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By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT COMES TO THE NASW-WI ANNUAL CONFERENCE OR REMEMBERING OUR SHARED HUMANITY

For Jewish and Palestinian members of our society, the Hamas attack on Israel and the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is an extremely traumatic experience. As many of you know I am Jewish and this war has consumed the thoughts of myself, my family and my Jewish friends.

For Jews world-wide the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust brings back memories of the Holocaust and the pogroms that many of our ancestors experienced prior to escaping to the United States. This is a classic case of generational trauma. Most Jews in the United States are connected directly or indirectly to someone in Israel who has been killed, kidnapped, injured, or called up for duty in this war. Coupling this with a very large increase in antisemitism, particularly but not exclusively on college campuses, this is a very vulnerable and troubling time for Jews in the United States. The situation for Jews in Europe is exponentially worse.

Many Jews I know have felt abandoned by their Christian friends who have not reached out to them during this most difficult time. For generations, Jews have been intimately involved with every social justice movement in society but many of their usual social justice partners have been silent about what took place on October 7th.Some of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the United States and worldwide, which have called for a Palestinian state from the river to the sea by any means necessary, is understood by Israelis and Jews as wiping out the 7,000,000 Jewish residents of Israel or half the Jewish population in the world.

On the other hand many Palestinians have expressed the belief that Palestinian lives are not valued, given the continued bombing in Gaza, which has led to many thousands of civilian deaths. They also discuss their generational trauma of what they describe as the catastrophe of so many Palestinians being displaced during the Israel War of Independence. They have also had to cope with a large increase in Islamophobia, threats to their civil liberties and a former President once again calling for a ban on Muslims coming to the United States.

The Israeli-Hamas war unexpectedly came to the NASW-WI 2023 conference during the Town Hall Meeting. The theme of the Town Hall Meeting was bridging racial, ethnic, religious, political and ideological divisions. This program had been set up in early 2023.One of the Town Hall Meeting panelists was a representative of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations, which works in coalition and support of diverse religious, ethnic and racial groups in Milwaukee. During the Town Hall Meeting, the MJCCR staff described on a very personal level, the impact of the attacks and war on her family and the Jewish community and the rise in antisemitism. She discussed her support for reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians and empathy for what the Palestinians are experiencing. Following the panel presentation, one of the audience members who identified herself as Muslim described the loss of her sister-in-law to the war in Gaza, the horror for the Gaza residents of the war, her concerns for the safety of her husband’s family in Gaza and her safety and the safety of her family in Milwaukee. She expressed her belief that the media and US Government were completely biased against the residents of Gaza. After this program, I met separately and then jointly with these two individuals. This mediation was necessitated by the videotaping of the MJCCR staff person’s presentation by this audience member. I had to explain how vulnerable Jewish leaders and their families are during these times and the fact that videotaping and photographing of speakers without their permission is not allowed. I acknowledged the exceptional vulnerability of Palestinian or Muslim residents in our country similar to what the Jewish community is experiencing. At the end of the three-way meeting, the videotape was deleted and hopefully there was increased understanding by all parties.

This experience showed the importance of all of us listening to each other’s stories and lived experiences and remembering our shared humanity. What happened on October 7th and what has happened in Gaza since that time is a horror that should never take place. Both antisemitism and islamophobia are on the rise and must be condemned. In speaking with our Muslim member, I learned that similar to the situation at Temples and Synagogues in the United States, Mosques also have armed guards during services to protect those praying. Our common enemy is hatred and intolerance. We all need to open our hearts and listen carefully to each other. In the words of the MJCRR speaker, we need to build bridges of understanding and compassion. One beautiful example is the Parents Circle in Israel, which is composed of Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children in this conflict. Let us all be inspired to recognize the shared humanity of all inhabitants of our earth and particularly those for whom we have little or nothing in common.

Herstand, Marc

Executive Director Blog

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

September 2023

ADA DEER: IN MEMORIUM

When Ada called, I always knew I was in for a long and fascinating conversation. Ada had the most amazing stories-whether it was meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, speaking truth to power to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit, organizing to save the Menominee reservation or running for Congress or Wisconsin Secretary of State. I always felt privileged and inspired after speaking with her.

