The Mississippi chapter of NASW hosted an impressive Advocacy Day event last week. Participation hit a historic high, approaching 500 social work practitioners, students and faculty. Over three tightly packed Zoom hours, participants heard from NASW chapter leaders, progressive Mississippi legislators (yes, they do exist!), and two social work lobbyists. They reviewed the chapter’s “support/oppose” lists of bills still alive in the state’s policy-making machinery, were treated to a detailed description of Kathryn Rehner-Sullivan’s work advocating for a bill expanding SNAP programming, and engaged in breakout group sessions. All in all the event was a winner.
But what now? Do we social workers give ourselves a hearty pat on the back for organizing a useful educational event, then get back full-time to a daily grind that rarely, if ever, rises to the level of macro policy making? Several participants in breakout groups expressed both personal interest in and professional need for a sustained practical program of civic education, including specific hands-on macro advocacy skills that can be applied on a continuous basis – not one day of the year, but all the time, every day. Indeed, isn’t this what working for social justice – a preeminent ethical charge for the profession – really requires?
I recall what a mentor of mine told be several decades ago: “We don’t need citizens who will be 100% political 10% of the time. We need citizens – tens of millions of them – who will be 10% political 100% of the time.” The task for NASW, in fact for all social justice warriors, is to turn that statistic from mere wish to effective reality.