Nuns & Nones Brought Gratitude to Polling Sites
November 18, 2020
A light-metallic-blue caravan carrying 15 nuns and other Catholic faith leaders was making the rounds across polling sites in metro Detroit on election day, with a mission to protect people’s right to vote and bear ‘prayerful witness’ to the historic day.
The caravan endearingly named the ‘care-a-van’ by its riders, had a white banner that read ‘Sacred is the Vote’ taped to its side, and a cross and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ painted on its windows. The faith leaders, dressed in bright yellow jackets blasted music from the van while handing out snacks to the voters in line, offering them PPE, masks, prayers, and thanking them for exercising their civic duty. They were armed, too, with de-escalation training by the Election Defenders, a national campaign that prepared volunteers and voters to counteract suppression and other election day scenarios.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
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“I went into the day expecting some dramatic encounters honestly, given the hateful speech and rhetoric that had been a huge part of this election season,” says Elizabeth Garlow, acting director at New America, and a seeker at Nuns & Nones’ D.C. chapter. “What we witnessed instead was a celebration of citizenship and voters.”
The groups were deployed in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania as a part of the national election day initiative by Nuns & Nones, which is an alliance of Catholic Sisters (Nuns) and spiritually diverse millennial women (Nones).
“It’s not necessarily easy for people to get to the polls, so it was interesting to see the voters respond to being acknowledged and thanked for their vote,” says Garlow. “It points to the broader cultural shift that needs to happen – people learning about citizenship, and what it means to be a conscientious citizen.”
Prior to election day, Nuns & Nones also partnered with the Poor People’s Campaign, signing their Prophetic Pledge for faith and community organizations to mobilize voters from poor and low-income communities.
“We had around 60 people in our network across the country sign the pledge and work on the ground to mobilize 6,000 voters for election day,” says Katie Gordon, co-founder of Nuns & Nones. “We had sisters doing phone banking, working at soup kitchens, talking to people at churches, just meeting people where they are to ensure they go out and vote.”
Looking back at the election day initiatives, Sister Mary Kay Dobrovolny, an N&N member, and member of the Catholic Sisters of Mercy living in Detroit, says what has stayed with her most are stories of gratitude.
She recalls the moment they arrived at the St. Alphonsus-St. Clement Parish polling site at Dearborn, Michigan, the eighth-largest city in the state, and home to one of the largest populations of Arab Americans. They were astonished to learn that there were no Arabic signs for the voters. Witnessing people’s confusion with parking, voting lines, and directions, Salena Ibrahim, a 22-year Jesuit volunteer at the University of Detroit Mercy, stepped up to help.
Ibrahim grabbed a marker and white paper from the van and began writing directions and signs in Arabic, sending texts to her mom, who emigrated from Jordan, to ensure her spelling was right.
“The simple signage became meaningful and powerful for voters,” says Dobrovolny. “People stopped by to thank us for our welcoming presence, for our help, and that moment pervaded the spirit of hospitality and love we were there to provide.”
Another story Dobrovolny fondly recalls came from the same polling site at the end of the election day. With a few hours remaining before the polling ends, one of the voters brought 12 boxes of pizzas and distributed them among the people at the site.
“They were halal too, to ensure the Muslim voters could eat as well. It was that gesture of unity and harmony that reminded me that we are all here as a part of a bigger story,” says Dobrovolny.