Social Work Democracy Project

Social Workers Rise to the Challenge of Helping to Save Democracy

The Social Work Democracy Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization formed to galvanize the social work profession around the need to preserve and strengthen democracy in the United States. For many, our system of government has flaws and inconsistencies, but there was always hope that we would make progress in making it a more just and equitable form of governance for all. Although the Electoral College prevented the majority of citizens from selecting the President of the United States and Supreme Court decisions that deregulated campaign financing and rolled back protections from discriminatory voting practices created barriers, many believed the majority of Americans wanted a system that reflected the ideals in the U.S. Constitution.

Soon after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of United States it was apparent that the nation would be on a rocky path for at least the next four years when his first order of business was to promote the falsehood that his inauguration drew the largest crowd in the nation’s history. It was easily debunked with photographs comparing the crowd attending his inauguration with that of his predecessor Barack Obama. He continued his incessant attacks on the news media as “fake news” and ultimately as the enemy of the people, themes he regularly promoted during his campaign. It soon became evident that Mr. Trump’s ego was his only concern and he had little respect or use for orderly government. Democratic institutions such as the Congress and the judiciary were only useful if they served his purpose. Things got scary when Republican legislator after Republican legislator fell in line.

Leading up to his election, we had witness Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues abandoned traditional decorum by denying President Obama the opportunity to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. When Trump spoke of being President for Life like the despots he admired, we paid little attention and attributed those statements as reflective of an overblown ego. Many laughed when White House counsel Kellyanne Conway informed the country that there were alternative facts. History teaches that revisionist accounts of events occur regularly and usually serve the purpose of the corrupt. We began to worry then about how much democracy would be damaged during the Trump Administration.

With the 2017 publication of noted Duke University historian Dr. Nancy MacLean’s award-winning book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, we learned that a concerted effort to undermine democracy has been at work for many years. Led by libertarians, largely funded by the Koch brothers, there was a plan at work to undermine majority rule in the United States and supplant it with a system that would favor oligarchy and free capitalists to enrich themselves with few restrictions. After reading Dr. MacLean book, we invited her to participate in our 2018 Social Work Day on the Hill Politics and Policy Forum to respond to the question: Can Social Work Help Save Democracy? Although the forum was cancelled due to a snowstorm, on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, several social work leaders gathered in a conference room in the Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC to meet with Dr. MacLean. In attendance were Drs. Marilyn Flynn, Martell Teasley, Eddie Uehara, Charles E. Lewis, Jr., and Angelo McClain; and Patricia White, retired senior program officer for the New York Community Trust.

After nearly three hours of spirited discussion and debate, the consensus was social workers were already engaged in numerous civic activities and actions, and that more would be if they were focused on the threats to democracy and the need to respond. It was agreed an effort was needed to identify the actors and actions that were already underway, and that further discussions should occur about how best to inform the social work community of the fragile state of our democracy..

Dr. Teasley, president of the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD) invited the panel to present at the annual fall meeting in Orlando, FL on November 7, 2018. The panel consisted of Drs. Teasley, MacLean, Uehara, Telvis Rich, Lewis, Jr. The presentation was well-received by the deans and directors and a task force was created to explore future possibilities. The name Social Work Democracy Project was adopted.

The purpose of the project is to raise the awareness of social workers about threats to democracy in the United States and to encourage social workers to increase our civic engagement at all levels of society. We plan to promote public discourse about the threats to democracy and efforts to mitigate those threats such as campaign finance reform, ranked-choice voting, and expanding voting opportunities. We also plan to develop and disseminate materials for classroom instruction. Democracy will only survive if people of goodwill are engaged.

Social Work Democracy Project Board of Directors

Mimi Abramovitz

Silbeman School of Social Work at Hunter College

Angelique Day

Associate Professor
University of Washington School of Social Work

Justin Hodge

Clinical Assistant Professor
University of Michigan School of Social Work

Charles E. Lewis, Jr.

Congressional Research Inst. for Social Work & Policy

Luisa Lopez

Executive Director
Latino Social Work
Coalition & Scholarship Fund

Darcey Merritt

University of Chicago Crown School of Social Work

Lenna Nepomnyaschy

Associate Professor
Rutgers State University of NJ School of Social Work

Jason Ostrander

Associate Professor
Anna Maria College Master of Social Work Program

Michael Sherraden

The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University

Edwina Uehara

Dean Emeritus
University of Washington School of Social Work