The 5th Woman Stage Production is a Voice for Women

Primary cast of the Knoxville, TN stage play The 5th Woman
Primary cast of the Knoxville, TN stage play The 5th Woman

I am always excited to hear about driven individuals who are doing courageous things. However, I am also intrigued by the arts and production. Add to that my hope for social justice, and you know why I had to interview the producers of the upcoming play The 5th Woman. The production is an ensemble stage play appearing for one night only April 25, 2014 in Knoxville, TN.

One of the primary cast members told me about the production, and I was excited, intrigued, and hopeful. I made contact with one half of the executive production team, Marcus Carmon, owner of Carmon Sense Productions. He provided some answers to my questions and deepened my understanding of the social justice message embodied in the 5th Woman. With the power of media and arts to tell stories and change minds, with Women’s History Month 2014 just ending with the close of March, I thought it important to share this interview.

1798188_10102065747352635_1240342696_nWhat is Carmon Sense?
Carmon Sense Productions is an entertainment company created in 2009 by myself Marcus Carmon and my wife Rhea. Our vision is to bring a mix of original and diverse art productions to the city of Knoxville which is already an art-rich city.

Where is it based?
Carmon Sense Productions is based in Knoxville, TN.

What is the origin of The 5th Woman stage production?
My wife Rhea Carmon originally thought about doing a one woman show many years ago but it wasn’t brought up much. Less than a year ago she got together with the other ladies in the show (Dominique Boyd, Jessica Sessions, Shekita Arnold, Lauren Elysse) and the one-woman show grew into something bigger, better and powerful. It grew to become The 5th Woman.

What social justice themes are the core of the production?
The ladies address issues and themes that all women share in common. Sexism, motherhood, love, relationships, social pressures and more. The core message is about women loving each other. Caring about each other and being selfless enough to lend an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. It’s a positive and honest message in a world where women are often portrayed in the media as being catty and unable to get along with one another.

In presenting each woman, what is the message for the audience?
Each of the dynamic artists has a unique yet familiar voice that will reach persons in the audience who also think and share similar perspectives. Whatever story you have to tell as a woman, tell it. The days have passed when the struggles of women, personally or publicly, are silenced due to chauvinistic values. Every type of woman or person is guaranteed to be touched by the message in the 5th Woman. speaks to many helping professionals. Why would they benefit from seeing the 5th Woman?
I think it is always good for professionals to engage with art. Art often imitates life and is intertwined in the way that a lot of companies market and do business. The 5th Woman will show that all women and people in general are different and must be treated accordingly. This practice and thought is definitely useful in a social setting where sensitivity concerns can be problematic.

How can folks who are not able to see the opening night get a chance to experience the production?
The 5th Woman will only run for one night April 25, 2014 at the Ula Doughty Carousel Theater on the campus of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. However, depending on the public demand the ladies would love to give an encore performance.

Do you have other things to communicate about the 5th Woman?
The 5th Woman is a theatrical poetry production that combines that grace and beauty of dance, the melodic harmony of song, the power of theatre and the undeniable force of the spoken word to create a unique presentation of artistic expression. The production takes place on the University of Tennessee Campus April 25, 2014 and tickets are $15 for students and $20 for the general public. [Available Here]

Do you have other upcoming productions slated for Carmon Sense?
Carmon Sense Productions is looking to start on its first web series this fall. We are also currently creating a musical inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. We are looking to do a lot more film and intermingle it with stage performances.


I am Getting My MSW, but I Do Not Want to be a “Social Worker”

As I finish up my first year in graduate school, I am reflecting on the reasons I chose to enroll in a social work program. First, I want to change to world, and I want to help as many people as I can. I  know I cannot change everything, but I can motivate and empower other people to help to make a bigger impact.

My passion for social justice drove me into the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program, and I was ready to set forth and learn how to save the world. Now during my whole time at school, I get ask the same questions over and over again about why I am studying social work and the reasons behind it. Once I tell people I am getting my MSW, they certainly jump to conclusions about my career path.

  • You are not going to make any money.
  • You are going to take kids away from bad parents.
  • Oh! I know a social worker at my school. She’s great!
  • Good for you; that job is so challenging.
  • Why are you learning about fundraising if you are going to be a social worker? They are so different.
  • What population do you want to work with?
  • What therapy method do you prefer?
  • Why do you want to help poor people?
  • You need to get licensed right away.
  • You should memorize the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM)
  • Take a course on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for sure
  • You need to focus and take as many advanced clinical courses as possible.

Sadly, I have heard all of these statements and more related ones too many times. The frustrating part about these comments is not the fact people are trying to help or learn more about my career, but they are judging my career choice before I get a chance to explain my reasoning. The worst part about this is that people who call themselves social workers are the most judgmental. They believe in their definition of social work, and what I want to do is not it.

They in some ways diminish my motivation for social change and push more towards therapy. Even the educational requirements are steering away from social justice initiatives and focusing on therapy. Is that what social work is now? Cheap therapy? If you would like more information on the subject, there is a book called Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work has Abandoned its Mission by Harry Spect and Mark E. Courtney. The book is a great read for any social worker out there trying to evaluate their roles as a social worker in society.

As many of you know, the definition of social work is vast and expanding. You can read about the great things and various aspects of the social work profession/opportunities in other articles on this website. It is not just counseling or adhering to the needs of individuals, but much more.  This can include anything related to helping individuals including but not limited to social policy analysis, program development, community assessment, advocacy, community organizing, development, organizational management, case management, research, social change and more, not just counseling.

With this being said, it is sad that many schools and professionals are telling students every day their focus should be on therapy and clinical intervention. I do not discredit the wonderful work clinical social workers do because it is necessary. I just want the opportunity for my fellow students and I to mold our own definitions of social work based on our personal and communal factors. We should focus our education, internships, jobs based on what we like to do and what we feel is necessary. We certainly would not tell clients what to do based on our own perceived conceptions of their identity, then we should not do it for social work students.

For clarification, I do plan on being a social worker, but I am going to be MY definition of a social worker. I plan to be a nonprofit executive leading human service agencies. I am getting my MSW to understand the perspective of oppressed individuals, and how my good friend says it, put the human back in human services.

If a label is part of my identity, I will dictate what I believe the label means. In order for you to know, you need to ask me instead of judging based on your preconceived notions. Rather than tell me what to do, maybe you could offer your advice or assistance if I ask for it.  Our future is determined by our decisions, and we students need to learn that for ourselves. Honestly, you’d be surprised how much we know already, and you could learn more about us if you do not jump to conclusions. 

Why Higher Education in the 21st Century is No Longer Optional

Education has long been considered one of the gateways to socioeconomic success in the United States. In today’s labor market, however, education is more essential to lifelong economic success than ever before.

graduationcapsAs Alan Krueger, President Obama’s Chairman of the Council of the Economic Advisers, explains, the American economy is experiencing a “skill-biased technology change,” where technology, automation, and globalization are replacing the need for low-skill labor (2012). As demand for low-skill labor declines, individuals without a high school or college degree are having an increasingly difficult time finding gainful employment than their counterparts did in previous decades.

On the other hand, individuals with analytic skills and college degrees have benefited from this skill-biased technology change, as these individuals have the educational training to meet the demands of the changing labor market. The decline in union membership (20 percent in 1982 compared to 12 percent in 2012) has further decreased the availability of livable wages and job security for employees with lower levels of education, as unions have been shown to protect low-skill jobs from unequal shifts in the labor market (Card, as cited in Krueger, 2012). In many cases, less educated workers are forced to work at or near the minimum wage, an hourly rate that has decreased in relative value since the 1980s (Lee, as cited in Krueger, 2012).

The Education Wage Gap

This economic shift is one of the primary reasons the wage gap between high school graduates and college graduates has soared over the past four decades, contributing to an increase in economic inequality in the United States.

