46 Years Later: Connecting #mlk’s Last Speech to #abetterillinois

April 4, 2014

46 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In his last years, King focused his work on addressing the intersections between economic inequality, poverty and race. King was in Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Strike, a critical first campaign in his larger Poor People’s Campaign.

In his last speech, King said, “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

46 years after Dr. King spoke those words, economic and racial inequality are more strongly connected than ever.  As we see in this article, income inequality is growing in our city. Chicago’s staggering economically polarization is concentrated in communities of color, and nearly entirely in neighborhoods where CPS closed more that fifty Chicago Public Schools last year.

40 Years of Chicago’s Rising Inequality, in One GIF

We cannot stop our work to combat poverty.  JCUA is committed to addressing economic inequality in our city and state.  That is why we are members of the A Better Illinois coalition.  By working with A Better Illinois on changing Illinois’ flat rate income tax system, we are not only advocating for a more fair income tax.  We are also advocating for a solution to Illinois’ massive deficit and the resulting cuts in vital programs and services for the economically marginalized.  Together, we can stop the growing stratification in Chicago and draw a new map with more just colors.

 Want to get more involved with JCUA and A Better Illinois?  Click here.

Or Tzedek and Beth Emet Youth Build Power and Community

February 6, 2014

As a part of Or Tzedek and Beth Emet’s joint Jewish organizing program, thirty-six teens came together over the weekend to learn about JCUA’s two social justice campaigns about gun violence and economic justice.  At this overnight retreat, the participants’ passion for creating change in their city and thoughtful approach to choosing a campaign demonstrated their power as a community of powerful Jewish youth. 

1604381_475068609264027_336993884_nWe hear stories of gun violence and poverty in the media and see food deserts and homelessness on the streets of our city. Over the course of Or Tzedek’s summer sessions, many of us have built relationships and acted in solidarity with Chicago’s directly impacted communities. Organizers, teens and religious leaders from different neighborhoods organizations, like Growing Home, Imagine Englewood If.., Fierce Women of Faith, Immigrant Youth Justice League, took the time to meet with us and teach us about their social justice work.

1555476_478157592288462_58978486_nLearning about systemic oppression and institutionalized racism during Or Tzedek, many of us can often feel powerless in the face of these entrenched systems of inequality. But this year long program is opportunity for us to act, as Jews, as Chicagoans, and as young people, for justice in our city. Choosing and working on one of JCUA’s critical campaigns over the next five months is the opportunity to make a real difference as joint, powerful community. Read the rest of this entry »

A Strong Jewish Voice for Economic Justice

January 22, 2014

443Seventy-five Jewish community members from JCUA, Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools (JSAS), Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation and Moishe House came together for havdallah and economic justice training. Despite the cold weather outside, Moishe House was filled with Jews from different generations raising their voices to address the inequitable distribution of resources.

Rabbi Brant Rosen from JRC led a text study that used Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to  illuminate the racial and economic inequalities currently present in Chicago. We left the evening ready to fight for a more justice city with the “A Better Illinois” campaign. 486

Act Now for Economic Justice!

Click here to learn more about JCUA’s work for a fair and just tax system.  JCUA is a proud member of the “A Better Illinois” campaign, advocating for a fair and just tax structure in Illinois.

(Guest Post) MLK Weekend Havdallah and Training

January 13, 2014

Join JCUA, Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools (JSAS), Moishe House, and Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston for a powerful havdallah and workshop to learn about organizing for economic justice legislation. The event will be held  on Saturday, January 18 from 6-8:30 at Moishe House, 6418 North Glenwood Avenue. Take action with JCUA  for a fair and just tax system in Illinois and RSVP. 

By Ben Lorber
Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools

goodwin2In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we will gather this Saturday night as Jews to educate and organize the Chicagoland Jewish community around the struggles to create a fair income tax system and to close corporate tax loopholes in Illinois. At this special havdallah evening, study the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel, learn about the ongoing fight for racial and economic justice in Chicago, and motivate ourselves to take action to bring justice to our city!

