With everything currently going on in the world, I had been feeling kind of down. I wanted to do something to make a difference, but I wasn’t sure what.
Last month, a friend and I attended a meeting of the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section that was held at our local Livingston Library. NCJW Essex is a longstanding chapter of a community volunteer and advocacy organization. Inspired by Jewish values, the organization runs a wide variety of programs geared toward advocating for social justice, especially for issues that impact women, children, and families.
The topic of the meeting was how to turn “passion into action.” As it turns out, I was not the only person feeling this way. Mandi Perlmutter, Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement of NCJW/Essex says that, “In the past few months we have seen an increase in people feeling anxious and overwhelmed by what is going on in the world. They feel that issues that the care about are in jeopardy such as reproductive rights, voting rights, human trafficking and gun violence prevention.”
Do you want to get more involved in social justice but aren’t sure how?
NCJW/Essex offers these helpful suggestions on how to get involved in advocacy and volunteering:
1. Narrow your causes
There are innumerable worthwhile causes. But it is difficult to be a champion for everything. If you really want to make a difference, consider narrowing your focus to 1-3 issues that especially concern you. Perlmutter says, “With all the calls to action on social media, it can be really overwhelming. We find when you try to do too much, you actually wind up doing less. Better to focus on the issues that are meaningful to you.”
2. Do research
Get educated. You want to be able to talk intelligently about the issues you are addressing. And if you’ve narrowed your focus, you can study in depth and master the issues you are passionate about. Find out where your local legislators stand on things like gun violence prevention. Remember to stick to the facts; avoid meaningless name-calling and mudslinging— it takes away from the causes you are advocating for.
3. Decide What Works For You
Advocacy is about speaking out about important issues. But there are many ways to do this including handwritten correspondence, phone calls, town hall meetings and visits to legislators. Decide what method(s) work best with your personal style. If you need help figuring out how to make your voice heard, NCJW has staff members and volunteers available to answer questions and also offers various training programs throughout the year.
4. Think Locally
People may think, “What’s the point? My legislator isn’t going to read an email I send him.” But staffers do read, log and report the input they receive from constituents. And don’t underestimate what can be done if you advocate locally. Perlmutter says, “It is not just about making changes at a national level. There is plenty of work to be done locally. Communicate with local mayors and school boards. Small changes such as bringing the Sandy Hook Promise Program into schools can make big differences in many people’s lives.”
5. Take a Break
Figure out what makes you for better and what makes you feel worse—some people are energized by protests or meetings, others find them draining. Perlmutter says, “I find that for me, reading through Facebook posts on issues is not the best use of my time. Instead, I use Twitter as a resource because it is less personal which allows me to focus on the issues.” If you are feeling overwhelmed, allow yourself a break from social media.
6. Find Connection Through Activism
Remember, you are not alone. The experiences of the many people who participating in the Women’s Marches across the nation this past January are a perfect illustration of the camaraderie that comes from joining together for a common cause. Says Perlmutter, “Community service helps people to connect to one another. It opens up dialogues and gives people hope that together we can impact change.”
New Jersey residents: For more information on volunteer and advocacy opportunities through NCJW/Essex contact Paula Cohen, Vice President of Advocacy.