Tag Archives: democracy

Our Wounded Democracy

The sadness and the anger we feel right now can be overwhelming. This political moment is supposed to be a time to celebrate the strength of our democracy, a time when the world should look on with admiration – as it first did over two hundred years ago when President Adams left office – when we mark the peaceful transition of power between political opponents. Instead, the world and our nation watched in horror as violence erupted in Washington.

What we saw was a violent uprising, incited by the President of the United States and his enablers. A seditious mob, many wearing explicitly Nazi and antisemitic garb, many carrying the confederate flag – the ultimate symbol of white supremacist violent insurrection in this country – attacked police, breached the Capitol and briefly took control of the hallowed chambers of our Congress. The President who had incited them for months told them later that afternoon “I love you,” an echo of his “very fine people on both sides” response four years ago after Charlottesville.

In two weeks, Joe Biden will be our President and Kamala Harris will be our Vice-President. But even if our current President honors his statement (delivered through aides early Thursday morning) that there will be an “orderly transition,” it will have already been marred by this violence.

Still, I go into this weekend with undiminished optimism. Because the struggle for the American idea that I cherish is not won or lost in a single day or even in a single election. It is the work of generations.

I was reminded of this recently while watching American Creed on PBS. This film follows former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, historian David Kennedy and a diverse group of Americans as they explore whether a unifying set of beliefs can prove more powerful than the issues that divide us.

There are many inspiring and thought provoking moments in this film, but one theme in particular has been giving me strength this week. The Boston based Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz talks about how “people at the margins can bear witness to the reality of our nation and what our future needs to be.” It is an idea picked up by Kennedy throughout the film, and in particular, when he speaks about his own father’s experience during the Great Depression, namely, that the American Creed, the idea of this nation, is a promise. But it is not always a promise fulfilled. There is a gap between the idea and the reality. The challenge for us as Americans is to not allow that gap to provoke us into giving up on the idea.

Our work is to see the gap, to name it, to talk about it, and to re-affirm our commitment to the work of making progress to achieve the promise of America.

The promise of America, and the promise of our democracy, has been wounded this week. But it always was, and still remains an idea, an aspiration, something that can and must be worked for.

I’m very grateful to my friends, our member agency the JCC of the North Shore, and to our partner Facing History, for bringing this film to my attention. They invited JCRC, the Israeli-American Council and others to partner in hosting a program about the film next Thursday night, January 14th. I’m looking forward to joining a panel discussion where we will address themes from the film in an effort to engage our community in thoughtful and respectful dialogue about Jewish and American ideals across the deepening divides.

I encourage you to watch American Creed and then to join us this week, and in the years ahead, not only to discuss its themes, but to do the work of bridging the gap between the realities of America and the promise of our nation that inspires us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

My Hope for a Shared Civic Space

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, we don’t yet have a declared winner and a concession in this week’s Presidential election. Much will be said in the coming months as the votes and the exit polls are analyzed and debated. But just this week, I found a series of interactions to be particularly illuminating.

Midday Wednesday I shared a tweet from Josh Kraushaar, a columnist at National Journal. He wrote that according to one exit survey "Nineteen percent (19%) of Trump voters said they kept their support for Trump a secret from most of their friends, compared to just 8% of Biden voters." A short while later I posted a Forward op-ed by Bethany S. Mandel, in which she shared what she describes as public abuse in Jewish spaces in response to her saying that she would vote for President Trump this year.

I shared these with the intention of exploring why the President underperforms in polls relative to his actual vote totals. But what happened next is what’s sticking in my head today.

Withing minutes of those tweets, I began receiving DMs and texts from colleagues challenging me on why I would ever post anything by Mandel. Please understand that we’ve been in a public relationship for many years including, for example, a panel discussion we did together for The Forward earlier this year on Jewish life post-COVID. Then, also within minutes, I heard from friends, including activists in Boston’s Jewish community and within JCRC’s work, who told me, essentially: “It’s me.” “I’m the Jewish Trump voter who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing that part of me in my circles.”

I say this to lift up two observations as we await the conclusion of counting and begin shifting into the next phase of our electoral process.

