[Image description: 1) A woman speaking at a podium in front of a backdrop that says Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Hebrew word chai meaning life. 2) A group of teenagers sitting in front of the same backdrop. 3) A photograph of a street, trees, and an unspecified government/office building]
Article by Ellanora Lerner
Art by Frances Eridio
Art by Frances Eridio
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a youth advocacy seminar hosted by the Religious Action Center (RAC), the advocacy branch of the Union for Reform Judaism. The seminar was fun and interesting and I recommend that any Jewish youth or educator looks into it. The weekend focused on inspiring young people to act by exposing us to important topics, such as climate change and criminal justice reform, and introducing us to how the lobbying and advocacy processes work in American politics. Through this experience, I learned a few specific things about advocacy.
Firstly, I learned about the importance of reinforcement. Living in a solidly Democratic state, I have long felt that contacting my politicians is of little worth. The seminar taught me that it is important to speak your mind even if it is only to reinforce and remind of what is important. Of course, this is not enough to do on its own, but it has a value I hadn’t previously realized. And this principle applies to more than just politicians. We are all well-served by continuing to discuss and learn about topics, even those we already value.
2. Contact your Constituents
My time at the seminar also taught me to think outside of the box when seeking to advocate for what is important. On the last day, we had the opportunity to meet with our congressman: he told us that more important than changing the minds of politicians is changing the minds of constituents, of those around us. Specifically, he suggested writing op-eds/letters to the editor. If you don’t know what that is I’m sure you are not alone, especially among young people. Letters to the editors, in which average citizens can share their views in newspapers, are still an important source of perspective for many, including myself, who still read the newspaper. This conversation was a reminder that in seeking to make change we must think about how those around us and those we wish to influence move through the world and how people get information.
3. Tell Your Story
The seminar didn’t just teach me about where to reach people but how. It emphasized the importance of storytelling and humanizing political issues which are crucial to making humane change. And it also showed me that reflecting on your own stories and experiences can be important simply in your own journey. In one of the weekend’s classes, we were asked to talk about an experience we had and what it had motivated us to do. The story that I told is probably not one I would share publicly because it is not my story to tell, but thinking about it helped me realize what the experience did show me about what is important to me and the change I want to see in the world. Even if you never share a particular story I encourage you to examine it for yourself and of course, I encourage you to read the stories of others.