Following RAC-NJ’s August 2020 launch, which included our mandate to act for racial and economic justice based on feedback from the summer’s statewide listening campaign, twenty-two RAC-NJ emerging leaders from all parts of the state completed training to become RAC-NJ’s first Research Team. Through the fall, the Research Team met regularly to learn some principles of research through an organizing lens, determine our issue criteria, and think about how to prepare ourselves to build relationships across lines of difference. The issue criteria we landed on were:
- Makes a meaningful difference toward increasing racial and economic justice in New Jersey;
- Reflective of our Jewish values;
- Actions our people can take;
- Strong partners;
- Winnable – (but not a slam dunk!); and
- Specific, strategic timeline.
We then spent time developing research agendas and questions to help uncover whether a campaign was likely to fit our issue criteria. We brainstormed lists of potential partners and then set up “pre-meetings” to determine whether a full research action made sense at that time. Some of our meetings were expressly to consider taking on a particular campaign or campaigns, and others were framed – openly and collaboratively with our potential partners – as actions on ourselves to learn more about the landscape for racial and economic justice in New Jersey. Beginning after the Presidential Election, we met with 18 New Jersey social justice organizations – some of them multiple times – before we formally concluded our research campaign in mid-March!
Following our research campaign, we developed and hosted two RAC-NJ issue selection town halls. At this pair of town halls, we explained the research process, walked participants through our top choices, and asked participants for their feedback about whether they felt more excited to work on one campaign or the other (or equally excited to work on both). The town halls were evenly split, with almost identical numbers preferring each possible campaign, and the most people equally excited to work on either campaign. That gave RAC-NJ’s 12-member Core Team the opportunity to exercise their political instincts.
Ultimately, RAC-NJ’s Core Team decided to take up Ban the Box in Housing with lead partner Fair Share Housing Center as our first RAC-NJ issue campaign, with Democracy-in-a-Day and the Reproductive Freedom Act remaining on our agenda if we should be lucky enough to have an early success on Ban-the-Box in Housing.