Friday, November 6, 2009

J Street and Israel on Campus

There's a new Israel lobby on the block.

J Street held its first conference last week in Washington, DC since its founding in April of 2008. The organization, viewed by many as a counterweight to AIPAC, boasted an impressive number of young faces.

About 250 college students attended a parallel conference organized by J Street U, J Street's campus activism branch, and dozens of twenty-something political staffers, think-tank interns and bloggers milled in and out of the main conference's sessions.

According to The Nation:
The few hundred young faces were a welcome sign for J Street leadership and other representatives of older generations of Jews. In the past few years, studies have shown that youth engagement with Judaism and Israel is declining. And as Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, cautioned the audience, "This is a time when many Jews, especially young ones, are walking away from a life that involves Israel." In many cases, younger Jews represent what Ben-Ami calls a new "silent majority," who have felt until now that voicing critical opinions of Israel would expose them to harassment and accusations of anti-Semitism or self-loathing. "Young Jews have no forum to question," Lauren Barr, a college junior, observed. "And so they walk away."
The conference also included discussions directly related to campus engagement. In a session titled Israel on Campus, several educators and campus leaders met to share issues they faced in addressing Israel within a university setting.

A recent JTA blog post noted that "tensions within Jewish groups [on campus] and between student organizations of various faiths played a significant role in student life and continues to be an ongoing problem."

The post also addressed the recent problems experienced by Hampshire College. The institution's president, Ralph Hexter, was a speaker on the panel.
"When asked about the specific nature of these tensions, Hampshire College president Ralph Hexter replied with a chuckle "What tensions don't I face?" Hexter referred to accusations earlier this year that his institution had divested from Israel. These claims, most notably made by political commentator Alan Dershowitz, were later reversed. Dershowitz, as fate may have it, is in fact the parent of a Hampshire College alumnus. On a lighter note, Hexter said that the back and forth between school and pundit was in fact an excellent example of how the school takes care to maintain good relations with the extended Hampshire College family."
The speakers all agreed that campus engagement is essential to getting young people involved with Israel.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Mad Scene at the Capitol Today

Don't let this picture fool you. Things are craaazy down at the Capitol today.

Check out this video which captures throngs of the health care bill's opponents going through security earlier this afternoon. (via Wonkette)


Photo courtesy of Dana Barciniak, Senior Photographer, U.S. House of Representatives Office of Photography.

Virginia Residents Making Health Care Personal on Capitol Hill

Yesterday, I tagged along with the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP) and residents from all over Virginia as they visited Capitol Hill to share their personal health care stories with their Senators and Representatives. As Kevin Simowitz, a VOP organizer, said to the group before their scheduled meetings:
"They [Congress] get lobbied all the time, right? Our estimates show that the insurance lobby spends about $641,000-a-day lobbying Congress. Now, we can pass a plate, but we're probably not gonna come up with that much money. The thing that we can do is you all can bring your personal stories about why we're here and why we need a public health insurance option as part of the bill. And if you're speaking out of your own experiences, speaking in non-partisan language, and speaking about what needs to happen... we're gonna walk out of this meeting a little bit further along the health care road than where we are."
We will have a video report for you on Monday, but for today I will share with you what these meetings were like and what was discussed.

The day started off at Senator Mark Warner's office where the group of some 20 people met with Luke Albee, Sen. Warner's Cheif of Staff (CoS). The group began the conversation by asking Mr. Albee for a legislative update on the health care fight from his perspective. "We're further along in health care than we've been in my life." We hear this all the time, but to this 25-year-old, that statement continues to move me. This fight is so much older than I am and we are so close to taking a huge step forward for our nation. "I think at the end of the day we're gonna get there," Mr. Albee added. "You guys have helped us a lot, because we are hearing from folks." He went on to say that during the stimulus fight they were only hearing from the other side, that it felt like the calls were 99 to 1 against and it hurt, but on health care both sides have been vocal.

The group then took some time to share personal stories about our health care system with the CoS. They started with Matt Masterson. Matt is a father of 3. He has Rheumatoid arthritis, his wife suffers from depression and had a near-fatal, enlarged gall bladder, and one of his children was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 2. He had great insurance, but struggled to cover his son who has a preexisting condition. Matt mostly struggled with the costs though. Even with decent insurance, the copays for medication for his family became too much to take, eating $1,500-a-month at points. Then Matt lost his job for taking too much sick time. The costs became crippling to his family. His family lost their home and car. He explained all this to Mr. Albee, then began to tear up as he said, "I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing it for my kids... I want them not to have to go through what I went through... I got drove into poverty."

They continued sharing stories with Mr. Albee. Linda Pallette told about her battle with breast cancer. She had no insurance when this happened. She calls herself "lucky" that she did not own a home at the time, if she had, she would not have qualified for state hospitalization. It has now been 10 years since her successful fight with breast cancer, "I can never repay these 10 years... that's why I'm doing this... I'm okay. This is not about me." She then shared another story. This was of her neighbor's dear friend, who Linda only knew as Mary. Mary, when facing illness, literally chose to die rather than leave her family in medical debt.

Mr. Albee urged the group to continue knocking on doors, getting people to write letters and call the Senator's Office. The meeting ended with a group photo and an assurance from Mr. Albee that he would relate these stories and the others to Sen. Warner as thoroughly as possible.

Next on the list was Senator Jim Webb. The group met with Courtney Weaver, a Legislative Correspondent from Sen. Webb's office. The meeting was very similar to the previous one, a legislative update from Ms. Weaver, followed by personal stories, a request that she relate the stories to the Senator, and, of course, a photo with the group. And then it was off to the Representatives, Glenn Nye, Rob Wittman, and Eric Cantor to be exact. I tagged along with the group visiting Rep. Nye, who has said of the public option:
"I will consider the notion of a public option," Nye said, "... if it can be set up in such a way that it does not crowd out the private insurance market. That reduces choice, not increases it."
The group chose Rep. Nye because of this shaky support of the public option. The VOP believe this is a Representative that they can move. While Rep. Nye's office hears from insurance lobbyists, and opponents to reform, they are also hearing personal stories of struggle from members of his district. And to the Senators' and Representatives' credit, they are making time for their office to hear these stories. This plan, focusing on personal stories, is how health care reform advocates are fighting to cross the finish line.

Check back at Sum of Change on Monday for our video coverage of the day's events

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Training Tuesday with the DFA: Recruiting Volunteers

This week, Training Tuesday will focus on another very important constituency: volunteers. As an organizer, building a strong volunteer base is your most important responsibility. The quality and quantity of the effort you get from your volunteers can make or break a campaign. They not only are giving you work for free (but don't tell them this!! See 'seizing an opportunity' below) but they are your direct representative to your most important constituency: voters. So their work is not only necessary, it must be done to a high standard and you must take it upon yourself to insure they are up to the task. From the Democracy for America (DFA) training manual:
You are a leader. Your job is to get your staff and volunteers to follow you. You set the tone. An energetic and enthusiastic leader will beget a focused and motivated volunteer base."

Our videos today will cover some of the basics of recruiting volunteers and building a lasting network. The DFA is truly an authority on this subject, so without further ado...

--Be Happy When You Ask For Volunteers

--Volunteers Are Seizing an Opportunity, Not Doing You a Favor

--The Volunteer Ask and the 5 Cs

That's all for this week. Don't forget to check back at the Sum of Change Training Tuesday page next week at 6:00pm for Matt Blizek's tips on how to run an effective email program!