My name is Lela Wang and I’m a 10th grader and B’ShERT congregant. When Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, Digital Media and Youth Outreach Coordinator, sent out information about the URJ Religious Action Center (RAC) Teen Justice Fellowship in August, I signed up. The RAC has worked to mobilize the Reform Jewish Movement to advocate for social justice. It was a wonderful program, and greatly helped me to do a civic engagement project. The RAC helped me learn about community organizing, how to start a movement and how to make change.
For the fellowship, I did a non-partisan voting advocacy project. I asked volunteers to make a voting sign to display in a window in either their home or a business. If the sign was displayed in a business, volunteers would ask that business about their history and struggles in this difficult year. Then everyone answered the question, “Does one vote matter, and why?” I think it is very important that everybody votes because that’s the foundation of our democracy; we get to choose the people that lead our local government, state government, and our country.
There were many challenges. At first, it was difficult to start this project, and get enough volunteers. I found there were a lot of issues with businesses who were unwilling to participate, or took signs down after agreeing. They were reluctant to do anything remotely political, even if it was non-partisan. I also discovered that many people really didn’t believe one vote mattered. I found the political divide in our community was much bigger than I thought. With the election rapidly approaching, I had to make it all happen and compile all the responses.
There were also successes. There were some really inspiring things that were said and I am so happy with the result of this project. I think something as simple as spreading the word and encouraging voting through posters can make a difference, especially because all the signs were individually made, expressing unique and community-based work. I found this was also a tactic that was used when I did postcarding this summer, encouraging people to register to vote. The postcards had to be hand-written, which was quite tedious but much more personal. The posters were all very creative and I think that the project was a success. You can see the results on my project website “Your Vote, Your Voice” here: https://sites.google.com/view/vote-2020/home
Through this fellowship, I learned about community organizing and the many challenges involved. Civic engagement is difficult, but this was definitely a great learning experience and made me a more confident community organizer. I also learned a lot about different political views and I realized there are many people in my neighborhood and in my community who think differently—they aren’t just in states I have never been to or places far away. They are people just like you and me who just think differently and that is okay. We must spread kindness no matter what and work to better the world together.