We have more power than we realize

We speak with Board member Jackie Rassner about her involvement with JCUA and her work to pass Bring Chicago Home.

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

I got involved through the social justice team of 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 just like a rabbit hole I fell in. 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 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 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 JCUA’s Board of Directors, you’ve also been very involved with the Housing & Economic Justice Committee and the campaign to pass Bring Chicago Home. Can you tell me about that?

During the High Holidays this year, I was really lucky to give a D’var Torah at Mishkan about homelessness in Chicago. What I noticed once I had kids was just how frequently in Chicago we pass people who are homeless, and how often I don’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.

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

It’s like the first time I’ve really felt old. I love being around younger people, which sounds so trite, but I think it’s really awesome to be in community and doing this work with people who are all different ages than me. Sometimes I’m on Zoom calls with people who are further along in the stages of life, and I’ve knocked doors with a person 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 that doesn’t need to be defined by what generation we are in. It’s awesome being pushed on my opinions and learning from people who are smart, like super 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, you know, protested at my alderman’s office. I’ve given public comment at City Hall. I gave a D’var Torah to 2,000 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.

How would you describe the city you hope your kids will live in?

I don’t know if this is going to fit, but like, I’ve always raised my kids that they aren’t special. Like, they’re special to me, but to the world, they’re not special. And I think sometimes we use our privilege to think that we are special. And so I hope that the Chicago they live in, like everyone, is either special or not special, that we have equalized our resources and opportunities. I really hope that they’re, you know, my grandkids all are getting that education has equalized, that they’re, that every kid is getting the same quality education, that like your zip code doesn’t define how good of a school you have. I hope that, you know, 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, you know, a feeling of security from some other body. I hope we’ve broken down some of the lines that divide us.

Why do you think JCUA’s work is vital at this moment?

The next few months are critical for our work to end homelessness. 2024 is like a year that we have been building toward for years. I’ve been involved for three years in Bring Chicago Home. Like 2024, it’s like there’s like a red circle around it. 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. Yeah, like there’s going to be so many tasks to organize. And just like every person that we touch is a chance to help make sure they understand how we can make change. Our organizers need funding to be able to create those opportunities for JCUA members to get out there. And yeah, I think like in March, I want to have a huge bash to celebrate the passing of BCH.

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? And 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.