Wonderful to be here with you. I’m Roberta Gassman. I’m on the faculty now at the school as a senior fellow. I teach a policy course called Influencing Political Systems for Social Change, a macro course, and I’m going to talk with you this morning about, as it says in the agenda, a community building and advocacy role of the social worker after graduation because I would argue that’s a huge part of what we hope your future careers will be about. Congratulations on being here. Congratulations on being a part of helping to build this school. You probably know you are at one of the best schools of Social Work in the country so you should feel great about that. Amazing research is done here by our faculty. Many of our faculty have and have had major roles on campus, whether it’s the head of major institutes on campus like the Weissman Center or the Institute for Research on Poverty, have held major positions with the Chancellor and the Provost such as the head of all research and graduate education at the University. Our faculty are known all over the world and they do amazing work and you should feel really proud of being a part of it. So I want to talk to you about the importance of political advocacy in social work and I would say in whatever work you end up doing, whether it’s what we call micro, where you might end up being a one-on-one social worker with an individual with their family, with groups or what I was drawn to in my career, working with systems. What you learn here in social work will prepare you for working in all of those arenas. I got my masters in ’72. I’m old. I’m going to be 70 in January. It’s hard to believe. But when I came to an orientation just like the one you’re in, when I got here to start my Master’s, Martin Loeb, who was then the director of the school, stood up and said to all of us, which would be like all of you many years ago, you are all going to be the leaders of the agencies of the future and I was sitting there, you know, a little 20-something thinking oh that’s ridiculous, but in fact Martin Loeb was right. My career path based on the training I got here did take me into leadership positions and the same can be said of many of my colleagues. And whether you’re in leadership positions or in a line position, the principles of advocacy and fighting for our clients, our systems, the vulnerable. That will be a part of what your work is. So this is the code of ethics preamble. It’s been the the code of ethics by the National Association of Social Workers has been recently updated in the last year. Any of you heard of it? Those of you who got perhaps your BAs here. Alright. The preamble is very important because if you look at it, there it says that we, as a profession, we are about promoting social justice and social change on behalf of clients, whether it’s individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities and that we are sensitive to some of what you just heard before. Cultural sensitivity, ethnic diversity, and we in our work and you in your work. A part of being a social worker will be to strive for justice, for equality, for helping the vulnerable. So it’s really a profession to be very proud of. Now we’re in some amazing times. I would say advocacy is always important but we are in some amazing times in our country, making I would argue advocacy more important than ever before. What is that image up on the top left? Anyone? It’s Charlottesville. So we just rememebered – I can’t say honored or celebrated. We just remembered Charlottesville, which happened a year ago and who is that in the slide? These are people on the street in Charlottesville who organized to stand up against diversity, to stand up and put forward I would say racist, anti-semitic fear statements. So that happened. What’s happening up on the top right? Who is that speaking at the mics? Emma González, who’s become kind of a nationally known person from her advocacy as one of the high school students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. What happened at that school in Parkland? School shooting. Many young people killed. Many traumatized. But what did they do? They took the step out of grief. They took the step of advocacy. Emma and her fellow high school students, they became national phenomena. They are still out speaking. They’ve come to Madison and have spoken. They through their activism got the Florida Legislature- didn’t give them everything they wanted but made changes in the laws of the state of Florida to support better policies on gun control, and the governor of the state came out in favor of a lot of what Emma and her fellow students were asking for. What else has happened in the last year? Lower left. The Me Too movement. It used to be sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s been with us probably forever sadly, but finally we had women standing up and saying times up, me too. You had aggressive reporters who covered what was going on and in a very short amount of time, major people in business and media- their careers ended because women had the courage to come forward and speak out. How about the lower right here. What is that image of? What has been going on at the border earlier this summer. When the policy came forward out of Washington of no flexibility, it meant that we were
