Society Is Failing Our Families: Sister Simone Campbell on Inequality, Donald Trump & Women's Health

August 01, 2016


Sister Simone Campbell

leader of Nuns on the Bus, Sister of Social Service and executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

Last week in Philadelphia, a caravan of Nuns on the Bus pulled up to the Democratic National Convention after visiting 13 states, where they hosted conversations with ordinary Americans on both sides of the political spectrum in an effort to bridge the divide. To learn more about their journey, we sat down with the caravan’s leader, Sister Simone Campbell. She’s a lawyer and poet and the executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we’ve just returned from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we covered the Democratic National Convention, inside and out, from the streets to the convention floor. We’re turning now to Nuns on the Bus. That bus pulled up at the convention after nearly three weeks on the road. The nuns visited 13 states, hosted conversations with ordinary Americans on all sides of the political spectrum, in an effort to bridge the divide. In Philadelphia, they held a "Mend the Gaps" workshop, where participants made a human bar graph that dramatically illustrated the gaps in our society. They hosted a hospitality suite at the bus to meet delegates and conventioneers.

So I sat down in the middle of the convention with Sister Simone Campbell, leader of Nuns on the Bus, as well as a lawyer and a poet, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. I asked her about the caravan and why she took it to the Democratic convention.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, we’re on the road to discover the real reasons why there’s such income and wealth disparity in our nation. We are heartbroken at the fact that people can work full-time for minimum wage and not be able to support their families. And what we know is that policies made this problem. So policies can change it. We’re not as great as Dr. Stiglitz, but we have seven simple policies that we think could make change. And the one that we lead with is a change in tax policy: Everyone should pay their fair share and invest in our nation. That’s what we’re on the road to say, is we’re in this together. Let’s make this work.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you are a group of nuns.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, what I think is really important is that we, as Catholic sisters, are used to being in community. And I believe one of the problems of our time is the hyperindividualism. And so, what happens on the bus is the—well, right now, we’re nine on the bus. And the nine of us get off, and we’re already community, so everyone’s welcomed in. Everyone is welcome, whether you agree with our politics or not. If you commit to do your part to mend the gap, then you get to sign our bus. And our hope is, by creating community, then we will see the needs of others and be willing to engage in the hard work of change.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of what’s happened at the Democratic convention so far?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, for me, it’s been somewhat hopeful and somewhat discouraging. I was really touched by the Mothers of the Movement. I think the issue of race is so vibrant in our society, but what worries me about that approach is that it’s just about—by talking about race, we usually think of folks who are people of color. But what worries me is, those of us who walk around in white skin, like me, I think the real issue is that we in white skin have to learn how to extend privilege to everyone, that we’re not—I mean, I am privileged. But we’ve got to figure out how to extend it to everyone. And I didn’t feel challenged in the convention. But yet, on the other hand, it was so important to lift up the issue, because, I’ll say, we were at the Republican convention, and there were hardly any people of color, that issue was not discussed at all, and it’s at the heart of the sin of our nation, and that there was so much fear at the Republican convention, that it just drove people apart. So, in some ways, the Democrats have been real refreshing to me, but I hunger for more.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump said his favorite book is the Bible.


AMY GOODMAN: Your response?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, I wanted to do a follow-up question—Well, could you give me one quote from it?—and see what would happen. I mean, it really is sad. The poor guy really wants just to be the center of attention, and it’s always trying to do the right thing or stir up mischief. And it’s really not helpful.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, addressed the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, sharing her personal story of having an abortion.

ILYSE HOGUE: I am a fourth-generation Texan. Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust and the chance to chart our own path. I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time. I made the decision that was best for me: to have an abortion and get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community. Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.

My story is not unique. About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have. You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives, each making decisions that are best for us.

If we want families to succeed, we start by empowering women. Give us accurate information and access to healthcare. Keep politicians out of our business when we’re not ready to parent, and support us when we are. That’s what gives our families the best chance to get ahead and stay ahead. And that is what Hillary Clinton has spent decades fighting for.

