Understanding the Past, Imagining the Future

Images and scenes etched in the minds of generations of Jewish activists-immigrant workers marching, sitting in, and striking; tear gas filling the air as riot police attack, beat and arrest union protesters; and battles with gangsters to free unions of mob domination. Freedom rides across the South, rabbis and religious leaders arrested in protests, and a generation of Jews-rank and file workers, organizers, and emerging leaders-swept up and inspired by a movement to win economic, racial, and social justice.

This isn’t a description of the turn of the last century when garment workers organized, it isn’t the 1930’s, the birth of the CIO and the New Deal, nor is it the civil rights, the feminist and anti-war movements of the 1960’s. This is Seattle in 1999 when union members, students, environmentalists, and progressive groups shut down the World Trade Organization in the “Battle in Seattle.” This is 2003 when undocumented immigrants, joined by civil rights leaders, rode buses and rallied all over the country and the south to demand citizenship. This is the successful battle to chase the mob out of the Teamsters in the early 1990’s.

These recent moments are etched in my brain because I lived them-being shot with a rubber bullet by police in Miami, watching body guards use mirrors to search for bombs that might have been planted under our car, experiencing the incredible bravery of undocumented workers risking deportation on the picket line, victories won by janitors, hotel and strawberry workers.

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