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Politics

Interview with Rachel L. West MSW: The Political Social Worker

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by Deona Hooper, MSW

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Rachel West, MSW LMSW, Founder of the Political Social Worker from Long Island, New York. Rachel received her MSW from Adelphi University, and she focus her practice on community organizing and macro social work.  Rachel also does consulting in advocacy and legislation for nonprofits and grass roots organization.

SWH: Tell me a bit about your background and how you made the decision to enter in to social work? 

Rachel: I did a lot of course work on topics like the civil rights movement, women’s history, and of course US government and policy.  So, I always had an interest in social justice and policy.  After graduation I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do for a career.  For a while I toyed with going to law school but that didn’t seem right for me.  I wanted a career with meaning, something that involved social justice and activism, where you could do things a little outside the box.  I felt like there was a chance to do that with an MSW.

What really sealed the deal for me was that wonderful preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics.  Plus it is a very broad degree, although that has its pluses and minuses.  Still there are a lot of different things you can do with a social work education.

SWH: How do you define macro social work and its integration with politics?

Rachel: I think community practice is a better term.  Too often the term macro is associated with being a manager and that’s about it.  There have been a number of occasions where I’m having a discussion with other social workers, and when macro social work is being discussed they think of it only in terms of being a supervisor in a mental health setting, but it encompasses so much more than administration and management.

Probably the most succinct definition I have come across is that community practice encompasses community organizing, social planning, human service management, community development, policy analysis, policy advocacy, evaluation, mediation, electronic advocacy and other larger systems interventions.

SWH: How did the Political Social Worker Blog come about, and What types of issues do the Political Social Worker report on?

Rachel: I was discouraged by the lack of blogs and articles focusing on community practice issues.  There are very few resources for a non-clinical social worker to turn to for career advice.  It can be disheartening.  There’s not much support at the academic level or from the NASW.  Just trying to find continuing education classes is frustrating.  This is a particularly bitter pill for a community practice social worker who is licensed in a state that has CEU requirements.  They wind up having to spend a lot of money and time on courses that have little to no relevance on what they do.

In 2011 I was unemployed.  I needed something to keep myself busy as well as maintain my skills and provide me with networking opportunities.   So I thought ‘OK. There is a need for information about community practice social work, so I guess I’ll start a blog about that.’  I figured that it was something constructive and it would help me meet other like minded professionals.

The Political Social Worker Started on Tumblr in January 2012. Initially, it was focused on gathering a list of resources for other community practice social workers; things like articles and websites that they would find useful.  I have to say there are a lot of young social workers, or social workers in the making, on there who are very interested in advocacy and politics.  It told me that there really was a need for this within social work.

SWH: How does someone get you to report on their organization or highlight their political activities?

Rachel: They can email me at [email protected]   This year my goal is to spotlight other political social workers and social justice organizations.   I am particularly interested in interviewing other community practice social workers about their work.  There is a need to share information about how a new social work graduate can get into this field of practice.  There is a ton of info on how to become a clinical social worker or how to start a private practice, but there is very little on community practice.

SWH: What are your aspirations as a social worker and what areas would you like your profession to direct more attention?

Rachel: I would like to see more focus on community practice.  The Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) recently released a report, The Rothman Report, on the state of macro social work and it is sobering.  Basically it found that community practice is being pushed out of the way by social work schools that are instead focusing on micro practice. They also discovered that students interested in pursuing macro work were being discouraged by professors and administration from doing so.

As a profession, I think we have moved too far away from community organizing and public policy.  I would like to see social work standing front and center when it comes to crafting and passing policies impacting the communities we work with.  The social work voice is missing from the national conversation on key issues and that is more than unfortunate because we are on the frontlines delivering services and seeing how laws and social programs are affecting people.

