Friday, August 16, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Simone Campbell and the Nuns on the Bus Tour

Sister Simone Campbell is a nun, an attorney and a poet, and you'll hear a little bit of all three roles in this week's famous speech.

As the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic lobby for social justice issues, Campbell became a familiar face in the 2012 presidential race. NETWORK strongly opposed the U.S. House of Representatives' 2012 "Ryan Budget" (named after its architect, Republican vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan) as a plan to "decimate programs meant to help people in need." That summer, Campbell organized a nine-state "Nuns on the Bus" tour to bring attention to the budget and its impact on poverty, education and health care programs.

The tour brought Campbell to center stage everywhere from the Democratic National Convention to The Colbert Report. And this summer she's on the bus again, to support immigration reform. But we've chosen the Des Moines, Iowa kickoff speech launching the 2012 bus tour to showcase Campbell's skills and and style as a public speaker. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Speak like a poet. The House had just passed the Ryan budget, and Campbell is offering her passionate rebuke. She isn't afraid to let her emotions--especially her anger--show. Listen to this:
    "What Paul Ryan wants us to think, and what he says is, it's his Catholic social teaching that made him do that. His Catholic social teaching? If he had never uttered those words, I don't think we'd have a bus trip. He made me mad, and I'm a stubborn woman."
    She creates a rhythm in her speech, using deliberate pauses between "made him do that" and the incredulous "His Catholic social teaching?" The long pauses help her sense of outrage sink in with her audience. She also uses a series of asides in the speech, which are more personal but closely linked to the overall themes of the text. The pointed "He made me mad, and I'm a stubborn woman" acts here as a kind of emotional punctuation.
  • Speak like a lawyer. Campbell doesn't come to the podium armed only with her heart on her sleeve. In this budget fight, she's got a slew of her own numbers and statistics to show exactly why NETWORK is opposing the Ryan plan. What's more, she is savvy about tailoring her speech to show how these numbers affect her Iowa audience. To the people sitting in the pews of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, for instance, she explains that every house of worship in the U.S. will have to raise an additional $50,000 each year for the next ten years to make up for the budget cuts to social programs.
  • Speak like a nun. The close of Campbell's speech is particularly rich in the use of the "invisible visual," a way to put an image into the minds of the audience that persuades and remains in their memory long after a speech is finished. For this audience, Campbell uses two familiar and vivid stories of Moses and the burning bush and Ezekiel and the breath of life over the field of bones to assure her listeners that they can bring about significant change. "Our solidarity is what will keep us from slipping into isolation, loneliness and depression," she said. "Because the only time we are fully human is when we are connected to each other."

If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you.