Donald Trump, he’s different. He said women who have abortions like me should be punished. He calls women "pigs" and says breastfeeding is disgusting. Now, some people think he doesn’t really mean any of that. But look at who he picked for VP. Mike Pence led the charge to defund Planned Parenthood, pushed to let hospitals turn a woman away if she needs an abortion to save her life, and signed a bill with some of the most outrageous abortion restrictions in the country. He has even said he can’t wait to send Roe v. Wade into the ash heap of history. Together, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have united to form the Make Misogyny Great Again ticket.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Our guest today is Sister Simone Campbell. Sister Simone Campbell has led a caravan of nuns for the last three weeks, as they travel across the country. She is executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. I believe that Ilyse talking about her own experience with abortion is the first time a woman addressed that from a convention floor.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: That’s true. As far as I know, that’s true. And I think what was touching and compelling was her speaking of her reality and saying that it is not, you know, the bad girls. It’s all women that have this struggle. But I think, looking at the abortion issue, that is so divisive in our nation, which—well, is attempting to be divisive in our nation—the thing that we need to face is that women choose abortion often, or most often, because they don’t have economic options. And I think the shock of our nation is that we claim to be pro—some claim to be pro-life, but they’re really only pro-birth. They don’t do what’s necessary to support women in carrying a baby to term, in providing paid child—paid family leave, in providing maternity leave or, you know, parental leave, providing reasonable-cost child care. I mean, the litany goes on and on. If we were really serious about being pro-life, we wouldn’t look just at birth. From my perspective, I don’t think it’s a good policy to outlaw abortion. I think, rather, let’s focus on economic development for women and economic opportunity. That’s what really makes the change. And in the last 10 years, abortion in all of the—in all the population has gone down, except in the lowest twentile, the lowest 20 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to Donald Trump suggesting women should be punished for abortion, and then his choice of Governor Pence as his running mate?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: It’s horrifying. Quite frankly, to me, it’s horrifying. The challenge is, for women striving to care for their families, the urgent necessity of being able to feed children means that you’re going to make tough choices sometimes. I don’t think it’s a good choice. I think our society is failing our families. And that’s what we have to work on.

AMY GOODMAN: Some people might be surprised to hear a nun saying all of this.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: I know, probably. But the fact is, when you have visited with parents, with families, that have had to make these terrible choices, they’re not outlaws. They’re not bad. They are working in a very stressful situation to make the best choices for their families. Nobody likes this choice. Nobody says, "Oh, I think I’ll go have an abortion. That’ll be fun." No, they don’t. And as a society, we’ve used it more for political organizing than caring for families. I say stop the political organizing on both sides, and let’s focus on caring for families.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the role of the church in politics?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, Pope Francis is really abundantly clear on this. He says, "Meddle in politics. What we need is a healthy engagement," because we bring the values of our faith to politics. And it’s not about a litmus test on policy. It’s about how do we create community, how do we come together and find a way forward together, without the violence, without the hate, without the division, without the racism. We can do it, and faith is a way to nourish the roots of that commitment. For me, I do this work because of faith, but the glorious thing, Amy, is that, as you know only too well, is that it’s the Constitution that makes the difference in our diverse society.

AMY GOODMAN: What does polling of Catholic voters say about positions on issues like abortion?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, actually, on the issues of abortion, we quite—Catholic polling really quite follows the general public. However, what’s happening is more Catholics are identifying as concerned about the needs for the poor, the needs for those that are left out. And I think that’s going to be the big story in this election, that Pope Francis Catholics, those Catholics that are stirred up by our current pope, are going to have a much broader perspective than the culture wars.

AMY GOODMAN: What difference has Pope Francis made? And where does he stand on nuns and women’s ordination in the Catholic Church.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, that’s kind of the piece that many of us wish that he would, you know, just really decide on our side. But the fact is, what Pope Francis is doing is creating dialogue in our church. And ironically, dialogue has been sorely missing. We’re here in Philadelphia, that’s suffered a lot with prior leadership. And I think what Pope Francis is trying to do is to heal our church and to make us engaged in our society. He says what we sorely need is a healthy politics and that we are to be bridges to each other, not walls. And so, that’s what we believe, is that’s why we’re doing this Mend the Gap tour, is to be a bridge to those who are more often left out.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain Mend the Gap.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Mend the Gap is our commitment to healing the income and wealth disparity in our nation; healing the democracy gap, where people are pushed out of voting, where they can’t vote; healing the healthcare gap; healing the citizenship gap, where our immigrant population are pushed to the margins because we willfully refuse to fix our broken immigration system; and finally, to heal the gap in housing. Our housing stock has not been renewed. And so, what we say is, if we want to be a nation that is great, the way both parties want to say it is, we’ve got to engage these gaps. We’ve got to make change. Policy made the mess. Policy can change it, if we commit.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, who in 1980 served as a missionary and worked with Jesuits in Honduras, at a time of great state violence there, the killing of many Hondurans, a kind of staging ground for the Contra war in Nicaragua? What do you know about Tim Kaine then?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: I don’t know a lot. What I do know is that he talks about working in his small little pueblo and that he did teach young people alternative skills. And one of his concerns was that teenagers would not get caught up in the cycle of violence, but would have some economic opportunity, some economic skills. I don’t know the details of it and how it fit in with the war, but what I do know is that now his heart is broken by the violence in Honduras, Salvador and Guatemala, and knows that the kids on our border are in a direct response to that violence. And I know that violence is in direct response to U.S. policy. So, I say—well, hopefully, in his briefings, he will get additional awareness of the challenge of our trade policy as well as our challenge of our military policy.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting. Hank Johnson, the congressmember, has introduced a resolution to stop funding—


AMY GOODMAN: —stop all military aid going to Honduras right now.


AMY GOODMAN: This follows the murder of Berta Cáceres, the remarkable indigenous environmentalist who won the Goldman Prize, among other things. Yet he does not have the support of a majority of Congress, to say the least, not to mention the Democrats. Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state during the Honduran coup that led to so much violence, which was ultimately supported by the United States, that coup. Can you comment on this, Sister Simone?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I was recently at the Carter Center in Atlanta and met Berta Cáceres’s—one of her daughters. And we talked about the work that la señora Cáceres was doing. And what she was working for was trying to protect their indigenous people, and against the hydroelectric plant that they were introducing. And what her daughter is saying is that it is love and community that can make the difference. And it is an awareness that our sense of development is not the Honduran sense of development. And the dislocation, the claiming of land, the pulling apart, is the imposition of a U.S.-style development. And she’s begging that it be stopped. And so, we certainly have supported and advocated on Capitol Hill to say, "Please, sign on to this bill. Let’s make this happen." And I look forward to the opportunity to get to the campaign and encourage them to take a similar position.

AMY GOODMAN: Sister Simone, where do you head from here?

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Actually, we have a rally on Friday morning, and then we’re missioning all of our people to go out across this nation and engage in conversation to mend the gaps. We the people have got to be the leaders we’ve been waiting for. Quite frankly, the politicians follow the people, because they’re always doing this polling to see what works, what touches. So, we’re stirring the people up, so the politicians will hear something new.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you choose not to wear a habit? You’re in a blue T-shirt.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: I’m in a blue T-shirt because it’s our Nuns on the Bus T-shirt, so it’s sort of my habit. But what we know is to walk with people, to be in with people at the margins of our society, we have to look like them. Otherwise, we become intimidating and separating. My call as a Catholic sister is to be among the people. That’s what we do.

AMY GOODMAN: Sister Simone Campbell is leader of Nuns on the Bus. She’s a lawyer and a poet. She’s a Sister of Social Service and executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Donald Trump under fire for criticizing the parents of a Muslim American soldier who died in Iraq in 2004. Stay with us.

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