By Carol Noble
Michele Krieg Bauer and I were two of the nine person Hevreh delegation to the Consultation on Conscience Conference sponsored by Religious Action Committee’s (RAC of the URJ). We arrived in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 29, a day before the conference started. We were in time to be able to participate in the Climate March, a fitting prelude to the 3 days of meetings that would follow. Along with 200,000 others, we slogged through the hot steamy route on a late April day were the temperatures were above 90. This experience highlighted one of the enduring mantras I subsequently learned at the Conference: if you are trying to lobby an issue, it is very valuable if you can make a personal statement about the issue. It was most inspiring to sweat with so many others who marched to put focus on the environment and the issue of climate change.
The subtitle of the Consultation on Conscience, “Building the World We Want” had a strong appeal to me after last November’s election. The results of the election were for me, a call to action. It was no longer enough to hear the news of the day and go on with life as usual. The idea of “building the world we want” spoke to me: if I wasn’t going to take action, I had no right to just stand around and grumble. But how could my actions be most effective? The three days I spent with 800 others from around the country at this amazing conference mobilized me, inspired me and gave me some tools to begin to act.
The conference included an amazing array of incredible speakers from the Jewish religious community, its secular leadership as well as well known leaders in politics and in the social justice arenas. While mostly focused on this country, the conference did include the dynamic Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC) which focusses on the very important work for Progressive Judaism in Israel The center is committed to, promoting state recognition, funding and equal status for Reform and Conservative Jewry, equality for women and other significant issues of religion and state.
As the main focus was on the national scene, I will share some of the ideas that for me captured the most dire implications of the current political climate.
The proposed budget cuts represent a wide scale effort to starve safety net projects. Meals on Wheels and school lunch and after school programs are among the most visible.
Repeal of ACA (which, thankfully, is getting serious pushback as Congressional leaders meet with their constituents). Should it succeed it will lead to a huge redistribution to the wealthy. Just last night (May 24) it was reported that 23 million would lose coverage if the latest iteration of the health care bill is passed.
Tax reform, which is touted as reducing taxes for those with the lowest incomes, will not change their tax rate. It will stay at 10%. It is the wealthiest and corporation who will be the biggest beneficiaries.
These ideas will help me as I become more active in the coming months. A question raised by several participants was how does one speak to those who are very enthusiastic about the country’s current leadership. The sense was that this can be done best by taking one or two issues that promised by Trump during the campaign that haven’t be delivered. For me that means sitting down and putting together a succinct and compelling message to try to create some dissonance in those who either support or merely stand by and observe what is happening.
The big theme at the conference was that right now, we can be most effective at the local and the state level, leaving Congress to deal at the federal level. On the last morning we heard from a number of members of the current Congress. Representative Jerry Nadler, Congressman from NYC noted that the first effort to repeal ACA was defeated after Congressman were back in their home districts on recess and heard the intense pushback from their constituents. We are fortunate that repeal of ACA is not a battle for Massachusetts residents, but there are many other issues where we need to organize and act
Criminal justice is a big legislative initiative being undertaken. (I was stunned to learn that the U.S. encompasses 5% of the world’s population but houses 25% of the world’s prisoners.) This is a 400% increase in the last forty years. Massachusetts is a progressive state in many areas, but not in criminal justice: an inmate can be sentenced to up to 10 years of solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in a very small cell. Rabbi Hirsch is spearheading efforts in this area through a statewide coalition of reform congregations. At the conference, there was a breakfast held for MA attendees in an effort to build this coalition, which is already well organized in the Boston area. We have an opportunity to work together to make a difference and add criminal justice to the issues that this state is ahead of the curve on.
To be effective at the local and state level we start right here, at Hevreh to strategize and mobilize. We must use our inspirational Jewish values as a foundation for political action rather than operating from a partisan stance. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, was most inspirational in his comments, noting that “if one of us is vulnerable all of us are vulnerable. Whether it is immigration, criminal justice reform or transgender issues there is plenty of work to be done. Translating this into action involves taking a stand on moral values, seeing the humanity in every person.
At a workshop on climate change a holistic approach with three component parts was proposed: first Awareness via education, next Action by fundraising and/or direct service and finally, Advocacy. One of the suggestions made by this group was to partner with other interfaith and environmental groups to show a relevant film or offer a joint program. These kinds of partnerships, whether for climate or social justice issues build the network needed for advocacy.
Please consider getting involved in “Building the world we want”.