It was early in the morning, and our two vans full of teens were pulling into the vicinity of the Broadview Detention Center. We were arriving at a weekly interfaith prayer vigil, outside of the detention center. With all of the knowledge I learned in the week leading up to this prayer vigil, I knew that I could learn a lot from this experience, but I did not know how much it would change me.
As all of the participants came together, in the background was a black bus, waiting to take detainees away. As the service began, the bus idled as leaders from all faiths in Chicago prayed together for the detainees inside the detention center behind me. Many people spoke, prayed, and sang, and because I was thinking of this as a learning experience, I tried to listen, but I could not keep my eyes off of that bus. Around halfway through our service, a gate opened up, and that black bus began to back into it. So many thoughts began to rush through my mind: How did this happen? How, in the United States of America, a nation founded by immigrants, developed by immigrants, and made better by immigrants, how are we letting our elected officials detain immigrants, without a fair shot at citizenship? As that black bus disappeared behind the gate, I stood there thinking, wondering, and worrying about what I could do to fight back. What was my obligation to do so as a Jew, and as an American? How do I go about this? Where do I start? Who can I help? Luckily enough, I was amidst the summer program that would teach me exactly that.
Over the course of the program we went deep into how to organize around issues you care about, what tactics you can use to mobilize people, and how to connect with people to join together and fight side by side. Through the experience at the Detention center, and the program as a whole, I realized that I wanted to commit my time to working on progressive and democratic campaigns for social change. Later in the summer, I interned on Ameya Pawar’s campaign for Governor. I stayed involved after the summer working on the Daniel Biss campaign for Governor as an Organizing Fellow and Community Coordinator. After the campaign ended in March, I looked back at my experience, and realized that on a day to day basis I used everything I learned during Or Tzedek. Things like setting up and having successful one on one relational meetings, how to partner with local organizations, and really how to harness your passion for a candidate or issue and put everything you have into it.
Looking back, these skills are so important to have when fighting for social justice. Before learning these skills social justice was just a term that was floating in my mind, but these skills are what it takes to actually fight. In the times we are living in, it is more and more crucial for more teens to learn these skills. If my generation is able to learn about social justice and systemic inequity, we will be better prepared to be changemakers, and better prepared to change society. Or Tzedek gave me the building blocks that I need, and I will continue using what this program taught me, as I begin working on new justice campaigns in the future.