Social work is the profession that best promotes hope. We work to provide hope to distressed people throughout the world. Where there is disaster, trauma, and chaos, you will usually find a social worker lending a hand, saying the right things as we are trained to do, and always providing hope.
Many Americans are grasping for hope following the election of Donald Trump, an event that was traumatic because many are doubtful that someone who 62 percent of Americans believe is unqualified and unfit to be President of the United States can lead the nation. This is a man who tried to destroy faith in American democratic processes by telling the world our system is rigged. He was not alone in his nefarious quest; there is evidence the Russian government was deeply involved in spreading false information designed to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
The days ahead hold grave uncertainty for the United States. One shudders to think what might happen if President Trump forcefully pursues policies he promoted during his campaign—more tax cuts for the rich, federal vouchers for private education, and appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn marriage equality or Roe v. Wade. Although he seems to be wavering on some of his promises, just the fact that he changes his mind so often demonstrates how easily he is swayed. That self-avowed white supremacist Stephen Bannon is his chief strategist is truly disconcerting. That alone should raise the levels of our concern and activism. People of good will cannot sit blithely by hoping for the least drastic outcome. We must spend as much time and energy as possible spreading hope among American citizens, assuring them the real power lies in our hands.
Progressives appear to be in disarray. There is much recrimination about the failure to comprehend the disaffection of so many Americans. Although the so-called alt-right haters are claiming victory with the election of Donald Trump, I am not buying the notion that white people are broadly embracing white supremacy. Sure, many are in denial about white privilege, but I believe most white folks are not deliberately working to keep people of color from succeeding and would welcome a society where all people get a fair chance. Call me naïve, but I can see identity politics giving way to coalition building efforts. That is what social workers do better than any.
I am among the group that says it is time for new leadership, innovative thinking, and well-defined vision. William Jennings Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential nominee said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.” It takes more than good intentions to create the desired reality. If, for example, you wish to create effective schools, you will never create effective schools merely trying to perfect defective schools. You must know what makes schools effective. No vision, no future.
There is a small but determined group of social workers led by Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research dean Darlyne Bailey and Hunter College Silberman School professor Terry Mizrahi, who have been for a while shouting “macro matters” to whoever would listen. They are saying—along with a growing number of believers—that social workers are placing much more emphasis on helping people cope with an unjust society. Direct services are critical and should not be reduced, however we need to put more emphasis on fighting inequities and pursuing social and economic justice.
Restoring hope and faith in America’s democratic processes is not a task that social workers can accomplish alone. But we can and should play an important role. Social work education provides rigorous and evidenced-based training on how to work with people. We are taught about the critical intersection of practice and policy and the value and benefits of civic engagement—both individual and collective. We were the organizers of the settlement house movement. We organized communities in the sixties. National Association of Social Workers (NASW) president Whitney M. Young, Jr. sat at the table with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson during the crafting of civil rights legislation and Great Society policies that led to the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. It’s time we reclaim our mantle.
This is my third and final election post-mortem. It’s time to get off the couch. I was shaken by the results of this election. I commend Jill Stein for her efforts to get a recount in Wisconsin and pursue others. I don’t believe the outcome of the election will change. We will have a President Trump. What happens after that is up to us.
Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D
Restoring Faith in Our Democracy was originally published @ Charles Lewis – Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy and has been syndicated with permission.