Turning her passion into her profession, Laura Wallace spends her days advocating for social, economic and racial reform in Maryland, as Jews United for Justice’s Montgomery County senior organizer.
“Wherever you live, you have a role to play in creating a community where everyone has what they need to live and thrive,” said Wallace, 46, a member of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. “We have a lot of power to create the world we want to see.”
JUFJ covers a variety of issues at the local level, from renters’ rights to court and prison reform. And its voice is getting louder. In 2018, JUFJ members submitted 25 pieces of testimony to the Maryland General Assembly. In the most recent session, members submitted 200 pieces of written testimony. By working with partners, JUFJ strives to make the people who are most impacted by the issues the leaders, Wallace said.
“We do all of our work in partnership with organizations, and that way we really can be understanding [of] the priorities and the strategy and look to the leadership of those folks who are facing those issues every day,” Wallace said. She believes that to achieve social progress and racial equity, systemic change is necessary. “White supremacy and racism are built into our system – the status quo is harming people.”
Wallace is currently focusing on two issues. One is the eviction crisis. She said 45,000 people are at risk of eviction from their homes in Montgomery County. JUFJ is pressuring county officials to get rent relief out faster, she said. At the state level, JUFJ wants to encourage Gov. Larry Hogan to mandate protections to prevent people from being evicted, especially when they are at risk of coronavirus-related job loss or health concerns.
“We really need to see action from all of our elected leaders at the county and at the state level in order to prevent mass eviction across the board,” she said. Supporters can get involved by filling out an action alert or petition, or by attending events.
Wallace’s second issue is paid family medical leave. It’s crucial, she said, because there is no mandate that workers get compensated for their days off, which is detrimental during the pandemic when many are falling ill. “You hear all these stories of people going to work sick … because they can’t afford to take any more time off,” she said.
More than a decade ago, Wallace learned what could be accomplished when people worked together. Her congregation, Kehilat Shalom, was a founder of Action in Montgomery. Wallace said the activist group’s ability to encourage widespread social change inspired her.
“It was the first time that I experienced a way to make systemic change so that you were helping large groups of people. The way that I’d already experienced it before was helping pretty much one person at a time,” she said. “I found it so incredibly exciting and empowering, and I really didn’t know that that was something you could do as a regular person – have an influence on the way policy is set.”
Wallace discovered her passion for justice and began volunteering at JUFJ. After participating in a campaign that supported earned sick and safe leave in Maryland, Wallace knew activism was her niche. “It just really spoke to me how critical that campaign was,” she said. “It was so inspiring and rewarding to be part of that successful campaign.”
Wallace said constituents must communicate with their legislators if they want to make change: send emails, make phone calls, show up at rallies or even talk to the press. “We hire [legislators] when we vote, and all of those tools are ways to help hold them accountable to what the needs of their constituents are,” she said.
Wallace said she wants to create a better world for her children, and she wants them to fight against white supremacy and systemic racism. “I absolutely want them to grow up in a place they can feel proud of,” she said.
JUFJ will hold its statewide kickoff virtually on Oct. 17. For information, go to jufj.org/event/kickoff/.