Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Justice Coordinator for the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, both based in Milwaukee, will be riding for the first several days on NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus 2018 route, “On the Road to Mar-a-Lago.” Held for the past several years in the months before a national election, Nuns on the Bus is a program of Town Hall Meetings for justice, visits to legislators, rallies, and site visits at local social service or justice advocacy agencies. This year’s goal is to “tell the truth about the Republican Tax Law and hold elected officials accountable for their votes.” The tour began October 7 with a pre-launch reception in Los Angeles and a kick-off rally the next morning in Santa Monica, California. Read Sister Durstyne’s daily blog of her experiences with Nuns on the Bus.
Town Hall Discussions on Issues and Solutions
October 10, 2018
By Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP
Today started out in the most unique fashion. At 9:30 a.m., we met up with hundreds of workers at the Culinary Workers Union headquarters for a pep rally unlike one I’ve ever experienced. The members all wore red T-shirts with symbols of their particular work and the slogan, “We Vote, We Win.” They also wore red hats, representing Local 226. The energy in the room was contagious. Teams of five sat at about 50 tables, folding, stuffing and preparing their work to go canvassing in the city.
We Sisters, 10 in all, were assigned a team and began folding paper as well. I observed that our team was made up of people of different ages, all working together for the sake of the future for their families. This work was done with such joy and enthusiasm.
As we completed our work, we gathered into an assembly. The cheers and clapping began with great spirit and camaraderie – a form of community. Then our team captain led us to the grounds for a rally. A great variety of speakers focused on working for reasonable revenue for responsible programs: Sue Chinn, Organizer; Nohemi Torres, Organizing Director; Guadalupe Mariel, Deputy Political Organizer; Ra’Shanda Wesley; Maria Clara Balicanta; and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK, which organizes Nuns on the Bus.
Then it was time to drive with my team and canvass the neighborhood. We walked door-to-door, ringing bells and knocking on doors. Most people did not answer; however, their dogs did. We did engage a couple of people in conversation on the issues and the candidates we are supporting.
At noon, we were on the bus again for a long drive to Phoenix, Arizona, where we met the people waiting for us at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ. What a stunning setting for our enactment of the tax policy of 2017! The church sanctuary was a series of glass window walls looking toward the mountains in the background.
We began with a wonderful poem by the pastor as a way to introduce the Nuns on the Bus. Before we came into the sanctuary, the pastor informed us that his church had just received 104 immigrants who had been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that day. His church community will house the people and help them to get to their families somewhere in the United States. We were all inspired by their outreach and saddened for the overall treatment of our immigrant brothers and sisters.
This town hall featured some incredible conversation after our enactment of the tax policy. We heard stories of how the tax cuts have impacted health care insurance. A man stated that he is no longer eligible for Affordable Health Care and so he pays $1,200 a month for insurance. People noted that they are being denied medical coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Another gentleman reported that the lack of housing is having a terrible impact in Flagstaff, where he lives. The university is expanding and taking out affordable housing as private corporations take on the oversight of all the available housing. The corporations are pushing residents out of their three-bedroom apartments so that students can live in them at a higher cost. The tax cuts have assisted developers, who receive tax-write-offs and refunds for keeping their housing vacant instead of renting their housing.
In general, the tax cuts have decreased the sense of community connections; people are feeling isolated from one another and craving connections with other like-minded folks.
The people are deeply concerned that education is becoming privatized. Some 75 percent of the corporations in Arizona pay only $50 in tax. The lower tax base impacts education. They are also concerned about voter suppression as the number of polling places has decreased from 200 to 73. Voter roster changes have been noted. The homeless people are being kicked out of the parks.
We then flipped the conversation to identify some solutions to the issues. Many of the people belong to groups like Indivisible and the Desert Progressives, groups that have developed a voter guide for the upcoming election.
Neighbors are beginning to reach out to neighbors. One woman – who had brought her teenage son to experience Catholic Advocacy – said that for four months she has been going out to 550 homes in her neighborhood to say hello and to get to know her neighbors. She has been doing this for four months. She brings little gifts, such as seeds and fruit, and even taking neighbors to doctor’s appointments and shopping as needed. She believes that forming community among her neighbors is a first step to bring about tax policy change. “We need to teach big math like you did tonight,” she said. “We need not be afraid to ask for substantive information from our political appointees.”
The night ended on a high note as participants signed the Nuns on the Bus pledge cards and then signed the bus.
We are now preparing for the evening and our last stop tomorrow at the Phoenix Human Services Center and then onto Tucson to lobby and hold another Town Hall for Justice.
Encounter with the Culinary Arts Union
October 9, 2018
We began our day, October 9, in Southern California, gathered in a contemplative circle with local Sisters of St. Joseph. Our reflection centered on transformation. After breakfast we met with U.S. Representative Lou Correrá (D-46), of Santa Ana, California. He presented a citation to the Nuns on the Bus for their work and promised to work with us for the good of all.
At the Irvine, California, office of U.S. Representative Mimi Walters (R-45), we held a rally focused on the realities of struggling mothers and those who work on behalf of the vulnerable. All passionately spoke of the need for continued housing and care for those who desire a new life.
We packed into the bus again, eating our lunch as we traveled to Las Vegas. There, we met with members of the Culinary Workers Union – the largest corporation in Nevada, with more than 50,000 members from 173 countries. The experience was very moving. There is nothing like hearing from those who have learned the skill and art of negotiating their own future with their employers. The union has been successful in obtaining their contracts, winning by staggering percentages.
