Right-sized and Ready to Lead: How Boston’s Never Again Action Actually Happened

JOIN Fellow Emet Ezell with their hands raised up in the air, in mid-song. They are leading a multicultural crowd of people.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

You probably don’t know that many of the organizers of last week’s actions involving hundreds of Jewish people standing up against ICE in Boston were directly connected to JOIN for Justice. And they didn’t need you to know – they were exercising a form of leadership that doesn’t require being in front and recognized all the time. Through that leadership, they did a type of organizing we all can learn from.

Miles Meth, a graduate of the 2017 Jewish Organizing Fellowship, coordinated the Boston action, while recent graduate Emet Ezell led the protest with a song that came to them while biking home from a planning meeting for the protest. Emily Bloch, a 2015 graduate, led the campaign’s nonviolent action component. Hannah Weinronk, class of 2017, coordinated the logistical side of the action. Jon Wishnie, another recent graduate, coordinated tactics. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, JOIN’s Fellowship Director and alum Allegra Heath-Stout was among the 36 Jewish protesters who were arrested for blocking the entrance to an ICE facility in the town of Elizabeth. Sarah O’Connor, a 2015 alum, was on the coordinating team for that action. The list goes on, confirming that JOIN is unequivocally building a field of Jewish leaders capable of effectively organizing for justice, inside and outside of Jewish communities.

The action in Boston reflected JOIN’s vision of the Jewish community responding to the call to play a role in the country’s social justice struggles. This call came from the immigrant justice movement. The response infused Jewish wisdom and experience with JOIN’s brand of social justice organizing. 

“The running joke in our JOIN cohort,” said Emet Ezell, “is that the #NeverAgainParaNadie action was the real Siyyum (graduation), which feels quite true to me. There was the Siyyum ceremony, and the day after that, we were organizing at the speed of light for the Boston action. I truly felt ready to step into that whirlwind because of the tools JOIN had given me, but more importantly, a large amount of us immediately planning the action were connected to JOIN in some way or another.”

Emet Ezell yelling into a bull horn. Beside and behind them is a multiracial crowd of people.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.

“I was at the front with Li, who organizes for Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant justice organization, and we were holding the energy of the people. In front of me was Miles, who I worked with at SEIU 509, telling me to stall or walk faster or slow down. He was also coordinating with Jon and Hannah, who were working on logistics, and coordinating that entire situation. Then Molly walks by with Jesse and Kaila and I see them holding up their phones for the live stream. Carly and Aviva are in the crowd, holding down the songs that I’m leading and looking at me with trusting followership. And then, as we round the corner, Harry and Abbie are getting arrested. Throughout the entire action, I’m seeing folks from my cohort and previous JOIN cohorts. This was why I knew I was able to show up: because I had competent, trusting followership behind me. Because I had a network of hearts that believed in me.” 

Most would think the action was the culmination of a longtime plan, but the reality is the opposite. Less than two weeks prior to it taking place, Miles Meth had attended a Momentum training with Movimiento Cosecha, but he did not make the Never Again connection then.

“On the way back from the training,” said Miles, “my flight got delayed for four hours and I shared the ride back with Li Adorno (of Cosecha). We had the chance to bond and connect over our families, and go deep. So when this conversation about concentration camps was really erupting in the Jewish community, and questions about whether ICE detention centers should be called them or should they not, and what should we be doing, I realized then that this was an opportunity to take action, and I felt very comfortable contacting Li.”

“We had a half hour conversation about what kind of action should be taken, and then that led to a conversation with a couple of other Cosecha organizers, which finally led to an in-person meeting of 25 or so Jewish and immigrant organizers, and that was the genesis of the action itself.”

Sarah O’Connor said the relationships she formed in JOIN were key to her current involvement in this movement. A week before the actions took place, she connected the Jewish experience with the current immigrant crisis when a friend (who is a LatinX Jew)  posted an alarm about it on Facebook, urging Jews to take ACTION. Hundreds of people commented on that post, including Sarah. 

“Before that post, none of the current Never Again organizing and actions had been on anybody’s radar. The immigration crisis has been going on for years, but what struck a chord with people was how the post made the connection to the Holocaust. I think a lot of people who were watching the way that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got totally slammed for comparing the border camps to concentration camps, were also imagining what might have happened had they been alive in the time of the Holocaust, and felt they were ready to take action as Jews to make it clear that when we say Never Again we mean it, and that our people’s trauma was not going to be used to distract us from what Representative AOC correctly identified as concentration camps. We were able to provide a galvanizing frame and container for them to do that in a way that I think nobody else was.” 

“Every time somebody from JOIN stepped into a role,” said Miles, “I knew that person was going to be solid because they had the training and skills. JOIN is selective in bringing on people and cultivating people who have a certain social justice analysis that they’re bringing to the work. I think that is really crucial when you’re working under a lot of stress and urgency, having people who you know are invested in organizing from a point of listening to the people who are closest to the oppression and investing in and privileging their experiences and their voices, was something that we were actively trying to do in working with Cosecha on this.”

Miles also said the facilitation training that he got from JOIN helped to keep the core members of the action on the same page.  “We would have phone conversations at 9 am every day, and no one wants to talk on the phone for more than an hour, so it felt really important to have ways to organize our thoughts, move us through them, and allow everybody a chance to talk about what was going on for them and where they needed support, but also to just connect as people.  I think the facilitation training, and just the experience I got as a JOIN Fellow were really shining through here.”

“Ever since taking Rabbi David Jaffe’s Fellowship training on humility, I had been thinking about what it means to be right-sized in a moment, in an action, and in a role,” said Emet.

Emet explained “right-sized” to be about finding the intersection between what is needed in a moment, and what one has to offer. It is about the dance between yourself and others – knowing when to shrink or to swell. It’s both a release of ego and finding the courage to take up as much space as the situation needs when the opportunity arises.  

“As someone who leads song and brings a lot of energy – no matter what space I’m in – I sometimes feel like I’m too much or I’m asking too much, and I think this was the first time I was in a space where I didn’t feel that way,” said Emet. “I was at the front: leading songs, singing, holding 1,000+ heartbeats, but I felt like that was an appropriate-sized task for me in the moment, and in the movement. Stepping into that role was really when it clicked for me, this concept of being ‘right-sized.’”

 

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To read more about Boston’s Never Again Action and Others, read the following:

To find out more about Never Again or to support them, visit here

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