Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Putting the action in urban rural action

Putting the action in urban rural action
Getty Images

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.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

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.

Read More

Blurred image of an orchestra
Melpomenem/Getty Images

The ideal democracy: An orchestra in harmony

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

In the symphony of our democracy, we can find a compelling analogy with an orchestra. The interplay of musicians trained in different instruments, each contributing to the grand musical tapestry, offers lessons for our democratic system. As we navigate the complexities of governance, let us draw inspiration from the orchestra's structure, dynamics and philosophy.

Keep ReadingShow less
David French

New York Times columnist David French was removed from the agenda of a faith-basd gathering because we was too "divisive."

Macmillan Publishers

Is canceling David French good for civic life?

Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute. This is the latest entry in his series based on the "Enough. Time to Build.” campaign, which calls on community leaders and active citizens to step forward and build together.

On June 10-14, the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual denominational assembly in Richmond, Va. The PCA created considerable national buzz in the lead-up when it abruptly canceled a panel discussion featuring David French, the highly regarded author and New York Times columnist.

The panel carried the innocuous-sounding title, “How to Be Supportive of Your Pastor and Church Leaders in a Polarized Political Year.” The reason for canceling it? French, himself a long-time PCA member, was deemed too “divisive.” This despite being a well-known, self-identified “conservative” and PCA adherent. Ironically, the loudest and most divisive voices won the day.

Keep ReadingShow less
Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.

Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years later, it's time to restart the Freedom Summer

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

Sixty years have passed since Freedom Summer, that pivotal season of 1964 when hundreds of young activists descended upon an unforgiving landscape, driven by a fierce determination to shatter the chains of racial oppression. As our nation teeters on the precipice of another transformative moment, the echoes of that fateful summer reverberate across the years, reminding us that freedom remains an unfinished work.

At the heart of this struggle stood Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper's daughter whose voice thundered like a prophet's in the wilderness, signaling injustice. Her story is one of unyielding defiance, of a spirit that the brutal lash of bigotry could not break. When Hamer testified before the Democratic National Convention in 1964, her words, laced with the pain of beatings and the fire of righteous indignation, laid bare the festering wound of racial terror that had long plagued our nation. Her resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kamala Harris waiving as she exits an airplane

If President Joe Biden steps aside and endorses Vice President Kamala Harris, her position could be strengthened by a ranked-choice vote among convention delegates.

Anadolu/Getty Images

How best to prepare for a brokered convention

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

As the political world hangs on whether Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign, an obvious question is how the Democratic Party might pick a new nominee. Its options are limited, given the primary season is long past and the Aug. 19 convention is only weeks away. But they are worth getting right for this year and future presidential cycles.

Suppose Biden endorses Vice President Kamala Harris and asks his delegates to follow his lead. She’s vetted, has close relationships across the party, and could inherit the Biden-Harris campaign and its cash reserves without a hitch. As Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested, however, Harris would benefit from a mini-primary among delegates before the convention – either concluding at the virtual roll call that is already planned or at the in-person convention.

Keep ReadingShow less