by Katherine Kirages, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Now, over halfway through the legislative session, I have had some time to reflect on the stark difference in conversations that I now have about this internship with family and friends, compared to my earlier conversations with them. Recently, interested parties inquire about my experiences as a social worker in the political arena, the actual impact this experience has on the communities and clients we serve as social workers, and any future plans I might have following this internship. Last night, I had a conversation with one of these people. The question that stood out the most to me regarded the clients we serve: Have I met someone directly impacted by the work I do at the Legislative Study Group?
It caught me off guard – it felt as though I hadn’t shifted my focus from daily life at the Capitol to the real outcomes following Sine Die. Day in and out under the “pink dome,” it is extremely easy to get caught up in a nearsighted routine as you move from one committee hearing to the next, interspersed with legislative briefings, networking, and lobbyist meetings. While we center our clients’ needs and interests at the forefront of every bill analysis we write, our opportunities to interact with vulnerable populations are limited when we are surrounded by elected officials and staffers.
However, my conversation last night illustrates the importance and impact of civic engagement. I quickly realized that I see people affected by these policies every day. From people traveling from the far-reaching corners of Texas to testify on a bill that can have devastating consequences to them, their families, and communities to those who testify on behalf of an agency that also serves clients for or against legislation that has the potential to impact their effectiveness and delivery of services.
As a policy analyst working for an official House caucus, the duality of our perspective as semi-integrated in the Texas Legislature, while connected to our clients, is not lost. In fact, we happen to be at an advantage. Social workers are among the most qualified and capable to engage with clients directly affected by these policies; likewise, we have the skills and experience of navigating the political system. Sharing these political strategies with communities is an integral piece of stimulating civic engagement and empowerment, in order to be an effective change agent who gives clients a role in advocacy.