  • While education had been a predictor of income for several generations, according to The Hamilton Project, over the past 40 years, incomes for college graduates have increased by more than one-third while decreasing for individuals with only a high school degree or less (Greenstone, Harris, Li, Looney, Patashnik, 2012).
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (2012) reports that in 2010, the median annual income for a young adult with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000, compared with $37,000 for an associate’s degree, $29,900 for those with a high school diploma, and $21,000 for those without a high school degree or GED.

These statistics suggest that young adults with a college degree earn 50 percent more than individuals with only a high school degree and twice as much as individuals who did not complete high school.

  • The Pew Charitable Trust (2012) cites that over 80 percent of those who do not complete high school earn less than $30,000 annually, and nearly half are unemployed compared with only 15 percent of college graduates.
  • According to Looney and Greenstone (2011), after adjusting for inflation, the median annual income for a male in 1970 with only a high school degree was close to $50,000, compared with $26,000 in 2012.

This increasing income differential between high school and college degree earners represents a fundamental shift in the educational needs of American citizens.  Today, education is not simply a gateway to economic improvement but is one of the key mechanisms for economic survival. While there was a time when an individual with a high school degree could participate and prosper in the middle class, this phenomenon is no longer a reality. Our current economy demands that Americans receive quality basic education to better insure their success in institutions of higher learning.

The Importance of Education for Low-Income Students

Today education represent the primary vehicle for economic mobility. This fact is especially true for low-income students. According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project (2012):

  • A four-year college degree programs was the largest source of economic mobility and stability for those living in poverty.
  • Only 10 percent of people with a college degree raised in the bottom quintile of family income remained there in adulthood, compared to half of those who did not go to college.
  • Having a college degree makes a person three times more likely to rise from the bottom of the economic spectrum all the way to the top.
  • While individuals at the bottom quintile of family income are the least likely to surpass their parents’ income or wealth, a college degree earners from the bottom quintile of family income make the largest gains in absolute wealth compared with the income level they were raised in, and 85 percent had greater income than their parents did.

What these figures represent is that successfully completing high school followed by successfully completing college are essential steps for lifting people out of poverty.

Education, Income, and Well-Being

While income and wealth are not the only benefits of education, the realities of living in poverty make the link between education and income hard to ignore. Beyond income, however, higher levels of education have been shown to:

  • Increase health and longevity,
  • Increase civic participation,
  • Decrease crime and incarceration rates (Lochner, 2011).
  • Increase in productivity,
  • Decrease in reliance on disability and welfare payments,
  • Increase marriage rates,
  • Decease the likelihood of raising children in poverty (Greenstone, Harris, Li, Looney, Patashnik, 2012).

While many of these factors may be related to income, citizens with higher levels of education have better access to information about health and preventative care, child development, personal finances, risk-behavior and lifestyle choices compared with individuals with less education.

Conclusion and the Role of Social Workers

Education in the 21st century represents a critical avenue for economic mobility, security, and social prosperity. In short, higher education has become the primary gateway to the middle class.  However, higher education is still discussed as an “option” in many American schools and the high cost of colleges and universities reinforces old believes that college is a “privileged” experience. Both of these notions are false and the mechanisms supporting them must be reformed. Higher education must be affordable and our high schools must be explicitly designed to prepare and transition student into higher education settings.

The definition of higher education must also be explored. How well do trade schools equip students with marketable skills? Some trade schools are excellent while others simply bring people an inch above the poverty line. As such, some technical education programs should be considered higher education and supported, while others should be improved or phased out.

Social workers can play a pivotal role in helping families and systems adjust to the realities of the skill-biased technology change:

  • When we work with families and adolescents, we can empower our clients to make more informed decisions about the future by making them aware of this valuable information.
  • We can further transform our direct practice orientation to where higher education is a universal treatment goal and desired outcome for all consumers.
  • When working in school settings we can foster a college-bound culture among our students and fellow faculty, and address shortcomings within administrations where failing to continue education remains acceptable.
  • In community practice settings we can advocate a “cradle to college” continuum of care and bolster support for community colleges, scholarships, and higher education transition/support programs.
  • Politically, we can advocate for continued education reform, an investment in schools serving low-income communities, support legislation aimed at making higher education more affordable and continuing support to effective community-colleges and trade schools.
  • Finally, in schools of social work, we must ensure that social work students understand that education is a one of the primary empowerment method for out clients and is one of the most successfully mechanism for overcoming disenfranchisement.

The skill-biased technology change in the American labor market is real and we have yet to fully adjust to it. While raising the minimum wage is an important step towards supporting low-income workers, this effort will not be enough to combat the effects of the changing demand for labor. Higher education must become the norm and it should be accessible to ALL Americans.


Greenstone, M., Harris, M., Li, K., Looney, A., Patashnik, J. (2012). A dozen economic facts about k-12 education. The Hamilton Project, Sept 2012 Policy Memo.

Lochner, L. (2011). The importance of education on crime, health and mortality, and civic engagement. The Vox Organization.

Looney, A., Greenstone, M. (2011). What is happening to America’s less-skilled workers? The importance of education and training in today’s economy. The Hamilton Project

Krueger, A. (2012). The rise and consequences of inequality in the United States. The White House Blogs.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012- 045). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Pew Charitable Trust. (2012). Perusing the American dream: economic mobility across generations. July 2012 Report. Washington D.C.: Author.

Social Justice Seeker Nelson Mandela Dies at Age 95

Nelson Mandela

On December 5, 2013, former South African President and social justice seeker, Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95. As a result of his political activism, Nelson Mandela endured several arrests and eventually served 27 years in prison for treason and governmental sabotage because of his opposition to apartheid.

During his trial in 1958, Nelson Mandela married social worker, Winnie Madikizela, and the union produced two daughters before they divorced in 1996. At his final trial, while facing the death penalty, he eloquently stated to the court, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

After being imprisoned for nearly three decades, Nelson Mandela become South Africa’s first black President in the government’s first democratic election where both blacks and whites were allowed to vote. In his acceptance speech, Nelson Mandela stated, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,”.

According to BBC News,

Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela – who is known affectionately by his clan name, Madiba – had died shortly before 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT). He said he would receive a full state funeral, and flags would be flown at half-mast.

Crowds have gathered outside the house where Mr Mandela died, some flying South African flags and wearing the shirts of the governing African National Congress, which Mr Mandela once led.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was one of the world’s most revered statesmen after preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.

He had rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004. He made his last public appearance in 2010, at the football World Cup in South Africa.  Read Full Article

The  Nelson Mandela Foundation was created in 1995 as a vehicle to continue his legacy and work as a social justice seeker for human rights and the fight against oppression. The foundation is a coalition of networks and partnerships working collectively towards social justice. In his retirement video below, Nelson Mandela outlines the mission and vision for the launch of his charity.

Rothman Report Inspires a Student Led Movement

In 2012, Dr. Jack Rothman, a prominent author and academic, issued a report on the current state of social work macro practice. The study identified barriers in schools of social work which have shown a steady decline in social work engagement with community organizing, policy making, and political activism.

Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) received the Student Recognition award from the Association for Social Administration and Community Organization (ACOSA), and I was chosen to lead the expedition to see how we can reinvigorate and shift social workers back into policy makers. I left New York City to go on a fact finding mission in the mid-west in order to collect data and identify concerns from students and academics on the state of macro practice curricula within their universities. I visited four schools of social work which was the University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University.

Macro Social Work Student Network

This humbling honor reflects not just the potential of students to affect macro education, but the need for us to be advocates. Anxious to hit the road and meet my colleagues at other schools, I took another look at the Rothman Report which is essential reading for any social worker and especially the macro social worker.  The following findings of the Report manifested themselves during my trip:

  • There is limited integration of macro with micro in the curriculum
  • Macro courses are neglected or marginalized
  • Students are not encouraged to choose a macro program or are deflected to clinical practice
  • There is lack of student interest in or knowledge of macro 
  • Field placements are lacking or problematic
  • Licensure requires many micro courses and leads to little macrocontent

The Macro Social Work Student Network (MSWSN) is a student-driven organization that has been forming campus chapters for macro education advocacy. In turn, this leads to better macro practitioners and healthier communities because social worker are trained to influence policy shifts in order to help improve outcomes for children and families.

