A clear path to strengthen American democracy
In many ways, the need for dedicated Jewish work to support American democracy is self-evident, both for the sake of democracy and for the sake of the Jewish community. Jews — and Jewish life — have thrived in America to a greater extent than we have in any other diasporic context in the last 2,000 years.
Democracy is inherently fragile, and it is confronting its greatest challenges in generations, both in the United States and globally. In fact, after decades of steady democratic expansion around the world, 2021 represented the 15th consecutive year in which democracy has been in global retreat.
Increasing toxic polarization, erosion of trust in and commitment to democratic norms and institutions, concerted efforts to subvert elections, and an alarming rise in extremism and political violence threaten the democratic system that — for all its limitations — has enabled dramatic improvements in the rights and lives of its citizens for nearly 250 years.
In many ways, the need for dedicated Jewish work to support American democracy is self-evident, both for the sake of democracy and for the sake of the Jewish community. Jews — and Jewish life — have thrived in America to a greater extent than we have in any other diasporic context in the last 2,000 years. And that’s equally true for the observant and the secular, for Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans, for the deeply engaged and the unaffiliated.
We’ve launched A More Perfect Union: The Jewish Partnership for Democracy to take up that charge to mobilize the American Jewish community to protect and strengthen American democracy. Our first order of business is to build a transpartisan Jewish network supporting free, fair, safe and accessible elections, starting with the 2022 midterms. Elections are far from the sum total of a healthy democracy, but democracies cannot function without them.
Our premise is simple: To channel Jewish organizations and their members and stakeholders into concrete, nonpartisan activities that matter in election administration and protection, and to amplify our impact by doing it together. Modeled on collective-impact efforts, our approach invites American Jewish institutions to make bold-but-achievable public commitments by July 15 to one or more of five core strategies, each vetted by A More Perfect Union’s transpartisan Strategic Advisors and designed with a laser focus on taking best advantage of the Jewish community’s distinctive assets, resources and influence.
These strategies are:
- Recruit nonpartisan poll workers to ensure smooth election administration.
- Coordinate Jewish organizations to provide physical space for polling locations in areas that need greater access to voting opportunities.
- Mobilize nonpartisan volunteers to protect voter access to free and fair elections through the nationwide Election Protection network.
- Recruit lawyers to provide pro bono legal support for election officials targeted by frivolous lawsuits and punitive election laws through the Election Official Legal Defense Network.
- Build trust in and support for elections via pre-election meetings between community leaders and local election officials, tours of election facilities, invitations to speak, and other trust-building activities.
Throughout what promises to be another challenging election season, we plan to serve as a credible anchor point and source for election-related information to help organizational leaders determine how best to support their communities while working to protect and strengthen democracy. We are working to design incentives for innovative and collaborative approaches to nonpartisan civic engagement and pro-democracy work, building mutually-beneficial relationships among an expanding and interconnected membership. We will also be generating new resources, training opportunities, and educational materials for member bodies to use or adapt for their own audiences and programs.
Faith-based leadership matters in the political life of America. That was true in the context of abolition, civil rights and fights for religious freedom, and it remains true today. American Jews cannot, of course, preserve American democracy on our own. But protecting and strengthening American democracy is going to take a broad-based coalition, and the American Jewish community has an obligation to play our part and, potentially, to model an approach that can inspire other communities — faith-based and otherwise — with whom we share this country.
At a time when our democracy is facing its greatest challenges in generations, we’ve got a powerful interest in coming together across political and ideological lines to help ensure its – and our own – survival.
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of A More Perfect Union.