How Can Social Workers Get More Politically Involved?

After my previous posting, it dawned on me that calling for social workers to become more political was rather simplistic.  Many social workers are political and have been for decades.  I believe we need more social workers running for elected office and more social workers involved in all aspects of political processes.  However, some thinking needs to be done about how social workers can be more effective in politics and what exactly should social workers be doing.

The current Congress has made it quite clear that the most convincing research and well-constructed policy initiatives are not enough to bring about policies that improve our ability to meet the social welfare needs of Americans.  That must be the goal in order to find solutions for many of the most pressing problems confronting the country today.  Yet Congress has done very little to promote real job creation and nothing to alleviate poverty or reduce the growing economic inequality that has relegated millions of Americans to second-class citizenship.

Congress has earned a 17 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll because of its failure to reach consensus on immigration, healthcare reform, deficit reduction, gun control, and energy policy.  It is mired in gridlock because the goal for conservatives is not to find common ground with progressives, but to embarrass and harass President Barack Obama.  Where’s the evidence?  How about House Republicans voting 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act?  Regardless of your opinion of the healthcare reform law, what are these votes accomplishing except wasting time?  How many millions of dollars in staff time have been wasted on these exercises in futility?

We need a Congress that is responsive to the people they are supposed to be representing.  How do we get that Congress?  By actively participating in congressional primaries and elections.  While CRISP focuses on federal policies and legislation, we understand that—as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill quipped—all politics is local.  We need to be more active in local political clubs and involved in local campaigns.  There are number of places where social workers can get political training.  There is the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work (NAHIPSW), the Political Opportunity Program (POP) at Emily’s List, and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Institute which conducts an annual intensive political boot camp.

Social workers interested in getting more involved in politics can start by visiting the National Association of Social Workers’ PACE webpage.  Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE) is NASW’s political action arm.  The site provides a wealth of information about social work elected officials at all levels of government.  PACE tracks key legislation and provides information on the voting records of members of Congress on that legislation.

An area that is ripe for social work intervention is voter registration.  Social workers have been quite vocal against efforts to suppress voter participation and we can do more to see that eligible voters register and exercise their right to vote. As expected NAHIPSW conducts voter registration drives that organize students at the UConn School of Social Work to register clients, colleagues and family.  Think of it as Dr. Humphreys does as an empowerment exercise for clients.  Nonprofit Vote offers a voters registration toolkit for social service agencies on its website.

Ideally, no one wants one-party rule, but if this country is going to move forward anytime soon, the Republican Party needs to lose control of the House.  Then and only then will they be forced to come up with sensible policies that will help America’s poor and middle class.  Public opinion will act as a check against overreach by the Democratic Party.  The only way to get responsible policies is to put responsible people in office.

Written by Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr.
President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy

Twitter: @CharlesELewisJr.

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus. He was a full-time faculty member at Howard University School of Social Work prior to joining Rep. Towns’ staff and now is an adjunct associate professor. As staff coordinator for the Social Work Caucus, Dr. Lewis helped to plan and to coordinate numerous briefings and events on the Hill and in the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York.

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