The following appeared in The St. Paul Monitor on March 8, 2018. The original can be found here.
By: MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Since 1995, Jewish Community Action (JCA),2375 University Ave. W., has worked to organize Jewish Minnesotans to act together for social change.
With a unique model that combines traditional congregational-based community organizing with issue-based campaign work, they partner with local coalitions, interfaith initiatives, neighborhood groups, people of color, and immigrant groups. They believe in working collectively to directly address the causes of poverty, racism, and injustice. Tho accomplish this they train teams of volunteer leaders who take this work inward to their congregations, as well as outward to their broader communities. JCA’s campaigns are driven by Jewish values, but people from all backgrounds are welcome to join in their work for social change.
Photo right: Participants in the soft launch of the Decriminalizing Communities Campaign had opportunities to discuss their own experiences (direct and indirect) with the criminal justice system, and their hopes for a better future. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)
On Feb. 15, JCA staff member Rachel English and intern Anam Hasan led a soft launch of a campaign called De-criminalizing Communities.
The event started with defining some of the organization’s core values. English explained, “We believe that all people are equal. We believe that all people deserve to live in safe communities and safe homes. Despite its name, we do not believe that our criminal justice system is just. In the past 20 years, all forms of crime have declined in our state, yet we continue to incarcerate more people for longer periods of time. Evidence shows that our prison system is both profit-motivated and powered by the racial oppression that underlies many of the systems that remain fundamental to our society. We believe in the need for a justice system that is truly fair.”
English continued, “Our vision is of a justice system that treats incarceration as a last resort. We envision one that emphasizes rehabilitation, drug treatment, mental health care and community-based services to prevent incarceration, and supports people upon their release. We envision one that holds violent offenders accountable while upholding their human rights. We envision a community-centered justice system that uses comprehensive approaches to public safety. We envision a justice system that acknowledges the suffering caused by institutional oppression, and works to eliminate the injustices that trap many people in cycles of hopelessness and despair.”
Embedded in the Decriminalizing Communities Campaign are two other initiatives. The first addresses the for-profit private prison system: it seeks to push back on the creation of private prisons and ICE detention centers in Minnesota. The second seeks to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and are once again living and working in their communities.
For more information on how to get involved in the Decriminalizing Communities Campaign, contact community organizer Rachel English at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visible in the community in another way, JCA will be hosting their annual Freedom Seder on Sun., Mar. 11 from 2-5pm at Mount Zion Synagogue (1300 Summit Ave.). Friends, partners, allies, and community members are invited to observe Passover together, and to share a meal. The cost is $18; reservations are strongly recommended, though walk-ins won’t be turned away.
What is a Freedom Seder? During the 1960’s, rabbis and activists across the country were inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement. They wanted to incorporate what was happening in present time into the telling of the Passover story, which recounts how the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. For more information about the Freedom Seder, contact: Lauren Muscoplat at email@example.com.