Micro level social work is primarily dedicated to clinicians who provide treatment to the individual and/or family. In recent years, social work has shifted from its social justice roots, and it has moved towards the perception of a mental health provider or a child welfare worker.

In my opinion, the profession is dangerously incomplete without macro practitioners organizing in communities, leading and administrating vital agencies, drafting policies, constructing programs for healthier society, and more. Galvanized by the barriers facing macro education, student are working together across the country and in their schools to enhance macro education. On my journey, I met with students and professors to learn more about why they think enhanced macro education is imperative to the social welfare.

Perhaps, it was in the 1980s when the decline in macro education begin to shift. By the 1990’s, a paltry “2.9 to 4.5%” of masters-level students focusing on policy and political involvement according to the Rothman Report. In June, the Network held an event on the current state of macro education with Dr. Loretta Pyles and Dr. Scott Harding presenting on the 2012 Rothman Report.

The Rothman Report added validity to what students were already feeling in their schools which equated to macro education students being underserved. Amazingly, campus chapters have been springing from Massachusetts, Texas to California, and it is reminiscent of “an earlier period [when] grassroots activism and political campaigns were a vibrant aspect of the emerging social work field” (Rothman, 2013).

University of Texas-Austin

At the University of Texas-Austin, I encountered two impassioned MSW students, Elise Fleming and Jessa Glick who led me to Professor Duncan’s classroom. Professor Duncan asserted, “As an educator and social work practitioner I believe robust macro education is critical to fulfilling our profession’s commitment to social justice.  We cannot achieve true social justice one client at a time.” He continued, “To be truly effective social work education must include a strong foundation in macro practice for all students and specific skill development for those students that want to focus on macro practice.  One of the true tenets of macro practice is grassroots organizing and empowerment. I am excited to see the potential of MSWSN to help students learn those skills and strengthen macro practice!”

Ms. Glick made the statement, “I think of macro education as siloed. I don’t see clinical and macro as separate, but curricula enforce a false binary that they are. MSWSN is giving students a chance to collaborate and share experiences.” She continued, “MSWSN allows for sharing of information and innovations/trends within macro social work programs with a space for dialogue. Most importantly, the student voice has a professional platform.”

A few days later I received a message that UT-Austin would start a chapter and focus on assessing the school’s macro curriculum using MSWSN’s assessment survey.

Arizona State University and North Arizona University

The next day, I made my way to the Land of Enchantment at Arizona State University, where I met Judy Krysik’s Program Planning in Social Services class in Phoenix and Nick Taras’ at the Tuscon campus. Assistant Professor David Androff regarded this “as a huge opportunity for ASU social work students.”  ASU’s Policy, Administration, and Community Practice (PAC) students expressed many concerns that would be echoed up north in Dr. Anne Medill’s BSW macro course at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

NAU students, limited by an undergraduate generalist curriculum, threw up their hands with questions such as:

  • Other than what was described, what else is macro social work?
  • What sort of job can I get as a macro practitioner?
  • What about the licensing?
  • Can I actually be a social worker who writes policy?
  • How can we get more macro classes in here?

These are real questions that social work students face across the country and not enough are getting the answers they need. Students are feeling disempowered and misguided by an abundance of myths, misinformation, and mere separation from the facts in order to make intelligent decisions about their social work careers. Ultimately, both the student and our communities suffer.

University of Utah

At the University of Utah, I spoke both with MSW students in Dr. Lindsay Gezinski’s class and in a general information session, each organized by BSW students Carlos Rivera and Rick Reimann. Although Utah only offers a clinical track, students still have macro practice concentration option. One student, Katheryn Dennet stated,

“I see great value in understanding and participating in macro level social work. Systematic change requires many minds – including clinicians – to provide information for our clients. Too often we feel powerless and if we communicate this to our clients we will have done them a great disservice. Learning how to work at the macro level as a clinician is empowering and a crucial part of the social work education. MSWSN’s presentation made me, for the first time, feel excited about a clinician’s role in a large macro setting.”

The Rothman Report

Dr. Rothman started the “Action Recommendations” section of the Report with the following statement:

“There was a strong sentiment for increasing the visibility of the macro area and advocating for its greater status and importance in the field. The major institutions identified as key to attaining this objective are CSWE (in particular), schools and departments, and NASW. These emerge as the core target groups of an action program. Additional targets are the general public, related professions and disciplines, and social work scholarly organizations”

With this statement, I interpret its meaning as stating student involvement in schools and departments of social work is an inherent necessity for the growth of macro practice. While I encourage collaboration with CSWE and the NASW, the development of solutions to barriers to growth in macro education must begin with student action.

As I reflect on my journey, I realized there is more work to be done with MSWSN than before I left, and student sentiments are clear. We want enhanced macro education, and we’re determined to work for it. The development and growth of MSWSN provides an opportunity to facilitate and advocate for the advancement of macro practice. Increased advocacy has the ability to influence schools to produce more and better-skilled macro practitioners which will enhance policy initiative to improve communities.

Technology and Social Media’s Role In Government

As social media gradually integrates with society, people are now spending their time socializing online. Young and old are depending on online posts for news on current events and the latest trends.

usdiplomatsm01Social media is redefining how people connect, absorb information, and influencing the issues of our day. This is how current social media platforms are becoming a factor for change in the society. For instance, social media sites such as Facebook and Google+ have become a means for social interaction. In addition, improvements in Internet-reliant communication like voice over IP are making its way to produce quality communication mediums. People can just call each other, regardless of the distance and time, to pass on relevant information.

If normal and everyday people rely on social media, then would it be possible that the US government can also take advantage of the social media? This means that these technologies are used to spread or  help shape public opinions and discussions. It could also mean that they are being used to provide the US government a better method of communication amongst its different branches and institutions. So, it is important to discuss how these technologies affect US diplomacy.

Voice over Internet Protocolvoip01

A good example of improved means of communication is the VoIP service offered by the Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Program Office (DTPSO). This is necessary since it guarantees secure communications. This particular attribute is very useful for American diplomatic posts abroad due to the communications between the State Department and the various diplomatic posts containing sensitive data. These data are vital to the protection of US citizens and its government.

In addition, this type of communication is also advantageous for US diplomacy because data can be sent and received quickly. In the present time, political situations could change with a single message.  VoIP provides US officials another option for quick and reliable communication with local and foreign correspondents so they could be updated from time to time about political developments around the world.

Social networking sites

Social networking is also a great way to be informed at present. With the prevalence of sites with millions (even a billion) registered users, it’s really an effective way of knowing what’s happening in the social networkingsociety, locally and globally. The State Department uses these social networks to shape public opinion on various US Foreign Policy issues. It gives the State Department a direct access to the public opinion and vice versa. A great example of this method is the “Visa Hour.” This is a program that is being initiated by the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines. In this program, the US Consul General answers questions sent by the public. The questions are sent by the concerned individuals by tweeting and attaching #TheVisaHour hashtag. The US Consul General will then answer the questions by video.

The Arab Spring was another instance where in the United States utilized the social media to pursue its interest. During the Arab Spring, authorities decided to crack down all social networking sites. This is because they thought that these sites were being used by the opposition to gather support against the regimes. As the event developed, Twitter announced that it was going to have its scheduled maintenance. This presented a problem since the protesters would lose an avenue to voice their grievances in the international community. With this, the US State Department requested that Twitter postpone its maintenance in order to allow the opposition to continue providing updates regarding the Arab Spring. This helped the United States gather information from the public to bring down an inefficient government and set in place a good government to attain peace.

Do you think social media is a game changer?

Buycott: Did You Know Buying Dixie Cups, Angel Soft, or Brawny Supports the Koch Brothers

BuycottDid you know buying Dixie cups, Angel Soft toilet tissue, or Brawny paper towels were part of the Koch Brothers empire? Neither did I, until a nifty mobile app called Buycott was created, and it is currently available for download in Google Play and iTunes

In North Carolina, Billionaire Art Pope owns Maxway and Roses among others, and he does not allow any of his stores to be constructed unless they are in neighborhoods that are two-thirds minority. Then, he uses those profits to advocate for policies against the poor and minorities. The buycott app and future similar inventions could create a phenomenon that corporations are not used to. It could drive competition between corporations for consumer dollars if consumers decide to reward those that contributor to charity and punish those who use their profits to lobby for more oppressive polices.

