A Lesson in Policy Advocacy: A Day at the Capitol

Advocacy is an important part of what we do as social workers. We are charged to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are to gather information and disseminate it to those who need it, who do not have access to it, who cannot understand it, or who may not even know that they need it.

The What: NASW Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol. On February 7, 2017, the Zarrow School of Social Work attended the National Association of Social Workers Legislative Day at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City. While there, we listened to legislators speak about issues that pertain to social work.

The Why: speaking for those who are vulnerable. I chose to reflect on this activity because it was something that I had never previously done before. I have never had the opportunity to go to the state capitol (even though I have lived in and near several state capitols) and listen to my legislators talk about issues they are passionate about that affect me.

The How: showing up. It is hard to take time out of your day, drive into the city, find parking, and then sit and listen to politicians talk about issues that might be boring. At least they might be boring to some. But that is what we did: almost my entire cohort and me. Even before this, several of us took a tour that, at times, seemed patriarchal and condescending. Those are difficult things for a bunch of social workers to deal with. But we dealt for the greater good. From here, we went panel discussions, had lunch, and then went on to meet with our representatives.

The results. I was very excited to do this, since I actually voted for Scott Martin. He lives near me and even came to my house to talk issues before the election. Imagine my dismay to discover that almost all the state senators and representatives were on their way to a funeral. That had me scratching my head. Were they all going to the same funeral? Who died? Why were they ALL going? It seemed as if most of the people we tried to meet had someplace else to be. That doesn’t make a ton of sense, since they were supposed to be in session. That means they were supposed to be in their offices. I speculated that they’d all had plenty of warning that we were coming, so they created reasons to be gone. Oh well. Sometimes advocacy doesn’t work out the way you want.

The lesson. The lesson learned we not the easiest lessons because it seemed that so few of our representatives were available to talk to us. It was tough to deal with the idea that maybe they didn’t want to talk with us. Or maybe they did really all have a funeral to go to! I have no idea. I did learn, however, that persistence is one of the most important traits a social worker can have. You just have to keep showing up.

I can imagine that a huge crew of social activists (aka social workers) would be intimidating for anyone in a position of power to deal with. What is so frustrating is that they should be happy to see us. We have their constituents’ best interests at heart, just like they claim. We can provide valuable insights that they might be blind to for whatever reason.

Like I said before, just keep showing up.

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