Jill: I went to UVA for undergrad, and DC is the closest big city, so I took a bus here after graduation just because it seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t really have a plan beyond applying to jobs with feminist organizations. It’s turned out to be exactly the right place for me, where I’ve found my chosen family, meaningful work, and a surprising enthusiasm for our sweaty summers. I’ve lived here for 9 years now and I don’t plan to ever leave.
Jackie: What work were you doing with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network?
Jill: This was my first grown-up job after college. I was hired as a fundraising assistant, but when the Grassroots Organizer left a few weeks later I applied for her job, and this national organization fighting to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” trusted 22-year-old me with running the organizing program by myself. It was a huge job that demanded a lot of me, and I absolutely loved it. I got to build SLDN’s digital program from the ground up, train hundreds of people to lobby Congress, and emcee a rally on the National Mall. One of my favorite projects was Pride in a Box, where we recruited activists from our email list to represent SLDN at their local Pride festivals, enabling our small organization to be present at hundreds of Pride festivals all over the country, give activists a big job to sink their teeth into, and get the word out about our legal services and lobbying work to hundreds of thousands of people who may not otherwise have gotten that chance. This was back in 2007 when this kind of distributed online-based campaigning was still pretty new, and I’m proud of how quickly my non-techy colleagues agreed to give it a try and how many people were excited to be a part of it.
Jackie: You started the organization Practice Makes Progress. What is your mission with this organization?
Jill: Practice Makes Progress teaches digital strategy infused with radical inclusion to organizers and political operatives across the progressive movement. Digital strategy means organizing on the Internet. We teach it all — developing campaign strategies, aspirational messaging, finding and building activist audiences, and the technical skills that make it all happen. Radical inclusion is the idea that every human being deserves a voice in the political process, including in professional advocacy careers, and that we have to work systematically to end institutional racism, sexism, ableism, cissexism, and other structures that block so many of us from meaningful careers advancing the justice we need. I’m proud of my work training thousands of organizers in the strategic instincts and technical know-how that’s required to run great online campaigns. And I’m especially proud of Practice Makes Progress’s newest program, training progressive organizers in cultural competency around gender identity.
Jackie: What made you want to start your own business?
Jill: I saw a need arise for a new approach to professional development for progressive organizers, and I had the skills, so I took the leap. Entrepreneurship is hard work on a level I couldn’t have imagined before I started doing it, but I believe so strongly in my idea that we can and must provide excellent training in strategic and technical skills at the same time as we help organizers develop more inclusive ways of treating each other in progressive workplaces.
Jackie: How do Jewish values inform your work?
Jill: I’m a pretty observant Reform Jew, and that’s really important to me and also a really private part of my life. Tikkun olam sums up so beautifully why I’ve devoted my professional life to activism. At the same time, I believe very strongly that our religious reasons for political advocacy have no place in the public square. If I want to convince others to share my beliefs about public policy, Jews and non-Jews alike, I need secular arguments and secular evidence — what my God or my tradition says about abortion, or climate change, or Israel for that matter, is simply not relevant in a pluralistic society. The United States was the first modern nation to grant equal rights to Jews, way back in 1776, and our separation of religion and government is fundamental to the promise of this country that I love so much and protest so often.
Jackie: I hear you throw a pretty epic Passover seder, how do you feed that many people!?!
Jill: Hosting seder is one of my favorite things to do all year! It’s also a ton of work. The planning starts about 3 months in advance, setting the date and explaining what my seder is all about to friends who are new to it. I wrote my own Haggadah, which I update every year. The cooking itself is a time crunch in the few days leading up to seder, and I have several vegetarian and vegan friends, and a few who need to avoid gluten or nuts, so I’ve settled on an all-vegetarian menu that meets everyone’s needs and I just serve the same thing every year. Last year I cooked for 20 people! I ask that my guests bring lots of wine and a willingness to be earnest for one night. Organized religion has done a lot of harm to many queer people, and I’ve had more than one friend over the 6 years I’ve been doing this say that my seder was the first religious observance they’ve ever been to that made them feel safe. I’m still blown away by that.
Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?
Jill: I had to think about this question for a while! There are so many people who I think are awesome, who are Jewish, like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is one of my favorite humans. Specifically in terms of people who are my favorite for Jewish things that they do, after some reflection, I’ve come to a tie between Rachel Adler and Michelle Citrin. Rachel Adler wrote a phenomenal book of Jewish feminist theology called Engendering Judaism that contains a lot of important ideas, including a new approach to Jewish wedding ritual based on an ancient ritual Jews used to solemnize contracts — a deeply Jewish ritual to solemnize a marriage without any of the gender bias that’s inherent in kinyan. And Michelle Citrin is a very talented musician who got Internet famous for her 20 Things to Do With Matzah song — she’s been serving as cantor for Temple Micah’s Next Dor High Holidays services for the past several years, making me cry every Yom Kippur.
Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews Gather…
Jill: We bang on the table when we sing, and that feels like home to me.