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Organizing the Jewish Community for Social Change Starts with Relationships



On Sunday, October 27th, Jewish Community Action(JCA) members and allies gathered for our annual meeting. The event was a celebration, both of the successes we’ve had in the past year, and of the leaders who played key roles in making those successes happen. This year we have seen so many successes – the passage of marriage equality, the Minnesota DREAM Act, and multiple wins in our work for financial justice.

Jewish Community Action works on issues of social and economic injustice using an organizing model that engages our community and develops leadership, allowing our members to act collectively both on their own behalf and as allies to other communities directly affected by inequity. At the core of our work are our values – community and connectedness, and the belief that we are stronger when we work together, we are more powerful when we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.

Our narrative as Jews is very much one of displacement, of having to flee, of wandering. In our texts, in our family histories, we find exodus, movement, a search for a home. We believe that home can mean different things. For some, it’s literally a house, a home of their own. Or it’s family, whether by birth or by choice. For many, home means a place where they feel welcome, whether that’s a country, a community, or a congregation. Whatever form home takes, at its core, you find connectedness.

This connectedness is central to Jewish Community Action’s core values as an organization. We believe that our destiny is bound together with all people, that we must work collectively, and that it is our fundamental responsibility to work to repair a world that is broken, to put the scattered pieces back together.

Connectedness and relationships are central to all of our work. Partnership is critical, whether with community members, funders like the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, or other organizations in our sector. Relationships are the reason for our success, and no example highlights this belief and this practice, like our work for financial justice.

More than a decade ago, JCA began our work on community reinvestment. Drawing from our community’s legacy of involvement in the civil rights movement, as well as our own history in North Minneapolis, we got involved, engaging our members in conversations about economic inequity, and working to move resources and support to banks working in disinvested neighborhoods.

This work shifted 6 years ago when, invited by our allies in North Minneapolis, we became a founding member of the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition(NCRC), and began our work on the foreclosure crisis. The crisis has devastated neighborhoods across the country, and in Minnesota, foreclosures have drained billions of dollars of community wealth in the form of lost equity, depleted property values, social stress and dislocation. North Minneapolis has been disproportionately affected, with more than 5,000 foreclosures since 2007.

Again, relationships are the heart of our work, and we knew that they would be at the center of our work to fight foreclosures and keep families in their homes. We trained and organized our members and brought them to North Minneapolis, where we worked in teams with residents, knocking on doors and connecting homeowners facing foreclosure to resources. At the same time, our members began leveraging our community’s own power, pushing banks to negotiate with borrowers and cease predatory lending practices.

That’s when we met Rose McGee. Rose is a storyteller, an activist, and a leader in her community. She was also about to lose her home of 20 years. She contacted NCRC and JCA for help, and a relationship was born. Rose was being “dual-tracked,” her lender was working with her to keep her in her home while simultaneously, unbeknownst to her, moving forward with foreclosure proceedings. Rose didn’t know how far it had gone until she called her lender to discuss her loan modification and found out her home had already been sold in a sheriff’s sale.

Rose McGee (third from left) with JCA member Dave Snyder, Northside leader Jewelean Jackson, and JCA Executive Director Vic Rosenthal

Rose McGee (third from left) with JCA member Dave Snyder, Northside leader Jewelean Jackson, and JCA Executive Director Vic Rosenthal

Rose wasn’t alone. As we knocked on doors, we met so many other families just like her. Outreach alone is not enough, and Jewish Community Action organizes our members to seek out the root causes of injustice, to address issues systemically. We kept knocking on doors, but with our partners, we also organized to change policy.

First, we worked with our allies and leaders to pass, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights, in both the Minnesota House and Senate. The legislation will end “dual tracking” and establish a single point of contact and private right of action for families facing foreclosure. Then we worked, again with our partners, with the Minneapolis City Council to pass a Responsible Banking Ordinance this fall. The ordinance, which we are the 10th city in the US to pass, will require transparency and accountability from banks seeking to hold taxpayer dollars.

The third big win of the past year wasn’t ours, though we were honored to have played a role in it. In May, after more than a year of court dates, prayer, and organizing, Rose McGee finally received a modification to her mortgage and kept her home. And so, on the 27th, we honored Rose and her journey, and she in return honored us with her presence, and a poem. Members of Rose’s community came to support her, and as she spoke, she asked that anyone in the audience who’d played a role in her fight stand with her. From around the room, people stood – JCA members, Northside residents, leaders in relationship with one another, part of something bigger than ourselves. We know what we believe in, and we know that it works.

For Jewish Community Action, for our members, the issues we work on aren’t about politics. They are about people, about relationships; they are about living our values through our work for a more just Minnesota.

Founded in 1995, Jewish Community Action organizes Jewish Minnesotans to act together for social change. With a unique model that combines traditional congregational-based community organizing with issue-based campaign work, we engage our community and bring a distinctly Jewish voice to the fight for justice.

Carin Mrotz is Jewish Community Action’s Director of Operations and Communications. On staff since 2004, Carin has had the opportunity to work on campaigns for marriage equality, worker and immigrant justice, affordable housing, and healthcare, working with the best people imaginable.

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