Desperately seeking @ElyssaD: The power of Twitter
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
98,882 tweets over two years.
A desperate search unfolded.
We found her.
Thank God for Twitter.
If you think no one cares or pays attention to others on Twitter, you would be very very wrong. People mock Twitter and Facebook often because they don’t “get” that you can, indeed, develop and maintain REAL relationships within a virtual environment with people you have never met in real life.
This is one of those stories.
I first met @ElyssaD in 2009. She was having a hell of a time with MDHA (Metro Development and Housing Authority in Nashville). She was being kicked out of her apartment due to a massive bureaucracy that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people at the fringes to get the services and support they desperately need. Elyssa was facing the prospect of homelessness. She was hungry. She needed gas to get to all the places required to get her paperwork submitted. She needed gas to get her belongings. She needed help. Through twitter connections, we were able to meet her basic needs in the short term, until she was able to get into a new apartment.
Elyssa has given voice to how difficult it can be for someone to navigate the system. Highly educated and well-spoken, the obstacles she faced seemed insurmountable. It was not surprising that the system could consistently fail someone. Trying to get her Social Security benefits straightened out was a nightmare. Faxing documents? If you have no transportation and limited funds, how the hell are you supposed to FAX documents in order to get the help you need? If your paperwork is in limbo, why should it be so difficult to get organizations like Urban Housing Solutions to cut you some slack and not force people onto the streets due to administrative red tape? No doubt, case workers and social workers are stretched too thin. We were witnessing first-hand, someone slipping through the cracks.
Her blog detailed her troubles. For those of us who have never dealt with these public assistance organizations, it seemed like a helpless and confusing situation.
She never asked for help or money. She asked to be heard. She asked for people to pay attention. She asked that people not marginalize her due to her situation. She asked that people not question “why;” how someone educated at Columbia, Penn State, and Vanderbilt could end up this way. Does that matter? Should it matter? Is it your business to judge and determine if she were worthy of your sympathy or concern or help? No. Our tax dollars go to fund programs that should be held accountable. Programs that should help people who legitimately need it. ”Personal responsibility,” you say? Screw you! How can you take that holy grail of personal responsibility if the system prevents you from doing just that? When all you want is a “hand up” not a “hand out,” but the hand only slaps you in the face?
We should be thankful that there are those like Elyssa who can articulate the needs and problems with the system. Are her tweets at times confusing and disjointed? Yes. Can she be combative with those who push her? Yes. Does that mean that she should be silenced or ignored? No.
98,882 tweets. Her last tweet was on September 28. We noticed. 5,466 people noticed. These amazing people noticed:
@Rockingjude suggested a hashtag – #Ealert so people could follow the search. Everyone who had had contact with her in the past attempted to fill in the holes, to figure out how we might find her. Those of us who had been to her apartment before tried to locate the landlord, to ensure that she wasn’t in the apartment in danger. Kind souls like @USAAirman went to her apartment twice to knock on the door. Looking back through old emails that Elyssa had copied me on, I sent email inquiries, asking if anyone knew where she might be. We contacted her social worker, alerting her. We called Urban Housing Solutions, telling them that if they didn’t enter the apartment, we would send Metro Police to do so. @USAAirman went to their offices to demand action. Friends made phone calls to hospitals and tracked down leads. These people are pure gold:
@Thefeeg @DavEnergy @USAAirman @pascaluccelli @rockingjude @TheUnderbite @heyJude408 @d-is @spademaccool @ghazamfar @setv
We didn’t all follow each other before yesterday; now we are family. We do not all live in the same state or country; now we are neighbors. We may have individually had our doubts about whether anyone would notice our absence from twitter or would notice the absence of another; now we are convinced of its power.
We never gave up. We called and emailed people until they had no choice but to do something. This morning, thankfully, our efforts paid off. We found her. She is safe. She is alive.
We hope she will be able to rejoin the twitter community soon. We hope she knows that she is not alone in this world. We hope others know that they too are never alone in this world as long as they use the power of social media to connect to others in a real and authentic way; that you must embrace the medium, share yourself, be honest, talk, listen, connect, trust with caution, care, love.
Relationships do matter. Author and speaker, Margaret J. Wheatley gave a powerful keynote address, Turning to One Another, to the Kansas Health Foundation 2000 Leadership Institute in Spring 2000. The following quotes were pulled from her address. They are very relevant to what we all should aspire to do, both in real life, and using social media.
“One of the things we need to learn,” she said, “is that very great change starts from very small conversations, held among people who care.” But talking about what really matters – the issues that really concern you – requires courage. “Forget about the politics or the staff person who is driving you crazy,” Dr. Wheatley advised. “What are the things you really have deep, abiding concern for? What is it you really have some passion for? If you go into that question for yourself, you will find the energy to go forward.” The conversation should not be based on complaint, Dr. Wheatley added, but should be based on both passion and a sense of hope.
“When the river is rising and it’s 2:00 a.m., that’s not the time to start a relationship.” ~ former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole
You must give birth
to your images.
Fear not the
strangeness you feel.
The future must enter
Long before it
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
“Every time your heart leaps out and you want to serve better,” Dr. Wheatley concluded, “that’s the future, speaking through you.”
Thank you to all the guardian angels on Twitter who worked together to help find Elyssa. You restore our faith and make us proud to call you friends.