as a government, we were separating children, some under two years old, from their parents. We as social workers who have studied trauma and stress, we know the impacts of things like that, and our voices can be important and because people did speak out all over the country, you have the government changing some of its positions very quickly. Now all those children sadly have not yet been reunited with their parents, and this was parents who were seeking asylum from their countries where they felt unsafe and victimized because of gangs and drugs and guns, and they came here seeking a better life. Now then this lower right hand image of let people vote. You are now in a state in Wisconsin where we have- all states don’t have this- but this legislature passed Voter ID which means that when you go and vote, you have to come with an ID card. That did not use to be the case. I would argue that Voter ID laws were put forward to try and control who comes out to vote, and who votes can impact the policies and the laws that become the basis of sexual assault, family well-being, acceptance, diversity, tolerance. So these are very important times, and I would say what we’ve seen is and what I say here is. Consider what we’ve seen over this last year: advocacy matters. I put these slides together before John McCain passed away. John McCain was a hero. I went to Vietnam with my husband to learn about that country. I stood in what is called- it was referred to as the Hanoi Hilton. Believe me, it was no Hilton. A dark, dank prison. Very, very old cold and dark. I saw the cell which was really like a cage that he was held in for five and a half years, so this man- I, by standing in the Hanoi Hilton, I got a sense of what this man’s life was and then what drove him to what he stands for, which we’re now seeing all over the news. And so it’s time for us to pay attention to that. Last year in the midst of a huge battle, it shouldn’t be partisan. Having health care, having people covered, having women covered, having people with pre-existing conditions, having your kids up to the age of 26 covered. We had a battle in this country. Will Congress overturn the Affordable Care Act and health care for millions or not, and ultimately with John McCain being the final vote, what did he do on the floor of the Senate? Can someone show me- he voted? That’s right. He voted down. He would not give the last vote that was needed. If he had given it, the Affordable Care Act would have been overturned, but he voted down. So the courage of that man who was in that cage for five and a half years built who he was, and he knew he was sick so he knew the importance of health care, and what ended up happening last year after Charlottesville, as we think about this, a year later after Charlottesville you had business people come forward and speak out against well there’s blame on both sides. No, business people came forward and they actually left some of the major business councils in the country, advising the White House and the whole administration on best policies for businesses. They felt after Charlottesville they had to resign and they did. We also have the Joint Chiefs of Staff- this is just one Admiral coming forward and saying events in Charlottesville are unacceptable. They must not be tolerated and forever we stand. The U.S. Navy stands against intolerance. This is one example but these people, whether it was major CEOs in the country or the highest ranks of the military, came forward and said no, wait. We are about diversity and tolerance and and acceptance. They used their voices, so what I briefly want to talk about with you and Mary’s going to make sure I don’t go over so you’re going to have to give me some hand signals, but I have only until 10:25 so I’m going to go through some sides quickly. I want to show you my social work path briefly and then I want to talk so you really feel this. You can feel the pride in the tradition of social work and then give you my sense of skills that I think it’s really important to develop while you’re here. How social workers advocate and give you some more examples of advocacy in action and if we have any time, if you have a question, I’m glad to answer them. If not you can follow up
with me after orientation. So my path. These are my grandparents. My mother’s parents, they emigrated to this country before they were 20 years old to escape religious persecution in Europe. They were from Lithuania and they came here for more opportunity. I visited Lithuania on a roots trip about four years ago and I stood outside what had become the ghetto where Jews at that time were forced to live, where my great grandmother perished, and I stood at the killing field where my grandfather’s mother, my great grandmother had been rounded up with all the people in her town in 1941and forced to march to a killing field, where they were all shot and then pushed into a mass grave. So with my own eyes, I saw
what happened to my great-grandparents. When I was growing up, those grandparents of mine who you saw in Boston, they had bad health and they moved to Florida where they could- my grandfather as a baker- could work there because it was warmer. No snow, and we would drive there. My family from outside Chicago- we’d get in the station wagon and drive and we drove through the south and we do this every summer, and I saw with my own eyeballs- this in the 50s and in the 60s as a kid, I saw above water fountains and bathrooms- coloreds go this way, usually in the back Whites, this is were you can go
or drink water. So I saw this. This led me as a kid questioning all of this in the midst of the civil rights movement to say- you know, in my life I want to figure out what can be done to stop persecution against any people, whether based on their religion or the color of their skin. So like you, I came to the University of Wisconsin. I got my BA here as I said. I got my master’s degree here. In 1968 when I was an undergraduate I went to the Union, which is where you then would get matched up with volunteer work, and I signed up to be a volunteer at Neighborhood House, Madison’s first settlement house. It’s still at 29 South Mills Street, which is the second building that it’s been in, but I went there trying to work on behalf of vulnerable families who were served by that community center. Neighborhood House is now 102 years old. That’s how long it’s been in Madison. I was – by the way I met my husband there. He was a group worker. I think we met who became our best friend and our maid of honor there, so it’s a very special place
