In Conversation with Emily Bloch

Emily Bloch, JOIN alum ’14-15

Hello Emily! Can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?

Yes, I work for an immigrant rights movement called Movimiento Cosecha, which means Harvest Movement in Spanish. We’re an immigrant rights movement fighting for permanent protection, respect, and dignity for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. I currently work and live in Texas, as part of a the Volunteer Organizer Network (VON) which is a group of full-time unpaid organizers working with Cosecha.

How did you come to this position?

My JOIN placement was with a faith-based organizing group called the Merrimack Valley Project, and through that organization I started working on a drivers license campaign for undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts. Through that work and the Momentum training community I met some of the organizers who started Cosecha, and I felt very inspired by their vision, by the urgency of the movement. Drivers licenses are such an important issue for the undocumented community, but it was clear to me too that they weren’t everything. Drivers licenses are important, but you can’t reunite with your kids or go see your family in another country with a drivers license. And so I felt like after two years at my placement working on drivers licenses and other campaigns, that I was ready to try something different, and try something bigger that I felt was looking at a different piece for how to address the issue of immigration.

Immigration is front and center in our national conversation right now. What’s it like being on the frontlines of this issue?

We decided to move to Texas when – in addition to leading the country in number of deportations –  Texas passed a racist, anti-immigrant, “show me your papers” law. It felt like if we were going to be working on these issues, it was important to be working on them where the community was feeling the highest impact. Even though I was doing this work before, doing it now in Texas has added a new level of understanding of the pain that this country’s immigration system puts people through. The whole country is focused on the DREAM act, and DREAMers, and undocumented youth, and obviously we want permanent protection for undocumented youth. We also know it can’t come at the expense of criminalizing the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. I think being in Texas, in a border state, I’ve been learning from the people who live here and deal with the daily reality of what enforcement means and what the border wall really means. Getting to know people and work with people who live with the border in their daily lives is so different than the hypothetical trading and bargaining of people’s lives that happens in Washington.

As organizers we often look for or towards root causes. What do you think are some of the root causes for how our country handles immigration?

That’s a great question. I don’t know if I know the answer, but I could give you my opinion! [laughter] I think if you learned about the history of immigration from Mexico into this country with the Bracero Program, this country viewed immigrant labor coming from Mexico and Latin America as temporary labor, and never people that were supposed to become a part of the fabric of this country. And I think that has everything to do with racism, and the ways that racism has played out throughout this country’s history. Under the Obama administration we saw the highest number of deportations of any previous president, so it’s not like we’re facing a new challenge, but we are facing a new political moment. And I think the reality is that this country needs our immigrant community. We still have this framework of whether we want or don’t want immigrants, but that’s not really the question. The thing is that we need immigrants in this country, that this country runs on immigrant labor, that immigrants are an integral part of our communities and our economy. Until we understand that, and until this country is forced to recognize that, we’re still going to be having this debate on a false premise, of whether we want immigrants or not. And really that premise is all about, in my opinion, the racism and colonialism of who is ‘worthy’ of being in this country and who or is not wanted.

What are some of the organizing techniques you’re using?

Cosecha is a non-violent movement. We believe that we need to use major political moments to get huge numbers of people on the streets and change the narrative around immigration, and we also know that we need trainings and on-the-ground organizing to create a leaderful movement that can sustain and support itself. Right now we are doing lots of local campaigns, actions and trainings to grow support for Cosecha across the country, eventually leading to a 7-day strike of immigrants and allies, that shows this country that it depends on immigrants. We know that immigrant communities can’t rely on politicians to get what they want, that we have to organize together in order to win.

You were one of the presenters this past fall for a live session of JOIN’s online training course Don’t Kvetch, Organize!, where you spoke about allyship. Could you share any of your guiding principles for how to show up as an ally?

I think the thing that I always try to think of, for allyship and Cosecha, is – are we following the leadership of the undocumented community? And for Cosecha that means following the strategy and what we call the Principles of Cosecha, which are 14 guiding principles that form the backbone of Cosecha. So we’re following the leadership of the undocumented community by following those principles and respecting them, both in the letter and spirit of how they were written. Then I ask, is this getting us closer to the 7 day strike? Is this getting us closer to a movement of mass non-cooperation of immigrants and allies?

Tell us about how you arrived at JOIN. How did you discover the Fellowship?