According to Forbes Magazine,

Once you’ve scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen. Scan a box of Splenda sweetener, for instance, and you’ll see its parent, McNeil Nutritionals, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

To watch Forbes test drive the app in a supermarket aisle, click here.

Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies. One of these campaigns, Demand GMO Labeling, will scan your box of cereal and tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that donated more than $150,000 to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.

Deciding to add that campaign to your Buycott app might make buying your breakfast nearly impossible, as that list includes not just headline grabbers like agricultural giant Monsanto but just about every big consumer company with a presence in the supermarket aisle: Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft, Heinz, Kellogg’s, Unilever and more. Read Full Article

View the Video Below to See How it Works:


What is Thunderclap and How can It Help Grassroots Organizing?

by Madeline Anderson, SCSJ Communications Intern

Thunderclap logoThunderclap is a free crowd-speaking platform that allows a message to be seen by a multitude of people on a variety of different social media sites at the same time. The purpose is to help maximize the chance of your message going viral by coordinating a multi-media strike alongside your loyal supporters. Thunderclap sends a message to each supporter’s preferred social media outlet such as Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr which automatically posts your message on their page at the same time. This technique could possibly expand your message and reach to thousands and even hundreds of thousands people at the same time creating a viral message.

So, how exactly does it work? In order to “thunderclap” a message, select a mission/message that you wish to broadcast widely over social media. Create a catchy tag line, add an image that illustrates your goal, and insert this information into the Thunderclap website. To avoid spammers, the message will go through an online approval process. For a message to go into effective “thunderclap state,” you must get a certain number of supporters to participate by a certain date which is set by you, the organizer. The default setting is 100 supporters within a week.  However, you may adjust the time and the number of supporters to best fit your needs.  The more supporters you have the greater the social media reach of your message.

When you create your Thunderclap, you share it via any social media sites which can include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Personal webpage, Tumblr or by e-mail in order to get your supporters to participate. When you have the amount of support you need, the Thunderclap message will be sent out on the date and time you specified. For example, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice set up a Thunderclap to remind North Carolinians to register to vote by the October 11, 2013 deadline, and we are seeking 100 supporters. When we reach this number, Thunderclap will arrange for our reminder message to be posted to the social media pages of each supporter at the same time on the same day. This will increase our chances of creating awareness on this important matter.

What about the supporters? What are they signing up for and what are their options? Supporters are allowing Thunderclap to share this one message on their behalf.  It will post on their feed ONCE at the time/date they agree to, and it will not be sent out as spam (i.e. a message sent to all their friends). Facebook and Twitter only store the information through a secure connection to spread this message so there is no personal information shared (i.e. passwords). Supporters are also able to opt out of the project at any time if they change their minds.

Thunderclap and grassroots campaigning In terms of increasing the scope of your grassroots message, this tool is phenomenal. IF you were to get 250 supporters for your Thunderclap message, the total social media reach could be well into the millions. The goal is to hone a strong, simple message and make it viral. Given the amount of media shared every day, trying to get a message noticed can seem daunting. With a Thunderclap coordinating a multitude of voices discussing your message at the same time, your message will be mass pushed to the forefront of all of your supporters’ feeds. Want to give it a try? Check out SCSJ’s Thunderclap – and please support it!

Watch the Thunderclap how-to video:

DOJ Sues North Carolina Over New Voter ID Laws

Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the State of North Carolina to contest the passage of the most restrictive voter id laws in country. Prior to the Republican led legislature gaining control, North Carolina was a leader in the country for voter participation which many believe is no longer the case. North Carolina was the only battleground state during the 2012 Presidential Election season to veto and not institute voter id laws.

This suit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed against Texas in its efforts to implement strict voter id laws in the Lone Star State. To counterbalance the law, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) located in Durham North Carolina, is in the process of urging potential voters to register prior to the October 11, 2013 deadline.  In the wake of the new law, same day registration was eliminated. SCSJ is requesting support in their effort to help create awareness and knowledge of the deadline in order to register as many people as possible. If you are interested in helping spread the message of the voter registration deadline, visit SCSJ’s messaging link.

According to MSNBC News:

The law is perhaps the nation’s strictest. In addition to requiring voters to show a limited range of state-issued IDs, it also cuts back on early voting and ends same-day voter registration, among other provisions. All of those provisions disproportionately affect racial minorities, studies show. Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and a prominent expert on voting, has called the law “a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote.”

Holder called the cutbacks to early voting “especially troubling,” noting that in the last two presidential elections, 70% of minority voters took advantage of early voting.

The measure was pushed by Republican lawmakers who control the state’s legislature, and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican. An August poll found that just 39% of North Carolinians support their state’s law, with 50% opposed. Along with a slew of other conservative measures enacted by the Republican government, it helped spark an energetic progressive opposition movement that since the summer has held demonstrations across the state.

Leaders of the movement, including Rev. William Barber III, the president of the state’s NAACP chapter, applauded the lawsuit Monday, as did North Carolina Democrats. Read Full Article

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Rev. Barber is the leader of the Moral Monday protest and the ongoing fight to protect civil rights and the quality of life for North Carolinians. If you are interested in his reaction to the suit brought by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, view the video below:

The “Invisible Man” Made Visible

North Carolina is making international headlines again specifically in Randolph County. On September 16, the Randolph County School Board took the book Invisible Man out of public school libraries by the request of one parent without asking for public comment on this issue. Ironically, this move happened the week before National Banned Books week. The school board had voted 5-2 to ban this book which caused an outrage of Randolph County citizens.

Invisible_ManCitizens in the community took action in very creative ways such as Books A Million giving away free copies of Invisible Man to all high school seniors. One high school senior dedicated her senior project to this case and also organized a “Banned Book Read Out” at the public library that will correspond with Banned Books Week. Another group “Visibility” organized an e-advocacy letter writing event and countless other citizens wrote letters to the editor to the local newspaper The Courier Tribune. The editor, Ray Criscoe, stated that he did not read one response in favor of the ban.

This book is important to the history of our nation and has been an important part of literature. It has been listed as one of the top 100 by the American Book review, and banning this book is counterproductive to critical thought in our school system. This book has themes and motifs about social injustice which is important for our youth. It deals with themes on racism and the obstacle to individual identity. Are we not supposed to prepare our youth for higher education and critical thinking?

By their misguided decision to ban this book they are doing exactly what the author speaks and warns about. This is keeping silent the voices of our past and of injustices perpetuated by our nation’s majority “white privilege” might not be aware of. The author challenges the complexity of his identity and internalized oppression which is limited not only by the racism in society as well as society’s ideologies and assumptions. The book challenges the ideologies of society which are often too one-dimensional to serve something as complex as the human condition.

Here is some excerpts from the book:

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”

 “For, like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my share of optimism. I believed in hard work and progress and action, but now, after first being ‘for’ society and then ‘against’ it, I assign myself no rank or any limit, and such an attitude is very much against the trend of the times. But my world has become one of infinite possibilities. What a phrase – still it’s a good phrase and a good view of life, and a man shouldn’t accept any other; that much I’ve learned underground. Until some gang succeeds in putting the world in a strait jacket, its definition is possibility.”

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms .I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”

― Ralph Ellison’ Invisible Man

As a result of the public outcry on this terribly misguided action, the Randolph County school board decided today in a vote of 6-1 to rescind the ban on this book. We must not be kept silent in our freedom of speech or censorship of our media will be next.