Ada was the epitome of a fearless advocate and a most powerful voice for social justice and social change. From an early age, she was never afraid to speak up and ask for what she wanted! She was never intimidated by people in positions of power. She strongly believed the role of the social worker was as an advocate.

Ada had a lifetime of “firsts”. In 1957, she became the first Menominee citizen to graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. She was the first Native American to earn a master’s degree (in social work) from Columbia University. She was the first Native American to run for Congress in Wisconsin, in 1978 and 1992.She was the first woman to Chair the Menominee Tribe. She was the first woman to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, after being appointed by President Bill Clinton. 1

 

After the federal government ended recognition for the Menominee Tribe in 1961, Ada helped organize the Determination of Right and Unity for Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) which led the movement to return federal sovereignty to the Menomonie people. Federal recognition was restored in 1973. 2

 

Ada was always a great supporter of NASW and served as NASW-WI President in the late 1980’s.In 2010, Ada was recognized by NASW as a Social Work Pioneer for her work as an advocate and organizer on behalf of Native Americans.

Ada served as one of our keynote speakers for our Virtual Conference in 2020.Because she did not have the computer set up at her home to make this presentation, I picked her up at her house and brought her to the NASW-WI office for the keynote presentation. She wasn’t crazy about presenting virtually! The following year for our first hybrid conference, Ada presented a workshop entitled, “Courage, Hope and Leadership: A Lifetime of Social Work Advocacy”, that was extremely well attended. Our interns transported her back and forth to her house and had great conversations during the car ride.

I was greatly saddened when I heard she had passed away. We all need to find inspiration in her lifelong willingness to speak out and organize against injustices. May her legacy live in the actions of all of us to advocate and work for a world that provides social justice for all.

1. “Menominee trailblazer Ada Deer honored” jsonline.com Friday August 11, 2023

2. “Menominee trailblazer Ada Deer honored” jsonline.com Friday August 11, 2023

3. “Obituary Ada Deer, 88 Advocate for rights of Native Americans”, Wisconsin State Journal, Thursday August 17, 2023

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW 

June 2023

“And don’t criticize what you don’t understand” Bob Dylan’s lyrics from “The Times They are A-Changin”

It is our role as social workers to keep up with changes in practice modalities to best serve clients. It has also been the role of social workers since the founding of our profession to be on the cutting edge of social change. We work with new immigrants as they come to our country with or without papers. We support and advocate for diverse groups with different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and with different gender identities and sexual orientations.

Throughout history, groups that have diverged from the norm have been subject to violence, discrimination, bullying and general mistreatment by society. This treatment, which certainly exists today, is a result of prejudice, hate, fear, ignorance and political benefit among other factors.

Unfortunately, since the appearance of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President in 2015, and then his election, racist, antisemetic, Islamophobic, transphobia and other hatreds have increased greatly.

In terms of the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, although much progress has been made with societal acceptance of the LGB community, the same cannot be said of the T community. Much of the violence and mistreatment of trans people can likely be traced to ignorance and fear.

Despite the current level of ignorance and fear, divergent gender identities and sexual orientations have existed throughout human history. The Talmud, the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law developed between the third and sixth centuries, identified eight gender designations. Many Native American tribes make reference to individuals with the two spirits-both male and female.

Although divergent gender identities have always been part of human existence, most people do not understand the concepts of gender identity, what it means to be transgender, or non-binary. They have no idea why the proper use of pronouns is important. This has definitely been an area of needed learning and personal growth on my part. Although my younger son and daughter-in-law have tried to explain to me the concepts of non-binary and pronoun use, it has only been recently, that I am finally beginning to understand. I recently attended a Mental Health Summit in Lac Du Flambeau focused on LGBTQ issues, which was very impactful on me. The Summit provided me with first-hand information on issues of gender identity and the use of pronouns. In my presentation on LGBTQ legislative issues at that conference, while ad-libbing, I was told later that I misgendered one of the speakers, which caused me great embarrassment.

It seems to me that we all need to be on a lifelong journey to learn about, understand and accept differences. This is not easy. So many in our country are quick to judge, criticize, condemn and legislate against people with divergent backgrounds that they don’t understand. We all carry unconscious bias on race, sex, gender and other issues. Our work as social workers brings us into contact with individuals with completely different backgrounds that we might not understand. Our work calls us to this lifelong journey of learning and to constantly grow beyond our comfort zone.

