5 Steps for Policy Advocacy
Are you a direct practice social worker who has realized how certain laws and policies are negatively impacting those you work with? Have you wanted to make large-scale change, but weren’t sure where to start? Then this post is for you!
Not gonna lie, I had this idea in the works before Trump became president and started making all sorts of orders that many of us social workers are struggling with. Originally, I had planned to share a journey regarding a much smaller issue that was impacting my day to day social work practice. But to be honest that policy issue now feels super-duper insignificant. So starting us off instead with some general steps for good policy advocacy. Steps that are good regardless of what policy/concern you have. Right now there are lots of potential topics that you might want to advocate on, so pick the one(s) nearest and dearest to your heart and start moving forward. Side note, I am by no means a policy advocacy expert or a macro social work expert–I’m simply sharing the steps I’m taking as a total novice. If you have ideas and suggestions I would LOVE if you added them in the comments!
- Reflect. What is important to you? What issues are weighing most heavy on your heart? What injustice do you think we must do something about right this very moment? What are the unintended negative consequences of a law/policy that you have seen first-hand?
- Research. What movements already exist for advocacy on this policy? What is the counter-argument for why this policy is needed/necessary? It’s important to spend time understanding where the opposition is coming from as that will help you to develop your thoughts. And on smaller (less human rights in nature) policy topics you might find that the underlying motives for a policy are actually very in-line with your own values, but the implementation has caused unintended harm. Figuring out the reasons will help you know more what specifically you should be advocating for.
- Brainstorm. This step is important if you are opposing something or wanting current legislation/policy to change. Brainstorm alternatives—based on your research and on the underlying reasons for putting this policy in place initially, what other options are there?
- Write out your thoughts and your story. Why is this topic important to you? What happens if nothing changes? What are you recommending? Share the research you have done to give your story backing. If you are good at just speaking your mind eloquently, then feel free to skip this step and go straight to phone calls and potential in-person visits with your officials. Personally, I need to feel confident in what I’m saying and for me that requires this step of putting my thoughts to paper. Plus then I can email and mail my thoughts if for some reason phone contact isn’t possible (and currently I know we have at least one or two official’s whose voicemails are “full”).
- Share your thoughts and your story—via mail, email, and phone. Here are some websites that will help you figure out who should be your primary contacts. Generally speaking, you have more weight with your own elected officials and that’s a great place to start. Not sure who your elected officials are? Find your representative here. http://www.whoismyrepresentative.com/ You might also want to consider what is going on at a local level, which would mean reaching out to move local officials, such as your county executive board member. I was able to find that information easily be googling Milwaukee County Executive Board, which then had a search for your board member on its main page.
If these steps seem too overwhelming, there are many topic-specific on-line resources. There may already be an on-line petition that you can easily add your name to if you already know how you feel about the issue. You might also find this website helpful as it breaks down current issues by categories and provides outreach scripts for each of those categories. There are many on-line resources that have form letters already created regarding specific policies—ones you might find during your research phase. Obviously feel free to use those!
What topic are you passionate about? What tips do you have for policy advocacy?