Since 2015 JOIN for Justice has run Don’t Kvetch, Organize!, an online course that teaches participants how to make a real difference on the issues they care about by delving deeply into the fundamentals of community organizing. The eight-week course is taught by well-known and highly respected community and organizational leaders through a mix of recorded videos and live online meetings for discussion groups. The topics in the course range from Jewish and biblical history to present actions that are resulting in real change. We sat down with RB Brown, JOIN’s Director of Online Learning, to hear more about how the course has changed and what they’ve learned stewarding the course.
Q: You’ve been at JOIN for three years now. What have you learned about organizing by running this course?
So much! Most consistently in this role I see how relationships are key. We often have people sign up for the course through word of mouth, and I love that, because what it means to me is that organizing is a part of that relationship. We need each other, we can’t do any of this alone!
That shows up during the course as well. We’ve been seeing growth in the number of people who come as part of a group, either because they recruited an organizing buddy, or because an organization is encouraging the development of their leaders. It can be really helpful to take the course with people coming from a shared context, because you can immediately start to riff with each other about how you’re going to bring it back to your people. ‘What if we committed to five 1:1’s a month?’ ‘Who do we know with connections at ___?’ Stuff like that. It means you can build a bridge together to take the ideas from the course and start to implement them. Plus, we could all use accountability sometimes!
I also work pretty closely with the organizations that are bringing together larger groups, and the organizing training really starts in that recruitment process. We encourage folks to identify a team to take responsibility for outreach, and it feels really powerful to embed skillbuilding even in that seed of making the course happen.
Q: What are your top 3 things that have excited you about this course?
One of the biggest things I’m excited about right now is that growth in groups coming in. Even back at the very beginning of the course we had groups registering together, but we’re starting to see an uptick in institutions that are sponsoring a full cohort of around 25, 30 people. Noticing that has helped us thoroughly shift the way we think about the course from being an intervention on individuals, to something that’s working on more of a group or organizational level. And some of these groups are coming back for multiple years!
I should give a particular shout out here to Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) down in DC, and organizations collaborating to bring groups from the Conservative Movement: the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinic Assembly, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. For the last few years, JUFJ and the Conservative Movement have both started bringing cohorts together regularly every time we offer the course, which makes the course part of a strong pipeline of leadership development.
I’m also excited by the ways we’ve adapted the content. Organizing fundamentals are pretty consistent over time, but when the pandemic hit we collectively faced massive changes to how we were interacting with each other and the context we were organizing within. We saw a lot of interest in mutual aid, and the impacts of the pandemic highlighted the importance for all of us to integrate disability justice frameworks into our organizing. We were able to put together a pandemic-specific version of the course very quickly that could speak to the new landscape we were in. As we’ve become more accustomed to the pandemic, I’ve pulled back slightly on that focus, but the disability justice content is here to stay and adds a rich layer to the course.
The last thing I would point to is the growth in identity-focused cohorts. Last year we secured funding to support two cohorts for people with disabilities. Even more than meeting specific access needs, it meant that there was an identity-affirming space for people with disabilities to connect with each other and learn organizing skills together. We’ll be offering another cohort for people with disabilities in the fall 2022 round of Don’t Kvetch, Organize!. (If you’re interested you can join the wait-list here).
Similarly, in the current round of the course we are offering for the fifth time a cohort option specifically for Jews of Color (JOCs) and non-Jewish people of color. Every year we have some participants who are experiencing a JOC space for the first time with us, and we often hear reflections about how that dedicated space was a highlight.
I can’t help adding one more – our latest experiment is to offer more live online meetings as part of the course. I’m excited to see how that changes (and strengthens, I hope!) the experience of taking the course.
Q: What relationship does Don’t Kvetch, Organize! have to other offerings at JOIN for Justice?
Many clergy come through our programs rooted in a congregational setting, or go on to lead within a congregation, and Don’t Kvetch, Organize! can be a great avenue for them when they’re trying to bring organizing skills more broadly to their community. Once a few people in a congregation have taken Don’t Kvetch, Organize! and they’ve started to build momentum, that would be a great time to reach out to us about joining a SEA Change cohort. SEA Change is a 6-month program which Clergy and lay leader teams participate in together, in order to learn and practice organizing skills to both 1) bring greater racial equity to their congregation, and, 2) get their synagogue started on deeper racial justice work in their community in partnership with local people of color-led organizations.
Don’t Kvetch, Organize! also works similarly for the professional organizers that we’re coaching one-on-one, or in group coaching sessions through the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing (CJO). The course is a good basebuilding tool. Three of the organizations in CJO are even collaborating right now to split a cohort, and sending a mix of members and staff through the course together.
The course can also be an entry point for people who are looking to shift professionally to organizing. We’ve had several young adults take Don’t Kvetch, Organize! and then go on to apply for and join our Jewish Organizing & Empower Fellowship.
Q: What does having the Don’t Kvetch, Organize! mean for the Jews looking to live out their justice values?
This course creates an option for Jews to learn organizing skills through a Jewish lens. I spoke with someone just earlier this week who took the class after she had already received organizing training elsewhere, and she named that getting to connect her Jewish values and practice to her organizing work as a particularly valuable part of Don’t Kvetch, Organize!
Organizing is the clear focus of the course, this is not a deep dive into text study, but each week has videos of rabbis making connections between organizing and Jewish traditions and practices, and most of the case studies are examples of Jewish communities and organizations working in multi-faith, multiracial coalitions. I think it’s helpful to see that modeled. We hear from folk with a variety of connections to Judaism how that was helpful for them – whether it’s someone who is a long time member of a synagogue, or someone exploring the connection between their desire for social justice and a Jewish identity for the first time. I’m glad we can offer a resource that meets people in so many different places on the journey of discovering what Judaism means to them.
Q: What is your favorite part of the course for you as the person behind the scenes?
There are discussion boards for the course where people can post reflections on the content between meetings. Every year I see here and there a few people having a major revelation when we get to the part of the course about the difference between activities and actions. It’s a real awakening, and often it’s a moment where they’re getting a new perspective on years of their experience in the Jewish community or their other work for justice.
I love to see that shift in framework happen for people. It epitomizes everything the course is about: giving people frameworks and tools to understand how they can effectively approach building power to make change.