The Political Is Personal; Take Action

 Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHFrom the Director

Living in Washington, D.C., I am surrounded by people who work and live in the world of public policy. A great many of the conversations I have — or overhear — each day revolve around some political issue. If the issue is important enough, the entire city seems to come alive, and the debate or controversy takes precedence in most meetings, even when the meeting purpose is unrelated. For those of you who live elsewhere, it may seem like strange behavior and you may wonder how we tolerate it.

I would argue that the issues debated in our nation’s capital are similar to those in many smaller towns and cities around the nation. The D.C. issues may be bigger, the tone may be louder, and the visibility might be greater, but the problems and concerns facing us on a federal level mirror those seen each day in communities throughout the country.

There is a political trickle-down effect. The federal debt ceiling is too high. Our states are out of money and social services are being cut. There are pension crises at corporations large and small. The unemployment rate is daunting no matter where you live. Every level of government is cutting back. Storefronts stand empty, as do homes that have been foreclosed. New college graduates cannot find jobs. Neither can high school students who need part-time work to help their families meet expenses. Employees who have been laid off after years of company loyalty are accepting jobs that are below their skill levels and previous salaries.

Perhaps most important for our profession, political and regulatory decisions are being made every day at all levels to address the crisis. These decisions will have long-term consequences for your agency, your university, your community, your state and your clients. It will take years to undo some of the measures being put in place.

Social workers have an ethical mandate for advocacy, social justice and fairness. We are responsible for providing and managing society’s safety net. Therefore, social workers must be part of the dialogue and deliberations about how resources are allocated. If we are absent from the discourse and from the political process, we are not fulfilling our professional obligation.

Whitney Young once stated in the NASW News, “There is a lot to tell the public. The important thing now is that we can begin saying something as persistently as we can. The media and the government, regardless of their reasons, cannot continue to disregard the findings of current research and the knowledge of thousands of social workers who know as much or more than the so-called experts on the social problems draining the spirit and resources of our nation.”

As we enter March — the month we proudly call Social Work Month — take a moment to survey your community and raise your voice. Make an effort this month to attend a community town hall, or write a letter to the editor or an op-ed for your local paper. Call or visit your mayor or other local or state elected officials, or better yet, run for office yourself. Use your social work assessment and intervention skills to help frame the problems and to suggest solutions that work for your community. As the pundits so often say, “All politics are local.”

If you are not part of NASW’s advocacy listserv, I urge you to sign up this month. It’s an easy way to have political input and to help ensure that services for our clients and our communities remain intact.

Join us on our social media communities and stay up to date on what is happening in the social work community. Find us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Finally, use your voice to tell the public how social workers are important to our nation’s future. You can participate in a special World Social Work Day video by downloading our social work month flier, filling out your own personal message and sending us a picture of yourself holding your sign.

Happy Social Work Month.