Carlyn Cowen, 32


What you do:

I work at a social services agency (the Chinese-American Planning Council) where I do policy, advocacy and community mobilization around issues that impact Asian American, immigrant and low-income New Yorkers. I’m a proud member of JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice), where I do organizing for the Caring Majority, a coalition of seniors, people with disabilities and homecare workers fighting for universal long-term care, and with the Jewish Vote, JFREJ’s sibling organization building power for the Jewish electoral left. I also organize with DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), and spend a lot of time working on single-payer healthcare, particularly the New York Health Act. I volunteer at my local food pantry on weekends. 

Unexpected fun fact:

I love obstacle races and have done four Tough Mudders and two Spartan races. 

Quote you live by?

“Nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy.”

How you got here:

I worked as a community organizer around immigration reform in college, but I graduated in 2009 during the recession, and fell back on my college job, bartending. I moved to New York and went to grad school, and continued to bartend afterwards. Eventually I found my way into the policy world. As a Filipinx-American, when the opportunity came up to do policy and community mobilization in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in New York, I had to take it. But I still wanted to do organizing work with the Jewish community and with my Jewish political values, and that’s when I found JFREJ, which has become my political home.

How does your Jewish identity/Jewish values influence the work that you do?

My political work is rooted in two Jewish values. The first, tikkun olam (repairing the world), urges us to build a more sustainable world for all humanity, which necessitates the redistribution of economic and political power more equitably and justly. The second, doikayt (hereness), urges us to root our struggle for liberation where we live, fighting alongside our neighbors for a better world in solidarity.

What was the best advice you received?

I barely remember my grandfather, who was a first-generation Jewish immigrant to Chicago, but the advice that he passed on throughout the generations always stays with me. When I was young, my dad would tell me the story from his father, which he described as an ancient Jewish folktale about King Solomon, which bore the lesson, “this too shall pass.” This advice comforts me during difficult times, pushes me to keep fighting for a better world during good times and connects me to my family roots.

Follow me: @carlyncowen