“The course was a paradigm shift for me”

Rickie Kashdan lives in New Jersey, and signed up for our 2019 Don’t Kvetch, Organize! course as a member of the Reform Jewish Voice of NJ, which is an affiliate of the Religious Action Center. JOIN talked with Rickie a few weeks after the course ended to share her experience in the course.

Rickie and Liz Cohen in El Paso at Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday at the Borderlands

 What was your biggest hesitation about signing up for Don’t Kvetch, Organize!?

I don’t think I had any hesitation, maybe a little bit about having time. I was mainly excited about having the opportunity to focus my attention on community organizing. I had participated in JOIN for Justice’s ROAR training in person a few years ago, and that was very exciting.

What were you hoping to get out of the course?

I was hoping to gain confidence in my ability to work with communities. I’ve done quite a bit of community organizing but not from my Jewish heritage perspective, and I was looking to get some grounding in organizing from that perspective. Specifically, I’ve been active in my Reform Jewish movement’s statewide organization that’s part of the Reform Action Center (RAC) and I was looking to get more skill to build things around the state.

What did you discover from taking Don’t Kvetch, Organize!?

I was really bowled over! The course was a paradigm shift for me, many paradigm shifts. Some of it was at the very beginning of the course, the piece of thinking about root work vs (or in addition to) direct service activities, which has been an issue in my own congregation. I was excited to have a model for why I was frustrated just doing what people have called social action, to understand why it was frustrating to me that we were giving food to hungry people, when I want to also do policy, root cause work. It was like, “Oh, that’s what that is!”

The many stories as part of the trainings in the course were helpful, and the ideas around not just doing activities, but actually creating change. I felt a little bit of, “Oh, all I’ve been doing is activities all these years, oh no!” Not that that’s totally true, but that’s how it felt. So much of the time people have wanted something that they can say, “We did this, that was an activity we did.” I’m starting to recognize that if it’s not part of the bigger strategic plan, then are we really making the sustained change that we’re looking for? Maybe not!

Another really important piece for me was really focusing on community organizing as building change through building relationships. In my mind that’s the most key thing for me. It helped me look at how I was doing that and reaching out to congregations and building sustained relationships with people that can then be fostered into long term supportive connections and relationships.

It happened that the course timeframe worked really well with the Reform Jewish Voice of New Jersey advocacy day in our state capital in Trenton, and I saw relationship building there as well. In previous advocacy days, I had gone in to our local assembly people and they had not always been willing to meet with us. We had been able to meet with them at other times but not on the advocacy day. This year one of the Senators and the assembly person that was there made a point of meeting with us. That’s because I’ve been building relationships with them. They knew who we were and wanted to meet. One of them spoke with us for over an hour, because we were listening so intently, and he talked about his personal struggles.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

I really liked the videos, the stories,. seeing examples gave me both a mix of a lot of hope and also a feeling, “Could I really be part of such a big campaign?”

Marshall Ganz really speaks to me; it was good to have an opportunity to get to hear him in the videos. The videos of Meir explaining in very concrete terms the nuts and bolts of organizing for success and for change also was a highlight for me.

I loved the challenge of having to post in the discussion forum because it’s not something I do, and it is a goal of mine to learn to write out my thinking and put it out there. I felt like, “Ahh, now I have to do it!” Getting to have the online conversations with people. I love having a buddy, we’re still in contact, that made it more real. I would say the office hours were also really useful.

 If your best friend was on the fence about signing up, what would you tell them?

I would tell them it is fully worth it to spend the time to allow yourself to focus on effective organizing. It allowed me to have so many conversations and share my thinking while I was doing it. It was a very big growing experience. I have no regrets.

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