Sister Simone Campbell: Interview Part 2
Sister Simone Campbell leads evening worship at Bread for the World's Hunger Justice Leaders Program in Washington, DC, on Sunday, June 10, 2012. Sister Simone leads Network, a Catholic social justice lobby group that launched a Nuns on the Bus tour to bring light to federal budget cuts that hurt poor and hungry people. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World
From June 17 to July 2, a small group of nuns toured the nation by bus to protest budget cuts that would endanger poor and hungry people in the United States. Known as the "nuns on the bus," this powerful contingent of women religious raised awareness at every stop on their tour about cuts to federal funding for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The bus tour ended Monday, July 2, with a rousing rally in Washington, DC (see our coverage of the event here).
On Tuesday, we sat down with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network -- a primary organizing group of the bus tour -- to hear her stories from the road and find out what we can expect next from the "nuns on the bus."
Read part 2 of our interview below. (Read part 1 of our interview here.)
Where did you grow up? And were you aware of social injustice growing up?
I grew up in California. I grew up in Long Beach. But my sister and I -- this was the late '50s -- and so my sister and I really cared about civil rights when we were young. Dr. Martin Luther King was our hero, and so that shaped me early on.
I imagine that during the bus tour, you didn’t have too much personal space. What were some of your personal and spiritual practices that helped you throughout the tour?
I usually mediate for an hour every morning. Whichever nuns were on the bus, we got together every morning for prayer for a half hour.
We declared the back of the bus, "the cloister," meaning, no press could go back there and nobody else could go back there unless invited, other than nuns. This was so we could get away. The challenge was, for me, that I did a lot of the press work, so I was always in the front of the bus -- almost always.
What are the next steps for the "nuns on the bus"? What can we look forward to?
Well, it’s still a work in progress. This is all a gift of the Holy Spirit. We did a bus trip ... now what? So we’re beginning to do the evaluation and reflection on what’s next and where we are being called. We had no idea this was going to be such a huge thing. It’s the Spirit alive, and full of surprises.
We do know the two things: 1. We’re going to do our next magazine, Connection, all about "nuns on the bus." And we’re just going to lift up all the places we went, people we saw. Well you can’t lift up everybody, but as much as we can.
The other thing we’re going to do is a briefing on Capitol Hill. And our goal with "nuns on the bus on the Hill" is to break people’s hearts, because we think they’ve got enough information. It’s not changing them. We’ve got to break their hearts.
So I’m out after their hearts.
Courtney: I’m a college student. DC is full of young activists. What advice would you give to the next generation of young people interested in activism?
What a great question. Well for me, whatever you are doing, whether you are doing direct service or actual Hill work -- you’ve got to keep your feet in both worlds. If you get into activism and are too disconnected from the reality of folk’s lives, you can lose the power and the energy of what you are doing. And if you get too much into the direct service part and lose the activism, you can get depressed. You start to just see it as one person, after another, after another.
For me, policy is best when connected to the roots, and roots are best when connected to policy. So I encourage you all -- with all this Facebook and Twitter -- to stay connected and walk with real people while doing the activism. Lord knows we need folks who are engaged.
And for me, it’s really important that [activism] be grounded in faith. That's what sustained me for the 150 years I've been doing this (laughing). I’m not that old, but that's the long haul. You can stay engaged for the long haul when it’s rooted in the gospel, because Jesus really wasn’t about being successful. Jesus was about being faithful, and so as long as we stay faithful and we’re part of this whole body, then we just do our parts. It’s great. It’s wonderful -- a great way to live. I highly recommend it. It's a little challenging, but it’s not boring, that’s for sure.
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