Notes from March 27 Human Rights Committee Meeting

Monday, March 27, 2017, 7:30 PM, 137 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood

Discussion About Tax Status for SOMa Action
Question: Should SOMa Action endorse candidates?

There were a number of questions raised about this. Does it make sense to lean toward one party or another? We will “disenfranchise” people who may not agree with an endorsement choice. On the other hand, if SOMa Action does not endorse candidates, we may lose those who think we should. It was felt that it would be possible to elect an independent candidate, rather than having to support either a Dem or Rep. Which is more divisive, endorsing or not endorsing (similar questions raised as at the Steering Committee discussion on this issue). And how far can SOMa Action go in supporting a candidate without an official endorsement. These are questions for the attorney as well as the larger April gathering with other new grassroots groups. It was agreed that a positive step is a questionnaire for candidates asking their positions on progressive policies, etc. and then circulating the answers to SOMa Action so members can make their own determination on whom to support.

SOMa Action does need to explore a tax status and become “more official” and purchase D and O insurance for the Steering Committee. It is necessary to have an independent bank account with designated signatories as well.

Proposed Language for State Legislation Needed
We discussed the need for legislative language in the two following areas pertaining to our Human Rights committees:
Reproductive Rights
Protecting freedom of choice. NY’s AG has proposed a set of legislative acts to protect reproductive rights if/when Roe v Wade is overturned. Also protect access to contraception. Use NY proposed wording? Jami Thalll and Lauren Knighton will research and work on language to be presented to legislators if/when federal legislation in this area is overturned, so rights are protected on the state level.
Sexual Orientation Rights
Make sure marriage equality is enshrined in NJ law as well as freedom from persecution in employment because of sexual or gender orientation. Minh Nguyen and Guillaume Meyers-Normand will research and work on language to protect the rights of LGBTQ (especially transgender) people.

Debrief from Work of Each Committee

Women’s Rights/Planned Parenthood
The committee members have been in touch with the board of Isaiah House in East Orange which provides services to primarily women and their children. Isaiah House is setting up workshops for their clients and has requested that those with expertise in a variety of areas volunteer to facilitate. Some of the areas are Job Search Skills and Maintaining Mental Health. (A full description of needs is available on the Isaiah House post on the SOMa Action website).

North Porch Women and Infants’ Center in Dover have requested donations of formula, diapers and baby wipes. as well as monetary donations They are organizing a Mother’s Day drive which SOMa Action can participate in. Local parishes have also partnered with North Porch such as St. George’s in Maplewood. The Women’s Rights Committee is considering helping to facilitate this local drive.

In terms of Planned Parenthood, it is understood that our local locations have asked that there not be any pro-life demonstrations at their sites because it is intimidating to clients. A question was raised about funding for PP and which candidates running in upcoming elections are favorable to PP.

The issue of communication about our projects and focus areas was raised in terms of reaching all of SOMa Action’s members as well as coordination with other SOMa Action committees that might be appropriate for partnering (for example, the question of candidates views on funding for Planned Parenthood). This is a question for the Steering Committee to consider. Each committee could function as a “silo”, but it is more effective if there is coordination.

LGBTQ Rights
Members of the committee have reached out to a variety of local organization working on these issues, but are still waiting to hear back from some. Their particular focus is on transgender issues. They announced a summer camp being created for trans youth age 12 and younger over the weekend of May 12-14. The organizers are looking for transgender adults as role models and speakers. There is also a new foundation established to assist transgender youth, the Sam and Deborah Foundation for Trans Youth. Several members of the committee saw a film recently at Oheb Shalom, “Yossi and Jagger”shown by the Oheb LGBTQ+ Alliance. This may be a film SOMa Action would like to sponsor in the future along with Cecilia Cranko, a transgender woman who served in the Israel Defense Forces and is a local parent. Another organization for outreach is Hitop, providing services for adolescent health and well-being.

The committee has set up a call with High Top, an organization that supports adolescent health and well-being. There is an advocacy training in April with Garden State Equality for Pride. It was suggested that the committee set up a SOMa Action booth at the local Pride Festival and give out information about SOMa Action as well as talk to potential new members. The Hetrick Martin Institute is setting up a program in Newark for homeless gay youth and they are gathering donations of toiletries, cereal bars and other necessities. It was also suggested that the committee set up a week before the Pride Festival in Maplewood downtown to collect advertise that they are going to be collecting donations at the Pride Festival.

