Protecting the Right of Public Protest: RAC-FL’s 2021 Legislative Campaign

March 23, 2021Cara Gold

This week during Passover, Jewish families across the world will fulfill the mitzvah of passing on the story of our people’s greatest protest movement to their children. Our HagaddahHaggadahהַגָּדָהLiterally, “telling.” This is the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover seder. Plural: Haggadot.  teaches it is incumbent upon every generation to feel as if they too came up out of Egypt.

One of the ways we teach future generations about freedom and standing up to injustice is by bringing our children to peaceful protests. We march and sing alongside partners of all races and faiths in opposition to the Egypts and Pharaohs of today. When Moses spoke out to Pharaoh, and the Israelites rose up to claim their freedom, they did so in peaceful protest.

This legislative session, members of the Florida legislature are working to pass legislation that will chill free speech and assembly by threatening to criminalize peaceful public protest. If passed, the bill will unnecessarily intimidate and punish peaceful protesters, especially Black Floridians fighting for racial justice. As we busy ourselves with cleaning out the chametzchametzחָמֵץFoods not eaten during Passover. Chametz typically includes leavened bread or any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, oats, or spelt, unless production has been supervised to ensure that it has not leavened. from our homes and souls this week, Florida’s Reform Jews are adding one task to their usual Passover preparations: they are acting to oppose Florida House Bill 1/Senate Bill 484, the Anti-Protest Bill.

In July 2020, the RAC officially launched the Florida Religious Action Center (RAC-FL), coinciding with the launch of a statewide civic engagement effort through Every Voice, Every Vote: The Reform Movement’s 2020 Civic Engagement Campaign. This launch was the culmination of two years of organizing efforts in Florida.

Leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections, our Reform Jewish communities worked in coalition to advocate for the passage of the Amendment 4 ballot initiative, aimed at restoring the right to vote for 1.4 million Floridians (the fourth largest voter enfranchisement movement in U.S. history), which passed on Election Day. Just one year later, our communities partnered with immigration justice organizations to advocate for the closure of the Homestead detention center, the only private, for-profit detention center housing immigrant children. Both campaigns provided opportunities for our communities to carry out the values to tikkun olam and pursue a more moral and just Florida for all.

Following our nation’s recent election, RAC-FL leaders from across the state mobilized to research opportunities through which our Reform Jewish congregations and communities could have an impact during Florida’s 2021 Legislative Session. Through conversations with social justice organizations and elected officials, we identified a key opportunity to act in partnership across lines of race, faith, and class around an issue that resonated deeply with our Reform Jewish values and tradition: opposing HB1/SB484, the anti-protest bill.

What is HB1/SB484, the anti-protest bill?

The anti-protest bill was intended to and will, if enacted, chill free speech and peaceful assembly. It was introduced in response to protests for racial justice and will threaten the ability of Floridians to take part in speaking out on the issues that matter to us. Protest is central to our moral fabric. Historically, our communities have made our voices heard through protest movements to support unions, during the civil rights movement, and the movement to free Soviet Jewry. More recently, Reform Jews across Florida have stood up for gun violence prevention, immigration justice, and voting rights

RAC-FL’s recently launched Anti-Protest Bill Campaign is focused on three core strategies:

  • Educating our congregations and communities about this issue
  • Influencing public opinion
  • Influencing legislators

What You can Do to Oppose HB1/SB484

The Florida Legislative Session is only 60 days, and this bill is moving quickly through the legislature. Here are the next steps you can take to join this campaign at RAC.org/FLcommit and move into action over the days and weeks ahead:

  1. Host a virtual house meeting: Sign up to host a virtual house meeting to educate your congregation and engage them in this campaign, and learn more by viewing our Virtual House Meeting Toolkit.
  2. Meet with your elected officials: Sign up to participate in meetings with your state legislators. We are scheduling meetings on a rolling basis.
  3. Stay updated: Sign up to receive regular updates about the anti-protest bill and campaign actions through our Rapid Response Network. We will continue sending updates through the end of the campaign.
  4. Take action through RAC-FL’s March 25 Call-in Day: This week at seder tables and Zoom screens across Florida, families will fulfill the mitzvah of passing the story of our people’s greatest protest movement onto their children. This Passover, join RAC-FL in opposing the Anti-Protest Bill! Contact the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and ask them to “Vote NO on the anti-protest bill." Learn more at rac.org/FLcallinday.
  5. Find additional resources: Access campaign resources in the RAC-FL Tent group, including:
    • RAC-FL’s Anti-Protest Bill Background Document
    • RAC-FL’s Campaign Text Resource: The Responsibility of Public Protest
    • Recordings of past campaign statewide calls and training

We will continue mobilizing our RAC-FL base to act with Faith in Florida and other coalition partners to oppose the anti-protest bill. As Jews, protest in relationship with those who suffer injustice in any form is a religious obligation. As it is stated in Leviticus, we will not stand idly by; our moral and ethical teachings will not permit it.

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November 2, 2021
At this moment, we are faced with an array of challenges: racial injustice, attacks on abortion rights, immigration justice, climate change, economic inequality, and more. As Reform Jews, we know that we can and must work to repair what is broken in our world. The Commission on Social Action leads the Reform Movement's social justice work - and we are eager for you to join us.