At What Cost?

My experience in this legislative session so far has only fueled the deep-rooted rage and frustration within me that has persisted since the start of my social work education.

For many of us, social work is not simply a career choice. It is a part of who we are; it’s part of our character, our passion, and what we firmly stand for. For me, social work is a profession that identifies the deep wounds in our vulnerable and marginalized populations. It’s a profession that seeks to be a voice for the voiceless. However, these same reasons why I am deeply passionate about social work have engulfed a storm of confusion and frustration within me. How do we make people, often people in power, care about vulnerable people? How do we make others empathize with the pain that the populations we serve feel with every passing day?

In my time at the Texas Capitol, I have been exposed to the deep flaws in our state and national politics. We are surrounded by politicians and leaders that constantly choose profit over human life; politicians that solely care about the depth of their pockets over the life of their neighbor standing on the side of the street.

I understand partisan issues. I understand some arguments that polarize our society. What I don’t understand is why human life is a debatable topic, why the well-being and human-hood of the adults and children around us is a partisan issue.

This has become more evident during the past weeks as Texas experienced a deadly and disastrous winter storm. Millions of Texans experienced power outages and 14 million Texans did not have access to clean water in their homes. This is a direct result of our state leaders actively choosing profit more than the well-being of over 20 million people. What happened during this time could have been avoided, if only our state leaders chose to invest in green infrastructure and take energy efficiency measures years back. Instead, this act of negligence resulted in the horrific deaths of people across the state; deaths that will forever be in the hands of our state leaders.

This stark negligence is only one of the many examples of profit and money being valued more than human life. Texas is amongst the worst-performing states for children’s well-being. But students are told to pledge allegiance to a state that doesn’t value or invest in them. Texas has the most uninsured people in the nation. Yet, people are expected to jeopardize their well-being by working multiple jobs and earning below living wages to merely survive.

My point is, there is a large disconnect between the rich and the poor; between state leaders and most of their constituents. Texas elects leaders that fly out to lay on the beach while a child froze to death in his own home due to the direct choices these leaders made. We elect leaders that want to put homeless people out of sight for the sake of beautifying a city but fail to address the very first reason why those people are homeless. We elect leaders that deliberately put the lives of Texans at stake for the sake of political gain while over 44,000 Texans have died of a deadly pandemic.

It’s difficult being in a profession that we’re so passionate about. Caring about others and valuing human life seems like the normal and right thing to do. It is somewhat staggering to see how very few people share this same value. I believe part of being human is the ability to empathize with your neighbor in the midst of pain and suffering. Somewhere along the line, there lies a disconnect. For many, the large gap between the rich and the poor clouds that humanness.

I want to know how many politicians that oppose progressive values have been at the center of hurt and hardships. I want to know how many of them have served at homeless shelters and took the time to actively hear people’s stories. How many of these politicians have seen or experienced what it feels like to not know where their next meal is going to come from; how you have to choose between your health or paying rent next month? How many politicians really have seen, heard, or experienced these hardships that they continue to turn a blind eye to?

Social work is a profession that aims to be a voice for the voiceless. Through my education and legislative internship, I have been given an opportunity to be that voice while also helping others gain their voice. It is easy to feel hopeless in a world where human life is seen as meaningless compared to profit. As we embark on national Social Work Month, it is essential to highlight the integral aspect of the social work profession in politics and in human lives across our nation. It is because of the work social workers do and because of our deep-rooted passions for advocacy and policy that we are able to change the culture of our state. It might not happen tomorrow or next year, but small steps always lead to greater things.

We are in the midst of structural changes. Within the past year, our nation has been shaken and challenged. We have seen the neglect and irresponsibility of our government and state leaders. We have also seen the changes that can arise when people come together. Grassroots organizations and advocacy groups all around our state have been doing this critical job of elevating the voices of marginalized and vulnerable people for years. We need more social workers and other service-led professionals in power. We need more legislators like Rep. Anchia, that are continuously advocating for progressive values that amplify the voices of vulnerable and marginalized groups of our communities. We need those that have seen injustices first-hand to be a part of making decisions. We need to value humans and their well-being more than we value our gain and opulence.


by Tsion Amare, intern with Rep. Rafael Anchia

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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