A Raging River of Change

By Anna Rubin
JCUA’s AVODAH Organizing Fellow

11337126_10153024498676312_5567238132753381699_oIt has been an auspicious couple of weeks at JCUA, to say the least. On day four of my time here (really in the hours between days three and four), we learned that Sinai Health Systems and the University of Chicago came together and pledged to open a Level-I adult trauma center on the South Side at Holy Cross Hospital within the next two years. After five years of work by many members of the Trauma Center Coalition, and over a year of work by JCUA in partnership with them, it was almost surreal to see a decision like this being made, seemingly out of the blue.

Is this what every week at JCUA is going to be like?

Of course, I know the answer is no. But this victory, so early on in my time here, provided me with an incredible example of what community organizing can accomplish if those involved are truly unflagging and constantly driving past complacency.

It is with this attitude in mind that I approach the coming year. It is ideal that my year with AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps and my year at JCUA began at the same time as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. The convergence of these three beginnings has provided me with ample time for reflection and evaluation of my goals for the coming year as an individual and as a member of the various new communities I now inhabit. 

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As part of AVODAH orientation, my fellow corps members and I were asked to draw representations of our Jewish and social justice journeys as rivers. At the top of my drawing I wrote the following quote from one Pooh Bear (or A.A. Milne): “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” I then went on to explain that this was my implicit attitude for many years: why rush, why act now, when indeed, there will be time later, and I can get there eventually. While I do understand the beautiful side of this quote–for indeed, time does flow ever forward and we will often get somewhere eventually, whether it was where we intended to go or not–I reject this quote now. Someday is not good enough. Eventually is not good enough. There must be urgency, there must be action now.

In her 1997 book “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Tatum likens active, passive, and antiracism to a moving walkway, saying, “unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt — unless they are actively antiracist — they will find themselves carried along with the others.” That imagery has stuck with me since I heard it just about a year ago. We must all be part of a raging river of change (possibly a Chicago River-style reversing of the current?), for if we just allow for the consistent flow of time to carry us along, the river will continue to wear away the same, known path, day after day.

It is by allowing the river to take its course that the power of privilege has been allowed to remain so secure. It is by allowing the river to take its course that, as Rabbi Robert J. Marx, the founder of JCUA, wrote in a 1966 letter regarding his participation in the Gage Park action with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., silence has been allowed to “dominate truth.”

In line with, inspired by, and in honor of the trauma center campaign, as well as the determination and passion of the Dyett hunger strikers and their supporters, and all those around the city fighting for justice in their own lives each and every day, I will jump into my work this year feet first. Those fighting for a trauma center celebrate the recent victory. AND they continue to fight for complete trauma coverage of the South Side, an increase in the age restriction at Comer Children’s Hospital, and the respect of the University of Chicago community in pursuing their goals. I hope that in the coming year, I will be able to tap into moments of gratitude, remembering the many blessings and victories I am a part of and the beneficiary of every day, while also being able to keep my attention on the ever growing list of challenges my new city faces.

I am excited to be a part of JCUA, an organization that was founded by and continues to work with those who realize that complacency, especially of those with privilege, is not and cannot be an option. As we push for a just budget, as we push to keep the University of Chicago accountable, as we push to involve all those who have yet to take their own step towards action, I hope to push myself to new levels of commitment to social action and social change, supported and inspired by those already hard at work in Chicago’s communities.

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