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Nuns On the Bus Get Out the Vote

Sister. Simone Campbell spoke about voting at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. Photo by Cameron Robert Kelly

The Nuns on the Bus campaign made the University of Illinois Chicago campus the third stop on its “We the People, We the Voters” cross-country tour.

Chanting, “Nuns on the Bus, get out the vote,” a group of Catholic nuns clad in blue t-shirts, decorated with an “I Am a Voter” stamp, greeted the Thursday morning arrival of the bus outside the East student center of UIC. Their first goal of the day was registering students and others to vote.

Sister Simone Campbell, organizer of Nuns on the Bus and Executive Director of NETWORK, a self-described “national catholic social justice lobby,” opened with a few words of encouragement for the group of sisters.

“What can a group of old sisters do?” Campbell asked, and then answered her own question. “We can get on this bus and help others to vote. We’re going to talk about the truth of democracy.”

Campbell said many eligible voters are not even aware there is an upcoming election in November.

“This is horrifying in a democracy that is based on voting,” she said.

The sisters then walked the campus to encouraging students to take the “I Am a Voter” pledge.

Among those who spoke with the nuns was Maurice Fitch, a custodian at UIC. Fitch said he had become apathetic about voting, but the sisters strengthened his resolve.

“I try and get my friends to vote, but they don’t listen,” Fitch said. “But at least I’m voting.”

Sister Marilyn Kofler, a member of Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, said she felt strongly about supporting the bus tour’s efforts.

“We as Americans have a responsibility to vote, and political figures have the moral responsibility to be truthful,” said Kofler, who added, “I’ve been with the Catholic Church for 61 years, and I’ve worked on every tour.”

This is the bus’ third trip. The first tour in 2012 set out to bring attention to cuts in aid to the poor. Immigration reform was the topic of the 2013 tour.

For this trip NETWORK partnered locally with the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Arise Chicago, a faith-based workers rights group, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The latter is especially important Campbell said, the homeless often suffer the most from a lack of policies to create affordable housing, limit drug abuse, and combat violence.

This year’s bus started its road trip in Iowa and Minnesota. It will continue through Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia before making the final stop in Colorado.

The bus tour group has garnered national attention, with Campbell making appearances on “60 Minutes,” “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

The tours also have inspired a book “A Nun on A Bus” by Sister Simone Campbell, and a film “Nuns on the Bus,” a documentary by Melissa Regan.

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