First, I want to encourage us all, once again, to be mindful that any outcome (to almost any election) will disappoint and dismay some members of our cherished community. That’s a feature of a pluralistic, diverse and broad community – not a flaw.

Second, there’s a deep brokenness to our politics and our community when members have beliefs, fears, hopes, and values that they don’t feel comfortable expressing to their friends and peers. And here I should add that I’m mindful that our progressive members also regularly articulate great hesitation about expressing certain values and concerns in group settings, and they too describe to me the abuse they’ve received in Jewish spaces for doing so. This is not a one-way problem.

More than anything in the wake of this election, I’m sitting with this struggle that has and will continue to challenge us in the years to come. To truly be one community, we’ve got to find a way to be honest with one another and to hold our differences in a way that allows us to engage with them. I can’t honor your fear if I don’t understand it. I can’t join in your hope if I don’t even know what it is. And if I don’t see all of you as who you are, as a person in this world and in this work, then I’m not seeing you fully as part of Tzelem Elohim, created in the Divine Image as we all are.  

I’m not going to offer a solution here today and frankly this is not going to be solved by waving a magic wand. It’s going to take a commitment by all of us who want to be in community across our differences, and it is going to take a lot of hard work to build curiosity, empathy, and respect. I for one think that it will be worth the effort. If we don’t find a way back to a shared civic space, the centrifugal forces of our differences will continue to tear us apart as we slug it out to a standstill over and over again. That world is a much harder one to build a share future in. I remain convinced that we can do better, and committed to doing my part in helping us realize our potential as a strong and united community.

I hope that you will join me in making a commitment to that work.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

How do we get back to “we”?

We who work in community relations tend to spend an unhealthy amount of time imagining how things could go badly, and planning for the worst-case scenarios. If you look at the nomenclature of Jewish communal systems, JCRCs are literally called “defense” agencies. We think about how our communities should respond to attacks, to wars, to stuff going sideways.

This isn’t a particularly new line of thinking for me. If I’m being candid, our deputy director, Nahma Nadich, likes to tease me that my propensity for reading post-apocalyptic novels makes me well-suited for this life.

But in the past few weeks, it feels like I’ve attended a bit too many of these kinds of meetings. With our election season (not a day anymore) reaching the pivot point between casting ballots and counting votes, there have been endless meetings – Jewish and interfaith, local and national, with our partners and with government officials – all planning for the many ways that this season could play out. Will there be disruptions to the democratic process? Will there be violence and if so, from what corner and in what form?

While these conversations are critical, as is all the obsessive planning, they can be more than a little dark at times.

Which is why, right now, I want to be practicing hopefulness regarding this season of elections.

Before you jump on me, let me be clear that this is not an expression of hope regarding a particular outcome. As I was sitting at our Council meeting the other night, I was mindful that any and every outcome will disappoint at least some people in our community; and most of us have fears about the results that we are not hoping for. Do not mistake my hopefulness for naivete. I’m under no illusion that any outcome will result in rainbows and unicorns and kumbaya at noon on January 20th. The fractures that plague our society have been building for decades and won’t heal overnight.

There’s been much discussion in recent months about what is broken in our society. I thought this recent Atlantic piece by Yehuda Kurtzer of the Shalom Hartman Institute was helpful in making sense of the “brokenness of the American condition.” Writing about recent protests in New York City he says:

“the idea of obligation as a key element of citizenship—a burden that citizens take on themselves, and that is also expected of them by their leaders—is embattled… Americans are being told that rules requiring personal sacrifice to advance the public good are a violation of their civil liberties, rather than the foundation on which those liberties stand, and that government is at odds with religion. There is enormous irony in the conjunction of these two beliefs, of course; religious communities are deeply committed to the very idea of mutual obligation these protesters are attacking.”

I was struck by his focus on the tearing of the fabric of civic obligation, by partisans of various flavors, in recent decades. What was once John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you…” call to mutual obligation has now become “what’s in it for me?” Kurtzer writes:

“The coronavirus is ours to defeat, if we are prepared to ask what we can do for our fellow Americans. To be American is to be obligated. People of faith should be the first to understand that, lining up—six feet apart—to restore public health, and rebuild American democracy.”

As Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garret observe in their new book “The Upswing”:

“The story of the American experiment in the twentieth century is one of a long upswing toward increasing solidarity, followed by a steep downturn into increasing individualism. From ‘I’ to ‘we’ and back again to ‘I’.”

So how do we do reclaim our sense of obligation to one another? How do we rebuild our social contract? How do we get back to “we”?

Tackling that question is what makes me hopeful, even amidst all the current rancor and divisiveness. The very act of voting represents the potential to restore the “we” back into our democracy. My vote is my act of stewardship, my inserting myself in the tide of history that connects our past and our future; and with all the drops joining that river, I get to impact the downstream flow of what we will bequeath to the next generation.

In this moment, we are all called upon to weave, to bring together people with differing views and aspirations for the outcome of this election, and to engage united in the building of civic space. Community relations need not and should never be just about imagining the worst outcomes. Our goal is to connect across differences of communities to identify and build on our shared hopes.

Though that connection has been harder during COVID, I remain hopeful. We have still managed it despite the challenges.

One last image: Lately I’ve had the 1989 AIDS film Longtime Companion stuck in my head, specifically the final scene, in which survivors imagine a day, after the cure, when they will gather again in celebration – on a beach – without fear.

I too have been imagining the day, soon I hope, when once again we will gather in community and across communities, as we have so many times, to face our shared challenges together. I’m dreaming of and hoping for the day when thousands of us gather once again to sing, and hug, and to build our collective strength and solidarity in service to a shared dream of what America can be.

I look forward to seeing you there when that day comes.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

One Clear Winner in Tuesday’s Primary

Over the past months, I’ve used this space to focus quite a bit on the primary to succeed Rep. Joe Kennedy in the House. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, ballots are still being counted. And while it may take a little longer to have a declared Democratic nominee in this race, there’s one clear winner that emerged even before they started counting the ballots Tuesday night: Ranked Choice Voting.

Whatever the outcome in the 4th (and this isn’t a comment about the qualities of either of the frontrunners – both of whom I respect), the nominee will be the choice of less than one quarter of the voters, and the top two candidates will have, combined, received less than half the votes in a nine way race. That’s not representative democracy.

In Massachusetts, where we have no runoff mechanism, this isn’t even that unusual. In the past decade, in all three races for open U.S. House seats, candidates won their 1st nomination in a crowded field with only a plurality of the vote; Rep. Katherine Clark with 32%, Rep. Lori Trahan with 22%, and now here. These numbers don’t reflect the choice of the majority of voters. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) provides a mechanism to fix that and ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

RCV also allows us to avoid something we certainly saw in the 4th – “strategic voting.” In the final weeks we had perfectly good and talented candidates dropping out to consolidate around leading candidates – based on polling. I read multiple pieces where folks were trying to figure out who the “likely winner” could be to make sure their votes “mattered.” With RCV, we could all vote our preferred candidate AND then rank our preferences so as to not “waste” a vote on a 5th place finisher.

Further, RCV is shown to disincentivize both targeted and negative campaigning – something we certainly saw in this race. Without RCV, in a crowded field a candidate is incentivized to target their message and strategy to a small subset of the voters, knowing that while their message does not represent the majority of the district, they might still win with a fraction of the vote. With RCV in place, a candidate must find a way to speak to the majority of the voters, not only in their agenda, but also through positive appeals to the supporters of the other candidates. If candidate A wants to be the second or third choice for candidate B & E’s supporters, then they want to speak to those voters during the race and not just target a niche that gets them to 22%.

There are several other reasons to support Ranked Choice Voting but at the end of the day, we at JCRC believe that RCV improves the quality of our democracy. That’s why our Council, which has made “defending democracy” a central component of our agenda in recent years, has endorsed the “Yes on 2” referendum here in Massachusetts this November 3rd.

Over the coming two months we’ll be working with the RCV coalition to educate our community about how this voting system works, and about all the benefits of adopting ranked choice voting. We at JCRC hope that you will take the time to learn about RCV, work with us to educate your neighbors, and be a part of improving our democracy this year.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

The most powerful non-violent tool

I often say that good policy comes from good process. When it comes to the effective functioning of a healthy democracy, good process starts with an engaged electorate that votes.

