Why JCUA is launching a political arm, with Benetta & Andie

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Last month, JCUA members voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating a 501(c)4 — a sibling organization that would equip us with the tools to hold elected officials accountable and support leaders who share our vision for the world. As we prepare to launch, we’re pleased to announce that JCUA members Benetta Mansfield (she/her) and Andie Linker (she/her) are becoming the co-chairs of the new organization’s Board of Directors! We checked in with them to learn about their past experiences with JCUA, the reasoning behind the creation of this all-new organization, and what’s next.

Jonathan Elbaz: How did you get involved with JCUA originally, and what have you been doing since?

Andie Linker: I first learned about JCUA in college, when I did a summer internship after my freshman year. I remember being so mad that I hadn’t learned about JCUA before because it was exactly the kind of work I would have wanted to do as a young person growing up in Chicago. I later participated in the Organizing Fellowship, and after graduating from school, got really involved in the Fair Tax campaign. That’s when I really felt like I was part of something bigger and had more skin in the game. Since then, I’ve been working with the Housing & Economic Justice Committee and have been developing my organizing and leadership skills.

Benetta Mansfield: I sit on a very small family foundation that has been funding JCUA for probably 30 years — long before it was in its current iteration. I had been very active in the Jewish social justice world and Judy kept nudging me to join JCUA’s Board of Directors. Finally, I did. At the beginning, I kept saying “I’m not the kind of person who can be going out to every demonstration, so you need to use my specific skills.” I’ve been able to help with things that I’m really good at, like governance and now writing the bylaws for the new 501(c)4.

Jonathan: For folks who aren’t familiar with the differences between a 501(c)3 and 501(c)4, how would you describe them?

Andie: I think that’s a really important question, because I had never heard of a c4 until Anna organized me to participate in the committee to explore a potential c4 for JCUA. Our work as a 501(c)3 stops when it comes to actually endorsing candidates. Normally, we can educate the public about things we care about, we can encourage the public to get out the vote, but we can’t tell them who to vote for. A c4 would allow us to go even further — to endorse candidates and participate in electoral campaigns.

Jonathan: Why in your mind was it important for JCUA to have a c4? How did you think it would build our power?

Benetta: As soon as I got on the JCUA Board of Directors, I started advocating for a c4 because I felt that for JCUA to have the biggest bang for its buck, we needed a c4 to support our already strong civic work. So many of our coalition partners had c4s, and if we can join in coalition with our c4 partners across the region like we do with JCUA’s other grassroots organizing campaigns, we would achieve a lot more in the end.

Andie: A c4 will allow us to build more power as an organization because we can more clearly state which candidates align most with our values. On the candidate side, we can say directly to them, we’ve got 12,000 voters that might determine your election and we need you to support this campaign. Aldermen aren’t always listening to us when we have meetings with them, and a c4 could change those dynamics.

Benetta: We’d also have the power to work against candidates! And sponsor candidate forums, where we would bring in candidates and their constituents and get them on the record about the issues we’re working on.

Andie: The c4 can also help strengthen our existing c3 campaigns. We spent years of work on police accountability, working with the GAPA and ECPS coalition to get District Councils created. Without a c4, we wouldn’t be able to support candidates for those positions who really share our values. We’re gonna get to actually see through the work that we did, and make sure that we get the right people into those positions.

Jonathan; Creating the 501(c)4 is so exciting because it’s a chance to start a whole new organization from scratch, knowing what we’ve learned from the nearly 60 years of JCUA’s history and work. Both of you have been part of the core group of members who have been working on implementing the structures, principles and values of the organization. What has that been like?

Andie: Before the Fair Tax campaign, I often was having trouble understanding my role in JCUA because things were running so smoothly, and l didn’t know where I was needed. And so getting to participate in Fair Tax from the ground up was really meaningful to me, because I really felt like I was building something new. And so now we get to do that all again. I think it’s been fun because we kind of get to take a look at JCUA as a whole and ask what are the new values that you want to bring into this existing organization with a strong set of values that helps us build our power more? What kind of people do we want to bring into the fold with us? How do we want to do that? And it’s been, it’s been really interesting to take a step back from like, the nitty gritty day-to-day work and really think about where we want to go as an organization and how we get there.

Jonathan: Now that we’re ready to launch, what happens next?

Benetta: We have a mayoral and aldermanic election coming up in the spring, and I’m hoping we can play a very important role. I feel like in the beginning, we’re not going to have that much money to put in the game, but what we can put in the game is feet on the ground. And that’s going to be really, really important. And I can tell you, having been a political activist since I was a McCarthy girl at 15 years old, that knocking on doors and talking to people about issues and telling them who to vote for is the most important thing you can do. Face to face contact. 

Andie: Voter turnout in Chicago is historically really low. I have so much passion for local elections and many people my age don’t understand the importance as much because they’re not as flashy as a presidential election. So with JCUA Votes I’m really excited to build some excitement around local politics and educate people my age, and the Jewish community at-large.

Benetta: I think that is the point that progressives have missed over the years, the importance of electing progressive local politicians, progressive school boards, progressive state legislators and so on. The other side understood this long ago, and we’re seeing the results. And I think that this is our chance on one level to turn the tides.