Jackie Rassner: “We have more power than we realize”

For our end-of-year campaign, we spoke with Jackie Rassner from our Board of Directors about her involvement with JCUA and the campaign to pass Bring Chicago Home (BCH).

Bring Chicago Home would create a dedicated revenue stream to support the 68,000 people currently experiencing homelessness in Chicago. Thanks to our organizing, it will be on March 19 primary ballot for Chicago voters. JCUA members like Jackie will be working hard over the next four months to canvass, conduct community outreach, and provide political education to Chicagoans in order to win.

Donations to JCUA are critical to fund the work to pass BCH and win all of JCUA’s campaigns for racial and economic justice! Please support BCH, support Jackie, and support JCUA by supporting our end-of-year campaign!

How did you get involved with our work? And what has been your trajectory since you’ve been involved?

I got involved through the social justice team at Mishkan Chicago. When I joined, it was around the end of 2020, the beginning of 2021, and I was feeling restless that for so many people, COVID-19 was just such a terrible time — financially, emotionally, and socially. I was looking for a way to give back to my community. I had heard of JCUA, but I didn’t really connect all the dots and realize the breadth of JCUA’s work.

Once I started getting involved, it was like falling in a rabbit hole. Once I was in a little bit, I was all the way in. I have always felt that as a Jewish person, my responsibility is to serve others and to help create a more just society. My Jewish values are what lead me there. And JCUA as an organization is putting those values into action, and not just to support our Jewish community, but all of us here in Chicago. That was really powerful to me.

So I went to Acts of Change and was asked to be on the Board of Directors. I went to JCUA’s Racial Justice Training, and kept getting more and more involved. What I’ve learned about organizing is that the more you do, the more there is to do.

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors, you’ve also been very involved with the Housing & Economic Justice Committee and the campaign to pass Bring Chicago Home. What has that been like?

During the High Holidays this year, I was lucky to give a D’var Torah at Mishkan about homelessness in Chicago. I spoke about the experience of raising kids in Chicago where we frequently pass people who are homeless and I how so often I didn’t have something to give.. In this case, this is a systemic problem and it requires systemic change. What I wanted to show my kids was that in order to truly support people experiencing homelessness, we have to really look at the underlying justice issue and take action to solve it. Because we actually do have more power than we realize.

The next few months are critical for our work to end homelessness. 2024 is a year that we have been building toward for years. I’ve been involved for three years in Bring Chicago Home. For 2024, it’s as if there’s a red circle around it, highlighting its importance. From January to March, our primary goal has to be reaching as many people as possible to help make sure they understand what they’re voting on. It’s vital to support JCUA right now. Every dollar we can give to JCUA is combating the easy money that the opponents will be spending. Canvassing, voter outreach. Our organizers need funding to be able to create those opportunities for JCUA members to get out there. Every person we reach is an opportunity to ensure they understand how we can enact change.

How would you describe what it feels like to be part of the JCUA community?

It feels wonderful! It’s really awesome to be in community and doing this work with people who are all different ages and stages than me. I’m on Zoom calls with people who are organizing while enjoying retirement and I’m knocking doors with a folks just graduating from high school. I think one of the really beautiful things is that we all come to the table because we want to make change, and that doesn’t need to be defined by what generation we’re in or background we’re from. It’s awesome learning from people who are smart, educated people who care so deeply about this city. To get to spend time with them, to be encouraged and pushed by them is so powerful.

It’s great to be in community with people who are aware of systemic racism and are not closing their eyes to anti-Blackness and Islamophobia and all these things that I feel so passionately about. And to be surrounded by others, it’s so powerful. It’s beautiful.

How has JCUA made you feel powerful?

Oh my gosh. I mean, I’ve done more scary things since getting involved with JCUA than maybe I’ve ever done. I’ve protested at my alderman’s office. I’ve given public comment at City Hall. I gave a D’var Torah to 1,400 people at Mishkan’s Yom Kippur service. I’ve knocked on strangers’ doors and called strangers.

I keep thinking about how with BCH, we’re up against a huge industry who has a lot of money. They can churn messaging and mailers out, but we have the people. Working with JCUA has made me understand that I have so much more power than I realize, and every time I show up and every time I encourage someone to show up or make a call, I am combating the hundreds and hundreds of dollars the real estate industry is spending.

Your children have been able to join you at events and protests. How would you describe the city you hope your kids will live in?

I hope that we have equalized our resources and opportunities. I really hope that every kid is getting the same quality education, that your zip code doesn’t define how good of a school you have. I hope that when they walk down the street, they know their neighbors, their neighbors reflect like the beautiful diversity of Chicago, that they feel safe and their neighbors feel safe. That safety comes from the communities that they’ve built, not just a feeling of security from some other body. I hope we’ve broken down some of the lines that divide us.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about joining or supporting JCUA?

JCUA has changed my life. It’s given me back something that I didn’t know I had lost, right? I knew there were problems here. I knew about redlining. I knew about anti-blackness. I didn’t know what to do about it. And I think we all have felt something like, yeah, this is bad, but what can I do? JCUA has given me the ability to really care about the issue but to take action in a way that is both meaningful to me and strategic for creating lasting change.

When Bring Chicago Home passes, I will know I had a part in it. And I don’t think we get a lot of opportunities like that. It will feel different than the good that I feel when we bring a meal to a homeless shelter. But when this passes, I will know that I was part of a huge shift in how we create housing justice in Chicago. And that’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Support JCUA, Jackie, and Bring Chicago Home by making an end-of-year contribution!