I’ll keep this one brief because I know you don’t need to be persuaded: In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed.

This year, like no other, the process of voting involves a few more hurdles; the clearest and most dangerous being the COVID pandemic. Here in Massachusetts, our primary date is unusually early, September 1st, before Labor Day, incurring the risk of many folks “missing” the primary. This year’s primary features several important elections that will likely determine the victors in November as well. The stakes are as high this year as they have ever been.

So, it is very important that we get out the vote ahead of and on September 1st.

“Ahead of,” because due to mobilization by JCRC and our partner advocates, Massachusetts has a new law regarding election safety during the 2020 primary and general elections. This important legislation gives all eligible voters the opportunity to vote early in the primary and general elections, allowing us to vote by mail, and expanding access to absentee ballots. 

“On” September 1st, because time is running out to vote by mail.  Even if you don’t vote early, your vote is vital. There are several races of great interest to our community in Greater Boston, including the state-wide primary for the U.S. Senate, and congressional primaries in several districts with large Jewish populations, covering large parts of Greater Boston, from Sharon, Needham, Newton and Brookline, to parts of the city of Boston, and most of the North Shore.

Our community has values, interests and priorities that will be impacted by the outcomes of these elections. And because this year’s elections amidst COVID are more complicated, JCRC has prepared a comprehensive guide to the voting process in the MA primary, including important dates and instructions for how to vote by mail or vote early. If you want to vote by mail, you need to send in your application, which you should have received in the mail, ASAP.

Of course, while JCRC is a 501(c)(3) and does not endorse candidates or political parties, I encourage you to take the time before you vote, to learn about the candidates and their views on issues of concern to you and our community. For example, in the MA 4th Congressional District (currently held by Rep. Kennedy) you might check out the video of this recent primary debate hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or this helpful candidate survey compiled by AJC New England. There are other resources as well and I urge you to research the candidates, their positions, and their endorsements before you vote.

As the late Congressman John Lewis, of blessed memory, said:

"I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy."

So please, make a plan to vote, not only in the general election, but in the primary. Tell your friends to vote and share this information widely so that they know how. Ask your congregations and organizations to help get the word out.

There is nothing more urgent right now than our participation in the democratic process, so that we can ensure that our voices will be heard.

JCRC Applauds MA Legislature for Adopting New Law Regarding Election Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Contact: Shira Burns
July 8, 2020

(Boston, MA) - The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Elections Committee Chairs Senator Barry Finegold and John Lawn, and the Massachusetts legislature for standing together and adopting a sweeping new Elections law, ensuring safe and accessible elections for voters in 2020 across Massachusetts.

JCRC is committed to upholding a robust democratic process and ensuring elections in the Commonwealth reflect the diversity of voices in our community.  Together with Common Cause, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Election Modernization Coalition and 80+ organizations, JCRC advocated for legislation to address the challenges facing the electoral process during the COVID-19 pandemic and this new law is the culmination of a several months long advocacy campaign.

“We congratulate Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in government and the advocacy community for coming together to quickly address the threat and fallout that COVID-19 has on our electoral process,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “No one should fear for their health and safety while exercising their right to vote, and this law is an important step in that direction. We urge swift implementation.”

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Defending democracy during a pandemic

Most people don’t remember that 9/11/2001 was a major primary day in New York City. I cast my vote for a nominee for mayor just minutes before the first tower was struck. After the second tower was hit, the governor rightly suspended the voting for two weeks. The notion of postponing the general election briefly became an issue, when the term-limited incumbent floated the idea of extending his tenure for a few months. But in the end, there was no delay, and the general election was held on its regularly scheduled first Tuesday in November, a celebration, of sorts, of the city’s resiliency, less than two months after the worst day our city had ever endured.

That memory resurfaced for me a few weeks ago when Wisconsin residents were forced to make an impossible choice between protecting their personal health and safety in the face of a deadly pandemic, or as “the People,” protecting their collective right to vote. The long lines in Milwaukee that election day were both an outrage and an inspiration, a profound act of civic duty and an insistent defense of democracy amidst this pandemic.

