“Building the Momentum”: Nikki Stein Reflects on a Hot, yet Productive Day at the White House

Ten JCUA leaders traveled to Washington, D.C. on July 28 and 29 to meet with congressional leaders and members of the White House administration as part of a trip organized by the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a group of 21 nonprofit organizations promoting economic and social justice as a core tenet of Jewish life.

By Nikki Stein
Past president and board member, JCUA
Executive Director, Polk Bros. Foundation

Leaders of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable meeting with key White House staff in Eisenhower Executive Office Building*

July 29, 2011— It was hot in Washington—104 degrees—and the debt limit negotiations were only making it hotter. But 170 of us, all progressive social justice Jews, gathered at 6:45 a.m. Chicago time and spent the day hearing from and talking to members of the Obama administration.

Tina Tchen*

Jane got shout-outs from Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen. Irene, Ira and Bruce had their briefing stories included in materials that were shared with all of us and the White House staffers.

It seemed that senior officials, like Cecilia Muñoz, director of intergovernmental affairs, and Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, wanted to hear from us — what we care about and what we want them to do better. We told them how much this group supports comprehensive immigration reform and any of the steps along the way to achieving it.

There continues to be hope for the DREAM Act, but we stressed that while that would be wonderful, it is not the ultimate goal. Our government must stop tearing families apart and hunting people who have come here to work and find a better life for their children. We stressed the importance of providing the full range of preventive health care services for women under the Affordable Care Act. We talked of the need for more affordable housing and policies that do not pit the “haves” and “have nots” against each other.

Michael Strautmanis*

Chicagoan Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and counselor for strategic engagement, told us that President Obama continues to be animated by his “concern for the least of us.” Strautmanis said he is proud of the administration’s wins in passing health care reform and creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and stressed that the progressive movement needs to stop looking for rhetorical victories while the president works for real change.

It’s been hard and it isn’t likely to get any easier so people like our group need to keep fighting for our issues.

Our trip was quick and packed with meetings. While I did not make connections with folks from the other participating organizations, I know that the leaders of the Social Justice Roundtable are looking for ways of building on the momentum of our day at the White House.

We know that as 501c3 organizations we have to be careful, but we certainly don’t want to be silent. We are fortunate that several members of the Roundtable are particularly well-versed on the things that we absolutely can do to support the causes about which we care so deeply.

While some of us sat at the airport waiting to leave the district, we learned that Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) debt limit bill had passed. It made me think that the time the White House staffers spent with us was probably the best part of their day. And it wasn’t just because of the high temperature that I was looking forward to coming back to Chicago.

*Photos taken by Kristian Whipple, kwhipple.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: