Since joining JCA’s staff in mid-January, I’ve been spending lots of time getting to know the organization’s culture, work, and core values. It was lucky and fitting then that the first event I attended as a staff member was one that illustrated beautifully what JCA values and strives for. At A Conversation with Minnesota Legislators, I witnessed excellent collaborative organizing in action and met many passionate and engaged activists from our community.
The premise of the event was an empowering one: that power comes from face to face interactions and conversations on the small scale about big issues. The event was based around sitting down at a table with a legislator, other Minnesotans passionate about social justice, and some snacks, and talking about three key issues for the 2014 legislative session: raising the minimum wage, gun violence prevention, and safe schools.
My duty during the program was to pick out key points and post about them on twitter. I felt I’d won the lottery of staff duties: my responsibility was to listen closely, and I was happy to. Speeches came from a range of Minnesota Jews committed to social justice: rabbis, representatives of both JCA and NCJW, and a teenager representing JCA’s Seeds of Justice fellowship. They focused on the potential of the particular legislation to help (facts, numbers, success stories about legislation in other states, powerful stories about those who the legislation would help), but also focused on our responsibility as Jews to take action. In her powerful speech about minimum wage, JCA board member Nancy Goldman said, "raising the minimum wage is not charity, but justice . . . it is a moral imperative."
During the conversation portion of the event, when there weren’t speeches to tweet about, I got the opportunity to sit down with community members and Representative Phyllis Kahn from my district to discuss the issues. Since Kahn agreed with the participants on the importance of legislation on the key issues, and everyone at the table was very knowledgeable, the discussion quickly turned to shared experiences and strategy for the upcoming legislative session. Participants reflected on the factors that made passing the marriage amendment a success, and discussed what we can all do to move the current issues through the legislature. I was impressed by the knowledge and determination shown by the individuals as the table, and the proactive tone with which they talked about the future. While expressing a commitment to the issues, Kahn also encouraged the rest of the table to take further steps and continue advocating, and all committed to future action during the legislative session.
The feeling that the event was a success was palpable in JCA and NCJW interactions during the clean-up and when we got back to work on Monday: after long and labor-intensive preparations, everyone seemed optimistic and proud of their efforts. But our work for this legislative session is just beginning. If you want to get involved, make sure to look for opportunities in our posts on social media and on our website. Subscribe to our emails if you haven’t yet! As the event showed us, our community provides a great framework with which to take action. (And as a newcomer, I feel very welcome!)
It was great to see so many members of the Jewish community interested in social justice gathered in one room to share common goals and experiences and get excited for the difference we can make this legislative session! Check out photos from the event and a reflection by JCA member Michael Kuhne.