In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed. For JCRC, the health of our democracy is so essential to our self-interest as Jews and as Americans, that our mission states that we “promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.”

For JCRC, those aren’t just words. They are guiding and enduring values that have informed our policy work and our advocacy for over 75 years. In the spring of 2019, before our current crisis, our Council – through its deliberative process of study and debate – adopted principles for defending democracy. At the time, our Council stated that:

Judaism’s view of human society includes many values that are key to a democracy. In accord with these Jewish values, the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy is the primacy of “We, the People”: an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials truly representative of home communities, from whom power flows. However, both history and current events are replete with policies and practices that water down the principle of “We, the People” by empowering the elite over the general populace.

This week, our Council met for our first regularly scheduled meeting since the onset of sheltering in Massachusetts. We began by taking the time to check in with and extend care to each other as a community. But we also spent time hearing from partners about the challenges ahead in conducting a free, fair, and safe election this fall in the midst of these daunting challenges.

Yesterday, building on our mission and our principles, we recommitted to comprehensive voting rights and affirmed our support for specific actions, including:

  • Expanding absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting, and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserving in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expanding early voting options.
  • Advocating for immediate federal action and funding to support state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with urgent priorities in human services, secure institutions, and caring for our neighbors, we’ll be working on these issues in the coming months. When this pandemic is over, we’ll continue to work on reforming and protecting our democracy, as we have for over 75 years now, because, as the Supreme Court held, over a century ago, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins: the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

The strength of our community and the resiliency of our society is protected when we act on our enduring values and principles, even – and especially – in a crisis. Once again, we are called to take affirmative action to defend our rights and the rights of all Americans. Please join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

JCRC Statement on Voting and Elections in a Pandemic

Embedded in JCRC’s mission is the obligation to promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic and just. In 2019 JCRC of Greater Boston adopted principles to defend democracy, including the support of policies that (1) Identify and remove barriers to and increase voter registration and voter turnout and (2) Ensure the security and sustainability of our election system infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inadequacies of the American voting system and exacerbated long-standing suppressive tactics in jurisdictions across the country to ensure this fundamental right. Earlier this month, Wisconsin voters and poll workers were forced to choose between their health and their fundamental right to vote. Over a century ago, the United States Supreme Court held in Yick Wo v. Hopkins that the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

Time is running out for our federal, state and local governments to act now to ensure that the rights and health of voters and pollworkers are protected in the upcoming elections and that the necessary robust infrastructure is supported and funded to increase participation. The Covid-19 pandemic demands a response to meet those needs.

JCRC supports federal, state and local policies that:

  • Expand absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserve in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expand early voting options.

In addition, JCRC calls for immediate federal action and funding for needed support of state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Urgent Need to Sustain Faith in Democracy

With all the attention given to this week’s fiasco of reporting results in Iowa, I find that I can’t let go of a recent report from the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Democracy that — for the first time — “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with [our] system of government.”

In an article, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa (co-author of above report) note:

“Citizens have become steadily disenchanted with their democratic systems. As a result, they are more and more willing to vote for extremist politicians who promise to break with the status quo. It is perfectly possible that democracies will recover from their current crisis in the years to come. But every new data point makes it that much harder to deny that such a crisis exists.”

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve grappled with an existential challenge of this nature. Jill Lepore reminds us in an essay this week that in the 1930s when “democracy nearly died all over the world and almost all at once, Americans argued about it, and then they tried to fix it.”

Today, this conversation about what has gone wrong with our system, and how we can fix it, has become most urgent. People will differ about some of the causes of this crisis, and certainly about what is to be done, but there is a conversation beginning to take shape.

I’m in the middle of two books right now that try to grapple with this:

  1. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. As Levin writes in an essay last month, “What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.”
  2. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, a liberal aligned media platform. Klein writes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization” including, for example, establishing automatic voter registration – for which there is legislation under consideration here in Massachusetts that we at JCRC support.

