The nuns had been on the bus less than 24 hours of their 15-day tour taking them from Des Moines, Iowa, to Washington, D.C. when we met up with them in Dubuque Monday evening. Surrounded by sisters of all sorts, here I was, a Lutheran nun, of sorts (a Lutheran deaconess who is also an ordained pastor), with my pastor husband.
Meanwhile, on the steps of the Michigan State House, Rep. Lisa Brown, one of two congresswomen silenced last week, performed The Vagina Monologues to an audience of 2,500. Nuns on a bus in Dubuque and a Congresswoman in The Vagina Monologues in Lansing. What do they have in common? Everything. Both events, the same night, open to the public, were giving voice to those whom others would silence.
I saw Sr. Simone, who has been on The Colbert Report, CNN, and MSNBC, as electrifying and calm, personable and passionate. A member of the Sisters of Social Service and executive Director of Network, a Roman Catholic movement working for justice, peace and economic and social transformation, Sr. Simone is calling for a "Faithful Budget" as a substitute for the Ryan budget.
I spoke with Sister Diane Donoghue, also a Sister of Social Service, who had come from Los Angeles to ride on the bus. Sr. Diane has been a social worker and community organizer for years. In working with immigrants in the Southwest she is intent in empowering them to have a voice. Then she steps back so that they can speak for themselves in the public arena. Risky? Yes!
No more risky it seems than elected officials speaking to their own bills put forth on the floor of a legislature.
The oppression of women and the suppression of women's voices, particularly women working for justice is a growing phenomenon across this land. Women who have been sexually abused dare not tell. Women religious who speak for the poor are "assessed" as not having the correct ecclesial message. Women legislators' voices are gaveled out.
But women will be heard. And more significantly, their persistent voices in solidarity with those who live in poverty whose lives will be harmed by slashing services must be heard. The gathering at the State House in Michigan last night and the growing number of people who will meet the Nuns on the Bus signals a hunger for voice in the public world.
Congresswoman Brown who says she was barred from speaking in the Michigan House because Republicans objected to her saying "vagina" during debate over anti-abortion legislation performed The Vagina Monologues on the Statehouse steps, together with the author, Eve Ensler, 10 other lawmakers and several actresses. While speaking against a bill that would require doctors to ensure abortion-seekers haven't been coerced into ending their pregnancies, Brown told Republicans, "I'm flattered you're all so concerned about my vagina. But no means no."
Brown was barred from speaking in the House during the next day's session. House Republicans say they didn't object to her saying "vagina." They said Brown compared the legislation to rape, violating House decorum. She denies the allegation.
Democratic Rep. Barb Byrum also was barred from speaking last Thursday because she referred to vasectomies during the debate.
The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan -- whose 650 members include men -- criticized taking away Brown's and Byrum's right to speak: "Representatives Brown and Byrum had a right to have their constituents' 150,000 voices recognized. They were neither vulgar nor disrespectful. When the minority is silenced, justice cannot prevail and democracy suffers."
"No means no!"
Meanwhile, back in Dubuque Tuesday morning, the Nuns introduced local agencies and individuals who would suffer from budget cuts. Sisters, representing some of the seven congregations of women religious in the Dubuque area, gathered in the hot Iowa morning sun and sang verses they had just composed to a familiar tune:
The nuns on the bus go all around,
All around, all around.
The nuns on the bus go all around.
All through the land.
The nuns on the bus say, "No!" No!" "No!"
"No!" "No!" "No!"
The nuns on the bus say "No!" "No!" "No!"
Ryan's budget: "NO!!"
The money in the land should make more jobs
Feed the poor, shelter all
The money in the land should be for all.
So justice can be served.
The nuns on the bus speak for us,
Speak for us, speak for all,
The nuns on the bus speak for us
Justice for all.
Those of us gathered this morning in Dubuque outside Maria House for women in need would not be silenced. Those gathered at the Michigan State House would not be silenced. That, we, and millions more, all have in common.