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Nuns Traveling Cross-Country to Push Voter Registration

By Stephanie Lulay | September 26, 2014 8:46am
Inside the 'Nuns on the Bus' Rockstar Tour Bus
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DNAinfo/Jackie Kostek

NEAR WEST SIDE — A group of Roman Catholic nuns had a message for Chicagoans at Union Park Thursday: change comes at the ballot box.

"The way we make our voice heard, the way we make policies — good policies — for the 100 percent is by voting,” Sister Simone Campbell said.

Nuns on the Bus, a group of nuns traveling cross country to boost voter registration, were joined by low-wage workers to speak at a “Get Out the Vote” rally Thursday afternoon.

The “We the People, We the Voters” bus tour is organized by NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. The nuns use the bus trips as a way to support their platforms, which include higher wages for workers, immigration reform and Medicaid expansion.

 Gov. Pat Quinn joined Nuns on the Bus, including Sister Simone Campbell (right of Quinn), at a voter registration rally Thursday at Union Park.
Gov. Pat Quinn joined Nuns on the Bus, including Sister Simone Campbell (right of Quinn), at a voter registration rally Thursday at Union Park.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

Simone, 68, a lawyer, is a member of the Sisters of Social Justice.

The group appeared on the political radar in 2012, travelling though the Midwest focusing on income inequality and the working poor. In 2013, they again took to the road to push for immigration reform. Conservatives describe Nuns on the Bus as a liberal group and, indeed, they were joined at the rally by Gov. Pat Quinn.

This year, because of a law passed earlier by the Illinois General Assembly, residents will be allowed to register to vote on Election Day for the Nov. 4 election only.

Low Wage Workers

The rally also gave Chicago workers a stage to voice their concerns about low wages.

Ana Laura Lopez, a 39-year-old mother of six living in Avondale, said the $8.25-$8.40 an hour she earned at a second-hand store in Uptown wasn’t enough to support her family. Four of her six children live in Mexico, she said in Spanish.

She constantly feared losing her job, she said in Spanish.

“We were asking for two things necessary for any human being – we were asking for respect and dignity,” she said.

Lopez, who sits on the Board of Directors at Arise Chicago, a faith-based labor action group, said she believes an informed voting public could change the situation the city’s thousands of low-wage workers.

The state’s minimum wage has remained a hot topic as the state’s gubernatorial election nears.

Republican Bruce Rauner has most recently said he would support an increase in the minimum wage if the state passes a series of reforms and a tax cut for businesses. Quinn, who has raised the minimum wage twice while in office, would raise the minimum wage to $10 from $8.25 without condition, he said.

Douglas Hunter, 53, who works at a McDonald’s in Austin earns $9.25. The $350 to $400 he brings home twice a month is just enough, or not enough, to cover his $775 rent.

That rent doesn’t include lights, gas and providing for the needs of his 16-year-old daughter.

“I scrap and scrape and stress all day everyday trying to provide for her,” said Hunter, who is a single parent. “We do everything we can just to make it through.”

He said his daughter asks him what he is doing to better their situation.

“And I tell her, that’s when I became a member of the Fight for $15,” he said of the union of fast food and retail workers who want a $15 per hour living wage. “I’m trying to help my family, other families.”

In March, Chicago voters overwhelmingly supported an advisory referendum that would hike Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.