but it was a life-changing experience for me to do volunteer work in the community. This ended up leading me to a path after doing some micro- social work, one-on-one with kids and the elderly. I was really drawn to macro, and I ended up being a governor’s policy advisor in the 80s. Governor Tony Earl from Wausau – anyone here from Wausau? Yes, you should feel proud. Wausau produced a governor! I was his policy adviser on unemployment and women’s issues. I ended up- Paul Soglin, what’s his job now? Mayor? He’s had many many different times as mayor. I was his top aide. I was the communications director for our elected County Executive and then our governor before our current governor, who was Jim Doyle, who grew up in Madison. I entered his cabinet and became his essentially Secretary of Labor, although it was called Secretary of Workforce Development and I served with him for eight years. Then I got asked to go to Washington to be in President Obama’s administration which was an unbelievable honor. I went and became deputy assistant secretary for employment and training at the United States Department of Labor in President Obama’s administration. This is the Department of Labor If you’ve been on the mall in Washington, there’s the Capitol over here and the Washington Monument over here, the Department of Labor is the first building as you get past the Capitol, and this building is called the United States Department of Labor Frances Perkins Building. That’s very important because Frances Perkins was a former social worker who with a whole batch of women like Jane Addams and I have a slide on her, who like Eleanor Roosevelt who came out of Social Work of wanting to improve the lives for the poor, for immigrants, for people who couldn’t read, didn’t know how to cook in America, and our grocery stores to find the right foods, those women came together. Frances Perkins did and I’m going to say more about her in a minute, but it was very meaningful for me to work
in DC in the Frances Perkins Building. So, Jane Addams. Who’s heard of Jane Addams? A key giant in the field of Social Work, who really believed- she worked in the Whole House, the settlement house in Chicago, but she believed in activism. She didn’t only want to work in Hull House because she kept seeing all these problems, so she ran for the School Board because she wanted to affect the policies and practices that were affecting the kids in the families Whole House was serving. So she was an activist. Very inspiring person. This is Frances Perkins early in her career. She’s standing in front of a ladder. This is very important because Frances Perkins had been a social worker. She had been in Chicago. She ended up in New York and was very drawn to worker safety issues. We didn’t have things in those days that protected workers, so you wouldn’t lose limbs in an accident or whatever, and she was standing outside the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a very very famous tragedy in 1911, when mostly immigrant young women were working in the garment industry at this factory, mostly Italian and Jewish. As a matter of fact, she was standing outside that factory when a fire broke out and even though the factory was new, it did not have things that we take for granted now. It didn’t have fire escapes. It didn’t have sprinkler systems. It didn’t have ladders, and she watched the women jump to their deaths or burned in that building. So this had a huge impact on Frances. She ended up becoming the Commissioner of Labor, which is like the Secretary of Labor, of the state of New York and then in the depths of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt hired her, this former social worker, to become the first woman to ever serve in an American cabinet. She was our Secretary of Labor, and she brought to the country programs that started right here in Wisconsin, through the work of enlightened professors at the university you’re a part of, and state leaders -how they came together and launched initiatives to try to help people. Workers compensation, what became Social Security, unemployment insurance, apprenticeship- all these programs that started right here, Frances said to FDR I want to take these programs to our country, and he said we’re in the middle of a depression. We don’t have money. How do you think you’re going to do this? She wanted to do it. He hired her. She brought those programs to the country we now have and we’ll how long it’s not tampered with, given the recent tax law. We now have social security we take for granted. A national unemployment insurance program, workers comp, apprenticeship all over the country because of this former social worker, so you have a very proud legacy that you’re going to be carrying on. So I want to talk with you about why you’re here because you’re in the state capital. Not a lot of graduate students in social work get to be in a state capital. You’ve got city government. You’ve got county government. Your experience here- it’s like having a chance to see a laboratory of policy making and law passing in action, so it’s great to have that access to the Capitol. So I have some skills that I just want to give you that I think it’s important to master while you’re here. One, you’re going to want to develop relationships with mentors. I still get emails- I just got one yesterday from a former student from three years ago who wants to talk to me about her career because she’s interested in policy. I have a mentor I have mentored for seven years who has an MSW. I’m still in touch with her and she just got a fabulous new job in North Carolina. I’ve worked with her all through that and she’s a rockstar. So take advantage of the faculty who are here. Build relationships with them so that by the end and as you’re applying to schools- I’m sorry, to workplaces after you finish your master’s that you have someone who can write a letter of recommendation for you, who can give you advice and counsel. Also take the chance to develop your skills. Leadership skills are incredibly important and take every