This is not your father’s political group. It doesn’t raise funds or hand out contributions to candidates. Its founders don’t deny their partisanship, but they don’t see themselves as practicing politics in the usual way, either. They call their group a “salon,” the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon.
“We didn’t know what else to call it,” co-founder Joanie Shubin said.
“We don’t mean a hair salon,” co-founder Valerie Habif quickly added.
No, their salon would be one of the old style, a place for talking and for learning about issues and politics. “It was really to gather like-minded people,” Habif said. “We were really frustrated about what was happening to people.”
But their salon has developed a newfangled spin: it has taken off on the internet. The group that started with a few dozen women gathered in the meeting room of a Buckhead condo now claims more than 1,100 members who interact regularly through an invitation-only Facebook page.
And they believe they offer a sign of change in local politics since the election of President Donald Trump. The women behind the salon say Trump’s presidency has convinced waves of other progressive and Democrat-leaning women to join the political seas. Even, the salon’s organizers say, in traditionally Republican suburbs such as Sandy Springs.
Members of the salon actually started meeting back in 2012, when Barack Obama was president and the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare,” seemed to be all anybody wanted to talk about. Habif, a clinical psychologist who’s now retired, and Shubin, who volunteered with nonprofits, were trying to figure out just what the fuss was all about.
“We didn’t understand the opposition,” Habif said during a recent chat at a Sandy Springs coffee shop. “What we did was to better understand the other side. Why would people be opposed to everyone having access to the same healthcare they have? What was so scary about healthcare?”
Habif and Shubin, who both live in Sandy Springs, regularly talked to one another about issues, but they decided they needed to hear more points of view. They invited some friends to get together and invited an expert to speak. Soon, the women were meeting regularly to discuss issues of the day and to hear from experts on those issues. The idea was to educate and empower like-minded women in the area, the founders said, and to get them engaged in political issues. “We mean [to attract] women, other Jewish women, who were going through the same things we were going through,” Habif said.
The group grew slowly, through word of mouth at first. Once 29-year-old member Kate Kratovil of Brookhaven, who works with nonprofits as a professional, established the group on Facebook in 2016, however, membership really took off. It was about the time of the current president’s election, she said, and suddenly progressive women wanted new ways to get involved in politics. “Donald Trump was the catalyst,” Kratovil said.
Regardless of what motivates members, its founders say the salon focuses on local issues. “We’re all about local,” Habif said. “This is about having local voices.”
“We are a true grassroots group,” Kratovil said.
The group focuses its attention on a half-dozen issues its members see as driving women’s political discussions here. Topics include gun violence, women’s health and reproductive rights, refugee and immigrant rights, education and child protection, hate crime legislation and resisting “religious liberty” laws in Georgia.
The founders say the salon defines itself as a women’s group created for and run by women and that it keeps its discussions women-only. The only time men have been invited to participate is when the salon hosted forums in which local candidates came in to debate. Kratovil said in an email that it “comes down to a sense of camaraderie and being able to have a true safe space, especially with women’s health and access to healthcare as a main focus of JDWS.”
Now that the organization is up and running, the founders say they intend to keep going.
“We started with an idea and look what we’ve accomplished,” Habif said. “This is what happens when like-minded people come together. … We will never go back. Once you understand your responsibility, you can never go back. It was a delusion to leave it to others to do the right thing …
“Complacency is not an option,” she said.
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: An earlier version of this story placed the names in the photo in incorrect order.