Policy. The word itself evokes fear, apprehension, or just plain indifference. Some people do not want anything to do with policy and stay far away. On the other hand, there are people who value its necessity for society, and find it exciting or interesting. Social work students refer to these individuals as “policy people”. This fall, in Advanced Social Policy Analysis with Dr. Suzanne Pritzker, I saw social work students, who feared policy at the beginning of the semester, convert right before my eyes. After a little encouragement and support (and some advocacy practice), anyone can become a ‘policy person’.
What is advocacy?
Instead of thinking in terms of ‘policy’ or ‘politics’, we’ll look at advocacy. Though these terms are not mutually exclusive, the word advocacy is not nearly as intimidating and has a positive vibe. In some ways, social work students who experience advocacy become increasingly interested in policy. Advocacy is promoting a cause for an individual or group. Social workers are front-line workers who see the needs of the populations we work with. That is why it is so important to raise awareness and advocate for our clients. It so important, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has included Social and Political Action in our code of ethics. (See: NASW Code of Ethics 6.04).
Why the hesitation?
I think for some, talking to strange people is a terrifying thing to do. Advocacy requires you to speak professionally and knowledgably about a cause. This can be daunting, especially when you are sharing your beliefs and values. Maybe someone will judge you or challenge you. Maybe you’ll get ignored. Maybe you’ll mess up and say the wrong thing. Even if these things happen, just remember: if one person listened, you still made a difference. In the Advanced Social Policy Analysis class with Dr. Pritzker, we were assigned to do an advocacy activity. Everyone in class ran into some kind of challenge. But all challenges or barriers to advocacy are just little bumps in the road. We overcame them, and we still reached our goal of advocacy.
Steps/tips to take action:
- We are considered experts in our field, and we know what changes could significantly help our clients. When you hear yourself saying “If only this law/policy could change”, vocalize this concern with someone other than yourself.
- Get involved in organizations that interest you. By ‘get involved’, I mean do more than sign up to receive their e-mails. Attend events! Meet people! Which leads me to my next tip:
- Attending events/fundraisers is advocating, too! There is power in numbers. While you’re at it, encourage others to join you.
- Don’t be afraid to start your own advocacy project. If you really believe that something should be changed, and no one else is trying to change it: Spread the word, talk to anyone who is interested, and make waves.
- Get to know your government representatives. You may or may not have voted for them, but they still represent you. Make an appointment and tell them what concerns you. If they listen and consider taking action, then you just made a very powerful ally.
- If you are still nervous (or don’t care), then remember that having your voice heard is better than saying nothing at all.