The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
As we look back on 2015, it may be easier to focus on the areas of our work where challenges still remain, especially as we think about our resolutions and goals for the next year. But, it’s just as important to take stock of the past year and reflect on the wins and the progress in 2015. Here are our social justices success highlights:
This year, criminal justice reform gained significant momentum as a bipartisan coalition formed around the belief that our criminal justice system has become too large, too expensive and too punitive. Thanks to the work of the interfaith advocacy community who helped shepherd this process along, two new bills, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) and the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713), have passed out of committee and are expected to come up for floor votes early in 2016.
Many states and cities raised the wage this year, bringing their minimum wage closer in line to the living wage for their communities. In 2015, New York raised the minimum wage for fast food workers Massachusetts raised the minimum wage for home care workers to $15 an hour. Cities across the country also passed living wage ordinances including Los Angeles, CA, Kansas City, MO, Portland, ME, Birmingham, AL, Lexington, KY, and more. These campaigns are raising the wages for low income workers, insuring that those who work can earn enough money to support themselves and their families.
In June, the Supreme Court of the United States declared marriage equality the law of the land in Obergefell v. Hodges. This landmark decision affirmed that all people, regardless of whom they love, deserve the full protection of our Constitution, and was a historic victory for the LGBT community. As we move into 2016, it is important that we look at LGBT issues beyond marriage equality, and work towards comprehensive protections against LGBT discrimination.
In August, over 200 Reform rabbis and lay leaders joined the NAACP in America’s Journey for Justice, a 1000 mile march from Selma, AL, to Washington, D.C. A sefer Torah was carried all 1,000 miles, signaling the commitment of the Reform Movement to fight for racial equality, criminal justice reform and voting rights for all.
In October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (AB 953) into law, a victory for Reform California, our advocacy partners and our communities. Now, all law enforcement departments in California will be required to report their stops and searches to a state advisory board made up of law enforcement, community groups and other experts, who will review the data and make recommendations about how to end racial and identity profiling. Reform CA rabbis and congregants played an important role in this victory: meeting with legislators and the Governor's staff, giving High Holiday sermons on racial profiling, and calling and emailing Governor Brown by the hundreds. Our hard work will help make California a better place to live, and contribute to our work to help bring about racial justice in California and across the country.
President Obama has used executive orders and rules to provide new protections to workers, especially low wage workers. In September, the President provided employees of federal contractors the ability to earn seven protected paid sick through an executive order. Currently, 500,000 contractors have no paid sick time, so this order will allow them to take time off when to care for themselves or a family members. This order helps set the stage for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, a bill that would create a national standard of earned sick time for all employees.
The President has increased the number of refugees the United States will welcome in 2016 and 2017. In October, President Obama announced the U.S. would accept 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017, including 10,000 from Syria. Furthermore, anti-refugee legislation was not included in the budget package passed in mid-December. Although this was a win, we must continue to advocate for the U.S. to accept more refugees. We are instructed in the Holiness Code (Lev. 19:33) to take to heart the lessons of our own history by treating aliens in our midst with justice and compassion. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was funded through 2022. This year lawmakers stood up for people living with disabilities and made sure that nearly million Americans would not see a 20% cut to their modest SSDI benefits. Because of funding problems in the Social Security program, all beneficiaries of SSDI would have lost more than 200 dollars at the end of 2016, and SSDI accounts for a majority of the income for most beneficiaries.
For many years, members of the anti-torture community wondered if Obama’s Executive Order banning all federal agencies from torturing detainees would survive after his administration. Thankfully, that question is no longer on the table. With the help of security experts, civil liberties groups and the faith community Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) worked with their colleagues to include a broad ban on torture in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As our statement on the bill’s signing in November made clear, “the bipartisan NDAA makes clear that the U.S. can ensure national defense while affirming human rights and the fundamental principle that all people are deserving of dignity and respect.” As we continue to advocate for policies that protect the dignity of all people, we will not forget this pivotal achievement.
On December 12, 2015, 196 countries adopted a historic climate agreement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. These countries committed to working as a global community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature rise, and provide aid to communities that face the undue burden of climate change. As we move into 2016, it is upon each country to reach their emissions targets and implement new policy to achieve the global goals.
The FY2016 appropriations bill cleared the way for U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, a fund established to help vulnerable communities adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Last year, President Obama announced a $3 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund by 2020, including $500 million in the FY16 budget. We successfully fought off attempts to exclude funding for the Green Climate Fund in the end of year budget package, and hope the United States will therefore be able to uphold its $500 million commitment for this year
As part of the final budget and tax extenders package for 2016, Congress made permanent improvements for two refundable tax credits that go to working families. The EITC and CTC have been two of the most effective anti-poverty programs in our nation’s history, helping millions of working families support themselves and set their kids on the right path to a bright future. The Jewish tradition calls on us to address poverty in our communities, and this expansion will ensure that millions of people that work hard can get ahead.
December 2015 brought about good news for supporters of comprehensive sexuality education. Although funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program was largely at risk, the new budget will continue to fund the program at the same level as last year. Additionally, the budget included a two million dollar increase over last year’s funding level for the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH), which helps schools implement effective HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) prevention programs that are based on the best available science.