“A Better Illinois” is a coalition of over 70 community, labor, faith, and civic organizations, , including JCUA, JSAS, and Rabbi Rosen, that is working to create a progressive income tax rate in the state of Illinois. Currently, Illinois’ citizens are taxed at a flat rate irrespective of income. Under this system, a single mother surviving on $15,000 a year sees the same percentage of her income- 5% taken out for taxes as does a business executive making $15,000,000 a year. Clearly, a loss of 5% yearly income is much more serious for the former than for the latter.

Read the rest of this entry »

[Action Alert: Feb 25th] Vigil and Press Conference for Economic Justice

December 12, 2013

Join JCUA members and our interfaith partners on February 25th, as we call for a smarter, fairer, and more just tax policy in Illinois.

tax-reformJCUA is a proud member of the “A Better Illinois” campaign, advocating for a fair and just tax structure in Illinois. The campaign calls for a graduated income tax in Illinois, to replace the current “flat” tax.

Why We Need Change:

  • A graduated income tax is estimated to LOWER taxes for 94 percent of Illinoisans.
  • A graduated income tax would put more money into our government so that they could continue to provide for the right priorities – education, health care, safety and services for those who are most vulnerable (read more).

Take Action:

Please join us for a press conference and special interfaith vigil with religious leaders. This event is to help build support and awareness of our current efforts to be bring a spiritual voices to the fight for a fair and just tax system in Illinois.

  • When: 10:00-11:30 pm, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
  • Where: The Chicago Temple, 77 West Washington, Chicago

Please invite friends, coworkers and neighbors as we raise a united interfaith voice for justice and common sense public policy (read non-partisan in-depth analysis).

To RSVP, contact: chris@jcua.org

Tell Your Rabbi: Join the Fight for Economic Justice in IL

November 5, 2013

No one really likes taxes.  However, those same taxes that we grumble and complain about do what many of us cannot do on our own.  They provide the infrastructure to care for the elderly, educate our children, dispense healthcare and assist in keeping our communities safe.  The tax code serves as a moral document of our collective values.

stop giveawaysYet, Illinois is only one of nine states that insists that everyone be taxed at the same rate (a “flat” tax), as if we all have equal ability to pay.  Part of striving for justice is recognizing and fighting against systems and structures that create and perpetuate inequality.  Our tax system is one of them and it is time that we fight for a change.

JCUA has partnered with the “A Better Illinois” campaign to ask our General Assembly for a constitutional amendment to create a more just tax system.  Right now, the campaign is calling on leaders of faith to endorse the campaign, recognizing that our lives are lived for others, most specifically the widow, the orphan and the vulnerable.


To help JCUA and A Better Illinois make an impact and create change, we need you talk to your Rabbi about the continued inequality and offer the chance to change it.  Ask your Rabbi to add their voice to our online petition asking for a constitutional amendment to create a fair, just and progressive tax.

A fair tax would:

  •  Allow for higher rates on those with higher incomes, and lower rates for those with lower incomes.
  • Provide resources for our schools and ensure that services to the vulnerable in our communities are maintained.
  • Stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and provide a means for Illinois to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
  • Provide desperately needed revenue for our state that has been lost because corporations have used loopholes to avoid paying their fair share.


Reminding Our Reps that Fiscal Health Requires a More Sensible Tax Approach

November 19, 2012

by Vadim Gershteyn
Advocacy and Community Organizing Intern

With Illinois deficit the worst in the nation, at an astounding $43.8 billion in the red, policymakers have to make difficult decisions about our nation’s fiscal responsibilities. Until recently, however, the responsibility has been shifted mostly onto the most poor and most vulnerable. On Friday, Nov. 9th, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) intern Vadim Y. Gershteyn joined Roots of Justice, IIRON, and others outside of Dick Durbin’s office in protesting proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare as part of the budget reduction strategy put forward by Congress. Medicare is a popular, highly-efficient program that remains solvent and fully-funded for at least twenty to eighty years. Medicaid is many people’s only safeguard against serious illness or even death. The efforts to privatize either of these programs (especially Medicare) would mean less medical coverage for our seniors and at-risk populations.

