by Arielle Day, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
A close relative of mine accused me of losing my way, being brainwashed, joining the wrong team, and fighting the wrong fight. Obviously, I take every opportunity to utilize my wide array of social work skills, so I responded in the way you would expect any competent social work professional to respond. FALSE! In truth, I responded by accusing my relative of being close-minded, intolerant, and single-handedly responsible for all the wrong in the world. (Don’t panic social workers! I’ve apologized, and we’ve reconciled.) For me, the conversation was similar to many other conversations I have had with some of my friends and family who believe that there is a such thing as too much education and that civic engagement is a waste of time. While I have never agreed with those two notions, there was a time when most of my values and beliefs aligned with these same friends and family members. But now, I find myself disagreeing with them on major topics like education, LGBTQ issues, religious liberty, reproductive health, and criminal justice reform.
Our life experiences and environment shape the lens through which we see the world. If I had not come from a home in which there was an emphasis on the importance of education and informed voting, my talking points during the aforementioned argument would have been very different. If it had not been for the wisdom and fortitude of those who paved a path, created an opportunity, or built a ladder that I could use to access education and gain exposure, I would be in a less favorable place in life right now. That is what Representative Coleman and everyone involved with creating the Austin Legislative Internship Program have done – they’ve built a ladder.
Every so often I find myself reflecting on how meaningful this experience is and how important it is for social workers to be a part of the political process. Ana Ramon, the executive director of the Texas Legislative Study Group, is always saying that social workers bring a unique perspective to policy that often gets loss in the game of politics. That is why our voice is important. As social workers, our primary goals remain constant: to promote social, racial, economic, and political justice and to serve vulnerable populations.
It is my opinion that there is no better way to create sustainable change than through passing meaningful policy. One great example of meaningful policy is the Sandra Bland Act (HB 2702), currently under consideration by the Texas House of Representatives. Listening to Representative Coleman speak at a press conference introducing the Sandra Bland Act was a proud moment for myself and my colleagues. If signed into law, this legislation would expand what qualifies as racial profiling, prioritize treatment for jailed individuals who have a mental illness, limit police searches during traffic stops, and create more training and reporting requirements for county jails and law enforcement. Those are just a few of the components to the bill. The Sandra Bland Act is a bill that can hold a lot of weight in the fight for real criminal justice reform. As the session continues I look forward to seeing how this bill moves through the process. I also look forward to continuing to stretch my thinking and eventually… build a ladder for someone else.