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Speak Up! Advocacy for Systemic Change

Originally posted in the newsletter of the Jewish Greening Fellowship

What was Queen Esther thinking when her uncle Mordechai told her to speak up to King Achashverosh? Many readers of the Purim story have tried to answer this question with midrash (stories written to fill gaps in Torah texts.) One intriguing story claims that Esther hid for 4 years before the King’s agents found her and brought her to the palace. In this telling of the story, Esther wasn’t some firebrand eager to stand up against the ruling powers. She preferred to stay completely out of view. But when Mordechai told her it was up to her to go to the King, she stepped up to advocate for her community.

There is a certain amount of greening that we can accomplish on our own. But eventually we realize that we’re part of a system. We need to change the system to accomplish our goals. At that point, like Esther, we have to speak up and advocate for what we believe in. At a recent JGF session, Ariel Bailey, Greening Fellow at the Heschel School, had a chance to speak up to Ron Gonen, the NYC Deputy Commissioner of Sanitation. NYC has a compost collection program for schools on the Upper West Side, where the school is located. But when Ariel contacted the city, he found out that Heschel School was not eligible to participate. Ariel asked Ron to change the rule.

Ron had some good advice for Ariel. Your elected representatives want to hear from you. He told Ariel that he would be best able to help if he were to receive a request from a member of the City Council. Here are some more great tips about advocacy from our other speakers:

• Environmental and social justice issues can be controversial. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, advises getting started by making your community a safe place for people to share what they are concerned about from the heart. You’ll build stronger relationships along with motivation to get involved.

• What’s in it for ME (mission enhancement)? Ya-Ting Liu, of the New York League of Conservation Voters, says that advocacy campaigns should build power for your organization and give you resources that will enhance your ability to fulfill your mission. Use your campaign to deepen relationships with lawmakers, attract new donors, and increase your credibility with reporters.

• Joining a coalition-led campaign can increase your impact. Josh Kellerman, of Align NY , invited us to support the Transform Don’t Trash NYC campaign to require commercial waste haulers to meet environmental and labor standards. Check out Align NY’s Alliance for a Just Rebuilding and Caring Across Generations campaigns too. An important issue in NYS right now is the future of fracking for natural gas. Eric Weltman, of Food & Water Watch, can help you get involved.

• Don’t be shy about getting involved in advocacy. Ron Soloway, Director of Government Relations for UJA-Federation of New York, reminded us that non-profit organizations are allowed to advocate. We should speak up about policy issues that are relevant to our communities on a non-partisan basis.

As the Greening Fellows discussed Esther’s state of mind, they realized it probably wasn’t easy for her. But to achieve her goal, she had to go beyond her comfort zone and speak up. You can do it too.

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