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Policy Advocacy in a Pandemic

The devastating loss of life and complete disruption of our economy inflicted by COVID-19 is nothing less than gut wrenching. Social workers’ understanding of systems predisposes us to the knowledge that everyone is interconnected and therefore everyone suffers, but not equally. We are witness to the tsunami of economic hardship while the rest of the country can only see the wave. The people we serve are both the leading and lagging indicator of economic downturns. In other words, we see them drowning before anyone else and watch them continue to gasp for air while simultaneously hearing about the life rafts that have been sent for the few.  Being a witness to this is like sitting in the front row of a play that both depletes and fills us up. Now, we should let the players rest, learn their lines, and continue to tell their stories*. Now is the time for advocacy.

The middle of a crisis may not seem like the ideal time to start your advocacy efforts but it is, in fact, a perfect time. The system has been disrupted to such an extent that society gets to create something new. As people who represent both Christian values and the social work profession, we must have a seat at the tables of power to advocate for vulnerable and oppressed people. We cannot expect others to do this for our communities. I understand that people are looking forward to “going back to normal” but is that really what’s best for the people we serve? We should instead help shape the future. We should question healthcare that’s tied to employment. We should look towards a future where wages keep up with the cost of housing.  For the immediate future, we should be at the table discussing policies that will prevent mass evictions when moratoriums are lifted. These inn addition to every other issue we have recognized from our social work lens.

The halls of government are intrinsically filled with privilege and many officials do not have the experience with oppressed communities or the life-saving government systems they rely on to make informed decisions about policies. Social workers need to help them understand the realities of life for vulnerable populations. Changing the world by taking advantage of complete system disruption is an ambitious activity; maybe you’re looking for ways to dip your toe into the waters of advocacy instead of diving headfirst.  While I would normally direct you to set up a face to face meeting with your elected official or a member of their staff, as this is the most effective form of advocacy, times are not normal. So what should you do? You can start by writing a letter/email to an elected or appointed official.

This letter should include:

  • Information about the organization you’re representing
  • Community impact of the organization
  • Research or statistics on why this work is needed
  • A client story (protecting confidentiality)
  • How you can support their work
  • An action item

Ask them to visit your program or to think about vulnerable populations as they make decisions. Supporting or opposing a piece of legislation or funding stream is always helpful guidance but be sure to follow your agency and IRS guidelines in these circumstances. As an individual citizen you are at liberty to be as politically engaged as you’d like, just use your own resources and participate during non-work hours. Use this time to build relationships with key decision makers who are spending more time in their home district.

Other forms of advocacy include:

  • Writing op-eds
  • Calling elected officials
  • Organizing a postcard writing event
  • Social media posts linked to the official

As communities and the country work to reopen society post COVID, I urge you to think about what our society could look like if we prioritize the vulnerable populations we are called to serve. Laws and regulations will be enacted that will send life rafts to certain industries and populations to stimulate the economy for the foreseeable future. What will you do to make sure that the people we serve are not left to drown?

*While we should always support people with lived experience in advocating on their own behalf, we must also take up that torch.

 

Sabrina Kiser, MSW has focused on advancing federal legislation that promotes social justice from a macro social work lens since 2013, and has been supporting the increased response to need during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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