Shabbes Reflections from Anna Grant
On Saturday, November 7, in advance of the Protect Our Votes rally in Raleigh, CJJ hosted a Shabbat morning service in order to create a space of community connection with other Jews for justice and to ground ourselves in the prophetic traditions of our Judaism. Anna Grant — CJJ-Durham/OC member, NCAE organizer, and all around social justice super hero — offered the following reflections during our time together.
Hello family. Gut shabbes. I know many of you, and many of you know me. Some of you I don’t, but I hope to soon.
My grandparents were very active in both the union movement, and the Civil Rights movement. Their stories would feel familiar to some of you. Eastern Europe, New York City, working class. Italian Catholic coal miners in Western Pennsylvania, moving from mining town to mining town, sometimes to escape retaliation for their organizing. In 2010, an older friend of the family told me, “I knew your grandparents on both sides. They would be proud of you.”
When I saw Bernie Sanders come onto the national stage with his working-class New York Jewish aesthetic and his unapologetic insistence that we can and must do better — by fighting for people we don’t know — I felt I was seeing something familiar, but that had almost been lost. Something we still needed, that I think my grandparents did their best to try to build.
I’ve dedicated my life to the labor movement. I know that multi-racial working class solidarity is the absolute key to a truly democratic society, in part because my ancestors told me so.
And I know it from doing it. Organizing in workplaces, I grew in every way. I practiced building teams across seismic differences, lovingly digging into disagreement. I saw others lead in ways that made me believe in people more than ever. I learned that polarization isn’t necessarily bad. In a campaign, you need to have stark choices. People need to pick a side.
After the campaign, though, the work together must go on. After the campaign, you have to go and get some number of the people who you didn’t win over. In the year or two after you win a union fight, the union should become increasingly normal. People who voted against it should have opportunities to see their place inside of it. Without that work, everything you fought for can easily be taken away.
I personally spent Election Day poll standing for Tess Judge in Pasquotank County. Her opponent, whose signs read “Christian. Conservative.” had this to say about Tess: “Tess Judge has the support of New York liberal Mike Bloomberg’s radical gun control group, radical environmentalists who hate farmers, and extreme liberals from other parts of the country. My support is here, in this community.”
Thinly-veiled anti-Semitism makes my stomach tighten. When I’ve done my organizing — whether among workers of color in a Philly hotel, or white protestant Southern schoolteachers, I often feel like someone who could get “found out.” Exposed as an “outsider” with “an outsider’s agenda.” No other place but North Carolina, where I was born and raised, could possibly be called my home. But, driving out to the coast on Election Day, I felt like a stranger in a strange land.
I spent the day in the company of more white Christian conservatives than I usually talk to in a year. And here is what I’m trying to face squarely. “People like them” believe “people like me” hate them. That we do not care what happens to them. That we look down our noses at them. And I fear that they hate us. That they do not care what happens to us. That they wish us harm. This political and spiritual rift is unsustainable, it contributes to the crisis in our fragile and incomplete democracy, and it’s still, after so many generations, literally killing our Black and brown sisters and brothers.
Because of anti-Semitism and my Jewish identity, I don’t always feel very white or very American. But I am. The fact that other white Americans support and enable, again and again, policies and practices that devastate all poor and working class people, and particularly people of color, is my problem — my problem to work, alongside others, to solve.
I don’t know what to do about it, but I know that there is always only one way forward, and it’s not around — it’s right through. Through difficult, beautiful struggle, through facing what we don’t want to face. I don’t know exactly what to do, but I suspect it involves building multi-racial working class solidarity, and I suspect it has everything to do with G-d.
Thank you for being here together. Shabbat shalom.