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The RAC, or the Religious Action Center, has spent more than six decades working to educate, inspire, and mobilize the Reform Jewish Movement to advocate for social justice. 

This past cycle, they added Relational Organizing to their organizing toolkit. And it helped them move the needle significantly.

Every Voice, Every Vote: The Reform Movement’s 2020 Civic Engagement Campaign launched a Relational Organizing program this past cycle that was an unequivocal success. Using RO, they more than doubled their goal of touching 250,000 potential voters, in the process expanding the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) network in the two crucial states of Pennsylvania and Florida.

They used Relational Organizing as a way to strengthen relationships and find common ground to build power and affect change. Messenger matter and by leaning into RO, they were able to influence the people in their lives in deeper and more meaningful ways.

In the process, they built power for their community, both throughout this cycle and moving into the future.

Three thousand ninety-three volunteers from 377 congregations nationwide joined in their leadership training programs for Every Voice, Every Vote, in which they learned about the power and applicability of Relational Organizing. In the end, their volunteers made almost 85,000 relational contacts!

They found RO particularly powerful for engaging their younger and teen volunteers, who connected exclusively in peer-to-peer engagement. They ran 10 relational trainings for high school and college leaders and had several student organizers coach their peers, thus helping them achieve exponential growth. One of their teen organizers has this to say about his experience using relational organizing and the App:

“Along with four fellow high school students in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, I used the Empower App to help friends and family to vote in the November election. Building our contact lists and tracking our outreaches within the app, my group engaged in 238 conversations with 169 people, reminding them to check their registration, register if needed, and make a plan to vote. Many of our high-school friends were also able to pre-register to vote, ensuring a lasting impact on future elections. While initially I did not feel comfortable reaching out to many of the people in my contacts, I soon found that connecting through civic engagement and relational organizing enabled me to strengthen relationships with so many distant friends, which was especially gratifying during a pandemic.”

They also took Empower’s goal of inspiring relational contacts and used that philosophy in other activities, such as internal synagogue phone banking, as members called other members and friends. And while this activity began with the goal of getting friends, family, and community members out to vote and making sure they had a plan for Election Day and the information they needed to register/vote, it had a huge added benefit of creating stronger ties within their congregational communities. They heard from many of their volunteers that, though they volunteered because of an interest in GOTV, the increased relationship building made the social justice work they were already involved in even more meaningful. And from the recipients’ side: in this time of great isolation for everyone – not just certain segments of the population – getting a call from a fellow congregant was reported back to be both touching and inspiring.

As an example, they spoke to a lay leader at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, FL – one of the states involved in their Relational Organizing program – and she laid out how the synagogue maximized their RO in all age groups:

  • They sent a Virtual Postcard to everyone on the synagogue’s email list with information about and links to voting information. This reached about 1,000 households. In addition, they included a survey that asked if the recipient was interested/able to work with the synagogue’s social justice team on organizing, and this netted several new volunteers.

  • They then sent a physical (paper) postcard to all member households in the congregation, about 1,100.

  • Twenty-four volunteers called different demographics in the congregation, starting with young people aged 16-25, where the focus was on alerting them to the upcoming election and how to register; and on congregants older than 70 years, where the focus was on mail-in ballot information, as they were more worried about COVID and in-person voting. The volunteers then reached out to the general population of the congregation. They reached over 600 people total.

  • The synagogue’s Teen Justice League had 13-14 students who mobilized to distribute information (especially about voter registration) to their individual high schools and friends.

  • The congregation also participated in phone banking events organized by New Florida Majority through a partnership developed by RAC-PA to phone bank lower propensity Florida Voters. They took 15 minutes at the start of each events to ask their congregational volunteers to think of 10 personal contacts and send them a text or phone them to encourage them to vote. They had about 40 volunteers for this.

As this Miami Beach leader said:

“We learned so much from the RAC; it was a blessing to work with them. And it was fun. Relational Organizing really was successful. In addition to completing the task, it really energized people to talk about [voting] with their friends, giving the info they needed and seeing how good that was.”

And this was just one congregation; the impact was multiplied many times over in Reform congregations across the United States!

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We already have ideas of how we would use it to even greater effect in a future campaign. They are excited about the possibilities open to us during the next Civic Engagement Campaign and ways to refine the lessons of Every Voice, Every Vote.

We are just as excited to see where they take their Relational Organizing program moving forward!

Learn more about them at RAC.org.