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Social Workers and the American Promise
By Jessica Hare, DSW

Amid a global pandemic, political unrest, social upheaval, and increasing income disparities, our nation is facing challenging times. As most social workers see firsthand, it is during challenging times such as these that human needs often end up neglected, intentionally or unintentionally.

During these difficult times, America’s nearly 1 million social workers help address immediate critical needs for so many. But because social work can focus on long-term power dynamics and injustice, we social workers have another equally important role to play in addressing these moments of crisis: by helping bring structural reform and adjustments that benefit every American. While no one likes politics these days, it is time for more political social work.

Alongside health care professionals and so many other Americans working on the frontlines of broken systems, social workers are increasingly realizing the need to address the root causes of the issues we face if we are to meet our highest aspirations to serve our clients and country. More social workers are running for office. Others are participating in social justice movements. For me, after many years of working with the health care system, veterans, parents, students, and others in deeply challenging situations, I now work with American Promise and millions of Americans who are uniting to amend the Constitution to ensure an equal voice, election integrity, and freedom from the dominance of big money in our political system.

According to the social workers’ Code of Ethics, “fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.” No problem affects so many people and so many aspects of the social and emotional needs of Americans—or wrongly concentrates power for the few—than the concentration of massive money in our political system. Every year large corporations, industries, and wealthy donors pour money into lobbying and campaigns. These corporations and donors are investing into policies and procedures that allow only for their point of view—or their chosen candidates’ points of view—to be heard.

Money provides these individuals with power to facilitate and implement policies that shape the economy to work in their favor. The pandemic has further accentuated the fact that this political system in which only the rich have a voice is not a system that works for all. A plethora of issues critical to the well-being of every American is being neglected. To name a few, the homeless veteran population, a public education system that fails many families living in poverty, high unemployment rates, and even extremely high student loan debt. When will enough be enough? When will the voices of all be heard?

I and my fellow social workers in every community across the country are sworn to a code of ethics to empower clients and address both private dilemmas and public dilemmas, particularly for those who are the least advantaged. The chief mission of the social work profession is to enrich human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with precise attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. We target health care issues, behavioral health issues, the criminal justice systems, social services systems, child welfare systems, and federal policies and procedures in regard to developing program standards and direction.

Social workers possess a range of knowledge about human needs and behavior, services delivery, systems that affect individuals and groups, and the effects of civic policy. Social work has a rich history of policy and decision-makers that include Dr. Dorothy Height, Frances Perkins, and Harry Hopkins. Social workers acknowledge the dignity and worth of a person, understand the current state of our government and how it does not help support meaningful lives for all, and understand the power and community connections needed to empower and uplift all to advocate for change.

Social workers provide critical services to individuals and families across their lifetimes and have long been the key element to lead individuals and families to critical resources, counsel individuals and families on imperative life choices, and assist individuals and families in reaching their full potential. Social workers are safety nets to America, and with our existing economic challenges, this safety net has developed to include and protect a diverse group of individuals and families from all walks of life. Social workers are advocates for change—we need your voices and your skills to help restore our democracy.

As Dr. Height said, in America, “we are not a problem people, we are people with problems.” Let’s come together to start fixing those problems.

— Jessica Hare, DSW, serves as vice president-outreach at American Promise, a nonpartisan organization advocating a For Our Freedom Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to enable better regulation of how money is used in elections. Her social work experience has served new mothers, domestic violence victims, health care workers, children in schools, veterans, and others.