I was the JOIN class of 2014-15. I grew up in Boston and knew a lot of people who did JOIN, and I was moving back to Boston after living in Seattle. I knew that I wanted to be an organizer, I knew I wanted Jewish community, and I knew that I wanted to be in Boston. So it felt like such an obvious choice for me, in terms of knowing that those were things in my life that I wanted to prioritize. And I had also met a lot of people along the way who had done JOIN and encouraged me to apply.

Is there a story or particularly meaningful experience that has stuck with you?

I think the thing that stuck with me most was just a moment of tension that our JOIN class had at our second retreat. It was the first time we had really talked about Israel and Palestine as a cohort. Although it was clear that we all came from a deep place of wanting freedom and dignity for everyone in Israel/Palestine, we struggled to find a common framework to do that work and have that conversation. I remember the deep compassion that I felt my cohort was trying to have for one another, and both how it felt so simple and complex at the same time. So simple because I knew on some deep human level everyone in the room wanted everyone to be able to lead a life of dignity, and so complex because despite that being true the history of Israel/Palestine and the history of the Jewish people, made it so hard for us to find common ground.

Lastly, is there a kernel of organizing wisdom and / or a Jewish teaching that feeds or nourishes your work?

Well, an organizing lesson that I have to learn over and over again is that organizing is always about people. And you fight for things because it’s with people, and you fight for things for people. And as soon as we lose sight that we’re doing this for people, the work loses its importance and urgency. That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.

Emily Bloch is a community organizer with Movimiento Cosecha and a Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’14-15

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In Conversation with Dan Gelbtuch

Hello Dan! Tell us about what you’re up to these days.

Absolutely! So I left my job of ten years, which was actually my JOIN placement, at Dorchester Bay Youth Force, doing youth organizing work. I left back in the end of June, and I’ve been doing a variety of projects. The one that’s been most on my mind and taking up most of my time has been a project working with longtime JOIN friend and trainer Rabbi David Jaffe, who wrote a book called Changing the World from the Inside Out, looking at Jewish spirituality and social justice, and how those two things work together. I’ve been working with him since the beginning of September, taking the book and trying to bring it into the world, doing some strategizing, relationship building, designing some trainings around it, and some fundraising to take the book and mold it into a larger project.

How did you discover JOIN?

Let’s see, how did I find the Fellowship? I heard about it from a variety of sources just growing up in the Jewish community in Boston. I think maybe even my mom, she would read the Jewish Advocate, and saw an article about it a long time ago. At the time I wasn’t interested, I moved to New York after college, and I think then I connected to Lauren Herman at the Workmen’s Circle – which was her JOIN placement I believe – and she mentioned it to me. Then I was planning to move back to Boston and needed something to do, and I looked into it and ended up applying. That was my first connection to JOI (at the time), and as I mentioned my placement was Dorchester Bay, at the program there called Youth Force – this was 2007. I was 27, on the older end, I think the oldest person in my cohort that year.

Did that impact your experience at all?

Yeah, I think it did. You know, it’s hard to tell. I got so much out of the Fellowship, and I’m sure a lot of people do, so I don’t think that’s so unique. But maybe what I got out of it was shaped by the fact that I had some experience, I had taught in a public school in Brooklyn for three years, and that was a really really challenging experience for many reasons. I had that as my background going into my JOIN year. So I’m sure that particular experience, and whatever growth or maturity I gained through it, shaped the way I was initially attracted to community organizing.

Is there a story or experience from your Fellowship that has stayed with you?

For sure, yeah. This is the story I usually tell about one of the most meaningful parts of my year. When Meir trained – early in the year, I think it was October – trained on how to share our story, it was a deeply transformative experience for me. I think, first and foremost, because it really made my story into something that was important, something that ought to be developed. I’d come into social justice work not really thinking that my story was worthwhile or legitimate or important, and it was just really empowering for me to center myself and my story, and then to learn the craft of developing a story and sharing a story in a one on one meeting, that was a really powerful experience. And that still absolutely sticks with me, ten years later, as I continue to do one on ones for my current project, how am I sharing my story and how am I getting people to relate to me. That was really meaningful.

Lastly, is there a piece of organizing wisdom and / or a Jewish teaching that inspires you?