opportunity you can to build those, because having those skills will make you more successful in your future agencies. You’ll learn how to problem-solve. You’ll learn how to develop solutions. You’ll learn how to lead teams. These are very important opportunities which can help you develop action plans for change. Now how do social workers advocate? Learn how that works. Learn how government works. Learn how policymaking works. Learn it so you can help carry out that preamble that I showed you before, because you’re going to have to understand how the laws get passed, how do policies get advanced. How do programs get set up? Who decides how much money you’re going to put into programs, because there’s not endless money. Governors and legislatures don’t have endless pots of money. They have to have priorities, and budgets are a blueprint of what they’re going to invest in. It might be kids and education over here or it might be deals for very, very, very, very, very successful out-of-state corporations or business people. So it’s important to look at all of that. Data. Get used to using data to back up your arguments. What are we living through right now in this county? How many of you live in the near east side? Did you have trouble getting to your apartment? Were some of the roads and lanes closed? Is there water outside? Is sandbagging going on? We’re in the middle of a weather-related crisis right here in Wisconsin. But right here in Madison and Dane County, having facts and data and making decisions and policy decisions based on science is very, very important, so learn how that works. Learn to use think tanks and academics to back up your arguments. It’s so very important now. How do social workers advocate? Well, we have to follow the needs, the policies, the reports, the news. We have to follow all of that and then from that figure out what’s going on. Learn how to make plans and to organize. Build your skills so you might want to go testify at public hearings- my students have done that- you might want to write up ED pieces- my students have done that. Propose solutions to problems because you as social workers will understand stress and ACEs. Learn how to use media. The media and social media are very important. Use your time here to pay attention to that. Learn and see how do people speak out. How did the Parkland students get this national coverage? What did they do and how did that impact lawmakers? It’s important to pay attention to that, and using the courts. Courts can be a powerful tool. Voter ID in Wisconsin- the Supreme Court ended up upholding voter ID, so who ends up on courts is important. How courts act- equality. Whoever thought in terms of marriage equality that we would see the Supreme Court of the United States of America make marriage equality the law of the land which is now. So using the courts is very important. Advocates work very strategically for years to bring that about and learn to use effective communication skills. This is at a legislative meeting and someone is standing up at the podium and is speaking to legislators to try to impact the policies that they’re going to advance, so you’re going to want to develop those skills, because you as a social worker might be called in to do it. Certainly as an agency leader you will, but even not as the agency leader you can work with your clients to make an impact. Coalitions. One person, one agency, one profession alone cannot have the impact that coalitions can have, so you want to learn to bring people together and work in coalitions, whether it’s parents, clients, leaders. Everyone coming together using collective voices can have more of an impact on decision makers, and I want to just say one more thing about an example of advocacy in action. This is kids in early education. You as social workers are going to learn all about ACEs. Anybody know what an ACE is? What’s an ACE? STUDENT: Adverse childhood experience. GASSMAN: Right, we as social workers know the impact of ACEs. We know that it impacts brain development and how kids are going to go, how they’re going to do when they go to school and when they go to adulthood and who’s going to end up with strong brain development and become well educated and get a good job where they can support themselves and our economy. Social Workers know a lot about ACEs and the importance of things like education and so our voices can be very key as policymakers are making decisions. Another example of that is the economy. When we know that the cost of healthcare is going up and the cost of food is going up and the cost of gas is going up, but family income is down, we know what that does to kids growing up in low-wage families, so we know the importance of good wages. Minimum wage people having stable hours, not one week you’re working this morning of that week, then you’re working the afternoon. No. We need stable hours so parents can be with kids. I want to leave time for a couple of questions or comments if you have them, but I wanted to close with this. There is much that you will be able to do. You will learn it here and you will have a chance to put it into action. You are in a place where you can have a huge impact and I draw a lot of inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama, so I wanted to close by sharing them with you. Martin Luther King said we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is very long, but it bends towards justice. So he was optimistic. It bends towards justice. Here you see moms organizing for changes on gun laws. Moms who have lost their kids. Sandy Hook- they want to change the laws, and here you see people standing up against non-violence. They’re standing up because they want to be a part of change. President Obama said that arc, it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us. We put our hands on that arc, and we bend it in the direction of justice. You as social workers will be a part of bending that arc. Here’s to you and your futures.