The International Federation of Social Workers states that, “the social work profession’s core mandates include promoting social change, social development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Social change initiatives recognize the place of human agency in advancing human rights and economic, environmental, and social justice” (https://www.ifsw.org/what-is-social-work/global-definition-of-social-work/).
(Similarly, the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics provides, “Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”
Ways to Influence Social Policy
The following points describe some ways that social workers and their constituencies can influence social policy for the advancement of social justice. If you have any other suggestions for us to include in this web page, please email email@example.com.
- Encourage people to register to vote: Participation in political processes is vital to the functioning of a free and democratic society. Disenfranchised groups are often underrepresented as registered voters. As social workers, we can work with community groups to remove barriers to registration – providing information to people who do not have information, translating information about registration into the languages of people who are not fluent in English, providing information orally to people who have low levels of literacy, providing transportation options for people who do not have cars or other forms of transportation, explaining the importance of voting to those who do not think it is important, and countering misinformation about registering to vote for people who come from countries where governments used this type of information to punish those who did not support a particular party, etc.
- Get to know your elected officials. Talk to them about the things that matter to you. Use votesmart.org to find out who your officials are and to find out when the upcoming elections are being held.
- Find a national organization that is working on the issues that you care about and get involved even if you just join their email lists. Share your social justice issues with your friends via social media.
- Providing Forums for Constituents to meet with Government Officials and Candidates for Office: Open town hall meetings or more private meetings are useful for creating an exchange of information between government officials and their constituencies. Just asking questions about social justice issues informs officials that people are concerned about these issues. Often, the best time to influence government officials is during a political campaign, when candidates are vying for support. Meet the candidate forums ensure that attendees have better information to base their votes upon and that candidates understand the views of their constituents.
- Organize Coalitions of People: Although the voice of a single person is important, the voices of many may help ensure that a particular viewpoint is heard. Encourage people with like interests to work together, and help disparate group see their common interests so that they can work together to promote social issues (e.g., people who are trying to eradicate racism and people who are trying to eradicate sexism have a common interest in promoting human rights generally – both groups can work together on one another’s causes).
- Provide Groups with Alternatives for Promoting a Social Justice Cause – Find out what type of actions might be most effective to advance the cause – e.g., a low-level meeting with specific government bureaucrats, a media campaign, a letter writing or email campaign, a public nonviolent demonstration, or a research project to gather information that can be used to inform decision makers based upon objective data.
- Make information Available – As Paulo Freire contends, information is power. People who are in less powerful positions can gain power through information. Ensure that the groups you are helping have access to quality education, literacy programs, computers and Internet access, newspapers and other media. Simply providing people with the names of their municipal, state, or national representatives can help people make their voices heard. Also, provide people with information about political and decision-making processes (e.g., how a city makes decisions about zoning or how a police department establishes its hiring policies). Note that Florida’s Sunshine Laws require most government meetings to be open to the public.
The following information is intended to help you help others promote positive social change. We give credit to Influencing State Policy for some of the information contained below. As its web site states, “Influencing State Policy (ISP) assists social work faculty and students in learning to effectively influence the formation, implementation, and evaluation of state-level policy and legislation.” The ISP web site contains excellent information, links, and news (http://www.statepolicy.org/index.html). While ISP focuses upon state policy, the information below also pertains to national and local policy.
- State Legislature Page
- Homepage of the Governor
- Florida Information
National Links (Washington, DC)
Resources for Information on Voter Rights
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a website (http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/state-vote981.aspx) that provides state information about voting laws and a user-friendly map (http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx) defining voter identification requirements for each state.
Social Advocacy Groups – Links *
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Antidefamation League (combating anti-Semitism)
- Human Rights Campaign (gay and lesbian issues)
- Human Rights Watch (international)
- NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
- National Association of Social Workers (includes great links for current issues, how to contact legislators, and position papers)
- National Coalition for the Homeless
- NOW (National Organization for Women)
- TASH (people with disabilities)
Another way to contribute to social justice is through volunteering with charitable and social agencies. The following links provide information on volunteer opportunities in South Florida:
* For most people, our tendency is to communicate with only those who have similar political ideologies. For the purposes of social action, it is important to communicate with people of diverse political ideologies.
* If you have any other advocacy groups or political parties you think we should list, please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org); the School of Social Work does not officially support any of these organizations – whether or not you agree with their positions on different issues, we hope you will find this information useful. These listings are not intended to be either exhaustive or exclusive.