Let’s all take joy in this lifelong journey.

And let me add, Happy Pride Month!

Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

March 2023

 “Stop the world, I want to come off!”

My father used to say this expression when things in his work were moving too quickly!

I can totally empathize with this statement, as I’m sure many of you can as well!

At the NASW-WI office, we are constantly juggling daily member calls and email, a super charged continuing education program (in January and February) our biennial Advocacy Day, March is Social Work month programs in Milwaukee and Madison (in-person and virtual), active lobbying on multiple social work and social justice bills, researching and reporting on all bills introduced that impact our clients and profession, planning for our 2023 annual conference and more.

In this work, I am so grateful to have an outstanding Office Manager, Kristina Jasmin, a new and great Membership Coordinator, Nadir Carlson, four excellent interns, Rob Brown, Olivia Saud, Liv Lacayo and Abbe Bivian an extremely bright, thoughtful and supportive President, Dafna Berman, a superb Board of Directors, experienced and committed committee chairs and many great volunteers.

What keeps us all going is love for our profession and a commitment to our clients and social justice.

March, the Social Work Month, is time to take stock of our work and feel proud of what we do! We are the only profession that lists social justice as one of our values, and our other values demonstrate the excellence of our profession-service, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. Social workers are so often the conscience, advocacy, and ethical leaders of their agencies, sometimes to the detriment of the social worker. Social workers help clients at the most difficult moments in their life and confront some of the most seemingly intractable problems in our society.

Self-care is critical for our long-term involvement with our profession. I hope you are all taking time regularly with family, loved ones and friends, and engaging in those activities that give you joy and fulfillment.

We social workers are the glue that holds together our society and we have always been on the forefront of social change. We Break Barriers!

Happy Social Work Month and Best Wishes to You all!

Executive Director's Blog

December 2022

REFLECTIONS ON THE 2022 ELECTIONS AND THE UPCOMING SUPREME COURT ELECTION

The results of the Wisconsin state elections were a huge relief to me. With the re-election of Governor Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and the inability of the Republicans to obtain a veto proof majority in the Wisconsin Legislature, our profession can be protected by Governor Evers from bills that could harm our licensure law or the standards of practice in our profession. In almost every session, there have been bills introduced that could harm our profession. In the last session, at our request, Governor Evers vetoed a bill that would have allowed Complementary and Alternative health care practitioners to provide psychotherapy without a mental health credential.

As we look to any possible legislative fixes to the racial disparities in the ASWB exam, we can feel some comfort that if there was any type of meddling with our licensure bill, we could ask the Governor to veto the bill. Speaking of issues of race, we can feel a sigh of relief that no so-called Critical Race Theory bills can now pass, that would have limited discussion in social work classes, technical college and university classes and in K-12 education on race and sex. Such a bill would have put school social workers, teachers, school counselors, social work and other university professors in a terrible position of not being able to do their job and uphold the values of their profession without potentially violating Wisconsin law. The same thing could have happened with “Don’t Say Gay” bills that would restrict discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in K-12 education. Also bills restricting medical care and sports participation by Transgender youth can be vetoed by Governor Evers.

Of course, any changes in state policy or the state budget need to be done in a bi-partisan manner. My hope would be that instead of playing political games, there can be efforts to work on a bipartisan basis to solve the problem of the huge backlog of licensing applications at the Department of Safety and Professional Services, to solve the challenge of social work practitioner mobility between states, tele-mental practice between states and provide increased funding for our public schools. I also would hope to see passage of Raise the Age legislation and possible movement on additional gun violence prevention legislation and the Child Victim’s Act.

As NASW-WI’s lobbyist, I will be meeting with both new legislators and key committee chairs in 2023 to gauge support on these issues and legislators’ willingness to work in a bipartisan cooperative manner.

