21 states, and will reach its final destination – Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida – on November 2.

This year, our own Sister Mary Ellen Gondeck, CSJ (left), a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Peace and Justice Team, joined the tour for its second leg which included Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, cities where our sisters live, minister, and have had a long presence. “I was very grateful to be able to join Nuns on the Bus for a portion of the current tour,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “We are heading into a very pivotal election, and it is up to ‘We The People’ to seek federal policies that reflect Gospel principles, and make our voices heard by voting.”

A man signs his name on the bus outside St. Sabina.

On October 18 and 19, the bus made two stops in Chicago, a city where our sisters live and have a significant presence through ministry and direct service. The first stop was at St. Sabina Catholic Church, a primarily African-American parish where a Town Hall for Justice was held. People from the parish and surrounding neighborhood, as well as others, came together to talk about how to change oppressive structures which benefit the rich while keeping the majority of the nations’ inhabitants on the verge of poverty.

“The environment of fear, pain and isolation in our country was evident in some of the people we met who are directly impacted by the tax policy,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “But the programs we visited and the majority of the people we met showed a resilience and dedication to change that environment. We saw ‘We The People’ in action.”

The second Chicago stop was a visit to Representative Peter Roskam’s district office at the DuPage County Airport. Representative Roskam was one of the architects of last year’s tax law – a law that hurt the most vulnerable members of his district. After meeting with Representative Roskam’s staffers, a rally was held outside where Sister Simone Campbell, SSS (left), Executive Director of Network, addressed over 100 people who stood in the rain to celebrate and anticipate a better way for our nation.

With a few stops in between, Nuns on the Bus then rolled into Detroit on October 20, where they visited Cass Community Social Services which provides those in need with food, recovery resources, physical and mental health support, employment, and even homes in the form of tiny houses. “The Tiny Homes tour was one of the highlights of the trip for me,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “Occupants pay only $250/month in rent and at the end of 7 years, the home is theirs. They receive training in home ownership and financial accountability and also help create beauty in their city. In addition, the houses run off solar panels, so the energy they use is sustainable.” Many of our sisters who live and minister in Detroit and/or Kalamazoo came out for the tour to support Nuns on the Bus (see photo above).

After Detroit, the bus then traveled South a short way to Cleveland where they visited Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry which offers programs in Housing and Shelter, Workforce Development, Health and Wellness Services, and an Office of Advocacy. “We experienced the Workforce Development segment,” said Sister Mary Ellen, “specifically The Culinary Arts program which provides training, education, and employment for women who are in the criminal justice system, so that they can re-enter the workforce once released with marketable skills.” Since 2016, 40 women have been released from prison and gained employment through this program, working in restaurants and hotels in the Cleveland area.

Sister Mary Ellen exited the tour shortly after these visits, opting not to go all the way to the last stop at Mar-a-Lago, but said her experience on the bus was one of great hope and enthusiasm. “I am awed by the dedication and commitment of the people we met in each city and the ministries we visited,” she said. “This trip made it obvious that there is much more to be hopeful about than fearful about, and we can change unjust laws and policies – but not unless we vote. So on November 6, make sure you get to the polls and make your voice heard.”

The Congregation of St. Joseph supports Network through a grant by our Generous Promise Grant Fund, and partners with Network and others to bring about a shift in the global culture from institutionalized power and privilege, to one of inclusivity and mutuality.

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