St. George’s Church has a program for First Friends, assisting people in immigrant detention centers. the LGBTQ committee can look for volunteers to visit gay detainees.
Religious Justice
Members of this committee met at an ad hoc meeting to discuss interfaith programming. The group came together because of a concern about recent incidents of religious intimidation in local schools and in the South Orange reservation as well as mosques that have been threatened and Jewish institutions in NJ and elsewhere. We were firm that we want to research what is already available in the area of interfaith programs so that we do not “reinvent the wheel”, but work to promote what is already being done as well as create our own programs where we perceive there is a gap. (The full notes from that meeting are available on the SOMa Action website).

There is a new parent group in town PARES that is addressing recent incidents of racial and religious intimidation and hate. There is a documentary available about Rabbi Joachim Prinz, “I Shall Not Be Silent” that will be shown at Temple Shaarey Tefilo Israel on April 22 at 7 pm, introducing his work for racial and religious justice.

A member of the committee is making contact with local clergy to share that SOMa Action would like to know more about their interfaith work and how we can supportive. There is a meeting set up with Rev. Rick Boyer at Prospect Church and Rev. Poppy at St. George’s. A special interest is partnering with nearby vulnerable communities through their churches.

A suggestion for the committee is to set up a “long table” dinner to share a meal with members of a variety of faith communities (for example, Jews and Muslims) with a conversation about topics of mutual interest (perhaps, the similarities between the communities). This would be both a social and educational event. Marcia has offered to help organize a local chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom for Jewish and Muslim women. This is a national organization founded by Sheryl Olitzky. This can provide an opportunity to build relationships with local Muslim women. SOSS can be a model for interfaith programming for SOMa Action as well.

One model to research is the Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, a restaurant that serves food from countries in conflict and with which the US may be in conflict. We could serve food at an interfaith event that represents the traditional foods of the communities present.

Big Question To Consider

What is our (Human Rights Committees) mission? Is it outreach to other local organizations also working on our issue areas? Do we select a few local organizations as partners and focus on more in-depth relationship building or do we get information about many organizations working on Human Rights issues and share the information with our SOMa Action members so they can determine which organizations they might like to get involved with? How can we be most effect and impactful? How do we effectively make change toward progressive policies and support local needs? How do we prioritize all the “fires” that are currently burning?

Do we focus on education, public opinion change and political action or do we assist with filling local needs and reacting to events? This can be a question for each SOMa Action committee to review and determine an answer.

SOMa Action can be a clearinghouse/contact point for involvement with people being directed to other organizations for involvement (in an effort not to reinvent the wheel) or is that not the purpose of SOMa Action?

How do we integrate our desire to be activists with our current committee focus? This is a question for the Steering Committee as well because it raises the issue of coordination and communication.

Another question is can SOMa Action provide a calendar of New Jersey state legislation that impacts our areas of focus (women, religious justice, LGBTQ, racial justice/ criminal justice reform, etc.)

It was requested that each SOMa Action committee provide notes from their meetings on the website so we can all stay up on committee action and plans. The Human Rights committees requested a meeting once a month of our four sub-areas for coordination and information-sharing.

Announcements and Upcoming Events (a partial list)

LGBTQ is now an independent committee of SOMa Action!
Women’s Rights is now an independent committee!
Religious Justice is now an independent committee!

Human Rights Conference at Seton Hall sponsored by NJ College English Association
Saturday, April 1, 9 AM-5 PM

The Growing Threat of Anti-Semitism and Intolerance
Tuesday, April 4, 10 AM, Temple B’nai Abraham
300 East Northfield Road, Livingston

Join the Fight for Immigrant Rights
Make the Road NJ and SOMa Action
Tuesday, April 4, 7 PM, 42 Broad Street, Elizabeth

Bringing Our Voices to DC/Visiting NJ Delegation in Washington
Wednesday, April 5 (contact Lillian Hawkins)

Notes by Marcia Bloomberg, co-chair of Religious Justice Committee