CSWE Film Festival Series: Finding Refuge

by Maya Navon

refugee placard

Finding Refuge emerged from an extremely challenging yet life-changing college course. When the three filmmakers entered the course “Producing Films for Social Change,” we had no idea that we were about to begin an emotionally charged, fast-paced, and eye-opening period of our lives. In September 2012, we did not know how to use a camera, edit a clip, or even write a treatment.  Over the course of 3.5 months, we learned each and every aspect of creating a film, from the research stage to post-production, and emerged with a 20-minute piece that we were proud to share.

The idea for Finding Refuge stemmed from a class discussion about the topic of refugees. Armed with this very broad topic, we preceded to contact various refugee organizations. After weeks of trying to find just the right niche in this realm, we finally made a breakthrough with the connection to Natasha Soolkin, director of the New American Center in Lynn, MA. We knew that we wanted to focus on refugee resettlement in the United States; particularly, the various challenges and triumphs newly resettled refugees face when they arrive in the United States. However, we also knew that this topic would have no impact without a personal story. We needed a refugee to share his or her experiences, and it would be no small feat to find someone. Luckily, Natasha had just the person for us who would bring a voice to this issue: Mani.

Once we connected with Mani, the documentary finally took shape. We spent countless hours interviewing Mani and his family, touring his home and office, and getting a glimpse into his new American life. We also spoke to a wide variety of experts and workers in the field of refugee resettlement to gain a broader understanding of the journey from a place of turmoil to a new life in the United States. In a few months we had our final product: a piece shedding light on refugee resettlement through the story of one courageous, hard-working, and resilient man.

Our connection with Mani extended far beyond filmmaker and subject. He touched our lives with his story and made us realize the true meaning of strength. After spending 17 years in a refugee camp, Mani managed to keep his spirit and his thirst for success alive. The perpetual smile on his face reminded us to always stay positive, even in the face of hardship.

NC NAACP President Key Note Speaker For NC State Wide Fast Food Worker Strike

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NC NAACP President, William Barber III, was a speaker at the August 24th March on Washington hosted by Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN). I finally was able to catch up with Reverend Barber even though I had to go to Washington, DC to do it. Reverend Barber has been the catalyst in organizing Moral Monday protest, and since the North Carolina General Assemble is not in session, he has been taking Moral Monday Protest on the road.

Moral Monday protest have been planned for 13 cities all around the state to help organizer create awareness and unity on the multitude of issues facing North Carolinians. I had the opportunity to ask Reverend Barber about the Republican Board of Election in Elizabeth City possibly setting a precedent that will prevent college students in campus housing from voting.

Reverend Barber said, “It’s Wrong…It’s wrong! Whatever they do that violates people constitutional rights, they will be filling lawsuits to seek redress in the court.” For more information on the 13 city Moral Monday tour, you can visit the NC NAACP website at

However, Reverend Barber is on a different mission today as he provides the key note speech supporting a state-wide strike by fast food workers.  According to the NC NAACP Facebook Event Page:

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II will be giving the keynote speech at the Fast Food Workers Strike for Good Jobs and Freedom on August 29th. Workers from over 60 fast food restaurants across the state will go on strike on the 29th to demand a living wage. No one can survive on $7.25/hr.

Dr. Barber and the NC NAACP stand in solidarity with these courageous fast food workers and we call on the Forward Together Movement to join us. We will gather at Martin St. Baptist Church at 1001 E. Martin St. in Raleigh at 3:30 and march together through downtown Raleigh. Dr. Barber will speak following the march.

Photos by Deona Hooper, MSW

Philadelphia School District Students Education Held for $50 Million Ransom

philadelphia-school-protestsTake a ride down any North Philadelphia street and you will see children playing outside enjoying in what they perceive to be the last days of their summer vacation. Superintendent Hite threatened not to reopen schools if he did not receives $50 million from the city by Aug. 16 th schools which started a sparing match with city officials as to how they could raise the funds for schools before the deadline.

The Philadelphia School District has been no stranger to financial difficulty.  Last year, the district came up with a plan to shutter some 64 schools by the year 2017, of which 23 of those schools were closed at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.  This so-called cost cutting measure seems to have only put a coin donation in the endless bucket of Philadelphia School District debt.  The district ended the school year in the red for more than $300 million and has been scrambling ever since to try and fill the gap.  It seems that all of the districts cost cutting ideas and pleas to Harrisburg have been failed missions not to mention the removal of over 3000 district employees.

As a former Philadelphia school district teacher whose school was closed in 2012 this scenario seems to familiar.  The district executes closures, teachers are laid off, students are shuffled from school to school, while city and district administrations payroll continues to go unaffected. This school finance issue has to be attacked from a completely different angle, and the city can no longer depend on funds from Harrisburg to fund Philadelphia schools under  Gov. Corbett’s Republican regime.

The city must take alternate action to solve this issue the same way they took action to remove former Superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, who was paid close to $1 million dollars to leave the district with the help of private funds.  The city also seems to have disposable income to beautify city halls “lawn” at Dilworth Plaza at an astounding $70 million price tag, but cannot figure out how to adequately fund city schools.  It seems that Mayor Nutter needs to reach out to the same deep pocket friends he used then, to make sure schools are not only opened, but also opened adequately.  After all, the $50 million is just enough to fund what Superintendent Hite is calling a “bare bones” budget, which does not include Assistant Principals, Noon-Time Aides, or other necessary school personnel not to mention simple necessities like books and other school supplies.

In the end, the students of the Philadelphia School District are the ones who educational futures are being played out before them with no input of their own.  Some students were already entering school buildings that were in some cases unfit for occupation with leaking ceilings and heating/cooling equipment that worked part-time at best.  These students will continue to suffer until someone in power takes responsibility for their actions and creates a school funding plan that pays the ransom, and at the same time creates a fairer system.

According to Reuters:

The city of Philadelphia will borrow $50 million in the capital market for its cash-strapped public schools so they can rehire about 1,000 furloughed employees and open on time on Sept. 9, Mayor Michael Nutter said on Thursday.

The pledge for stopgap funding for the school district, which has about 140,000 students, came a day before a deadline laid out by Superintendent William Hite. He warned last week that without the additional money from the city, the district’s ongoing financial crisis would threaten his ability to open schools on time and safely.

Nutter said he would direct city financial officers to immediately lay the groundwork to borrow $50 million on behalf of the school district.

The city plans to sell municipal bonds, borrowing money from investors for the four-year loan. The structure of the bond deal and other details had not yet been worked out, according to Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald.  Read Full Article

Racial Profiling Is Alive And Well In The United States

racial-profilingThe George Zimmerman trial is one of the most hotly contested issues in the country today, with large portions of citizens contesting what they see as an unjust, racially motivated acquittal of a heartless killer. Others, however, agree with the jury and believe that Zimmerman was merely acting in self-defense, albeit over-aggressively. No matter what your views on the Zimmerman trial, criminal defense lawyers know perhaps better than anyone that racial profiling is still a huge problem in our country.

“Surely not,” you may say. “We are a progressive country. We’re tolerant, and we have a minority President.” Well, sure we’ve come a long way, but black men and women still make up a disproportionately large number of convicted criminals in this country. Earlier this week, New York City’s stop and frisk policy was determined to be racial profiling of minorities and found unconstitutional by a federal judge. According to CNN, Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin was quoted from her ruling in the class action lawsuit:

 “The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” Scheindlin wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.” Read Full Article

Need more convincing? Check out the evidence presented in Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University, claims that today there are more black men in prison or on probation or parole than there were male slaves just prior to the Civil War. The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that there were 846,000 black men arrested in 2008, and the U.S. census shows that while African-Americans make up 13.6% of the population, 40.2% of all prison inmates are black males.

ColorLine puts it another way:  In 2005, for every 100,000 arrests in the U.S., 2,290 people were black, while 412 were white. Alexander claims that even though crime rates have greatly dropped in the last few years, the number of black men in prison has soared.