At a townhall meeting attended by Roots of Justice, IIRON, and other groups, our federal representatives Jan Schakowsky, Mike Quigley, and Danny Davis declared their commitment to blocking austerity measures in balancing the budget.  Senator Dick Durbin has not signed on to the measure, backed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, which bars cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In balancing the budget, there has been far less support for raising taxes on the very wealthy, who now pay only a 15%-20% effective tax rate, lower than the rate for many middle-income Americans. There has also been little Congressional support for a “Robin Hood” tax, which levies a tax on financial transactions that can regulate high-risk transactions and brings much-needed revenue to the federal government.

On the state level, we can help bridge the fiscal gap by supporting a Fair Tax initiative in Illinois that will shift the burden from the poor and middle-class to the very wealthy (read more about JCUA’s position on the fair tax initiative).

The responsibility for the economic collapse caused by the banking and financial industry cannot be levied on the very poor and the powerless. We cannot stand idly by as the people most hurt by the 2008 financial meltdown make sacrifices to balance the budget while corporations and the very wealthy do not pay their fair share. It is a commitment that dates back to our prophets, to take care of the poor and make sure the burden of social responsibility does not fall on the most vulnerable. Sen. Dick Durbin should join our representatives in saying no to cuts to our social safety net and no to austerity.


Want to intern with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs? Click here for more information.

JCUA Endorses Campaign for Graduated Income Tax in Illinois

October 22, 2012

On October 3, 2012, JCUA’s policy committee met with Citizen Action Illinois to discuss the need for a graduated income tax in Illinois. After learning about the state of the tax system in Illinois today, the JCUA has chosen to join Citizen Action Illinois and many other community groups in endorsing the Fair Tax Campaign.


Some Numbers

Currently, Illinois has a flat income tax rate, which given Illinois’ budget deficits and funding needs, is inadequate also unfair. Consider the following numbers:

  • It has been reported that in 2011, the bottom 20% of households in Illinois bore quite a larger tax burden than the top 20% of Illinois households, as they paid twice as much of their income in state and local taxes than the top 20%.
  • The total tax burden felt by those with an average income of less than $18,000 is 13.7%; however, the tax burden felt by those earning $500,000+ per year is only 6.5%…yes, the group with an average income of $2,084,700 per year bears only a 6.5% tax burden [1].

To put it plainly, those with the lowest incomes end up paying far beyond their means, while the wealthiest households in our state pay what amounts to being a drop in the bucket of their income. Illinois is simply asking too much from those families who are struggling the most in today’s economy.

What Are Other States Doing?

What we’re asking for is nothing new – our neighboring states currently function with more progressive tax systems, and it is not coincidental that these states’ budgets put our state budget to shame. Some facts:

  • 34 of the 41 states that currently employ an income tax system have graduated rates already.
  • Analyses show that if Illinois’s tax base paid Iowa’s income tax rates, Illinois would raise $6 billion more a year, and over half of the taxpayers in Illinois would experience a tax cut of 24% on average. Imagine what this state could do with so much more revenue
  • To make matters even more pressing, the flat income tax increase currently in place will expire in 2015, and taxes will drop from 5% to 3.75%, taking with it about $4 billion in revenue for the state. If you think things look bad now for social services in our state, imagine what they could look like with $4 billion less.
  • By pressuring the state to amend the constitution and incorporate a more fair tax, Illinois would not only build revenue, but according to the non-partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, this would also cut taxes for up to 94% of Illinois residents! (Learn More Here)

How Do We Get This Done?

This certainly is a huge battle to fight, but we feel it is also hugely important, and have therefore chosen to join hands with the Fair Tax Campaign to promote a more fair tax system. To do this requires a constitutional amendment. To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires 60% of the General Assembly’s approval, and the ballot proposition must be approved by 60% of voters. This means that the next step in this process is to win legislative and then voter approval. We are ready to stand by and do what we can to bring about a more just tax system in our state, and we feel we are on our way to a more fair future for Illinois. Stay tuned for the next steps in this campaign!



[1] Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of Tax Systems in All 50 States, p. 42, Third Edition, November 2009. Note: this table shows 2007 data updated to reflect permanent changes in Illinois tax law enacted through January, 2012.


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