In the future, I not only want to continue working and developing as an advocate, but I also want to encourage and support other social workers in pursuing community practice and politics. This was my thought process when the political social worker was born.  I want to help get social work on to the national stage.  I know you have taken this up on SWH, but how often do you watch the news or attend a panel discussion on politics and see a social worker joining in the discussion? There are political scientist, sociologist, even historians weighing in on these matters, but where are the social workers?

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2 Comments
Mozart Guerrier says:

Great interview! I’m excited to see the advocacy Rachel engages in for community social workers!

Mozart Guerrier says:

Great interview! I’m excited to see the advocacy Rachel engages in for community social workers!

Politics

Who Listens When You Lack Power and Privilege?

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Colin Kaepernick Photo Credit: FB

How do we differentiate who we are from what we are? Do titles really define who we are or what we think about people? Do we not care about who they are as a person; their morals, values, and stances?

We are asked as children what we want to be when we grow up, which is often answered by a title – a police officer, teacher, a professional athlete. We don’t get asked who we want to be, or what we want to be known for.

We often assign respect and obedience to certain titles without thinking the expectations we have of someone who holds it. Some may exceed expectations, and others may not be close to meeting them. But, what do we do when we learn who they are as a person and not the title they hold?

A professional football player kneeled during the national anthem because police officers were not meeting the expectations society has relayed on them. But rather than join his efforts in holding them accountable for their deadly actions, he lost his job for getting involved in something that isn’t part of his job description.

Collin Kaepernick’s job is to be a quarterback and not protest injustices which is what some of his critics say. He showed us who he is as a person, what he stands for, and what he believes in. In return, he is villainized and no longer is he considered a good football player, but has been rebranded as a troublemaker. Is that fair?

Power and privilege are two concepts that most people strive to obtain, but some may never achieve it. These two things are primarily held in the hands of white men in America. Minorities lack the social status to have powerful messages heard and understood by White America which often leads to relying on our white counterparts to understand our situation in order for something to get done.

Collin Kaepernick had a platform at his disposal which was the NFL. He used his stage in hopes of giving a voice to an issue troubling his community because this was something “white America” isn’t experiencing, nor could they understand the lived fear people of color have of the police.

Because this was something the majority did not understand, Kaepernick’s behavior was too radical for unaffected to be willing to listen and pay attention to the real issue, police brutality. Kneeling during the flag and national anthem was not about disrespecting the flag or national anthem. His kneeling was to bring attention to an epidemic faced by a particular group of Americans.

When we often hold positions of power, we expect others to listen to us and conform to our desires. When something is not presented how we like it, we are less likely to value that person and what they believe.

One of the core values of the social work profession is the dignity and worth of the person. Acknowledging the reality that not everyone will be affected the same. The willingness to listen to others when they’re trying to tell their story can go as far as saving someone’s life.

If the reasoning for Kaepernick’s kneeling had been met with empathy when he shared why he was kneeling, the issue of police brutality would have remained the center of the issue instead of NFL players being called “sons of bitches” by the President of the United States because he doesn’t like them kneeling.

If the people in power, the NFL stakeholders, the President of the United States, and other officials who can hold law enforcement accountable, cared as much about issues like police brutality as they did about football players kneeling, American lives could literally be saved.

Unfortunately, when minorities with no standing and power in America try to bring awareness to social issues where minorities are also the victims, no one seems willing to listen or do anything about it.

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Culture

The Grand Challenge of Thoughts and Prayers

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The snapping sound of my laptop closing echoed in the room as I stared up at the ceiling and shoved it aside along with the glaring screen and endless scroll of ‘thoughts and prayers‘. Realizing that I had a visceral reaction to seeing ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweeted out by well-meaning people for I’m not sure how many thousands of times now. I puzzled over why this time caused more reaction than other similar events. I won’t even bother to name the incident because it will be dated by the time I finish this article.

The endless snark of the social media blame game (this includes me at times, it’s a coping mechanism) and the seeming avoidance of meaningful action post “marking” events like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas in its level of horror was just too much today.

