When creating a list of the best young organizers in America you would have to put in the top five New York City's Alan van Capelle. Now President and CEO of Bend the Arc, a faith based Jewish organization, dedicated to domestic issues of economic and social justice, van Capelle has spent a life time organizing for a better world.
Alan's rise as one of the more powerful activists in the country began with organized labor. For ten years he worked to make life better for nursing home attendants, janitors, security officers, doormen and healthcare employees. While at SEIU 32BJ, he created an effective and powerful political action committee for the union.
As an openly gay man, he accepted the job of being Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA). For seven years he created a massive coalition in New York state that made it possible for marriage equality to become the law. He created outreach to faith based communities, labor and corporations. ESPA under his direction became a powerhouse in New York politics.
Broadening his outreach, Alan accepted the challenge of taking the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Jewish Funds for Justice and creating a new national organization called "Bend The Arc". The organization under his leadership has become a powerful new presence on domestic issues. In many ways, van Capelle has taken the Jewish community back to its historical activist roots as champions for social and economic justice.
In his bio, it reads, "
Mr. van Capelle has been named to the National Leadership Council’s “40 under 40” list, and has been quoted by The New York Times, CNN, New York 1, Newsweek and New York Magazine. Acknowledged as a national civil rights leader with special ties to his home state of New York, he served on the transition committees for Governor Eliot Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Alan van Capelle lives with his husband Matt Morningstar and their adorable and delightful son Ethan in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.
Here are "Five Questions For.......Alan van Capelle'
1. You have a long history of activism and fighting for progressive causes. Where and when did you know your passion for organizing?
Going from growing up in a middle class family to, while I was still a child, seeing my parents lose their money and become working class, had a big impact on me. When we went from being among the “haves” to the “have-nots” I saw the importance of things like a public school education, unions that ensure workers can earn a decent income, social security and a public safety net. Since then I’ve always found myself on the side of those things that I saw benefit my parents and my family.
2. You were instrumental in the passage of marriage equality in New York as Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. Where should the movement focus if the Supreme Court rules that marriage equality is a constitutional right?
I believe that equality is the basement and justice is the ceiling. Without equality it’s hard to fight for justice. Achieving marriage equality will free up energy and resources of LGBTQ folks to stand with and strategize with other groups to fight for the issues they care about, and the America they want to live in, whether that means living wage jobs, clean water, or the right of all people to grow old with dignity. We also need to remember that just because we may have won some important legal recognition that does not mean we are treated equally in everyday life. There is still so much more we can do to ensure the next generations of LGBTQ people have an easier road than the one we traveled.
3. You are now Executive Director of Bend The Arc a Jewish organization devoted to economic justice and civil rights issue. What has been the most important lesson you have learned as an open gay man in a leadership position in a faith based organization?
I quickly learned that there are not many openly gay leaders in Jewish organizations and so I take every opportunity to talk about my husband Matt and my son Ethan. I speak about them in synagogues, in donor meetings, and in halls of Congress. I want people to know that you can be gay and a person of faith; that you can, in fact, be the leader of a faith-based organization.
4, Bend the Arc focuses on only domestic issues. Has there been pressure or backlash for the organization to focus also on the Middle East?
Not really. Bend the Arc is one of the only tables in the country where Jews can gather together regardless of their Middle East politics. This makes us a very valuable organization for Jews nationally and I think most people understand and appreciate that.
5. What is the most embarrassing or funny moment to happen to you in all your years of activism.
A few years ago Matt and I were borrowing a friend’s house in the Hamptons and we had David Patterson for dinner one night. I was still at the Pride Agenda and we had just published a book of the 1324 rights that LGBTQ people were denied because New York did not yet have marriage equality. I was so excited to show David the book that I pressed a copy into his hands, forgetting for a moment that he is legally blind, urging him to read it. A few moments later I came to my senses, grabbed the book back, downed my martini and began to recite from memory the most important rights we were being deprived of.