by Lorette Blagg
Like many other macro and soon-to-be macro social workers, my journey took root in frustration. When working with clients you come to love, there is an inevitable realization that the issues you are able to help them resolve only graze the tip of the iceberg. Even though I was able to help a student finish her math homework, or learn something new, I knew that she would be going home to an unsafe neighborhood. I knew that even the smartest students in the class might not make it to graduation, because they didn’t have the support they needed, or because they couldn’t pass a standardized test that was constructed to benefit certain types of students over others, within a larger system that was constructed to benefit certain types of students over others. I wanted to tell them that if they worked hard they could achieve anything they wanted to, but I knew that would be a lie. So I decided to go into macro social work, hoping that helping work on even one of the many roadblocks my clients faced on a daily basis would assuage my frustrations.
Coming into the legislative session, we were warned that any progressive legislation would probably not pass. So I prepared myself for the worst. What I didn’t expect was that, even in a building filled with some brilliant and powerful policy-makers, the same powerless feeling of frustration would come creeping back again – this time even stronger. I feel it every time even moderate amendments to legislation — reporting on state employee salary by gender, appropriating pocket change towards assisting residents in colonias build safer shelters, or allowing populous municipalities to have local control in allowing open carry or where to permit fracking, to name a few — get shot down by an overwhelming majority of the House. Or inversely, when legislation like offering a $2,000 bounty for reporting any trans student who is seen using the “wrong” restroom at a school, repealing the DREAM Act, or disallowing anyone to record a police arrest within 100 feet, enjoy significant backing. Or in analyzing the budget, when legislators laud themselves for spending billions on border security and tax cuts, while making cost containment measures for Medicaid patients seem like the only pragmatic solution.
Seeing it all up close and being powerless to do, or sometimes even substantially say, anything to the contrary has made me constantly question whether being a macro social worker will be wrought with even worse frustrations than in direct practice. Trying to affect change within the same system that produces the very social issues that face our clients, ourselves, and our loved ones seems like a Sysiphean task.
But as it was frustration that brought me to social work in the first place, I believe that this frustration will serve as a critical force that propels us forward towards further action. Twenty years ago, using a social work background to become involved in policy would have been laughable. Today, it is becoming increasingly in-demand. With more policy professionals like social workers, who understand how lofty legislation affects people on the ground, substantial changes seem more within reach. With frustration as fuel, maybe this is not an exercise in futility after all.