Jaywalking for Social Justice
In Washington, D.C., according to D.C. Municipal Regulation 18-2302, it is illegal for an individual to cross a street when faced with a “DON’T WALK” or “WAIT” sign. However, there are times when this will simply not work. Washington is a city in which seemingly everyone has an important meeting to get to, as well as an important cause for which to fight. For me, that cause is the protection of religious freedom and the separation of Church and State. In my internship, I have seen firsthand how busy this fight can make me, even on a supposedly slow day. If I have to get to a lobby meeting on the Hill at 1:00 PM, and I am coming from a coalition meeting that went a little over time at 12:20 PM, I don’t always have time to wait for a “WALK” signal, particularly if the street is clear, nor do congressional staff have time to wait for me.
More importantly, those impacted by policies like the Defense of Marriage Act, or who are not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, do not have time to wait. They are being oppressed at this very moment. They do not have the luxury of waiting for the Federal Government to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act before they can put food on their table without the fear of being fired for their sexuality or gender identity. They do not have time to wait for their individual states to pass marriage equality initiatives so that their families and children can be recognized as legitimate. And they most certainly do not have time to wait for a generational shift in ideas before they can even start one of those families.
When we talk about passing ENDA, or about the landmark DOMA case at the Supreme Court last month, we are not talking about abstract concepts, but about the very real livelihoods of millions of Americans, which are at stake in every one of our political struggles. Just as I, and many others, do not always have time to wait for a signal giving us permission to cross the street (but stay safe! Be sure to look both ways!), there are millions of Americans who do not have time to wait for a law to be passed in order to be recognized as legitimate and equal citizens. Working at Interfaith Alliance through Machon Kaplan has given me the opportunity to act to meet some of these urgent needs, and for that I could not be more grateful. I came here looking for a way to immerse myself in a new, Jewish experience, and to better live my Jewish values. I will leave here with a new appreciation for what it takes to make social change happen, and a new drive to participate in that process.