In reading these works, and others (such as Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States), I’m struck that these aren’t only challenges for the nation as a whole, but for all levels of community and civil society. The challenges to institutions also come in our Jewish communities, where some who are unsatisfied with the values and priorities of the collective seek to tear down and delegitimize the very fabric of centuries-old communal institutions rather than engage in substantive debate. And the challenges of public leadership are not limited to elected officials, but to anyone who has a leadership role in building trust in institutions.

No doubt each of us can find ways to agree or disagree with some of the options and strategies these authors and others are offering right now. But with every passing event – such as Iowa – I’m imbued with a sense of urgency about this conversation and about our role as leaders and institutions to both model a better way forward and act as advocates for the repair of civil society.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What are you reading? How do you think about this moment in our society? And, most importantly, what is our communal call to action?

In that same essay, Lepore gives examples of many things that were attempted back in the 30s to address these challenges. She notes, “These efforts don’t always work. Still, trying them is better than talking about the weather, and waiting for someone to hand you an umbrella.”

That wisdom rings true to for me in our current moment. I hope that it does for you as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“We, the People”

The foundation of our American democracy is “We, the People”; an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials who represent communities. Communities and people from whom power flows.

But democracy is a fragile thing.

In his excellent book “The People vs. Democracy,” Yascha Mounk outlines how this fragility takes many forms: the internet era has “weakened traditional gatekeepers, empowering once-marginal movements and politicians.” A fraying of common ethnic identity within a country can lead to a “rebellion against pluralism.” Mounk writes that a healthy democracy balances the competing imperatives of individual rights and popular rule. One can end up with “illiberal democracy” – a state where popular will outweighs rights but is instituted through elections. At the other end of the spectrum one can have “undemocratic liberalism,” like the European Union. And when democracies fray and lose that balance, we see eruptions of discord and challenge to the very institutions of our societies.

A healthy democracy needs trust in governmental processes, checks and balances, fair and free elections. In other words, our enduring constitutional system.

Over the last several months, JCRC leaders met with experts, activists, and attorneys to ensure that we were fulfilling our mission to protect America’s democratic institutions. During our Council’s public policy process, they took a deep dive into the vitality of our political systems, the strength of our institutions, and the overall functioning of our democracy.  Together, they developed a series of principles – rooted in Jewish values – which were approved by our full Council last week and will now guide action over the coming years.

For example, in the last Massachusetts legislative session, JCRC worked with our allies to finally pass Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts. However, more is needed. Seemingly every day across the country, there is an innovative ploy to block access to the polls and to water down the vital principles of one-person-one-vote.  There are attempts to criminalize voter registration drives, punish people for errors on registration forms, overturn citizen initiatives on access to the polls, and voter restrictions targeting African-Americans with surgical precision.

We tell ourselves that Massachusetts is immune from these anti-democratic principles plaguing our country, but really, we know we have work to do right here in our communities. We have had elections where the winner only receives 22% of the votes, a Mayor was recalled and reelected in the same election, voter registration deadlines were declared unconstitutional (but then that decision overturned), and as we know, gerrymandering was invented here in Massachusetts. “Even” in Massachusetts, democracy is showing signs of weakness.

JCRC’s principles will guide us to support policies that make voting easier and elections more secure and reflective of the people, and to institutionalize norms that lead to a more informed electorate and accountable government. These principles will provide a lens for JCRC action over the coming years as we analyze legislation with our partners. We have already jumped into the fray in support of Election Day registration, where Massachusetts would join 15 other states and Washington D.C., to improve turnout and transparency, and to modernize our voting systems.

The fraying of democratic norms in America didn’t start this year or five years ago. It’s been happening over decades. Our collective commitment – as Jews and as Americans – to the health of our democracy isn’t new either. We’ve invested in, and benefited from American democracy for generations. But as the conversation about the health of our democracy has been heightened and sharpened in recent years, we feel compelled to clarify what we stand for and what we, as a community will fight to protect.

Challenging times call us to action. JCRC’s Council has heard that call and is responding. We hope that you will stand with us in these efforts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron and Jeremy

Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs

Aaron Agulnek
Director,
Government Affairs

Jeremy Burton, Executive Director

Jeremy Burton
Executive Director