Perhaps even worse than the initial incarceration is the high rate of black men who return to prison. Again, ColorLines reports that within three years, 78% of black men will be back in prison, versus 69% of white men. Bill Quigley, the Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, attributes this largely to the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to get a job after a criminal conviction. Another shocking statistic from ColorLines reports that only 5% of black men with a criminal record get a callback when applying for a job. In contrast, 17% of white men with a criminal background get a callback – a low number but a great deal better than the percentage of African-Americans. Alexander posits that the disproportionately large number of black men in prison, coupled with the difficulty ex-convicts have in getting a job, has essentially created a new group of black men without citizenship—a cultural phenomenon that’s remarkably similar to the state of society in antebellum America. In fact, today there are more black men prohibited from voting due to a criminal conviction than there were black men prohibited from voting in 1870.

Is there any one issue that can be identified as the core of the racial profiling problem? Actually, yes, says Alexander. The War on Drugs specifically targets poor minority communities, putting more black men behind bars than any other issue. A group of Christian pastors recently met in Nashville to call an end to the War on Drugs and what they see as racial discrimination. They stated that African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and 13% of drug users. Despite their minority status, 38% of drug related arrests and 59% of drug convictions are of black men.

There is no doubt that the George Zimmerman trial is a complicated issue, and both sides have legitimate points to make. But when you understand the full extent of the racial discrimination that still exists in our country, you can understand why there is such outrage over the verdict.

North Carolina Voter ID Bill in the National Spotlight

By Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director

The North Carolina General Assemby recently passed a new set of voting rules that will disenfranchise an estimated 319,000 North Carolina voters, 30% of whom are African American. North Carolina voter id bill is gaining national attention because it will be the most restrictive voter id laws passed by any state in the country. SCSJ will fight to the end to ensure that every eligible voter is able to exercise their fundamental right. Here is the story of just one of the voters who effectively lost their right to vote thanks to the new Voter ID bill.

Alberta Currie is the Great-Granddaughter of slaves. Mrs. Currie, her parents, and her children all worked picking cotton and tobacco in the fields of Robeson County NC. She is the mother of seven, 78 years old, and does not have a birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

When Mrs. Currie first went to vote in 1956, election officials made black voters wait until whites had voted while keeping them standing at the back of the line. In 2012, she and her daughters stood in line to be the first ones to vote on the date that early voting opened. When it was her turn, local election officials told her that she better not come back to vote unless she gets a picture id. She and her family consider it a matter of personal dignity to be able to go in person and vote. It is one thing that lets them say to the world that they are equal to everyone else.

Her is an excerpt of Alberta’s interview with CBS News;

Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie
Long Time NC Voter Alberta Currie

But the North Carolina bill, entitled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), goes much further. It rolls back the increasingly popular early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, even though 61 percent of ballots in 2012 were cast before election day. The bill outlaws early voting on Sunday, which is particularly popular with predominantly black churches bussing “souls to the polls.”

In 2012 in North Carolina, Democrats cast 47 percent of the early votes, and Republicans cast 32 percent, according to a CBS News analysis.

The North Carolina bill repeals same-day registration, which allowed 100,000 North Carolinians to register and vote early in one stop in 2008 and again in 2012. In last year’s general election, about 1,300 of those same day registrants, or one-and-a-half percent, could not be verified after the votes were counted, according to the State Board of Elections. Read Full Article

On July 25, 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed harsh new rules that will prevent hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians like Alberta from voting.

Here are some of the ways the new law will affect all NC voters:

  1. The early voting period will be shortened by a week, from 17 days to 10.
  2. Same-day registration during the early voting period will be eliminated.
  3. Straight-party ticket voting will be eliminated.
  4. Sixteen and seventeen year olds will no longer be able to pre-register to vote.
  5. College IDs – even from state universities – will not be acceptable forms of identification to vote.
  6. Out of precinct voting will no longer be allowed.
  7. Counties will no longer be able to extend voting hours due to long lines or other extraordinary circumstances.
  8. Political party chairpersons will be allowed to appoint up to 12 poll “observers” to monitor the polling places and to challenge voters they suspect of voter fraud.
  9. New restrictions make it much more difficult to set up satellite polling stations, which will make it more difficult for elderly and disabled North Carolinians to vote.

What you can do:

  • Educate yourself and your community about this bill – what it means and what it doesn’t mean. The requirement to have a state-issued photo ID to vote doesn’t go into effect until 2016 – that’s four years away. Make sure everyone knows that they can still vote without photo ID until that time.
  • Stay informed about the law. Great resources for updated information include Democracy North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice
  • Help people get the ID they need – if you know someone in NC who doesn’t have access to state-issued photo ID, encourage them to call the Southern Coalition for Social Justice at 919-323-3380 x 152 so we can help them get the documentation they need to vote.
  • Make a donation to help overturn the voter suppression legislation. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is filing lawsuits in state and federal court to stop this law from taking effect. Limiting early voting, eliminating same-day registration, requiring state-issued photo ID, and other provisions of the bill will directly affect too many voters, and bring no measurable benefit to NC elections. Please help us fight for every North Carolinian’s right to vote. Your donation makes it possible for us to provide the best legal assistance to every individual affected by the new Voter ID law. With your help, we can make North Carolina a state where every eligible voter can exercise the franchise. Click here to learn more or donate.

On July 29, 2013 SCSJ staff attorney Allison Riggs appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss these issues. Below is Allison’s interview with guest host Melissa Harris Perry.

Social Work Action Network (SWAN) London UK: Interview with Dan Morton

In the wake of austerity, there appears to be a resurgence of a social work movement to address the increasing inequities being forced upon vulnerable populations. Social Workers around the globe are revisiting and taking notes from generations passed in how they responded to the onset of the civil rights movement.

Recently, I interviewed Dan Morton who is on the steering committee for the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) in London, United Kingdom. We discussed how austerity policies by global governments are causing social workers to become more involved in politics. Here is our discussion:

SWH: What is SWAN, and What types of issues do SWAN focus on?

DAN: The Social Work Action Network (SWAN) is a radical campaigning social work organisation which was formed in the UK in 2004, and it sees itself in the tradition of 60’s/70’s radical social work movement and the magazine ‘Case Con’.

What makes SWAN different from those days, is that we are a partnership of practitioners, service users, educators and students. While SWAN still has a large membership in the UK and rotates its national conferences here, it has a strong international focus – there are SWAN groups or similar organisations elsewhere in Europe, America, Asia and Australia.

SWAN sees the value in both collective practice and good relationship based individual social work, but understands that social workers must analyse and act upon the social problems they encounter with a close eye on structural and cultural influences on people’s lives. In the present international context, that means understanding austerity as a project of neoliberalism and opposing its levers in social policy – managerialisation, marketisation and privatisation. We understand the links between capitalism, crisis and the inequality and social devastation it causes. Instead we are broadly in favour of a model of human rights and partnership based practice, radical community work and a comprehensive, progressive social security system. The notion of linking ‘private troubles to public issues’ is a touchstone for SWAN.

SWH:  What is the mission and vision for SWAN in the wake of Global Austerity?

DAN: SWAN has strong links to progressive global social movements, for instance Occupy and the wider anti-capitalist movement. We are keen to support those involved in social action such as colleagues in Greece and more recently Turkey. We also have also run defence campaigns when social workers are attacked or vilified, such as Norbert Ferencz a Hungarian social worker who was arrested for speaking out against a law to criminalise rough sleepers. Likewise, in the wake of the Baby Peter tragedy in the UK some years ago, SWAN defended practitioners against the British tabloid The Sun‘s witch hunt against social workers, by highlighting unbearably high case loads, lack of resources and support experienced by many practitioners.

SWAN has often reconfigured the anti-capitalist phrase ‘another world is possible’ to ‘another social work is possible’ – we live out our methods for practice while we work towards that world through respectful alliances between practitioners, trade unions, grassroots movements, user lead organisations and pressure groups.

SWH: What are SWAN’s highest priorities?

DAN: At present to continue to build our networks and encourage practitioners and those who use services to work collectively against inequality and oppression. This means working with trade unions and service user movements to avoid divide and rule. While imperfect, we need to defend what system of social support we have left while envisaging something better. While we are under a sustained attack in the UK which is resulting in a marked increase in poverty, in Greece we have seen people turning their children into social services, as they have no way to buy the necessities of life for them.SWAN has a network of regional groups in the UK and in Eire and they will have their own particular priorities.

