The Wages of Democracy

The last day* to register to vote in California has passed and we are now in the home stretch towards the midterm elections. Whether it’s a blue wave or a red wave or something more ambivalent, our nation’s deep divides are only likely to increase. Decades of erosion have plunged the body politic into an alarming state of divisiveness, which is causing fallout in the lives of individuals from vulnerable populations – immigrants, LGBTQ, ethnic and religious minorities.

These communities, as well as our Jewish community, have in recent decades been shielded from the worst effects of authoritarianism by a strong and healthy democracy. But we can no longer take this insulation for granted. As democratic norms and institutions atrophy, we’re seeing more incidences of discrimination, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. To ward against further disintegration, the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council, with support from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and many others, has taken up the fight for a strong, healthy democratic and civil society.

In the run-up to the election, we have been holding nonpartisan ‘get out the vote’ events at JCCs. These JCRC-sponsored voter registration efforts have, through a novel texting app, empowered more than 80 community members and staff to contact tens of thousands of unregistered voters in five low-registration counties in California to encourage them to register and to vote.

Our unprecedented day-long forum – “Waging Democracy” – held this month in partnership with the Protect Democracy Project, was a great success, drawing approximately 120 attendees from across the Bay Area for a day of discussion, learning and action. If you missed the chance to attend, or if you want to revisit one of the day’s many sessions, you are in luck. They are available via our YouTube channel. There you’ll find:

The day’s Opening Remarks, presented by Shirley McGuire, Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs at the University of San Francisco; Ian Bassin, Executive Director of the Protect Democracy Project; and Abby Porth, Executive Director of JCRC. Each offer their perspectives on why it is critical to understand what is happening with our democracy at this time in history.

A session on Our Democracy addressing what’s happening to our norms and institutions with moderator Gloria Duffy, The Commonwealth Club, and panelists Ian Bassin, Protect Democracy Project; Wendy Weiser, Director, Brennan Center for Justice; and Mickey Edwards, The Aspen Institute.

An impassioned and powerful speech by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on voting rights, innovation and election integrity in the Golden State.

A look at The Media and how the public can better understand its influence and effects, presented in conversation with Audrey Cooper, Editor in Chief, San Francisco Chronicle, and Marisa Lagos, political reporter, KQED.

A Keynote Speech by Professor Aziz Huq from the University of Chicago Law School. Professor Huq, who was introduced at the event by Jewish Community Federation CEO Danny Grossman, is author of “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy” (2018) and speaks eloquently about the threats to democracy in America today.

Our panel on Civil Society and how we raise the level of discourse with moderator Abby Porth, JCRC, and panelists Kristen Cambell, PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement), and Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, National Institute for Civil Discourse.

A session on Our Politics and the exciting efforts underway to rise above politics and come together across party lines to safeguard our democracy, featuring Mike Berkowitz, Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, and Yascha Mounk, Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, Senior Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, and Executive Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

And, finally, Insights by the Waging Democracy Co-Chairs Leslie Katz, Greenberg Traurig, a Democrat; Kristin Olsen, Stanislaus County Supervisor and former Minority Leader at the California State Assembly, a Republican; and Professor Dan Schnur, University of Southern California and UC Berkeley, an Independent (or “No Party preference,” as it’s labelled in California).

During the forum, in discussing how we got to the point we’re at and how we can dig our way out, Mickey Edwards, who was a Republican member of Congress for 16 years, remarked, “There have been so many factors that we have not prepared for – the effects of globalization, the effects of technology. You know, it’s not a matter of being against technology or against globalization, it’s a matter of knowing that it’s coming and what the impact will be on various kinds of societies and how you prepare for that.” And that’s exactly the kind of analysis and discussion, at least on the local level, that JCRC will be exploring moving forward.

You can expect more events and activity in the coming months, part of a broad “democracy initiative” we’ve launched. We already hosted a pre-election Civic Connection event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and, to discuss critical issues coming out the election, we will be hosting a Civic Connection event on December 4 in Redwood City. And if you’d like to receive other updates on our democracy work, please be sure to sign up to be on our mailing list; make sure to select the “public affairs” area of interest.

Right now, the threat to fair governance is on a level not seen for generations. Together, working across party and ideological lines, we can chart a better course. The Constitution, jurisprudence and a legacy of shared values gives us the ability to fight back – meaningfully and civilly – for the principles that keep us secure and make our democracy worth protecting.

I hope you will join us in our efforts.

*Note: If you missed the October 22 deadline to register to vote or update your voter registration information, there may still be an opportunity for you to cast a ballot via the Conditional Voter Registration process.

Categories: Community, Videos, Events


November 01, 2018


Jeremy Russell