We quickly drove to Elizabeth Seaton Parish where we were greeted by Father Bede Wevita, the pastor. After a quick taco and fruit salad at the parish, we began our visual enactment of the Tax Cut and Jobs Policy of 2017, which gives more tax cuts to corporations. Through Nuns on the Bus, NETWORK hopes to spread the message that “the effects of this tax law will hurt families on the economic margins, and other vulnerable communities most.”
I was thrilled that two of my Adrian Dominican Sisters who minister in Henderson were able to join in the evening. Thank you, Sister Vicki Dalesandro and Sister Judy Nelson, for making the time to come say hello and experience the Nuns on the Bus. Your presence and support were so welcome.
We ended the night tired but grateful for those we met on the road, for their courage to share their stories with us, putting flesh on the realities of daily living and the struggle to move forward in hope. We will continue to share your stories as we go across the country, advocating for economic change and for reasonable revenue for responsive programs.
Visits and Meetings in Southern California
Monday, October 8, 2018
By Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP
We began our day Monday, October 8, with a half hour of prayer and contemplation, reflecting on the Gospel of Luke and the question, “Who is my neighbor?” This was our theme all day. Who is my neighbor? How is my neighbor being impacted by this 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Acts?
We were met in Santa Monica by a beautiful crowd walking along the Pacific Ocean and those who purposefully came to hear our speakers of the day, including U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Leader, and a new group called “the Littlest Lobbyists,” who advocate for children with complex medical needs. The speakers for the latter were a mother and her young daughter, now 11, who was born with a heart issue and, at the age of three months, had the first of 18 heart surgeries.
The presentations were powerful and very moving. Nancy Pelosi was impassioned by this tax cut policy that has only benefited the 1 percent wealthiest people in this country. The mother from Littlest Lobbyists voiced her concern that health insurance companies can now eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions like those her daughter has.
After our time along the ocean, we headed to our first site visit, Homeboy Industries, founded in Los Angeles in 1992 by Father Gregory Boyle, SJ. Homeboy Industries offers a number of services to at-risk men and women who had been incarcerated or involved in gangs. These services include social enterprises – including a bakery – which serve as job-training sites.
Christina, the head baker and mother of four boys, shared her difficult story of being shot once and stabbed twice. She had nothing and couldn’t get out of her difficult life situation. Through her new life at Homeboy, she is on another track. What an incredible spirit.
Although she used to give her children expensive gifts with money she’d made from her previous activities, she recently gave one son a Dallas Cowboys shirt and hat for his birthday. “I’m just glad you are who you are today,” he said in response. “This is the best birthday gift you could have given me.”
We also met Janet, formerly incarcerated and now a caseworker at Homeboy, and her husband of one year, who spent 25 years in prison. They are a remarkable couple, committed to a new way of being in the world thanks to the intervention of Father Greg Boyle, who visits jails and prisons to invite the prisoners to come to Homeboy once they are released. It’s up to the individual to come see him, and the rest is a miracle of transformation and hope.
We stopped for a meal before we shared what we learned about the consequences of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act during a Townhall for Justice at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. What a gift to be with this community of faith! Afterwards we gave the people large pens to sign the bus and write their messages to the world. The bus is now a sign that we are all on the bus, on a journey to justice.
Pre-Launch of Nuns on the Bus
Sunday, October 7, 2018, Feast of the Holy Rosary
I began the day with early rising to prepare to fly to Los Angeles to meet up with the rest of my companions on the Nuns of the Bus journey. Sister Reg McKillip, OP, and I boarded the plane together from Milwaukee to LAX. We are both excited and a little anxious about this opportunity. We are not experts on the tax policies but we are learning.
We arrived and hopped on a shuttle to the hotel, where we were greeted by the NETWORK staff and advance team: Abbey, Colleen, Meg, Melissa, Catherine, Mike and Kelly. What a wonderful team, assisting us to get to the bus and to our first stop for orientation with Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK.
Ten of us Sisters are participating from all over the country – Pennsylvania; New York; Wisconsin; Kansas; Washington, D.C.; Illinois; and California. We represent diverse charisms. Our orientation consisted of do’s and don’ts, as well as an enactment of our presentation tomorrow on The Tax bill.
Today was about getting on the right time zone and meeting one another. I only knew three of the women on the bus. The orientation was to deepen our knowledge of the tax policy. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow.
After a day of travel, meeting one another, adjusting to the time, and enjoying a lovely Middle Eastern dinner, it’s time to rest and prepare for our task these next four days.
Nuns on the Bus participants board the special bus for the 2018 route.
Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, is Justice Coordinator for the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, both based in Milwaukee, and former Director of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation for her own Congregation, the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
June 30, 2017, Las Vegas, Nevada – The vision of Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican hospitals for four neighborhood hospitals is a step closer to reality after the June 15, 2017, ribbon-cutting ceremony for the hospital in North Las Vegas.
St. Rose Dominican, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, broke ground for the 20,000-square-foot hospital in the spring of 2016. The hospital formally opens on June 30. During the remainder of 2017, the other three neighborhood hospitals will be opened: July 24, August 16, and early November.
Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the neighborhood hospitals were planned to meet the needs of people who are underserved or unserved. The hospitals are designed so each patient can be seen by a physician and two nurses.
For details, read the article in the Las Vegas Sun by Chris Kudialis and the article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Katelyn Newberg.
Feature photo (top): Taking part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the neighborhood hospital in North Las Vegas are, from left, Dr. Jason Jones, Medical Director; Leslie Kosak, Chief Nursing Officer; Sally Doebler, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce; Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP, Vice President of Mission Integration; Angela Hunt, District Hospital Administrator; Laura Hennum, CEO of Nevada Market; John Lee, Mayor of North Las Vegas; Charles Guida, President of Health Foundation; Richard Cherchio, Councilman; and Eugene Bassett, Senior Vice President, Nevada Operations for Dignity Health.