Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


Democracy Initiative

The American Jewish community has benefited from a strong and healthy democracy because democratic systems and norms provide proven protection against the discriminations that too often target racial, religious and ethnic minority communities. But those systems that have provided us haven are currently under duress.

Our political system – like many liberal democracies around the world – is experiencing a turbulent moment. With the country divided, a President lashing out at checks and balances, a Congress abdicating its basic legislative and oversight responsibilities, and a government failing to address the country’s pressing public policy challenges, it is all too easy to despair. And yet, America has gone through worse and emerged stronger for it. Our country’s political course can change quickly. We expect it will do so again.

–Protect Democracy, Roadmap for Renewal


Although thrown into sharp relief by current events, the fact is these challenges are not new. For years our democracy has been deteriorating. From our political to electoral to judicial systems, there have been cracks and decay that threaten the security of racial, religious and ethnic minority communities. That's why JCRC is launching a non-partisan democracy initiative and hosted Waging Democracy, a forum on October 14, as well as Voter Registration Drives and other non-partisan, pro-democracy events and activities.

Waging Democracy, a forum that includes seminars, sessions and opportunities for action, was held on Sunday, October 14 | click to review the program

As has become increasingly clear, our republic has long relied not just on formal laws and the Constitution, but also on unwritten rules and norms that constrain the behavior of public officials. These guardrails, often invisible, curb abuses of power. They ensure that officials act for the public good, not for personal financial gain. They protect nonpartisan public servants in law enforcement and elsewhere from improper political influence. They protect businesspeople from corrupting favoritism and graft. And they protect citizens from arbitrary and unfair government action. These practices have long held the allegiance of public officials from all political parties. Without them, government becomes a chaotic grab for power and self-interest.

--Brennan Center for Justice, Proposals for Reform: National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy

Watch the VIDEOS and review the PHOTOS

Spearkers: Ian Bassin, Protect Democracy Project; Kristen Cambell,; PACE (Philanthropy for Civic Engagement); Audrey Cooper; San Francisco Chronicle; Gloria Duffy, The Commonwealth Club; Mickey Edwards, The Aspen Institute; Shirley McGuire, University of San Francisco; Zachariah Oquenda, Common Cause; Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State; Marisa Lagos, KQED; Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, National Institute for Civil Discourse; Lindsay Morris, National Council of Jewish Women; Yascha Mounk, Harvard University; Kimberley D.C. Schroder, Resistance Labs; Wendy Weiser, Brennan Center for Justice

Keynote Speaker: Aziz Huq, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School and author of How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (2018)

Event Chairs: Leslie Katz, Greenberg Traurig; Kristin Olsen, Stanislaus County Supervisor and former Minority Leader at the California State Assembly; and Professor Dan Schnur, University of Southern California and UC Berkeley

Partners: Protect Democracy Project, University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, and The Commonwealth Club

Co-Sponsors: ACLU of Northern California, Brennan Center for Justice, KQED, Office of the Assessor-Recorder for the City & County of San Francisco, Recology, San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, San Francisco Human Rights Commission, San Francisco State University, ADL, Catholic Charities San Francisco, Congregation Emanu-El, Congregation Sherith Israel, J. The Jewish News of Northern California, JCCSF, JFCS, JFCS East Bay, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Jewish Federation of the East Bay/The Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, National Council of Jewish Women, Peninsula Jewish Community Center, San Francisco Interfaith Council, USF Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, and United Religions Initiative

Financial support provided by: Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Fox Rothschild LLP, Morrison & Foerster Foundation, Sideman & Bancroft LLP and Zander Family

Voter Registration Drives

We engaged unregistered voters via text messaging with the help of exciting new software at five events around the Bay Area in September and October. Dozens of volunteers joined us for this non-partisan activity, designed to reach underrepresented Californians in counties with low registration rates.

In California, the deadline to register to vote for any election is 15 days before Election Day, so please register early!


Other Election Resources

Catholic Charities of San Francisco helped JCRC pull together a collection of San Francisco Department of Elections' Poll Worker and Polling Place Opportunities for SF. This focused resource document includes poll worker opportunities for adults and high schoolers, as well as voting access resources and educational opportunities! 

"Uber And Lyft Plan To Offer Free And Discounted Rides On Election Day," Huffington Post, October 16, 2018

"Vote Democracy!" lessons, film modules, and activities that provide a context for understanding and further investigating the changing nature of democracy around the world, PBS LearningMedia.

Civic Connection

Relationship building is essential to a healthy democracy and JCRC Civic Connection has for years been the banner under which we've done this important work. Please join us!


JCRC Civic Connection Peninsula - Tues, Dec 4 | 6:00 p.m. | PHOTOS
JCRC Civic Connection San Francisco - Tues, Oct 9 | PHOTOS

How to Save a Constitutional Democracy

Democracies are facing multiplying challenges—from structural changes to geopolitical shifts to cultural transformations. Though the United States remains one of the strongest democratic nations in the world, it is by no means immune to democratic backsliding. As the American public becomes more polarized on issues such as the freedom of press and U.S.–Russia relations, will our institutions hold? Do the systemic weaknesses revealed by recent pressures on the U.S. Constitution require fundamental change in how the Constitution is interpreted and implemented? How likely is it that our democracy could erode? And what can be done to mitigate the risk? Join noted constitutional scholar Aziz Huq in a lunchtime talk at The Commonwealth Club to explore these and other questions.

Watch the Video: "Law Professor Aziz Huq: How to Save a Constitutional Democracy," The Commonwealthy Club of California, Oct. 15, 2018.

Further Reading

"We'll Never Be Royals," Sh’ma New, A Journal of Jewish Sensibilities, Mar. 4, 2019.

"The Wages of Democracy," Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund blog, Nov. 1, 2018.

"How to preserve democracy when old norms fail," J Weekly, Oct. 17, 2018.

"The Hidden Tribes of America," More in Common, Oct., 2018.

"How to get young people to vote?" The California Influencers Series, Sacramento Bee, Oct. 11, 2018.

"Elections: Understanding democracy in a divided America," Standord University News, Oct. 9, 2018.

"Want to defend democracy? Start with your public library.Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2018.

"Democracy In Crisis?" Forbes, Aug. 15, 2018.

"Yascha Mounk: 'I thought democracy was in crisis before it was cool'," New Statesman, Aug. 15 2018.