Maybe it’s the stark nothingness that has followed. In the subsequent, daily violence, the blame of outsiders, leadership, anyone but ourselves for taking action that will result in change, is what must change.

What’s my bias, you ask? The lack of action from anyone posting about guns, walls, terror, foreigners or travel bans outside of snide social media posts. I beg everyone to take meaningful action and then share that on your social media.

Let’s start with the pro-gun people.

Individuals who believe we need guns to protect ourselves from a corrupt government or to keep yourself safe from harm.

Your Action: Go take a class on how to be a hero to satisfy your John Wayne fantasies without getting anyone else or yourself, killed in the process.

I’m quite serious under the sarcastic tone. I think it’s 99% fantasy that you are going to contribute to stopping mass shooters, but at least you are doing something. Share about the awesome class you’ve taken, and how you’ve reduced your “freeze time” in reacting to a guy with a semi-automatic weapon pointed at you or family members while at school, church, the local Walmart or while watching the latest Disney movie at the theatre. Practice should certainly help you if you find yourself at a packed outdoor concert with thousands of people. Make sure to take the advanced class at aiming for shooters at 15 plus stories above (also without shooting bystanders or others in the building). Make sure to share with everyone the smoke signals you learned to share with the local law enforcement, who will surely appreciate your well -trained help in the next mass shooting incident.

NRA Defensive Pistol Course

The NRA Defensive Pistol course will focus on the techniques needed to develop a defensive mindset. The goal of the course will be to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to carry and use a concealed pistol ethically, responsibly and with confidence… This course is only conducted by NRA certified Advanced Pistol Instructors.

NRA FIRST Steps Rifle Orientation

Firearm Instruction, Responsibility, and Safety Training is the NRA’s response to the American public’s need for a firearm orientation program for new purchasers.

You can even check their ratings on Yelp.

Next, let’s talk with the travel ban people.

Your Action: Get a big paper map

Get yourself a world map- the type that covers your entire wall, old- school style with accessorized colored push- pins. I won’t tell you how to code your travel ban countries but you’ll need to, in 4th-grade style, create a key and chart about the history of mass shootings in the US and make sure we’re covering the right countries. Don’t let phrases like “extra super extreme vetting” confuse you.

Better yet, just list the countries that you believe pose a danger to America based on recent history (I’m trying to be reasonable- perhaps since 2007?). Then look at the travel ban list- how do they match up? If they don’t, there’s your short list of action items. Find out why the “terrorist countries” aren’t on the list then contact your local, state and federal representatives about it. Share that on your social media.

Here’s a link to the Department of State: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/news/important-announcement.html

For the “Build the Wall” people:

Do you want to build a wall to keep out people who fly here? Who are you trying to keep out? If it’s the Terrorist Catholics from Mexico you’ll need to make that case, but far too many responses to news and social media reports are reactionary to terrorists who flew here on an airplane or actually live here in the US.

Your Action: Check the country of origin for the latest mass shooting or terror attack on the map and compare it to the travel ban list to see if your noise on social media is adding to creating change or confusing the uneducated. If they can’t walk here, surely it’s the latter.

For gun safety or anti-gun people:

Know what “they” have for support and organizing versus what you do. There’s money all around, but being a paid member of a club like the National Rifle Association gives a base of actionable information sharing that those who lack organized structure do not. Gun safety advocates need to reach out to the community and invite them in, not just ask for donations about something they believe is obvious and based on moral outrage. Teach others how to organize- the NRA’s annual meeting has something like 80,000 members present every year. Professor Harie Han wrote about this in “How Organizations Develop Activists” which I stumbled upon while looking for others who think along similar lines.

Using terms like “gun violence prevention” is more useful and descriptive for most arguments (and reflective of almost all Americans) rather than “gun control”. An easy action item is to learn your local and state laws on gun violence prevention and join an already established group like Everytown that is making headway and has coffee meetups for new members. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Most of all, do rather than say– then share what you’re doing and why. Your focused time will reflect your passion for change and will be more likely to draw others in.

