Social Work’s Professor Ruth Chambers recently returned to CSULB from a trip with 110 CSULB students and four faculty members who participated in the annual Legislative Lobby Days, sponsored each year in Sacramento by the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
CSULB students and faculty members joined Social Work students throughout the state for two days to meet with state assembly members and senators or their staff on key issues of concern to social workers.
“One of the highlights of the trip for me was walking into the conference room and seeing over 900 social workers; it was truly inspiring,” said Chambers, who joined the university in 2006. “Another highlight was the opportunity to watch our students put theory into practice. They were a little nervous walking into the legislators’ offices; but came out with confidence and a sense of accomplishment. One of the most important things they achieved was learning that walking into the door of legislator was something they could do on behalf of their consumers.
The event began with an all-day NASW training session that helped focus the students on targeted legislation and such issues as child welfare and mental health budget cuts. They were then split up into groups organized according to ZIP code to match them with the appropriate assembly or senate member. “They practiced with each other and role played what they would say to the legislator” Chambers explained, “and to present the research that described the human side of how the proposed legislation and budget cuts will affect their consumers and how it will indirectly affect everyone in the community.”
CSULB sponsored its own educational event that evening and featured the director of the Social Work program, John Oliver. He talked about the importance of political advocacy and how social workers are key people to assist in creating change in the policy arena. Afterwards, they created posters and signs for the Capitol steps rally. “One of the benefits of this conference for the students was a shared vision,” Chambers said. “Students looked around at almost a thousand other students just like them and began to understand they are not alone. There are many who share their vision of a just world.”
Student feedback was overall positive. “The main experience seemed to be empowerment,” said Chambers. “Students took this hands-on experience and learned they had the ability to walk into a lawmaker’s office, engage the lawmaker and be effective. They were social worker citizens in their own state capitol. They learned they can be advocates.” The students came from many cultural diverse backgrounds and age range was from 20s to mid-50s. “We also had distance-learning students from our programs with Sonoma State University, and CSU Channel Island campuses,” she said.
The conference also allowed students to see a different side to lobbying besides fundraising and special interest groups. Chambers said. “If a lobbyist is someone there to work for a group, aren’t we all lobbyists? The difference is in how we go about it. This experience showed the students they can make their voices heard, they do have the abilities, skills and resources to effectively lobby legislators.”
Chambers was pleased with the teaching advocacy opportunity, proud of the students and is ready to return next year. “These events teach students that the issues they can expect to deal with as social workers affect more than just them,” she said. “It is about community. It is about everybody. It also highlighted the connection between practice and policy for the students; they could see how their work with various populations such as families, children, and older adults are directly impacted by the State legislature.