At the same time that we can look with satisfaction at the state elections results (but not the US Senate race results), the significance of the Supreme Court spring election (see newsletter article) can not be overstated. If one of the two progressive candidates gets elected, it is possible the 2024 maps could be less gerrymandered. With less gerrymandered maps and more swing districts, you could have more legislators willing to work across party lines to solve problems. A progressive court could rule that the 1849 abortion law should not be enforced, which would reestablish reproductive rights in Wisconsin. A progressive court could also protect our profession’s ability to ban Conversion Therapy, if there is an attempt to permanently suspend our rule that bans the practice. For all these reasons, NASW-WI will be involved in explaining the stakes in the Supreme Court election and encouraging social work students and social workers in general to vote.

On a different note, I want to wish all of you a happy and meaningful holiday season and express my gratitude for your membership with NASW, your support of the social work profession and the critical work you do every day to heal your clients and our world.

Executive Director's Blog

NASW WI STATEMENT ON THE MASS SHOOTING AT THE LGBTQ NIGHTCLUB IN COLORADO SPRINGS

We at NASW Wisconsin stand in grief and solidarity, both with our friends at NASW Colorado and with the LGBTQIA2S+ communities here in Wisconsin and around the world. Our hearts are broken by this act of violence and hatred, always repugnant but especially so during Transgender Awareness Week and on the eve of this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The LGBTQIA2S+ community faces violence and hatred way out of proportion to its percentage of the population. If this violence and hatred is to stop, the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, falsehoods and hatred spewed by politicians, certain media outlets and others must stop now. False and inflammatory statements about “grooming children” can easily lead to some individuals taking violent action against those they believe are evil. Words have consequences.

This incident also illustrates shortcomings in gun violence prevention laws. Although Colorado has a Red Flag law, it was not used with this individual who had engaged in a previous violent incident with this family. Why did not law enforcement or this individual’s family invoke the law? Secondly, why does anyone have access to assault weapons, which once again, were used to murder people.

All of us must continue to speak out against homophobia, transphobia, racism, anti-Semitism and other hatred in this country.

Executive Director's Blog

September 2022

RACIAL DISPARITIES IN EXAM RESULTS, RACIAL DOG WHISTLES IN THE ELECTION AND THE FUTURE OF DISCUSSIONS ON RACISM AND SEXISM IN OUR STATE

Issues of institutional racism, election “dog whistles” and attempts to suppress discussions of race, keep popping up in our state and nation.

The recently released report by ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) show shocking racial disparities in social work exam passage rates nationwide. The pass rates are particularly low in our state for African-Americans, Asians (probably many Hmong applicants) and older returning students. It does not appear ASWB has ever considered the fact that their exam included questions, which consistently trip up diverse and older applicants. This has meant that many diverse applicants have been delayed or permanently blocked from entering our profession and have spent hundreds of dollars or more trying to get licensed. This is a big loss to our profession and the clients who need our services. It is not clear how necessary the exam is to ascertain competent practice, at least for the entry level bachelors and masters’ applicants.

This issue will be discussed at the October 18th meeting of the Social Workers Section. NASW-WI is continuing a dialogue with different groups in its membership about this issue. NASW chapters around the country have held statewide discussions on this issue. If you have some feedback on the national licensing exam, please feel free to email me at mherstand.naswwi@socialworkers.org

This election campaign is raising issues of race that we should all be concerned about. There are attack ads against Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes that have darkened his skin. These ads have also used pictures of the “Squad,” four Congresswomen of color, who are supporting him. They have not used pictures of similarly supportive and leftist white male Congresspersons. There seems to be a subtle unspoken message here.

Finally, one of the issues that will be impacted by the Governor’s race is whether K-12 educational programs, colleges and universities (including social work programs) and state and local governments can include training and education on the history of racism and sexism in our country. Governor Evers vetoed legislation which would have prohibited any education, training or discussion that could lead to students or staff feeling discomfort, guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress. If he loses his re-election, or the Republicans get a veto proof majority in the State Legislature, these bills will pass and will undoubtedly suppress these discussions statewide.

In terms of the 2022 elections, we have hired two political organizers to help elect Mandela Barnes to the United States Senate and re-elect Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. A major part of their work is to simply help students at the fifteen statewide social work programs understand how to register to vote, how to get a proper student ID and how and where to vote, including voting absentee. In addition to the logistics of voting, the interns and I have also presented information on the policy differences of the candidates. These policy differences include 1) Whether K-12 education, colleges and universities and state and local governments can provide education and training on racism and sexism; 2) Reproductive rights; 3) Banning Conversion Therapy; 4) Stopping anti-LGBT bills; 5) Climate Change; 6) Gun violence prevention; 7) Medicaid expansion; 8) Immigration and 9) Voting rights.