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News

Study Finds Fringe Communities on Reddit and 4chan Have High Influence on Flow of Alternative News to Twitter

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Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Cyprus University of Technology and University College London have conducted the first large-scale measurement of how mainstream and alternative news flows through multiple social media platforms.

After analyzing millions of posts containing mainstream and alternative news shared on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan, Jeremy Blackburn, Ph.D., and collaborators found that fringe communities within 4chan, an image-based discussion forum where users are anonymous, and Reddit, a social news aggregator where users vote up or down on posts, have a surprisingly large influence on Twitter. The results of the study were published this week in a paper at the ACM Internet Measurement Conference in London.

“Based on our findings, these smaller, fringe communities on Reddit and 4chan serve as an incubation chamber for a lot of information,” said Blackburn, assistant professor of computer science in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “Many online hoaxes, false or misleading stories have been traced back to users on these platforms. The content and talking points are refined until they finally break free and make it to larger, more mainstream communities.”

The team gathered information from posts, threads and comments on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan that contained URLs from 45 mainstream and 54 alternative news websites. Activity on the three platforms was measured between June 20, 2016, and Feb. 28, 2017.

They analyzed more than 400,000 tweets, 1.8 million posts and comments on Reddit, and 97,000 posts and replies on 4chan. After analyzing the occurrence of 99 URLs on the top 20 mainstream and alternative news sites, they found Breitbart.com made up 55 percent of the URLs from six selected subreddits, and the nytimes.com made up 14 percent. Breitbart.com made up 44 percent of the URLs on Twitter, while theguardian.com made up 19 percent, and Breitbart.com made up 53 percent of the URLs, with theguardian.com making up 14 percent.

Using the unique URLs across all platforms and the time they first pop up, the team analyzed their appearance in one, two or three platforms, and the order in which the appearance occurred. Examination of the path of a URL reveals the domains whose URLs tend to appear first on each of the platforms.

Flow of Mainstream News

For the mainstream news domains, the group found that URLs from nytimes.com and cnn.com tend to appear first more often on Reddit than Twitter and 4chan. On the other hand, URLs from other domains like bbc.com and theguardian.com tend to appear first more often on Twitter than Reddit. There was no instance where mainstream news URLs tended to appear first on 4chan.

Flow of Alternative News  

The group found that breitbart.com URLs appear first in Reddit more often than on Twitter, and more frequently than they do on 4chan. However, for other popular alternative domains, such as infowars.com, rt.com and sputniknews.com, URLs appear first on Twitter more often than Reddit and 4chan. As is the case with the mainstream domains, there was no domain where 4chan dominates in terms of first URL appearance.

In addition to studying how news is shared on the three platforms, the researchers were able to estimate how much influence each platform has on the information shared on other platforms, using a mathematical technique knowns as Hawkes process.

The group measured the influence of six subreddits from Reddit.com, “The_Donald,” “politics,” “worldnews,” “AskReddit,” “conspiracy,” and “news,” the “/pol/” board on 4chan and the Twitter platform. They found that Twitter has a heavy influence on the posting of URLs from alternative news sites on the other social platforms, and is the most influential single source for most of the other web communities.

“These platforms have become an important piece of the modern information ecosystem,” Blackburn said. “As we continue to see the creation and spread of hoaxes, rumors and false information online, this knowledge is crucial to understand the risks associated with alternative news and to aid in designing appropriate detection and mitigation strategies.”

Blackburn is a co-founder of the International Data-driven Research for Advanced Modelling and Analysis Lab, or iDRAMA Lab, an international group of scientists focusing on modern socio-technical issues with expertise ranging from low-level cryptography to video games. The paper, “The Web Centipede: Understanding How Web Communities Influence Each Other Through the Lens of Mainstream and Alternative News Sources,” can be found here.

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