Unless you live in an isolated cabin in the woods without access to a smartphone, computer, radio or television, it’s almost impossible not to notice the deep divide of opinions within our community when it comes to politics.
Motivated by personal core Jewish values, Valerie Habif and Joanie Shubin sought to create “a safe space for like-minded women to freely talk about issues of social justice,” they said.
In 2011 they started with a small group of 50 women, who showed up at their first meeting to address disinformation spreading about the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. Fast forward to 2019 where their small grassroots effort known as the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, Atlanta, has expanded to nearly 1,300 members. The group’s top agenda item is “getting out the vote, protecting the integrity of our elections, promoting progressive candidates and getting members involved in their local campaigns,” Habif said.
Thanks to member Kate Kratovil, who handles social media, the group expands their membership and reaches into the community mostly through the JDWS private and closed Facebook page.
About 1,000 JDWS members are engaged on a regular basis in screen posts, sharing progressive events, recommending local politicians to support and why, and connecting with each other. There are no dues, no fundraisers and no active solicitation of members. “The current political environment at both the national and local level resulted in a self-selection process of so many Jewish women who seek an opportunity to be difference-makers,” Shubin said.
“Trump’s election served to rally many who may not have fully grasped the critical importance of our electoral process that is at the core of our democracy.”
Habif added, “Where once it was enough to exercise our civic responsibility by voting, that level of engagement is simply no longer sufficient. JDWS aspires to engage our members beyond the voting booth, to a focus on local issues where we believe we can have the most direct impact,” she said.
JDWS encourages members to get to know local and state representatives.
“Write to those who represent you,” Shubin said. “Let them know your point of view on the bills that matter most to you. Become a social justice activist.”
The women’s group focuses on a number of issues, including reproductive rights, gun violence protection, local hate crime legislation, non-discrimination laws, public education, refugee and immigration policy, and protection from climate change.
JDWS participated in a late May coalition event supporting the International Human Trafficking Institute. The most recent event of the women’s group was a meeting with Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, Ga., who is running against incumbent David Perdue for his U.S. Senate seat. The group expects to meet with other Democratic candidates for this position as their campaigns are announced.
“Hyper-partisanship seems to us to promote fear and misunderstanding; it backs us into corners and promotes unwillingness to compromise, as demonstrated to us very clearly in the passage of Georgia’s anti-abortion law,” Habif said.
The group founders were both disappointed, “that the party that purports to want smaller government and less regulation has now given the government the right to have control over a woman’s right to make her own deeply personal healthcare decisions,” she said.
JDWS is working closely with the two-year-old Jewish Democratic Council of America in Washington, D.C., as it is doing on the national level what JDWS aspires to do on the local level. One member is now reaching out to contacts in Savannah, Macon and Columbus to see if other Jewish women want to emulate what JDWS is doing here.
The group continues to build strong coalitions with other local grassroots groups such as No Safe Seats, Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, Pave It Blue and Red Clay Democrats.
Shubin said, “Grassroots groups are not about the grass tops. Our strength is in our roots and we are growing them even stronger.” To that end, Habif said, “We hope more and more Jewish women will join us and lend their voices to our work in support of social justice.
“Elections matter. Our civic responsibilities begin in the polling booth, but they certainly don’t end there.”
To expand its reach further, JDWS hopes to launch a website “to create more accessibility for those who want to join but who prefer not to use Facebook,” she said.
To join JDWS, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org