As we move into 2018, I am reflecting on the brand new program we launched this fall: the JCUA Organizing Fellowship. Although the first cohort has only been together a few months, completing the 2017 portion of our time together feels like a transitional event. We have already done so much learning, building and stretching, and it’s important to recognize this moment.
Early in October, seven students from five different Chicagoland colleges and universities joined me to grapple with local racial and economic justice issues, begin to hone our skills in community organizing, and unpack what it means to pursue justice Jewishly. Each fellow came with a different understanding of social change, a different relationship to Judaism, and a different experience with Chicago issues.
Through bi-weekly workshops, skill building, and engagement with local organizing efforts, the first cohort has begun creating a platform for long term social change, exploring how to embrace and push their community forward, so that as Jews we stand in deep solidarity with other groups who face marginalization and violence. In the time we have spent together, two things stick out to me most about what this program can accomplish. First, it brings much needed understanding and agency to young people across Chicago who now know exactly how things like police misconduct and threats to immigrant communities are allowed to become commonplace. Second, it gives young college-age students, with so much of the energy and autonomy to take action, the opportunity to be pulled in to organizing spaces where they feel accountable to the fight for justice.
Throughout the program, I have had the opportunity to listen to our Fellows as they have taught me what they are learning about local campaigns for police accountability and immigrant rights. They now speak with authority and urgency, and are compelled to spread what they are learning to others on their campus, and to their friends and family. They mention feeling angry but also energized, able to move forward now that they are plugged in to the specific ways our systems need fixing.
I can also see how they are now more a part of the work we are doing at JCUA, and throughout Chicago. Through relational meetings and involvement in campaign actions and events, they are now closer to the work, to the people who are directly impacted, to their fellow Jews who are already standing up and fighting back. Because of their work to get to know each other and their own communities, they understand what questions to ask to get at the root of why people organize. Because of their participation in community meetings, teach-ins, and rallies, they feel ownership and responsibility for the issues.
At one of our last actions of the year, an Organizing Fellow and I led a JCUA contingent to Chicago’s rally to demand a Clean DREAM Act. That evening felt symbolic, as a culminating moment of the ways in which the young people and program staff at JCUA have been brought in closer to the work we are doing because of this new Organizing Fellowship. I am proud of what this first cohort has accomplished thus far, and am eager for the next half of our year together to begin.