Meet the nun who calls herself “the hostess of the protest”
While Chicago contends with anti-NATO protests, one person at the forefront of the activity is a woman with a lot of experience at this sort of thing.
She happens to be a Catholic nun. Details:
If you watched Sister Kathleen Desautels on Sunday morning near downtown’s Petrillo Music Shell, you could tell she’s been here before. And not here in terms of the place. Buthere in terms of the moment — the time leading up to a big protest march.
At 74, the 5-foot-2 Catholic nun is a powerhouse. She served as one of the peace guides during the big anti-NATO rally and march from downtown to Cermak Road andMichigan Avenue. Her job was to help keep protesters calm and the procession moving.
Having been involved in hundreds of demonstrations in places as varied as Chicago, Decatur, Ill., Washington, San Francisco, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti, she knows the terrain and the routine: You keep your cellphone on vibrate next to your chest so you can feel it — since you won’t be able to hear it ring — in case of an emergency.
You wear smart shoes and have the telephone numbers of the medics and the lawyers’ guild handy. And you know your rights.
“If a police officer comes up to you and says, ‘What are you doing here?’ you can say, ‘I’m going to remain silent,’” Sister Kathleen said, as she donned one of the fluorescent orange vests the peace guides were wearing.
“Or if an officer wants to pat you down, you can say, ‘I do not consent to a search, and I want to see a lawyer.’ They may continue to do it. But if it goes to court, you can say they didn’t have probable cause.”
Before the anti-NATO march began, Sister Kathleen reminded members of Iraq Veterans Against the War that because they were leading the procession, they needed to walk slowly to keep a pace that would prevent gaps.
“We don’t want provocateurs jumping into the gaps and causing trouble,” she explained to me, adding that nonviolent protests are the most effective.
“I like to think I’m the hostess of the protest. Some people want to cause trouble or get arrested, and you can’t stop them. But others are just solid gold people who are working to change things. Sometimes they’re anxious, and one of the jobs of a peace guide is to give them information to help them feel comfortable.”
Sister Kathleen represents her religious congregation, Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, on the staff at the Chicago-based 8th Day Center for Justice, a Catholic peace and justice organization whose mission is to shake things up.
“We’re not a social services agency, and we don’t do charity work,” she said. “But we’re called to be an alternative, critical voice.
“The disparity between the rich and poor, we’ve been working on that forever, along with issues surrounding immigration, labor rights, the environment, the prison system, police brutality, women and children, wars around the world. We at 8th Day believe they’re all interconnected.”