Community Contact Information:
Temple Shir Tikvah
Beth El Temple Center
- Defeat Question One, which would have elimated the MA state income
- Engage a deep network of congregational members in the effort
- Develop new leaders for ongoing social justice work
In the summer of 2008, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization community learned that Question One, which would eliminate the state income tax, would be on the November Ballot. At that time, polling demonstrated that the measure would likely pass. Passage would have led to massive cuts in state infrastructure, health care, education, elder care, and other essential services. The clergy & leadership of GBIO and the five congregations joined in the fight to defeat Question One.
The strategy was launched by the social justice organizing leadership teams at each synagogue working within the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, the IAF affiliate in Boston. Each synagogue made commitments to identify a specific number of members of their synagogue and their surrounding community that would vote No on Question One. For example, one congregation committed to identifying 300 members of their community. Commitments were obtained from door-to-door canvassing, solicitation at congregational events, and phone calls. Commitment cards were used, where community members signed their names and wrote contact information to indicate their support of Vote No on Question One. Educational events were held (some jointly with other faith institutions); sermons were made from the pulpit, and presentations were made at synagogue events to let people know about the inititative.
Members of each synagogue's leadership team committed, as individuals, to gathering commitment cards (one congregation's leadership team initially pledged 300 cards). This initial meeting occured roughly 6 weeks prior to the day of the vote. In the ensuing six weeks, as more and more temple members became involved, this number grew. By the time of the vote, over 175 congregants across the five congregations had done some kind of work to gather cards to Vote No -- some spoke to friends and co-workers, some went door-to-door or canvassed at area events, and some spoke to their committees within the temple. Phone banks were held to contact voters in key swing voting districts. Volunteers at one congregation's phone bank made over 2400 calls. Another congregation collected commitments at Friday night Oneg's. Each of the synagogues had its own process. Congregations distributed lawn signs and bumper stickers. The leadership teams from each temple met together with others in GBIO to plan (and replan) our strategies - we shared ideas (successes and failures), exchanged materials, and supported each other. Joint events were held with participation across the faith institutions.
The Vote No campaign received statements of support from the Jewish community. The Union of Reform Judaism Northeast Region endorsed the Vote No campaign and urged all Massachusetts Reform congregations to take action on Voting No on Question 1. In addition, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston took a strong stance against Question 1, speaking on behalf of Jewish social service agencies and the most vulnerable community members. Finally, the Beit Din of Massachusetts noted that the State “budget ... is the final safety net for the uninsured sick, the indigent, the hungry, the homeless, the abandoned elderly and the abandoned young, as well as the mentally ill. [Failure to maintain funds for these purposes is] contrary to our values, as they have been forged in our Torah and tradition”.
The congregations together collected nearly 4500 commitment cards. Question One failed by a nearly 40 point margin, a tremendous statement on the part of residents of Massachusetts that our common life together is worth collective investment, even in difficult times.
Each congregation had to overcome internal disagreement over the role of the synagogue in ballot measures and electoral politics, and the voices of many who initially thought the campaign was a losing cause. For some congregations, this was the first involvement in a ballot measure (and there were congregants who were uncertain that this was a proper role for a congregation). The program developed at the synagogues' through this campaign will prove valuable in the coming years as other ballot measures that threaten or contribute to our community will undoubtedly appear in upcoming election seasons.
This program received a Fain Award in 2009.