Exchange 3: Honesty

Dear Jon, Thank you very much for your reply, for sharing your personal perspective, and for putting on the table what I agree are urgent questions for all of us who wonder how to find the energy and inspiration for presidential election politics, given the gap between what is promised and what is achieved.

You ask: “How can hope be communicated and shared in the absence of noticeable progress?” And you press further: “For those on the short end of our country’s growing economic inequality, what is it about our political choices today that suggests we’re on the cusp of making change?” As I read this question, I thought to myself: Nothing. Nothing currently suggests that presidential politics are on the cusp of a significant change of direction. And nothing will create such a cusp if we pretend we are already at one. As with telling a child, “We’re almost there” when we are hours from our destination, we lose credibility when we lie about where we are.

Election promises are almost always fantasies. Honesty about the forces organized against social and economic justice is part of organizing effectively for justice. I think we gain credibility by being honest about the obstacles we face, and that the honesty itself creates a degree of hope.

Honesty requires exposing the ways our government fails its people (such as bailing out banks while allowing individuals to hit bottom) as well as taking genuine responsibility for change. Jews have been key members of progressive movements in this country. Yet there is something a little tricky about this. We are a community of immigrants and descendants of immigrants who came to this country seeking security. Many of us have benefited from access to upward mobility. These benefits ally us with some of the same systems that our principles as Jews often cause us to oppose — systems that rely on classism, racism, and the prioritizing of market values over human ones. (For example, our schools are tools for advancement but they also keep a class system in place.) Working for justice requires those of us who are economically privileged to work for structural changes that may rattle our sense of security. This is where we have the chance to follow the wisdom of the slogan “no justice, no peace,” whose flip side is found in Pirkei Avot: “Marbeh tzedakah, marbeh shalom” — “One who increases justice increases peace.”

Certain campaigns — for example, the Affordable Care Act, burgeoning national conversations on both race and inequality, same-sex marriage — have moved forward under President Obama, with his leadership but not without massive popular organizing. Can we get as hopeful and excited about campaigns for change as we historically have about a personality? Do you think we can enthusiastically back campaigns, not primarily because we are enamored with the candidate, but explicitly for their movement building potential? Yours, Julie

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Exchange 3: Honesty

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