Working in interfaith, interracial spaces is nothing new for the organizers at Jewish Community Action. But nearly two years after an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, the work JCA does is expanding into a new coalition.
JCA is one of nearly two dozen organizations that is part of We Choose Us, a coalition that was started in the wake of the insurrection to rally support for safeguarding democracy.
“I knew we needed something in Minnesota because a lot of election and democracy-related laws are not up-to-date,” said Lilly Sasse, the We Choose Us campaign director. The coalition came together after Sasse, who had previously managed State Rep. Emma Greenman’s campaign in 2020, did an analysis of what organizations were doing with respect to pro-democracy reforms. “We needed a pro-democracy effort to counter the anti-democracy narrative. We had to see who was excited and who was motivated.”
JCA was one of those groups.
“All of our best work over the years has been digging deep into the Jewish community and bringing people into these coalition relationships,” said Dave Snyder, the organizing director at JCA. “We create spaces for our members to build deeper relationships and learn from and take action with people from other backgrounds and communities and faiths. We are hopeful that We Choose Us will be another such space where people can have those kinds of experiences while campaigning for a multiracial democracy.”
We Choose Us will be at the State Capitol for a rally and meetings with legislators on Jan. 17, from 9:30 a.m.-noon. The event, which is two weeks after the legislative session gets underway, serves as a way to introduce its policy agenda to lawmakers.
While Minnesota has led the nation in voter turnout in three of the last election cycles, the state is behind in many areas of election reform. Sasse said the state’s campaign finance system “hasn’t been touched since the 80s,” and that while access to the ballot is great, there are other policies that need work.
Among the agenda is the restoration of voting rights for those on probation or parole, pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds so they are automatically on the voter rolls when they turn 18, and making Election Day a holiday so that working people can have guaranteed time off with no penalty to vote.
Gov. Tim Walz said in a TV interview last week that protecting access to the ballot was paramount for the state legislature to deal with in the upcoming legislative session.
“Voting in Minnesota is a bi-partisan tradition. We don’t fear the voters; they vote and however they vote, we respect that,” Walz said, citing some the same policy priorities that We Choose Us references. “We need to make sure that it’s easy to vote. We’re seeing in other states, where there’s this attempt to make it more difficult to vote. In Minnesota, we want to make it as easy as possible. We know our elections are safe, secure and fair. And we’re going to lean into that codify that and put up a firewall because this attack on voting rights is an attack on the basic core of democracy and it needs to end.”
Sasse said the coalition is made up of labor unions, other faith organizations, as well as groups like Pro-Choice Minnesota and Planned Parenthood, as well as groups that most people would expect like the League of Women Voters and Indivisible Minnesota.
“It didn’t surprise me that the energy was there,” Sasse said. “Now is our moment.”
Snyder said that JCA has always done nonpartisan electoral work.
“Through our partnerships with BIPOC and working-class organizations, I think we’ve been attuned to all the ways in which our democracy and our society is marginalizing whole groups of people who are not able to fully participate,” Snyder said. “I do think that the Jan. 6 Insurrection really drove home for people how fragile our democracy is. And for JCA, I think we got the message that we can’t just take the same actions that we always have of recruiting some volunteers and knocking on some doors. The challenges to our democracy are much more profound and foundational than many of us had thought.”