At the moment anti-racist social work is especially important in the wake of increased far-right activity in the UK (the rise of the English Defence League and Islamophobia in the UK, the brutal attacks on Roma in Eastern Europe). We must continue to work with disabled people to refute attacks dividing them as either ‘lazy scroungers’ or ‘worthy strivers’.

SWH: If someone wants to become more familiar or collaborate with SWAN, where would they find you on the web, and what key points do you want them to know?

DAN: SWAN has an English language website – – and a Facebook site. Our twitter handle is @swansocialwork. We gladly welcome written contributions on radical practice both in the UK and internationally- email We would also be delighted to have more folk in the US and Canada link up with us, though we do have connections already in some cities and states. In terms of key points, we would ask practitioners to look at the global neoliberal project over the last 30 years and the attendant rise in inequality and social problems. What do you feel the priorities of a social worker should be?

Supreme Court Guts the Voting Rights Act of 1965


Supreme Court

Community organizing is even more critical after the United States Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 earlier today. Voting rights suffered an unnecessary setback with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder (June 25, 2013).  Section 5 is a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which requires certain jurisdictions, identified in Section 4 of the Act, to get preclearance before implementing any changes affecting voting.  In an opinion not consistent with decades of Supreme Court precedent, this Court struck down Section 4 deemed the coverage formula which determined which states and counties had to obtain preclearance before changing its voting laws.  Without the coverage formula, states with histories of discriminatory voting practices do not have to consult with the Department of Justice before changing its voting laws.  The Court has effectively removed any barriers preventing re-implementation of legislation that prejudices the voting rights of vulnerable populations.

How Can I Help

One of the most important elements of Section 5 is the notification requirements and comment processes the Voting Rights Act established and the centralized flow of information through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  Since the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions had to seek input from affected minority voters, and submit information about the proposed change to DOJ.  They are no longer required to do so. Now, organizations on the ground will need to develop a procedure for collecting and disseminating this vital information.

  • Voting rights advocates and communities still have options for challenging discriminatory voting laws, but they’ll have to be more proactive in bringing those challenges.  We can no longer rely on the Section 5 process.  Grassroots community organizers should begin by identifying voting rights experts and attorneys that have the capacity to help challenge bad voter laws.  The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is one of those resources in many areas, and we can refer you to resources in geographic areas we don’t have the capacity to help.  E-mail us at
  • This is critical: we need community organizations on the ground to track changes and potential changes in voting laws.  There are jurisdictions who will try to pass bad changes under the radar.  Develop a plan to have your representatives at county commission, school board and city council meetings, so that you can be aware of proposed changes.  Develop relationships with county boards of elections so that you will have another avenue for notification of changes to election laws.  Identify any changes to voting laws that may have already been enacted, but were not yet implemented because of Section 5. Also, identify when those changes may become effective and establish a reporting system for immediate dissemination.
  • Working with the voting rights experts and attorneys you’ve identified at  either SCSJ and other groups. Develop a mechanism for communicating potential changes in voting laws.  Attorneys will need to file lawsuits and seek preliminary injunctions and seek rulings from courts halting the implementation of bad voting laws.  But we can’t file those lawsuits unless we know about the changes.  Decide on a plan for conveying information about changes in law.

The best way to fight back against changes that will be detrimental to voters of color is to elect officials who will be respectful of voting rights which means voter registration and Get Out The Vote work is even more critical.  Let potential voters know their voting rights are at stake. Let’s get them registered and make sure they cast their vote on Election Day!

For Information on North Carolina Voter ID Laws, view below:

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Advocacy Series: Strategy, Targets, and Tactics…Oh my!


As social workers, we have a duty to make sure our clients are treated with dignity and respect, in addition to providing advocacy and fighting for social justice. Part of our role as advocates and social workers is to evaluate the needs of our “clients” and the policies that may affect them and service delivery.  We must be mindful that the needs of vulnerable populations continue to grow in difficult economic times especially when programs for low-income families are the firs to be cut.

I started the beginning of the advocacy series with an overview of how advocacy influences policy. This article will take you a bit further by giving you strategies, targets and tactics as well as some ideas on how to market your cause.

There are many reasons why some people advocate which include things such as equity in health care, income disparity, education equality, and public awareness. There are several types of people whom make persuasive arguments as advocates which include:

  • Those who share a personal connection with the issue
  • Those who could be impacted by the issue
  • Anyone who wants to make a difference

Strategy – What are you advocating?

If you have decided there is an issue worth fighting for, then you need a strategy for a plan of action. An advocacy strategy typically is an approach aimed at persuading someone in power, usually in government or corporate, to  change action for the public interest.

Without a clear obtainable goal, your advocacy plan will lack purpose. You must first analyze the problem and decide what kind of solution is within your spoke of experience. This is for both short and long term goals. A short-term goal has a more immediate resolution and may be only a one step plan. A long-term goal is one you eventually hope to obtain, and it usually has many factors to address.

If the issue you are advocating is controversial or not supported by the community, you will need a longer time frame to make any affect. Also, you must frame the issue in a way that will gain the most support depending on whom you are targeting at the time. However, you do not want to use a “cookie cutter” approach to all your advocacy efforts.

In addition to analyzing the issue, research the counterpoints to your cause in order to be effective in presenting your issue. You must have knowledge of both sides of the discussion. Remember, if there wasn’t an opposing view, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

Make sure your key points:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Have a clear target
  • Result in meaningful life improvements
  • Instill a sense of power to the powerless

Targets – Who are the key players?

Targets are people who have a stake in the proposed change. Identifying the key players is crucial in determining the potential success of your advocacy efforts as well as knowing how to present information to them.  Determine which of these targets would have an interest to advance or protect your issue as allies. In addition, research those in opposition to your issue, and look at your issue from their perspective.

Possible stakeholders could include:

  • Elected officials
  • Federal, state, and local government
  • Organizations
  • Religious, civic,  public and private
  • Media outlets
  • Television, radio, print, internet
  • Family, friends, co-workers

Tactics- What’s the most creative way to make a point?

So, you have a cause and a plan. Now all you need is to carry it out. Tactics are activities used to influence targets to produce the desired change.  This is when advocacy can be very creative and fun. Tactics can be as simple as requesting a meeting to more creative activities such as a candle light vigil or a flash mob. Some advocacy groups have used innovative tactics such as displaying a life size Chutes and Ladder’s game to promote policy change for youth.

Some examples of tactics include:

  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Appointments with officials
  • Rallies /Demonstrations
  • Advocacy days
  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
  • Phone calls
  • Writing campaigns
  • Letters to the Editor and to officials
  • Petitions
  • Editorials
  • Media coverage
  • Grassroots, door to door campaigns

Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do in your advocacy campaign. Even with your opponents, you want to create a relationship where they welcome the opportunity to speak with you again. Also, follow up with the targets you have spoken too by sending them a thank you letter, email or phone call. Remember to provide a debriefing with allies and other participants to discuss where to go forward. This will also help to establish any new networks that have become supporters.

Stay connected to your supporters you will ensure your cause will grow!

What’s the Difference between Social Justice and Social Work

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice  (SCSJ) is a nonprofit dedicated to the expansion of civil rights located in Durham, North Carolina, and I have been watching their activities for a long time. They are truly on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, protect voting rights, racial profiling, and immigration reform.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Shoshannah Sayers, the Deputy Director at SCSJ. Although mostly composed of lawyers, they also have community organizers who assist with outreach to help aid vulnerable populations. Before we get into the interview, I want to share several reasons why I believe collective collaboration with various fields is needed in order to impact today’s societal problems.

social justiceOften, I talk about my work as a social worker, but I have never really discussed what fuels my passion and desire for systematic change. When I got out of college, my first job was at a Youth Correctional facility until I was transferred to the Super Max facility which housed the worst of the worst inmates in the State of North Carolina.

