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Putting the action in urban rural action

Putting the action in urban rural action
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Tom Cassara is a recent graduate of Gettysburg College working to build peace and prevent targeted violence. In his free time, Tom enjoys reading, writing, singing, cooking, and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Action. That is the one noun I’ve felt has been missing from my life for quite some time. As a recent student at a liberal arts college, I had high hopes of being able to change the world someday, but those hopes were always relegated to the “someday.” Sure, I helped people out here and there when I could. I tried to be a good person, but while I was a student I did not have much time to get involved on a regular basis to help create change. Joining Urban Rural Action changed that.


I first heard about the organization from one of my mentors, Tracie Potts, who connected me to Joe Bubman, the executive director of Urban Rural Action. I’ve learned much from Joe in the span of a few months and I look forward to learning more from him as I continue working with the organization. Joe is dedicated to the work and his kindness invites others to participate in the group setting, which is especially important when considering the sometimes awkward nature of political conversation.

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The program I participate in is called Uniting to Prevent Targeted Violence (UPTV), which is centered around preventing targeted violence in four Pennsylvania counties: Adams, Dauphin, Franklin, and York. Targeted violence is defined as “[i]ntentional physical violence against a pre-identified target based on their perceived identity or affiliation, whereby the act is intended to intimidate or coerce or generate publicity about the perpetrator’s grievance” (URAction). To achieve this goal, Urban Rural Action has pulled together 28 community members from all four counties, ensuring that a diverse population of local voices is heard. It is clear to me that Urban Rural Action as an organization believes in a bottom up approach, where listening and helping is valued more than telling and directing.

As a participant in the UPTV program, I have been able to engage in community oriented work, bridging those awkward gaps, the moments of silence when people aren’t quite sure what to say. Over the course of each session, I have grown as a communicator, community member, and friend.

During session one we tackled introductions and met with our community partners for the first time. Each county has a community partner, a local organization dedicated to the specific issue being addressed. Though we are all focused on the broader goal of targeted violence prevention, each community has specific needs, and our responses must be tailored to those

needs. For example, Adams County, my group, is focused on de-escalation and mediation, while the York County group is focused on suicide prevention. Each community partner helps us narrow the focus inwards, helping the community with its specific needs, acting as an additional bridge point between the participants and Urban Rural Action.

I walked away from the first session with a great big smile on my face. It was a warm day, especially for February, and I remember thinking to myself, “I’m just so glad that I can be part of this.” I was able to meet Co-Director Kira Hamman for the first time that day, who much like Joe and the rest of the team, was incredibly warm and welcoming. Leaving session one I was so very ready for session two.

During session two we met with the Mayor of York and discussed the needs of his community. It was clear he cared deeply for the people of York. We also met with Jordan Garza, a DHS official who instructed us in understanding the Pathways to Targeted Violence through useful policy models. As a Public Policy major, the usefulness was immediately clear as I could go back to the classroom and use this in my research. This intersection between my studies and the action I’d been seeking was heartening, and gave me hope for my ability to create change in the future.

Session three was focused on media literacy and problem tree analysis. Though there was some tension in the room surrounding truth and media narratives, we were able to navigate the tension well as a group, thanks largely in part to Joe and Kira. The group as a whole is working in good faith, and it seems everyone recognizes that dynamic. Session three helped me remember that not everyone I work with will agree with me, and that's ok. What is important to me is that we are all working together toward a common goal, and that we are all working in good faith.

We also met in our county groups to work out each respective county’s core problem. This was the first time we really sat down to think about what direction we wanted to take our project in. Being in that space for the first time in our program, where we had to make a decision, tripped us up a bit. I grew frustrated as my momentum faltered, and my locomotive-like drive came screeching to a halt. I just wanted to fly and I felt we were getting stuck. Here I learned a lesson; we couldn't just press onward forever, at some point we had to stop and consider. We had to plan. Then from that plan, we could get to the action. This lesson is key to the work. The action I’ve so desperately wanted cannot be all there is. Action without thought is recklessness, and thought without action, what I had already been doing, is just playing. I was attempting to jump between poles, when in reality I needed to merge the two.

After session three, we had two more full cohort sessions, where we continued to grow and learn as a community of problem solvers. I was unable to attend session five, as my college graduation was the same day, but the team was so eager to help that I was able to catch up quickly.

We’ve since transitioned to having meetings within our county groups, and with that transition comes a great deal of freedom. At first, URAction was the focus. As we got to know each other and built our connections, we needed a central body to glue us together. Now that the glue has dried, the bonds strengthened, we have been given a great deal of freedom to explore our projects. Though we have all this freedom, Joe, Kira, and the rest of the URAction team still provide guidance and assistance when we need it. We are truly experiencing the best of both worlds. The grassroots part of the initiative has really taken off and I am so happy to see where it leads.

The program has given me more hope for the future, both for the country and my own. If so many people are willing to come to the table, maybe we can continue to build tables across the nation. More tables mean more conversations, and more conversations mean greater understanding. If we can understand each other, we can grow together. Unity is our goal, kindness and care are the bricks and mortar, and the projects are the process of turning those materials into that bridge to the other side.

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