#LivetheLegacy this Social Work Month

Historically, social workers have been a leading force in advocating for political and social equity, particularly centering around those who are marginalized in our communities. All social workers must fulfill an ethical duty to not only “challenge social injustice,” but to also “facilitate informed participation by the public in shaping social policies and institutions,” which connect the profession directly to voting rights, advocacy, and voter engagement work.  

When Michael Schwerner, who studied and worked as a social worker, joined Freedom Summer in 1964, he was fulfilling a personal and professional calling that defines social workers—one that emphasizes not only helping individuals one-on-one but also working to reshape the systems that create inequality and marginalization.

Over 50 years later, I walked the halls of Columbia University School of Social Work, the same institution Michael Schwerner enrolled in before leaving school to move to Mississippi. The year was 2016, and I watched first-hand how social workers played a part in navigating the world during and after one of the most divisive U.S. elections in recent history. Many of us volunteered to facilitate political dialogues among groups of people with all kinds of political affiliations in our personal and professional lives. We helped clients, peers, friends, and family members register to vote. We took stances on issues—like ensuring child welfare in schools and at home, and pursuing accessible healthcare for all—that should be considered community issues rather than partisan issues.

Some social workers like myself directly joined the fight to protect voting rights and accessibility. At The Andrew Goodman Foundation, we’re honored to be inspired by and work with current and aspiring social workers in our network. We’ve asked some of them to share their reflections on how being a social worker has equipped them to #livethelegacy that social workers like Michael left behind in defending our democracy:

“Social workers do not believe in solving clients’ problems for them, but rather empowering them to bring about desired change in their own lives. By helping someone register to vote or by championing voting rights on the macro level, social workers can help people create change in their communities by making it possible for them to pick their leaders at every level of government.” 

Michael Taylor
Vote Everywhere Team Leader at Rutgers Univesity (MSW ’19)

“Social workers are advocates. We are called to promote the wellbeing of all individuals, families, groups, and communities—to enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning, and to create local and global conditions favorable to these goals. Local, state, and federal policy informs social work practice—laws dictate how we can work toward improving the lives of our clients. Every person is affected by policy. Vulnerable populations, specifically, have the greatest need to access voting—oftentimes, clients’ needs involve policy change. It is our duty as social workers to continue to advocate for policy and equal access to voting to ensure equity in our society.”

Julia Laudadio
Vote Everywhere Ambassador at Kutztown University (BSW ’20)

Social work, at its core, is a love of humanity so strong that we hunger for a world that does not yet exist. Voting is one of the most important tools we have to build this new world: it empowers the individuals we serve and puts pressure on the systems we seek to change. The strong bond between voting and social workers comes from the tenet of our profession to consider both case and cause, which means we see firsthand the issues on the ground and use our training to elevate them all the way to policymaking. Voting is present every step of the way.

Erin Capone, LCSW
Vote Everywhere Campus Champion at Rutgers University

This Social Work Month, the AGF honors and recognizes social workers of years past like Michael Schwerner, of the present like our Champions, and of the future like our Ambassadors, for their work tying the ethical principles of the profession to expanding voting access and engagement in their communities.

About the Author

Taryn Dwyer is the Program and Fellowship Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Siena College. With multiple organizing, lobbying and advocacy opportunities in Albany, Taryn’s professional interest for student leadership and social justice flourished. She went on to complete her Master of Science in Social Work at Columbia University, where she currently co-lectures on topics of power, race, oppression, and privilege.