by Tiffany Williams, intern in the House Committee on County Affairs
Texas Muslim Capitol Day is an annual event in Austin where Muslim communities across the state gather to experience state government and engage in the political process. Many attendees are young students learning about civic advocacy. This year, Texas Muslim Capitol Day happened to fall on the week after President Trump released his executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and halting refugee settlements. Xenophobes were emboldened, and social workers were cringing. As frustrating as the current political climate is, it has given us opportunities to act in both mundane and monumental ways. I don’t think anything illustrates those opportunities better than Texas Muslim Capitol Day.
As a policy analyst at the legislature, it is my job to figure out how legislation will actually impact the lives of working Texas families. The travel ban is an example of a policy that collides with social work values that stand on inclusivity, social justice, and individual worth. I think the most exhilarating part of working at the Capitol during session is being able to act on the theories and tactics of community development that I learned about in the classroom. I have the opportunity to identify the strategies used by grassroots organizations and see what works and what doesn’t. I am faced with injustice, and yet I get to be a part of the fight for equality.
That’s why I was moved and motivated by the organizers who decided to stand up and protect the attendees at Texas Muslim Capitol Day. During the 2015,legislative session, there were roughly two dozen people who decided to show up to this event to disrupt the speakers and cause a distraction. This year, they were not going to let that happen. So with just uniform t-shirts and a bull horn, they mobilized a group of 1000 people to form a human perimeter around the attendees. The organizers were originally hoping to form one line around the entire event with no gaps—instead, we were three lines deep.
I stood arm and arm with two women who had been involved in peaceful protests since the 1970’s. I come from a conservative, southern upbringing—women in my family don’t do this—so I was empowered by their stories, and wise words. We all faced a statue of a soldier on a horse that read: “I always feel safe when the [Texas] Rangers are in front” by General Hardee. But today, we did not have badges or uniforms. We were very ordinary people who agreed that social justice was worth the fight. All of my anger, frustration, and heartbreak over the recent executive orders turned into tears of relief when the human perimeter erupted in applause in response to the Muslim men, women, and children entering the grounds. It was their faces: they were touched and I knew they felt safe. As a Christian, it is my belief that all are inherently loved by their Creator, and as a social worker, that all people have dignity and worth. Everyone deserves to be seen and respected. Today I got to act on those beliefs.
As the House Committee on County Affairs Clerk, I do not get to attend every march or protest that exemplifies my values. I spend a lot of my time prepping the committee chair, Representative Garnet Coleman, on his hearings, writing press releases and short speeches, and tracking bills. These tasks are not glamorous or tear worthy but I do believe they make small contributions to social justice by pushing good policy. Activities like this are still good ways to live out our social work values. It’s not just monumental marches, but through everyday interactions and activities, that the world changes. We can enact change when we help an elected official push policy, but also through the way we talk to a cleaning attendant in the bathroom.
I do not think in order to be an effective social worker or advocate in this political season you must have an office in the Capitol. I do think we need to be acting on what we are learning in the classroom by investing our social work skills in our communities. We can be holding our local businesses accountable to ethical practices, voting in local elections, or advocating for our clients’ needs. Many clients of ours are feeling like they do not belong, are not wanted, or are not worthy of love. We all have the opportunity to fight for social justice and act in our everyday lives. Let’s not wait until for the next promotion, protest, or position of power to begin working to make a difference.