Using Technology to Advance Social Action
by Leonard Slutsky
In the story of Exodus, Moses advocated for freedom for the Israelites from Egypt. As a shepherd, his repertoire was limited to his staff and the Lord’s word. Not only was his trek treacherous, hiking through miles of desert, the first nine plagues failed to free the Jews. However, when the Israelites worked together and painted lamb’s blood on their doorposts, the Pharaoh saw their power in numbers and released the enslaved people.
Ew, lamb’s blood! Without sacrificing animals, how can we take action, advocate for civil liberties, spread awareness and build alliances? How can 21st century Reform Jews build a contemporary social action toolkit? By using the Internet to collaborate, communicate, and share resources, our potential is limitless.
I have outlined some resources from my personal toolkit you can use with your social action committee or youth group:
- Technology allows us to spread awareness at the speed of light. Recently established was the Social Action Resources Wiki. The site covers more than 35 hot topics-including economic justice, health care, and Muslim-Jewish relations-providing supplemental information and links to relevant resources for each topic. Most importantly, the “wiki” format allows anyone to contribute his or her own resources, keeping the site relevant. Another way to become more aware is by participating in free webinar training workshops. Do Something hosts annual “Social Action Boot Camps” with grant writing, political activism, and public relations workshops. The URJ and RAC host social justice and marketing webinars, too.
- NFTY’s 2009 action theme included a motion to reach out and provide direct service in each of our own communities. Serve.gov and Volunteer Match make it easy for you to find opportunities based on location and keyword searches. Your local chapter of 2-1-1’s website has directories for the nearest food shelters, housing, literacy, and substance abuse agencies often needing man power, brain power, and donations.
- The Religious Action Center website is a goldmine for advocacy. By signing up for “action alerts,” you will receive e-mails or text messages whenever important legislation needs an extra push. At the web-based Chai Impact Legislative Action Center, you can search for your congressperson in order to quickly send them customizable letters regarding current issues. A great programming activity is to use the RAC website to send letters to local newspapers-the RAC professionally prints and mails the letters submitted through the website. Besides contacting key contenders, the website contains a comprehensive Program Bank and Holiday Guide, explaining how to integrate social justice into every holiday.
- Another creative way to take action is at Kiva. Kiva is a website that connects “micro-lenders” to the needy, with a twist. Field Partners throughout the world identify entrepreneurs in impoverished areas, translate their hopes, and post requests on the site, such as a sewing machine to start a small business. Website visitors can contribute $25 towards the projects. When enough money is raised, the Field Partner will deliver the funding then post photos and journal entries tracking the process. Slowly, the entrepreneur will repay the loan, and the money can be used again and again to support additional projects.
- In 2008, I used technology to build alliances in creating “The Soda Pop Top Project,” a campaign to save aluminum can tabs, for recycle value, for a local hospital. Individually, tabs are worth practically nothing, however when added together, they are worth books, games, and toys. I knew I could not save tabs by myself, so I used e-mail to reach out for help from other NFTY Social Action Vice President. Quickly, I was introduced to a more experienced SAVP who mentored me through the project development process. Then I setup a collection box in my temple’s lobby. When my temple Webmaster learned about the project, he offered to post information on the temple website and in the weekly e-mail newsletter. Combined with a newly created Facebook page, tabs began to overflow the tiny Tupperware container. Someone who saw the Facebook message knew a member of the Hospital’s foundation and coordinated a trip to deliver the tabs to the hospital. I was delighted to deliver more than 300 pounds of tabs from my small project, built organically from alliances.
- In building alliances for your own projects, consider Grassroots.org, providing free website hosting and domain names to non-profit organizations. The NFTY Our-Space Initiative works to keep communications online sacred. Finally, the cornerstone of NFTY alliances can be found in the Program Bank, a gargantuan database of past NFTY programs.
- Sometimes we forget about the less fortunate organizations without the luxury of technology. The National Cristina Foundation links computer donors with organizations in need, a great opportunity to breathe life into a congregation’s old computer.
This is just a small sampling of ways to use technology to advance social action. What do you recommend and how have you used them?
Leonard Slutsky of Glastonbury, CT, was the 2009 Social Action Vice President of his NFTY-Northeast temple youth group, GRSLY.
Originally published at iTorah