It was a 24 hour lock-down supervision facility, and once I entered, I was locked-down with them too. To transfer an inmate, they had to be strapped down like Hannibal Lecter, and this is no joke. Then, I went into law enforcement as a patrol officer because I thought I could do more prevention, but this proved to be problematic for me too because of the systematic flexibility.

After I finally started working in the field in which I was educated, social work, the realization hit me that these systems are not designed to do prevention.

As a third generation teen parent, I may not have a PhD behind my name, yet I feel uniquely qualified in understanding how education, social services, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system aids oppression and retards vulnerable populations’ ability to rise above their circumstance. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is not possible without opportunities and a support system. These systems can not be reformed from within because one must either conform, leave voluntarily, or against their will.

My hope is that macro-practice social work and organizations such as SCSJ will begin to collaborate and share resources by realizing you are working to uplift the same demographics.  Here is the Q&A with SCSJ on their mission and vision for the future. Spoiler Alert…They will have their first MSW Macro intern starting in the fall.

SWH: Tell me a bit about the mission and goals of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, when it was formed, and your role there.

SS: The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, or SCSJ, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in August 2007 in Durham, North Carolina, and I was privileged to be part of it. We were a multidisciplinary group, predominantly people of color, who believed that families and communities engaged in social justice struggles need a wide variety of tools to be successful in overcoming structural racism. We saw the need for a team of lawyers, social scientists, community organizers, and media specialists to support them in their efforts to dismantle structural racism and oppression.

Most importantly, this diverse group of experts needed to be willing to listen to what each community wanted instead of “parachuting in” and telling a community how we experts thought the problem should be addressed. SCSJ was born from this deep passion for listening to communities first and foremost. We do give advice and provide multiple options, but in the end, it is the community that decides how their issue will be addressed and our commitment is to provide the highest quality tools available to execute the community’s plan of action.

I was a board member from the organization’s founding in 2007 until early 2013, when I resigned from the board in order to pursue a staff position with SCSJ. I am currently the Deputy Director, and quite honestly it’s my dream job – I get to help people and support our mission every single day. I also get to work with some of the most dedicated, passionate social justice advocates I have ever met.

SWH: What kind of tools and research do you guys use in helping to support the cases and projects that you take on?

SS: Because our staff includes a variety of experts, we are able to bring many tools to the table. We have a policy analyst/researcher who uses GIS maps to give visible representations of inequality in the system. For example, he was able to create maps showing where marijuana arrests take place and then lay that over a map of where high concentrations of African American communities were. The result is a clear visual depiction of the practice of targeting African American neighborhoods for marijuana arrests. Being able to see this on a map is so much more powerful than reading statistics in a report.

Other tools include our legal team, which engages in social justice litigation ranging from voting rights to environmental justice to criminal justice reform. And our bilingual community organizer is able to mobilize local communities on issues from immigration reform to job opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

SWH: Social Workers were originally the staples in the social justice movement, and now social justice advocate positions tend to be held by attorneys. In what ways have you guys engaged macro community practice social workers or would like to engage for collaboration or partnerships?

SS: This is an exciting area that we are just beginning to explore. Our first macro social work student will begin her practicum with us in the Fall 2013 semester, and we are excited about the new tools she will bring to the table. Her work will largely be around helping formerly incarcerated people organize and gain the tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society. Based on her experiences, we plan to create a plan to more widely integrate macro social work into our efforts.

SWH: What are two of the highest advocacy priorities of the coalition at this time?

SS: Right now our two highest priorities include one litigation strategy around voting rights issues and one community organizing effort around empowering formerly incarcerated people. We have been involved in redistricting litigation since 2011, where our goal is to get over 40 North Carolina voting precincts redrawn in a more fair and equitable way. In our opinion, the current redistricting plan attempts to dilute the vote of African Americans by cramming them all into a few districts and leaving their voice unheard in many other districts. We had a trial on part of this case during the week of June 10, 2013, and we hope to hear back on the success of that effort very soon.

Our second effort is around solutions to the epidemic of unnecessary drug arrests in communities of color. The general population of North Carolina is 68.5% white, 21.5% black, and 8.4% Latino, while the state’s prison population for drug-related offenses is 28.5% white, 53.2% black, and 17.6% Latino. Communities of color are obviously disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, which makes these communities more likely to face the harsh, sometimes lifelong collateral consequences triggered by a criminal conviction. Last year we supported a bill in the general assembly that would have gotten rid of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, replacing these with civil penalties and fines that did not involve a criminal conviction. In the current political climate, this bill died in committee.

As we regroup and wait to see what the legislature will look like in the next long session, we need to find more immediate remedies. Our first community organizing effort was a successful Ban the Box pilot in Durham, NC. Ban the Box campaigns ask local government employers to remove the check-box question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” from their employment applications. This gives formerly incarcerated people the chance to get a job interview where they can explain, in person, the nature of their record rather than being automatically excluded without ever getting an interview. Once we were able to pass Ban the Box in Durham, it was taken up by other communities across the state and we now have 6 municipalities participating. SCSJ continues to organize communities to expand Ban the Box.

Building on this success, our new community organizing project is to make marijuana possession a “lowest law enforcement priority.” This means that the police would be seeking out people committing more serious offenses rather than seeking out marijuana possession. We plan to use the same community organizing model (and probably work with many of the same communities) for the LLEP initiative as we have used for the Ban the Box initiative. Together, this type of community organizing can make important strides in reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration while we await a General Assembly that may be more interested in these issues.

SWH: What vision does the coalition have for the future?

SS: Our vision is simple: Communities will succeed in realizing their own goals and people will know from experience that they can make a difference on issues that matter to them. I think of it like this: once a community works with SCSJ and has a victory, they will know that THEY hold the power to make real chance. They will go forward, either with our help or on their own, to make more and more positive social change.

SWH: If readers want to follow your activities and projects, how do they find you on the web?

SS: I encourage people to visit our website at We are also available on Facebook at and on Twitter at Readers are also invited to join our LinkedIn Group at

Daryl spent 40 months in an Alabama Prison before getting his associate’s, bachelor’s, and law degrees. Listen to his story and plea for change:

150 People Arrested in North Carolina During Moral Monday Protest

On June 3, 2013, more than 150 people were arrested at the North Carolina’s State Legislature on what has been deemed “Moral Mondays”. Citizens from around the country has been flocking to the state’s capital for protest rallies on the radical legislation being passed that overwhelming affect vulnerable populations while at the same time increasing tax benefits for the state’s richest families. Moral Monday arrest total is now over 300 people being arrested from peaceful protest.

censorshipNancie Carmody once said the complaining she hears about our government gives her comfort because it’s a sign we have freedom of speech.  What does this mean when our government begins to censor our opinions?  Are dissenting opinions not important? Will North Carolina continue to arrest people who don’t agree with them who are exercising their first amendment rights of free speech and assembly?

I was reading some posts online about the ongoing political movement in North Carolina where citizens are protesting the radial legislation by the Republican led legislature.

As I came to Senator Jerry Tillman’s Facebook page, I began reading many of what I felt to be misconceptions about the consequences of the current legislation on our state which was pointed out politely so in the comments section.  I checked back later to realize that my comments had been deleted and I was unable to comment again. This reflects perfectly the current Republican Party’s attitude to our most vulnerable populations.

Senator Tillman happens to also be in my district. His dismissal of my comments gives me  perspective on his character and bleak hope for our future.  I fear for my state, and the direction it is going. I fear for my state because political leaders make decisions without looking for feedback or  assessing the wellbeing of their community.

I fear for my state because we seem to be moving toward a system of totalitarianism where a political system holds authority over society.  I believe all people have the right to food, health, safety and their pursuit of happiness.  Our current legislature is taking these necessities from our most vulnerable populations in order to benefit the most wealthy estates and families.

It is our civic obligation and responsibility to fight against unjust laws.  It is also our civic obligation to abolish governments that do not benefit us as a whole. I will not be silent in the face of this current injustice, and I will speak out.  If society can change one oppressive policies in the past, then great change is possible again. For the sake of our state, I hope for this change.

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