BY ABBY BIVENS
PACE completed two more lectures of their series “Democracy Across the Disciplines” over the past few weeks including discussions on protests and social work.
Nov. 20––Dr. Michele Schlehofer, chair of Salisbury University’s psychology department, spoke on “Community Organizing and the Psychology of Protest.”
Schlehofer began by explaining the concept of community organizing as “a process by which people in a community come together to conduct work that acts in their shared interests.”
She described this process as a way to build shared power, including both electoral and non-electoral strategies.
Organizing in this fashion, or protesting, will typically include those who are marginalized and not democratically represented in a conventional manner.
One method of community organizing is direct social action, a popular strategy in the United States which centers around a theme of morality and social justice.
Direct social action occurs in a public arena and overtly expresses discontent.
Examples of this include protests, marches, sit ins, demonstrations and occupations.
Schlehofer briefly discussed the effect that social media has on direct social action in an increasingly digital world.
She believes that it has both a positive and negative impact. Last year’s Women’s March on Washington was the largest social action event ever organized in American history.
This event was solely organized and facilitated through social media platforms.
However, Schlehofer explains that the professional community believes social media leads to a decrease in direct action.
Allowing users to participate in a solely digital manner creates large campaigns that quickly dissipate, such as the #MeToo campaign.
The proof of this has been shown directly on social platforms such as Twitter, where topics can be trending for up to a day and people share their opinions.
Most of these topics are forgotten soon after.
She says that social media’s power needs to be harnessed for effective organizing, but that physical action is much more successful.
An important concept to remember is that direct social action is often controversial and divisive, but such demonstrations bring mass public attention and swift action.
Because of this, direct social action should only be used when attempts at more peaceful manners of reform have not been successful.
Schlehofer encouraged anyone interested in community organizing to visit a site called Community Toolbox.
On this website, visitors can have free access to trained community organizers who can answer any questions they might have about grassroots organizing.
Schlehofer is currently being considered for one of these consultant positions for next year.
Nov. 27––For the 12th lecture, social work professor Jim Forte gave a lecture entitled “Social Work & the Spirit of Democracy: Facilitating Mutual Aid Groups & Legislative Advocacy for Vulnerable Citizens.”
Forte traced the roots of social work in America to Hull House, a community settlement house in Chicago, founded in 1889 by humanitarian Jane Addams.
He joked about his life motto, ‘WWJD’ saying that “although I am a fan of Jesus, it stands for ‘What Would Jane Do?’”
Forte listed the basic and intermediate needs he believes should be provided for citizens in a democracy, which is designed to provide dignified living for all.
These needs include access to nutritious food and water, safe housing, clothing, physical and economic security, a safe work environment and birth control.
A large portion of his lecture focused around an annual rally that occurs in Annapolis, MD.
The annual Keep the Door Open rally “stands up for the more than one million Marylanders who live with a behavioral health disorder,” according to its website.
It brings experts and those affected by mental health issues to Lawyer’s Mall in the heart of downtown Annapolis during the General Assembly session to capture the attention of state legislators.
Participants urge their representatives to preserve funding for behavioral health services.
SU’s social work department sends representatives to this rally every year.
Dr. Forte showed a clip from the 2016 rally featuring numerous legislators who chose to speak, specifically Montgomery County Delegate Eric Luedtke.
“Here’s the simple fact – Maryland is the richest state, of the richest country in the world,” Luedtke said. “Nobody should go without treatment because the state won’t step up.”
During his lecture, Forte attempted to prepare the group to advocate for those who are unable to do so themselves.
He asked students to prepare a short statement to share about a cause that is important to them.
As the end of the semester approaches, there are only two lectures remaining in the series, one of which will be an interactive discussion.
The next lecture will be “Democracy in Pop Culture” on Dec. 4. As a reminder, all PACE lectures are open to any SU student and members of the surrounding community.