By Mary Jane Lundgren, MSW, RN
“Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice." — The NASW Code of Ethics, Sec. 6.04 (a).
Having served as chair of NASW national’s Political Action Committee (PAC) Political Action for Candidate Election (NASW-PACE) from July of 2017 through June of 2021, I have seen the impact and potential of NASW-PACE, which is the primary PAC for the social work profession.
NASW-PACE was established on Aug. 11, 1976. Through PACE, we endorse and make financial contributions to candidates who support NASW’s policy agenda. PACE also funds field organizers during important elections. Contributions to PACE allow NASW to attend fundraisers with lawmakers where we establish and strengthen relationships with our elected officials and share our expertise on social policy and workforce matters important to social workers, our clients and society.
The national PACE endorses and contributes to federal candidates running for U.S. House and Senate seats. State chapter PACE units focus on local and state races. In 2020, NASW-PACE endorsed 177 candidates, 102 of whom won their election.
As no time before in recent history, this past year has emphasized the importance of having social workers and legislators that support our policies and practice elected to public office. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the social inequities and injustices across America. The pandemic has exposed the depths of poverty, racism, voter suppression, and health care and educational disparity across the country. The Band-Aids are off, and the pain of social inequity and injustice is deep.
Now is a critical time to advocate for legislation that will make our society more equitable and just. With our education and desire for social justice, social workers are in a position to advocate, educate and bring about these changes. As a graduate student interning with the NASW Connecticut Chapter’s political organizer in 2000, I learned firsthand the value of social workers working on legislation promoting social justice and change. Recognizing that a voice for social issues was missing in my local government, I jumped into the political arena in my hometown and ran for an elected seat on the town council. Implementing changes in local social policy has been challenging but, most importantly, successful.
However, we all know that change in social policy takes a village and we must focus advocacy at the local, state and federal levels. Having initially served as the Connecticut chair of NASW-PACE, I saw on the state level the impact of electing social worker champions and legislators that supported and influenced social justice policies and issues. Now serving as national PACE chair and with the PACE board of trustees, our diligent reviews, endorsements and contributions to the election of social workers and legislative candidates to Congress that support our social policies has been impactful and rewarding. I am constantly impressed by the caliber of candidates that seek NASW-PACE endorsement. These candidates are the change and the voice for social justice. In order to have equitable social policies and practices, we need to have educated, vocal and proactive legislators. Endorsed candidates come from many different backgrounds but all must demonstrate and share the drive and desire for social change and justice and be supportive of our legislative agenda.
I firmly believe that the endorsements and monetary contributions of NASW national PACE for progressive, social-minded candidates have and will continue to make a definitive impact in the political arena for social justice and change.
In 2018 and 2020, NASW-PACE hired field organizers to mobilize NASW members in the elections. We targeted states that had competitive Senate races or were instrumental in the presidential election. Field organizers supported the work of NASW-PACE by mobilizing members in their state to promote candidates we endorsed. In 2018, field organizers were deployed in California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In 2020, field organizers worked in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
We need more social workers in elected office, so please consider becoming a candidate for local, state, or federal office.I would like to acknowledge the dedication and talents of the four trustees who complete their terms on June 30, in addition to myself: Stacie Hiramoto, MSW; Ebony Speakes-Hall, DSW,LISW-S; Peggy C. Weber, PhD, ACSW, LCSW, LCAC; and Karen Whitlock, MSW. Two current trustees will remain on the board: Christi Granstaff, MSSW and Kelli A. Soyer, LMSW. We value their continued time, passion and commitment to this important effort at the federal level.
If you have questions about NASW-PACE, please reach out to Senior Field Organizer, Dina Kastner
Mary Jane Lundgren, MSW, RN, was chair of the NASW-PACE board of trustees from July 2017 through June 2021. She received her MSW from the University of Connecticut, has her BA from Western Connecticut State University, and her RN from the Roosevelt Hospital School of Nursing.
She is president of New Milford Affordable Housing Inc.; is an elected town council member in New Milford, Conn.; is chair of the New Milford Democratic Town Committee; and is secretary of the New Milford Coalition for Awareness and New Beginnings.
She was formerly chair of the NASW-Connecticut PACE committee and a candidate for the Connecticut House of Representatives in 2015. She was an ICU RN for 48 years.
Viewpoints columns are guest editorials about topics related to social work. They are written by contributors to Social Work Advocates magazine and do not necessarily represent the opinions or reflect the policies of NASW. If you are interested in writing for Viewpoints, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.