Campbell brings stories from ‘Nuns on the Bus’ to Interfaith Lecture

When people meet Sister Simone Campbell, they usually say, “Oh, how wonderful to meet you; where’s your bus?”

Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, spent weeks on a “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which advocates for people in poverty and social justice issues.



Campbell will bring the stories she gathered on that trip to her 2 p.m. lecture today in the Hall of Philosophy.

During the lecture, titled, “With Economic Justice for All, Justice for the 100%: What We Learned on the Bus,” Campbell, 68, will ask for volunteers to participate in a “human bar graph” to demonstrate income and wealth disparities. 

By breaking out of the bar graph to represent percentage changes for different income quintiles, Campbell hopes to show how these disparities impact 100 percent of the population adversely.

Though economic conditions have somewhat improved — at the height of the recession, five people applied for every one job, and now it is down to three applicants per job, Campbell said — economic disparities are still “crippling our nation,” and a lack of jobs and unlivable wages remain major issues.

“The wages are a big, huge issue,” she said. “The fact that people working for minimum wage are living in poverty. They’re working full-time and living in poverty. That’s wrong in the richest nation on Earth.”

Although for people like Campbell, the hope to do good and make a difference is enough reason to fight for income equality, she knows it is not enough for everyone, which is why she stresses the “connection to the 100 percent, why this reality is undermining all of us.”

Such issues that affect the entire nation’s population include illiteracy, infant mortality, obesity and mental health — issues that don’t just affect people living in poverty, Campbell said.

Campbell will share the stories of people she met on the bus tour — people such as Robin, a woman who worked full-time at a national clothing retailer but had to live in a homeless shelter because minimum wage wasn’t enough.

“Quite frankly, I try to break people’s hearts,” Campbell said. If a heart is broken open, she added, it has room for everybody.

Although there is still work to be done, Campbell said poverty and income inequality have begun to become topics of discussion in the country. She doesn’t agree with his solutions, but Campbell cited Congressman Paul Ryan as an example — he never used to talk about poverty, she said, and now he has held three hearings on it. Once people come together to define the issue, they can then come to a common solution, she said.

“I think we’re beginning to talk about it more than we did for awhile. It was like, totally off the screen. And I talk about it all around the country, so people seem to be interested around the country,” she said. “At least it’s beginning to be seen as an issue.”

Campbell hopes to dispel the myth that the U.S. is, or should be, made up of individuals just looking out for themselves — or the myth “that we need to be afraid of somebody else.” Because income and wealth disparity affect everybody, it’s necessary to have a community-oriented spirit and approach, she said.

“It’s an unpatriotic lie that we’re based in individualism,” she said.