Tag Archives: Voting Rights
Passover in Hebrew, matzah, kiddush cup

The Other March Madness

Whether you observe Passover according to the strict rules of Jewish law, or you attend one family Seder, or whether your Passover observance is watching The Prince of Egypt, or whatever traditions, practices or customs you find meaningful, the weeks leading up to Passover (April 3-11, 2015) feel like a Jewish March Madness. Between planning Seders, cleaning your house of chametz or mentally preparing yourself for a week of matzah, there’s a lot to get done and it always feels like not enough time. Read more…

Reforming All Aspects of Our Voting System

The right to vote is fundamental to American democracy and has been a key part of the Religious Action Center’s work since our founding in 1961. As you may know, the RAC and Reform Jews have a proud legacy of support for the Civil Rights Movement and portions of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were even drafted right in our conference room! It is for this reason that we were so disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder in June 2013, which invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act and eliminated crucial protections for voters. In the wake of Shelby, we have pushed for a Congressional fix through the Voting Rights Amendment Act, but we know that there are many aspects of our voting system that needs reform.

Last week, two new bills, the Democracy Restoration Act and the Voter Empowerment Act, were introduced to protect and restore voting rights for Americans across the country. The Democracy Restoration Act seeks to restore federal voting rights to men and women who have served their time in prison. Currently, 5.85 million American citizens are denied the right to vote because of criminal convictions, 4.4 million of whom have been released from prison and have returned to work in our communities, pay taxes and raise their families. Criminal disenfranchisement laws also disproportionately affect minorities and communities of color because of the racial inequities that persist in our criminal justice system. As a result, 1 in 13 African Americans nationwide is unable to fully participate in civic life.

The Voter Empowerment Act aims to increase accountability, accessibility and integrity in federal elections. While our election system has made great progress over time, we know that it is still fraught with inequalities that make voting less accessible for people of color, people with disabilities and low income communities. Since 2010, twenty-two states have enacted new barriers to the ballot box and at least forty restrictive voting bills have already been introduced in seventeen states this year or have been carried over from last year. The Voter Empowerment Act works to ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans by modernizing the voter registration process, allowing online voter registration, expanding early voting, promoting access to the polls for people with disabilities and more.

Our tradition teaches us that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (B’rachot 55a) and to “not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4). These texts emphasize the idea that everyone must have a voice in determining how their community is run, and remind us that voting is a collective responsibility. It is the duty of all who cherish democracy to ensure that every eligible citizen is afforded the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted. Be sure to check out our Black-Jewish Haggadah, The Common Road to Freedom, to incorporate civil rights into your Passover seder.

Bobby Harris and Sophie in Selma

Reflections from a Father-Daughter Trip to Selma

By Bobby and Sophie Harris

My daughter Sophie and I drove from our home in Marietta, GA to participate in the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. We attended a pre-march program at Temple Mishkan Israel—Selma’s only synagogue. Though the synagogue has less than 10 remaining members, the sanctuary was full that morning. Sophie was one of just a handful of youth who attended the service. Below are our reflections from the day: Read more…

Rev Barber and LAs

The Power of Prophetic Rage

This past weekend I had the great privilege of being a part of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. Along with my roommate and four of other legislative assistants (and we later joined up with RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Deputy Director Rachel Laser), I headed south to honor the work of those who risked and gave their lives for the Civil Rights Movement and to rededicate myself to continuing their work today. While I expected the weekend to be meaningful, I didn’t understand the full power of participating in the anniversary commemorations until I actually arrived in Selma and was able to hear the stories and wisdom of those around me. Read more…

(CREDIT: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Reflections on Selma: Our Intersecting Struggles for Equality

This past weekend, four of the other legislative assistants and I were in Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the March to Montgomery. We had planned our trips months prior to the event, and although I was excited to be a part of this important milestone, I became more and more nervous as the Jubilee approached. With each passing day, I continued to read about the barriers to marriage equality in Alabama, and although I clearly had no intention of getting married while in Alabama, it reminded me that Alabama has the lowest support for marriage equality out of all fifty states and lacks non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals. I would be leaving the queer-friendly bubble of Washington, D.C. for a state where I could not as easily assume people’s support for my rights. It was ironic that I would be going to a state to mark a landmark moment in civil rights history while that same state was currently in the throes of resisting equality for LGBT people.

Read more…

Protesters sitting together from the Selma to Montgomery marches

Wandering in the Desert (Airport), Searching for the Promised Land (Selma)

On March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders led 600 peaceful marchers from Selma towards Montgomery, AL in pursuit of voting rights, but were stopped after just six blocks. The marchers were brutally attacked by police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Images of the confrontation were televised across the country and the world, horrifying citizens and rousing much-needed, broad public support for voting rights. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and helped lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act later that year.

As longtime advocates of voting rights and civil rights, this is an important moment for the Reform Movement not only to commemorate this incredible milestone in our nation’s journey for justice, but also to recognize the work that remains to be done. For the current RAC LAs, we feel like inheritors of this tradition and believe firmly in the need for all people, of all backgrounds, to join together in the fight for justice. Read more…

Edmund_Pettus_Bridge

Selma, 50 Years Later: What Can You Do to Mark this Occasion?

Next weekend marks the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

On March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders led 600 peaceful marchers from Selma towards Montgomery, AL in pursuit of voting rights, but were stopped after just six blocks. The marchers were brutally attacked by police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Images of the confrontation were televised across the country and the world, horrifying citizens and rousing much-needed, broad public support for voting rights. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and helped lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act later that year. Read more…

A number of Oscars all in a row

Social Justice at the Oscars

In case you missed it, last night at the Academy Awards, many of the winners discussed important issues of social justice in their acceptance speeches. The stage of the Dolby Theater is a unique platform to call attention to these critical issues, and it can be validating to see celebrities discuss topics that we have long been working on in our mandate to repair the world. Read more…

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