Over the course of the semester, you will pick one activity, do it, and write a blog post reflecting on your activity. You will post your plan, why you picked it, what you did, results, and lessons learned (roughly 2 typed pages).
The advocacy activity I selected was to attend the NASW Day at the Legislature. I attended as part of a class group, and it offered an opportunity to get a closer look at what advocacy could look like at the legislative level. There was an opportunity to learn about advocacy and interacting directly with State representatives. We were also able to attend discussions with Ok. NASW leadership to learn about ways that one could advocate in favor of, or in opposition to, specific pieces of legislation that affect our prospective client populations.
I selected this activity because it was unique and not something I would have an opportunity to do otherwise. While anyone can meet with their legislators, in this setting I was offered guidance as to what to expect from the experience, the legislators, and the larger process. The NASW also sent advanced notice to the legislators letting them know that we would be on-site and hoping to engage in short meetings as their schedules allowed. There was a reasonable expectation that we may be able to interact with a legislator.
As a part of the discussions with NASW leadership we were informed about various pieces of legislation that were making their way through the process. Some of the bills were of particular interest, such as the reform of fees and fines, and I was interested to learn where my representatives stood on the issues. I was also interested to find out why a particular issue, asset forfeiture reform, did not have legislation yet offered given the history of the issue in our State legislature.
The results of my activity were, on the surface, a failure. I was unable to meet with my legislators as they both had prior obligations and were not in the capitol building at the time of our visit. I’m quite disappointed that, even with advanced notice that students would be visiting, the legislators did not leap at the opportunity to engage budding social workers. One would think that the eager anticipation I am certain they felt in the weeks leading to our arrival would be sufficient cause for delight on the part of my elected representatives. I have no doubt that it pained them immensely to be pulled away from such an opportunity, and to begrudgingly attend to what must have been a critical matter of the State.
Alas, all was not lost. While our missed connection was certainly disappointing, I did learn quite a bit about the mechanics of the legislative process. I was also genuinely encouraged to hear from a panel of legislators that spoke with us about how they make decisions regarding their voting on any given bill. They discussed specific methods of contact that were more effective than others. For example, a form email is less effective than a phone call which is less effective than an in-person meeting. They also noted that it is typically a good idea to build a relationship with your legislator prior to engaging them and asking for something during a first meeting. Most notable was that they spoke about how personal stories are actually important supplements to hard-data in regard to persuading a legislator. I cynically assumed that brute-force politics was the only method by which decisions were made. I assumed that, “How will this affect my reelection or my future career outside of politics?” was the only calculus used in the decision-making process. I found this to be a demonstrably flawed assumption based on Mr. Lankford’s position and vote on the Secretary of Education. The very day of the NASW event, Mr. Lankford’s office had accumulated over 10,000 calls and emails in opposition to the candidate. It was reported that not a single call was noted in favor of the candidate. Fortunately, Mr. Lankford displayed such a high degree of insight, wisdom, and innate leadership ability that he was able to see past the distraction in front of him and vote in direct opposition to the expressed and overwheliming will of his constituency. He clearly possessed a more nuanced understanding of the matter, and acted in a manner that stood strong against the wave of opposition. Mr. Lankford demonstrated that leadership, at times, requires a steadfast faith in one’s conviction of what is right.