Bending the arc of progressive Jewish activism

Bending the arc of progressive Jewish activism

December 04, 2020

Bend the Arc CEO ranked #30 on Jerusalem Post's "50 most influential Jews of 2020" list

Stosh Cotler, as CEO of Bend the Arc, is a leader among liberal movements in the US political arena. Bend the Arc is a progressive Jewish political organization attempting to build a solidarity movement against oppression. Standing up against racism and for workers’ rights and racial equality, Cotler is not the typical CEO, coming to the frontlines herself to fight for her organization’s main mission.

Cotler has spent more than half her life working in progressive Jewish activism.

“My purpose in life, if I look back at where I come from, has consistently been to create more space for more people to live free and safe and with dignity, and for the past 15 years or so, that has been with this organization,” Cotler told The Jerusalem Post. She spoke, of course, of Bend the Arc.

“What motivated me to both enter into this field and this work of Jewish social justice and to really stake my work with the vision of what Bend the Arc is becoming, is the belief that our country must be transformed in order to reflect the deepest values and the human rights and dignity of all people who are living here, and that is a unique and important role that the Jewish community can play in that tradition,” she explained. “I believe in a world where power and resources can be shared and where we can move from gross structural inequalities and historic injustices into a world where we are redistributing resources, where we are taking responsibility for the harms that have created a disinvestment in those [disadvantaged] communities, and that we can then create a different world, a vision for this country that we’ve never seen before.” She explained that Jewish traditions and wisdom provide “brilliant road maps” that activists can use to “help reimagine the world we need and that there is, in many ways, a set of radical ideas which, if we were to actually apply them, we would need to reorganize our society in some fundamental ways.” For example, Cotler explained that the concept of Shabbat shows that everyone needs a day off from work to rest and restore oneself. “It goes against the way in which, in the US, we are indoctrinated to believe,” Cotler told the Post.

There is also a sort of strategy behind keeping her Jewish identity identifiable, Cotler explained.

“We can identify with other communities who are under attack, for other communities who are not able to or want to hide their identities. There is tremendous wisdom that I draw on as a Jew to do my political work.” Cotler keeps her work strictly domestic, keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of her politics: and purposely so.

“If you were to take a look issue by issue, the American Jewish community is so progressive,” Cotler told the Post. “When we’re talking about and working on domestic issues, Bend the Arc is firmly within the very center of our community’s ecosystem. It’s when we bring in issues of Israel-Palestine that we see so much diversity and where the American Jewish community can get fragmented. By keeping our focus on domestic issues, we are able to bring the majority of American Jews together on these critical issues.” Four years into her post, the 52-year-old activist has consistently protested the policies posed by US President Donald Trump, specifically targeting his immigration policies as of late and his “plan to end the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program for undocumented immigrants,” according to Bend the Arc. In addition, the organization has publicly endorsed former vice president Joe Biden for presidency in the upcoming 2020 elections.

Cotler explained that her goal and the goal of her organization is to “defeat Trump and his enablers, to push white nationalism back into the margins of society since it has become so mainstreamed.”

She has additionally been outspoken against antisemitic attacks such as the Tree of Life shooting in Pennsylvania.

“We were very involved in the response after that really tragic set of events,” Cotler said.

All in all, Cotler’s influential activism has seen all ends of US politics.

“We are seeing tremendous amounts of social unrest, of fear that people are not going to have the futures for their children that they dreamed they would have,” she explained. “This is the moment that we can actually transform this country into something that it has never been and something that will truly support the people that are here and their future generations.”