A Force to Be Reckoned With:
Asma Mohammed and Beth Gendler on MJWMn Day at the Capitol
On January 16th, 2019 at 10am, Reviving Sisterhood and National Council of Jewish Women - Minnesota (NCJW-MN) will be gathering at the Capitol Rotunda to rally, pray and build power. Then, we will get to work by talking to our legislators on issues of menstrual equity, teacher diversity, and sexual violence. Lunch and training will be provided. Please register so that we are able to order enough food and make appointments with legislators!*
Q: Previously Reviving Sisterhood had been discussing the possibility of hosting a Muslim Women’s Day at the Capitol. Asma, what made you decide to invite our Jewish sisters to gather with us?
Asma Mohammed: It was a eureka moment — we were talking about our legislative priorities and realized that we want to work on so many of the same things. That’s why we partnered in the first place. Our work is very focused on women in our communities and all over Minnesota, so it was a natural connection. But more than anything it’s that we show more power when we’re together. This collective power is important not just for our communities to see but also for our legislators to see. They need to know that larger communities are connected on these issues of equity.
Q: Diving into those issues a little more — we will be talking to our legislators about are menstrual equity, teacher diversity, and sexual violence. Can you explain what those priorities mean and why they matter right now?
Beth Gendler: Menstrual equity is a relatively new term coined by a woman named Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who has become the “period guru” throughout the country. This project came up because for the past twenty years, NCJW has been working in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools to make sure that students with the highest needs have the school supplies that they need to start the school year. About halfway through the year, we got a call from one of the schools letting us know that students were having a hard time getting their needs met when they have their period. The school had blown through their discretionary budget, the teacher was spending her own money, and they asked if there was anything that we could do. Being a women’s organization focused on equity, we said: of course. It got us thinking about the issue on a much broader level. Why is it that students who menstruate don’t have the same opportunities and equity in education as other students? We are committed to making sure that students in Minneapolis and St. Paul have what they need this school year, and we’re looking for a policy solution as well. It’s an education equity issue, it’s a public health issue, and it’s an economic opportunity issue.
AM: We didn’t know about that shortage, but as soon as it was brought up we knew that we needed to support it. And sexual violence is something that we worked on last year — we want to eliminate the statue of limitations because it limits all survivors, not just those in the Muslim community, to six to nine years for reporting. There was a moment when I realized that my students could not report their perpetrators who had abused them as children. I can never report. Having choices is really important when you’re a survivor, but that choice is taken away by the system. By eliminating the statute, people assaulted after a specific date would know that they have a lifetime report.
As for increasing teachers of color — 4% of all teachers in Minnesota are teachers of color. We were talking to East African students at St. Paul Public Schools, and they all said that they don’t have any teachers of color. That is an equity issue. It’s proven that teacher effectiveness is directly related to their relationships with students and how they are perceived by students. If your students are seeing that you are different and that you are not understanding their experience, they’re not going to want to connect with you, and they’re not going to do well in your classes. If we have more teachers who look like our students, then those students will do better.
Q: If we could accomplish one thing at the Capitol as a sisterhood, what would that be?
AM: I think it’s about showing that we’re a force to be reckoned with. I went to a session today at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, and one representative was talking about how she remembers when coalitions come together. I want us to be remembered that way — as Muslim and Jewish women coming together to talk about these issues — and I want them to know that they are being held accountable.
BG: If we can challenge assumptions about what it means to be a Muslim woman or a Jewish woman and about what it means for us to be in relationship together, that will be a success. Our policy goals are clear, and I think that we have power and that our shared power is greater than the sum of our equal parts, but I feel like the social and emotional outcomes are just as important.
AM: There are other organizations that try to bring Muslim and Jewish women into partnership or into sisterhood, but we are different in that we want to focus on creating change for all Minnesotans, regardless of whether they identify as Muslim or Jewish. That goes into both of our faith traditions, which are rooted in justice and fairness and equity, and that’s really what brings us together. We can say that because we are women of faith, we are coming together to support other women.
Q: For those of us who may be visiting the Capitol and meeting our legislators for the first time, an event like this one can be intimidating. What advice would you give to newcomers?
BG: The advice is: come. Your legislators are people, and at the end of the day, they work for us. It’s important to remember that we put them in office, we vote them in, and it’s their responsibility that they serve our community.
We are grateful that they do, but the power dynamic isn’t always as it appears. They’re regular folks, they want to meet their constituents, and we’re helping them in that way. And we’ll have support at the event — we’ll have people who are experienced talking to their legislators and willing to go with folks on their appointments as support. If you do get tongue-tied or freeze up, you’re not going to be on your own.
AM: I heard one representative say, “Remember that we live where you live.” And I hadn’t thought about it that way — that they live down the street from me. You know that, but sometimes it’s easy to forget because you think of them in this big white building. It is a literal barrier, and there are of course other barriers that exist, but remembering that they came from your neighborhood is super important. Another thing is that there are 35 freshmen legislators this year. It’s new for them too. It’s going to be their first legislative session, and they’re going to be along with us. And finally, we’ll have briefs for participants — sheets of paper for you and for your legislator that outline the issues and the different points.
BG: One last word of advice: wear comfortable shoes, because you might be walking from the Capitol to state office buildings to the Senate.
Q: After this event, what are a few next steps that we can take? And for those who cannot attend, what can we do?
AM: We’re planning to issue a call-to-action after the event. If you don’t have time over the next few months to make it in-person to the legislature, we have ways that you can call, email, or send a letter. We’ll give you language around that.
BG: It’s early in the session, so as these bills progress through the houses, we’ll provide updates with more information about how we can take action over the phone or via email. During recesses, we can talk about doing some in-district meetings in people’s neighborhood. It’s not over after this day — it’s the start of the relationship.
Q: Is there anything else that you want attendees to know?
BG: As we’re scheduling appointments, we’re hearing that the legislators are really excited that we’re coming. Many of them are making time in their schedule to rally with us in addition to being available for appointments. So there’s a lot of excitement around this.
AM: It’s going to be historical.
*If you are unable to join us for the rally at 10:00 am, please find us in Conference Room G20A, which has been reserved for the day and will be considered our home base.
METRO Green Line has four convenient stations serving the Western Sculpture Park and the Capitol Complex: Western Avenue, Capitol/Rice Street, Robert Street and 10th Street stations.
There are also several bus routes that serve the area. Plan your trip using the helpful tools at metrotransit.org or call the Transit Information Center at 612.373.3333, where they can design a route tailored to your transportation needs.
Do something good for the environment and remember to carpool with your friends and family who are also attending. There are a number of public parking options for those visiting the State Capitol Complex. A blue "P" symbol indicates available public parking space in lots and ramps. Parking maps can be found on the State of Minnesota's website and includes parking information for those with disabilities: mn.gov/admin/citizen/buildings-grounds/parking.
ASL interpreters will be available at the event. Ramps and elevators are located throughout the Capitol.