As Jews we are charged with Tikkun Olam, to make the world a better place. Advocacy is a way to improve the world we live in and to provide us with an avenue to learn and think more deeply about issues. We come to understand how social injustice and criminal behavior (such as rape) can easily be minimized or simply misunderstood because of a lack of adequate and correct information. When we advocate for domestic violence issues, we can change public perceptions and public policy.
This year 2,227 bills were introduced in the Georgia Legislature to be reviewed and acted upon during the 40 day legislative session. In this sea of information and requests, how are legislators to understand the depth and breadth of a complex issue? There were numerous bills that interfaced with domestic violence issues, addressing elder abuse, sex trafficking, sexual violence on college campuses, strengthening use of restraining orders and internet harassment.
Every year the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Georgia Commission on Family Violence, and Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault sponsor “Stop Violence Against Women Day” at the capitol, providing an opportunity for constituents and advocates to meet with their legislators. Every year, a group representing Shalom Bayit attends. This was my fourth year participating, and I always learn a great deal. This year was especially enlightening. Within a limited amount of time, we had opportunities to speak with our representatives and senators and discuss our issues. The insightful questions from legislators reassured me that our voices mattered and left me feeling that they respected our views and wanted to tap into our knowledge about domestic violence issues. Some of us who wanted to learn more about a proposed bill addressing sexual assault on college campuses researched who was sponsoring the bill and went to his office to request a meeting. A member of our cohort with significant experience with this issue subsequently met with the bill’s sponsor and later testified about the bill.
Do these efforts make a difference?
I believe they do. First, elected officials note that few constituents reach out to them, and when we take the time to make a personal contact it makes a difference. They also notice the size of the group, so numbers further emphasize the importance of issues being addressed. Presenting the salient features about a bill’s potential impact helps to enhance legislators’ understanding about the importance of his or her vote. Testifying about a bill allows us to influence how a bill is written and helps to ensure the legislation adequately covers the essentials of the problem. Lastly, on a personal level, I feel I have put my ideals and values into practice. I am not just thinking about a problem,I am doing something about it. In this way, advocacy helps to nurture my soul.
Though many of us have worked in areas of intimate partner violence for years, the recent publicity has tremendously increased the notice and involvement of the general population. This has happened due to the brave men and women who have come forward to tell their stories of abuse. We owe it to all of them to lend our support and voices to their efforts. It is now our legislators’ turns to create laws that protect victims and adequately deal with perpetrators. I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone, contact your legislators, locally and nationally, and read up on the issues. Make sure your voice is heard.