Politics with a Heart

During my graduate studies, I’ve been confronted time and again with the perennial question, what is it you study? To dispense always, in tailored anticipation, political social work: i.e., “politics with a heart.”

But what does that mean, exactly? Politics, as generally understood in the public sphere, seems to conjure images of individuals who, prior to their call to public service, practiced law or otherwise came from a politically established family, in which case the call may be heard more as an obligation or a rite. It has not yet become part of public conceptualization to think of politics as a sphere including social workers. However, some of the most influential and protective measures brought about in public policy have been spearheaded by trailblazing humanists who carried the title of social worker.

Early pioneers such as Jane Addams and Bertha Capen Reynolds, as well as Victoria Earl Matthews and Thyra Edwards, pushed the profession of social work to more readily critique existing social structures while themselves facing backlash and exclusion, having done so through their keen activism around settlement houses, expanding labor protections, building power among Black women, and their steadfast commitment to social work values. Collective efforts on the part of contrarian social workers have brought the profession to where it stands now, with the National Association of Social Workers adopting an unwavering stance that the profession of social work must, in fact, concern itself with politics. Given that all social work is predicated on the acquisition and distribution of resources for the explicit protection of vulnerable people, that, in a nutshell, is politics. Social work, then, seems uniquely and acutely positioned to act as a springboard into legislative processes.

Heading into this internship, I’m honored to be catapulted into all that is Texas politics under the tutelage of Dr. Pritzker, an Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, who herself came from a background of policy analysis working in Virginia as a policy advisor to the Virginia Secretary of Education and for the Virginia General Assembly. It’s with her guidance that I’ve come to better see how well-situated social workers can be to work within the machinations of politics. The matrix has been set. As I am taken under the wing of policy analysts that came before, every day I sit privy to experts in various arenas who are piqued and primed to leverage as much influence onto the process in the short span that is a Texas legislative session.

Thus far, I have had the fortune to listen to people who have devoted immense time and energy to understanding nebulous politics topics with precision and clarity, offering to me, and my fellow interns, expertise in their fields of interest so that we may better ascertain the larger picture at play. Notably, we’ve been connected by Texas Legislative Study Group Executive Director– Brittany Sharp–with Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst, and Eva DeLuna Castro, program director for Every Texan’s work on fiscal policy and budget. Both beautifully walked us through the biennial budget put forth by comptroller of Public Accounts, Glenn Hegar, and expanded our understanding of sources of revenue relating to our state’s tax structure. Although the content is still very new to day Texans.

But the connections have only just begun. In the span of only two weeks we’ve personally (rather, virtually) met with advocates from the ACLU of Texas, Texas Civil Rights Project, Intercultural Development Research Association, and Texas State Teachers Association, to name only a select few. Their agendas, too, have run the gamut, centered around issues relating to reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights and protections, criminal justice reform, public education funding, human trafficking, labor rights, etc.

What brought me to political social work was my own desire to tackle inequitable structures that perpetuate injustice and prevent the pursuit of happiness by all. That statement, however, seems always to exist in the abstract. I have personally seen what these structures take from people, how they exploit and hinder one’s right to be free and exist joyously. I have stood across a farm worker who has relayed to me the conditions under which he was living and working, knowing that no matter how many phone calls I made to lawyers with various specialties, labor protections did not expand to ranch hands and, knowing also the racist roots of that policy. I have been in conversation with homeless people with whom I’ve had no point of reference as they confess to me of their struggle with health issues and inability to afford housing despite full-time employment. I have found myself hopeless before people whom I cannot practically help, and as a part of this internship, I carry their voices with me, their stories, and their names.

Yet, this is not about my indignation, it is about the dignity of us all and being in a position to take my own privilege and exert, in any way, true influence over the systems at play. I am truly looking forward to all this internship has to offer, and grateful that I am doing so as a policy analyst with the Texas Legislative Study Group headed by Chairman Representative Garnet F. Coleman.

by Sophia Campos, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group

Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.

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