Social Workers Ready to Tackle Politics

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 @ 8:38AM

CRISP conducted its second Political Boot Camp and Media Training last week. Twenty MSW students and recent graduates attended the training held at Trinity Washington University in the District of Columbia from Sunday, July 8 through Wednesday, July 11. Participants came to acquire knowledge and skills that would bolster their ambitions to seek political office, participate in political campaigns, or be a spokesperson for a candidate or a cause. They were social work students or recent graduates from Columbia University, Fordham University, The National Catholic University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Houston, the University of Southern California, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Former Congressman Ed Towns was among an impressive group of trainers that included Mike DeVoll from The Campaign Workshop; Dr. Suzanne Pritzker, associate professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and co-author of textbook, Political Social Work: Using Power to Create Social Change; Janie Jeffers, former White House aide to First Lady Hillary Clinton and appointee to the United States Parole Commission; Jason Green, former National Voter Registration Director for the 2008 Obama campaign and associate counsel for the Obama Administration; and Allison Berkowitz, candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates and Simmons College of Social Work instructor.

A highlight of the Boot Camp was the visit by Virginia House Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, who was elected one of the first two Latina women to the Virginia legislature last year along with her Democratic colleague Haya Ayala. The Peruvian immigrant, who earned her MSW degree from the University of Southern California, attended Tuesday’s CRISP Boot Camp session on the Hill held in the Longworth House Office Building. She received the high honor of being selected to give the Democratic Party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union Address in January. Boot campers were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with her.
Del. Guzman gave a compelling recounting of her journey to the United States as a single mother. She would later marry her husband Carlos and they are now the proud parents of four children. Despite her modest immigrant beginnings, Guzman found the way to earn four degrees, including a Master of Public Administration degree from American University and her MSW from USC. She has resided in Prince Williams County and represents the 31st District in the House of Delegates. When I asked her if she had ambitions to come to the Hill, she presented us with a couple of potential paths to a congressional seat.

Del. Guzman epitomizes the values, skills and knowledge social workers bring into the political arena. The Boot Camp experience was remarkable—don’t take my word, ask the participants—in that the comradery among social workers was engendered by the values we share—our concern for vulnerable populations and our desire to create change in society. In my one-on-one conversations with participants, several expressed their enthusiasm about learning how participation in the political arena holds the potential to achieve significant change. Our commitment to the NASW Code of Ethics requires us to pursue social justice and the political arena is a battleground that holds great promise.

CRISP looks forward to conducting more Political Boot Camps and promoting social workers’ involvement in the political arena. We need more social workers in Congress. This can be accomplished by having more second-year MSW students fulfill their field placement obligations in congressional offices—particularly in district offices. Our students would bring valuable skills to the offices that would assist in assessing and meeting the needs of constituents. They could also work with the Congressmember on issues and policies.

CRISP focuses solely on the federal level but placing more social work students in legislative settings on various levels—federal, state, and municipal—brings our values, skills and knowledge into the political arena. Our goal is at least 50 congressional field placements over the next several years. We believe this would result in doubling the number of social work Members of Congress and significantly increasing the number of social work congressional staff. Social workers work with people on all socio-economic levels. However, it is our work with vulnerable populations that would inform social welfare policies and promote social justice.

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