Before going into this semester, I honestly had no clue what advocating was. It wasn’t until I attended The NASW Legislative Day Conference held at the Oklahoma State Capitol on February 7, 2017, that led me to believe social workers can do much more than helping through direct client interactions.
Although it starts at the micro-systemic level of forming professional relationships with our clients, social workers do much more to impact the other systemic levels of society. Meaning, social workers only hold so much power and authority (if at all) in society; we can only do so much to help our clients. However, the people that can actually make the decisions impacting our clients live right in our community working alongside us on the same issues. Those people are called our representatives and senators. Social workers can do what is called advocating by speaking to the representatives and senators within that certain community/district.
On the day of the conference, I was able to listen to a panel of representatives from various districts give their opinion on social issues. One representative, from Edmond, gave a lasting impression on me because he spoke about the many policies and bills being written and clashing with other policies and bills creating such chaos and debate. He emphasized mutual understanding and working together to solve an issue instead of creating a bill to demoralize another bill. Granted, he believed that bills and polices should be created to put the “bad people” away, however, he thinks there is a gap in the system on finding common ground.
After listening to the panel, students were given the opportunity to speak to their representative and senator from their districts. I planned on meeting my representative, Jon Echols, and introduce myself to him. I have to be honest in saying I didn’t know what to speak to him about and, quite frankly, did not want to waste his time just to introduce myself. But I had it all planned out in my head to say, “I am a graduate student getting my master’s degree in social work degree, I just wanted to introduce myself to you because it is likely we will talk more in the future (due to some advocating), and I was glad I got to meet him.” I repeated this over and over in my head because I was so nervous to meet him and didn’t want to seem unprepared. I still wanted to meet him because this was my first time learning about advocating and I wanted to make the most of it. I know if I wasn’t able to directly make a difference in my client’s life, then the representatives could indirectly impact them. I wasn’t doing this for myself, rather, I was doing this for my future clients and helping them achieve justice in society. I walked into the capitol and headed towards his office where his secretary stopped me and asked if I needed something. I asked for Mr. Echols and she said he was not available at the moment and she could take a message. I gave the secretary my information such as my name, who I am, and why I wanted to see him.
Afterwards, I saw other students from the cohort and asked how their experiences went, and they said their representatives were not in their office. Soon enough, we found out all the representatives and were not in their office because they all went to a funeral. The senators, however, were at the capitol but we found out they were all at a meeting. So the majority of the students were not able to speak to any of the representatives or senators, but we all got a good learning experience out of the conference.
I learned that the representatives and senators are humans too. Meaning, we are all trying to work and make a positive difference in society, but there will be disagreements along the way. How to resolve those disagreements is to working through those disagreements and finding the purpose in what is being worked for. I also learned that it is more dangerous to be around people who agree with you all the time versus being around people who have different ideas. I know my plan was to meet my representative and introduce myself to him. Even though my plan didn’t work out, I still learned a lot through the discussion panel.