Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Reformation of Christian Education, Pt. 5: Networked Advocacy & PA General Assistance

Just as a recap, this series of blog posts was written as an assignment for a Technology and Adult Education Seminar led by Pastor Keith Anderson at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.  So far, over four posts I've introduced the series, explained the old "broadcasting church" system of communications, shed some light on the emerging "networked church" system, and critiqued to #Kony2012 movement in light of the tenets of networked communication.  In this final post, I intend to take what I've learned from the seminar, the book Tweet If You <3 Jesus by Elizabeth Drescher and my own writing process to help cultivate a community around advocating against Gov. Tom Corbett's planned removal of the General Assistance program from this year's Pennsylvania state budget.  As I am currently in the final months of my time as a field intern for Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of Pennsylvania, this is also exploring the use of social-networking technology in my own ministry context.

Photo: Neal Santos/City Paper
The PA General Assistance fund is a program of last resort for the state's 68,000 most needy residents, providing a maximum of $205.00 each month in most counties to folks like battered women fleeing abusive households, children living with unrelated adults, adults in intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs and those waiting to receive long-term disability benefits from the federal government.  Many citizens receiving benefits from PA General Assistance only can do so for up to nine months, so its essentially serves as a transition program that helps folks on the road to recovery.  Whether or not you agree with supporting PA General Assistance from a moral perspective, from a financial perspective it makes sense as well.  While the Corbett administration would argue that cutting the program could save the state $150 million a year, as this calculator from PA Cares for All shows, the program would result in many more individuals landing in homeless shelters, mental hospitals, foster care and prisons, resulting in a net loss of millions for Pennsylvania.  For instance, folks like Anthony Grasso (pictured above), who runs Next Stop Recovery house in Philly's Frankford neighborhood, runs his program largely on PA General Assistance funds... without the program, he would likely have to close his doors to addicts seeking recovery.

There is current coalition website PA Cares for All supported by over religious and social justice organizations, and they've already done a great deal to foster community around supporting PA General Assistance by following the tenets of networked communication.  Their website already features many stories of folks who have received help from the program (including some pictures).  There is also a great media section that compiles editorals, radio broadcasts and the like from local media on the subject.  PA Cares For All also operates a pretty decent Facebook page that provides links to many of the same stories the website does.  Finally, the website makes direct advocacy fairly easy by helping you sign-up for alerts to email Gov. Corbett.

That said, there's a lot folks can do (especially ordinary citizens... the folks running the program are already really swamped, I imagine) to further cultivate community around supporting the PA General Assistance program.  First, after a number of searches on Twitter it seems like there is very little conversation on the subject.  Folks should be encouraged to use a specific hashtag, lets say #KeepPAGA, to help develop an affinity group around the subject online.  Second, Governor Corbett's Twitter username, @GovernorCorbett seems to used fairly frequently... advocacy messages that are publicly visible could be directed there as well.  Third, you can't underestimate the power of narrative and video in the networked communications era... instead of just writing quick tweets to the governor, folks could be encouraged to tweet links to YouTube videos they post of either stories about how they have benefited from general assistance or their reasons for why the PA General Assistance program should be maintained.  Finally, those running PA Cares for All could encourage people to make sure all those tweets and videos were also posted on the group Facebook page.  They could also continue to encourage real-life meetups on the subject across the state.

As Elizabeth Drescher in Tweet If You <3 Jesus states, "... as the online encyclopedia Wikipedia testifies, the relatively small efforts of a very large number of people aggregate in support of a very small number of people who provide the larger commitment necessary to make things happen."  While there will only be a small number of professional advocates running the #KeepPAGA campaign, those folks can cultivate and attend to wider advocacy community around the subject through practicing the tenets of networked communication.  Finally, please feel free to post additional ideas about ways to cultivate a #KeepPAGA community here or any questions about the program you might have.  Happy advocating!

God's peace,

Dustin is a Masters of Divinity candidate in his second year of study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin really likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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