On Voting Rights

August 5, 2021Anjelica N. Ruiz

 

When I came out of the mikvah over eight years ago, I joked to someone that I was now a “super-minority,” as a Hispanic-Filipino Jewish woman. As naïve as it seems, at the time I didn’t think about how I would juggle my ethnic identity with my new religion; I simply thought everything would fall into place. Participating in the Union for Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation Fellowship in the Jews of Color cohort helped me embrace my status as a super-minority and has empowered me to start working on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues within the Jewish community. That experience has also led to my involvement with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC).

I was asked to join the RAC’s Racial Justice Campaign leadership and research teams in February as they began work on their next advocacy campaign. I was also honored to be a speaker at the kick-off for the Freedom to Vote campaign. At the core of all social work is protecting the right to vote and ensuring that everyone has the freedom to vote, which the RAC has worked on for over 60 years. Black and brown people in this country have been disenfranchised at the ballot box for too long and without ensuring equal access to voting, there cannot be any progress towards other issues that our movement cares about.

The importance of voting was emphasized to me as I grew up. My mom made sure to take me with her every time she went to vote, patiently explaining to me that when I grew up, I too would be able to vote and that it was a privilege that I shouldn’t take for granted. For the 2020 presidential election, she requested a mail-in ballot, which never arrived and no one at the voter registrar’s office could tell us why. Despite being immunocompromised amid the pandemic, she waited in line on the first day of early voting to make sure she cast her ballot. That experience, along with the restrictive voting bills currently being considered in the Texas state legislature, is why being involved with the RAC is important to me.

The RAC’s Freedom to Vote campaign is advocating for the passage of two federal voting rights bills that would ensure that everyone has equal access to the ballot box. 

The first bill, H.R. 1/S. 1, also known as the For The People Act, will ensure that:

  • every eligible American can easily register to vote. 
  • there is equal access in all 50 states to safe and free voting options. 
  • the voting rights of people who have completed a prison sentence are restored. 
  • a politically independent redistricting process for House districts is created so voters pick their leaders rather than leaders picking their voters. 

The second bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, will:

  • modernize and restore the critical section of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. 
  • expand the list of groups protected by the Voting Rights Act to include ethnicity and language background, in addition to race. 
  • ensure new voting laws that would be racially discriminatory are reviewed and blocked by the Department of Justice. 

I care about protecting our freedom to vote because representation matters, not only because electing people who share my values means that progress will be made on issues I care about, but because they will inspire the next generation of leaders. These two bills will ensure just that. The Reform Jewish community, including Women of Reform Judaism, has a long history of social justice activism and our partnerships with other organizations make us a force to be reckoned with as we raise our voices. As Jews, we are told by the sages that while we are not expected to finish the work of repairing the world, we are not free to turn away from it. I hope that you will join me in continuing this sacred work in pursuit of tikkun olam.

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