There’s something from my current work, a Jewish concept, of shleimut, or wholeness. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what does it mean for us to bring our full selves to our lives, and then more specifically to our social justice work. And I think a lot of times what happens is we bifurcate ourselves and say ‘OK you’re a spiritual person in synagogue, and you’re an intellectual person in the classroom,’ and just divide ourselves. And I’m really thinking a lot about how that’s not the healthiest way to live, and how can we develop a sense of wholeness, and then bring our whole selves. And what sort of environments encourage that and don’t encourage that, and what are some skills. I think that’s why I love David’s book. What are some skills that we can learn to develop a sense of wholeness and then bring our whole selves into the world.

Dan Gelbtuch is a community organizer and Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’07-08. Learn more about the Jewish Organizing Fellowship.

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In Conversation with Emilia Diamant

Hello Emilia! Tell us about your recent work.

I am the Executive Director of Jeremiah Program Boston, which is the Boston branch of the national organization called Jeremiah. We work with low-income single moms and their kids, to help families break the cycle of poverty two generations at a time. We are based in Roxbury, and in my role as Executive Director I spend most of my time fundraising [laughter], but also we’re a relatively new organization to Boston, so I spend a fair amount of time in program development, helping to build our program, and really refine our model here in the city. And I do some staff supervision and some direct service helping families. But most of my time is spent on fundraising and program development, big picture sort of work.

What led you to do the JOIN Organizing Fellowship?

I was coming back to Boston after living out of the state for a while, and I was really looking for community. And I was looking to dive further into how Judaism and social justice intersected for me, and it had been recommended to me by a couple of the board members [laughter], people that I really trust said they thought I should apply, so I did!

What was one highlight or memorable experience?

I think the most important thing I got out of JOIN was the relationships with my cohort — I made some really great friends who will probably be my friends for life. And I also learned a lot from my cohort, particularly around some issues I hadn’t thought about like disability rights. I learned a lot about unions and the labor movement because of my colleagues who were working in that space, even though I wasn’t, they were, and they shared their wisdom. And then relationships with alumni, with staff, with speakers that came in — one of those speakers has become a mentor to me. So the relationships have been the biggest thing that I’ve gotten.

Could you share a piece of organizing and/or Jewish wisdom that you learned through your fellowship?

One thing that I walked away with is that the one-to-one training, and understanding how those conversations work, is something that you will use, not only in your personal life but really in any professional space you go into. The ways that you learn to learn about people is something that’s truly applicable anywhere. I find it particularly in organizing that it links to development or fundraising. So in organizing you’re asking for someone’s time, and in fundraising you’re asking for someone’s money. So it is different, but it’s not that different.

Emilia Diamant is Executive Director of Jeremiah Program Boston and a Jewish Organizing Fellowship alum ’12-13. Learn more about the Jewish Organizing Fellowship.

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Race, Books, and Parenting in St. Louis: A JOIN for Justice alumni story

Laura Horwitz is having a conversation about race.

In fact, she’s having many conversations about race. In St. Louis, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, Laura is organizing predominantly white families to confront racial inequity, white privilege, and diversity… through children’s books.

Laura, a Jewish Organizing Fellow from 2003 – 2004, started her organization, We Stories, to find a new way for addressing one of the most challenging subjects in our country today — and the response has been astounding. An increasingly widening circle of families, 550 and counting, are now consciously engaging with racism in their homes, with their children, as a community, and as vocal constituents in their local democracy. Currently a group from We Stories is studying the Ferguson Report together to determine what kind of action they can take as a community to make change.

JOIN alumni like Laura Horwitz are using their organizing training and mentoring to change the conversation on social justice across the country.

Please consider supporting JOIN with a gift today!

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Why this funder “don’t kvetch”

Myron Miller is helping build a better future, literally and figuratively.

As a generous philanthropist with the Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation, Myron is supporting civic engagement, advocacy, and community organizing in Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts.

As the principal at Miller Dyer Spears architecture, planning, and interior design firm, Myron is building state of the art structures to improve his city and surrounding communities.

And as a longtime funder of JOIN, Myron is helping train today’s and tomorrow’s social justice leaders. Not only has Myron been backing JOIN for 15 years, sustaining our work and building relationships with our Fellows – he also rolled up his sleeves and took our online training course Don’t Kvetch, Organize!

We exist because of our community of committed supporters like Myron.

Please consider supporting JOIN with a gift today!


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