For those of you who are passionate about the stakes in our 2022 mid-term election, I would encourage you to not only vote, but to encourage your friends, relatives and contacts to vote and participate in canvases and phonathons in your area. For more information about NASW WI’s political organizing, please contact our Political Organizer, Oliver Wink, at owink.naswwi@socialworkers.org. If you are in the Milwaukee area you can contact our UW Milwaukee organizer, Angela Stadelman at astadelman.naswwi@socialworkers.org

 By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

Executive Director's Blog

June 2022

IN A TIME OF GREAT TURMOIL IN OUR NATION AND WORLD

Racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, school mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, daily mass shootings nationwide, a barbaric Russian war against Ukraine, impending overturning of Roe v. Wade, increase in racism, anti-Semitism and other hatreds, worst inflation in forty years, worsening climate change, threats to our democracy, mental health crisis for children and youth nationwide.

Possibly with the exception of the Vietnam war protests and riots in our cities in the 1960’s, this is the worst turmoil in our country in my entire lifetime.

What are we to make of our world? How do we fight feelings of hopelessness and despair today? What is our role as social workers, human beings, responsible citizens?

At the times I feel most frustrated and despondent about the state of our country, the political structures that stifle critical change, the cultural and long-standing values of individualism, gun rights and suspicion and antipathy to government, I think of those quiet and unsung heroes of the civil rights movement who conquered incredible odds to move this country forward. I think of all of those who, against all odds, have fought over decades for civil rights, equal rights, dignity, environmental justice and other aspects of social justice. I am reminded of the social work value of social justice, the ethical standards in our Code of Ethics listed under 6. “Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to the Broader Society”, and on a personal level, the values taught to me through my Judaism.

As social workers, we can play many roles in efforts to make this a better world. It is said that “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.”1 The work that all of you do on an individual level for clients is a blessing for your clients, but in addition, it seeps out as a blessing and healing for your clients’ family, friends, community and beyond. On a spiritual level, there is a sacredness in the direct service work so many of you carry out every day. Those of you who serve as supervisors, managers or administrators have a different wonderful role of providing support to your staff so they can improve and change lives, and to your agency so it can be a difference maker in your community. Those of you who work as social work professors/instructors are preparing the next generation of social worker to provide the healing the world so desperately needs.

As a macro and policy social worker, who regularly supervises students, I try to keep a vision of the world that we should have in my head. This informs the social justice leadership roles that NASW-WI takes on, and hopefully, inspires the interns to pursue social justice as they enter the social work profession.

Many of you who are direct service practitioners have gone over and above your direct client support role, and contacted your public officials on issues of importance to your clients and our profession.

So, in answer to my original question of how we fight feelings of hopelessness and despair, we must keep on and stay the course towards the beloved community discussed by the late Congressman John Lewis and of our values for a just society.

Although we may not see all the changes the world needs during our social work career or even lifetime, as it is said, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it”2

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

1. Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a)

2. Pirkei Avot, (2:21)

Executive Director's Blog

March 2022

OVERTURNING ROE V. WADE, WHAT WILL IT MEAN FOR SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN WISCONSIN IN TERMS OF ABORTION REFERRAL?

Shortly after our June, 2022 newsletter is released, it is likely we will have a Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which could overturn Roe v. Wade and effectively make abortion illegal in as many as half of the states in our country. This is because many states have enacted so-called Roe trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in most or all situations, if the case is overturned. And some states, such as Wisconsin, still have laws on the books banning or limiting abortion that may be, once again, enforceable if Roe were reversed.

The legal situation in Wisconsin is murky. This article does not provide legal advice, but it explores certain possible applications of existing Wisconsin statutes.

There is an 1849 law, Section 940.04 in the Wisconsin Statutes (which, although unenforceable due to Roe, is still on the books), that makes the provision of an abortion a felony. However, it says nothing about the legality or illegality of someone only assisting a pregnant person to receive an abortion in our state. On the other hand, Wisconsin does have a “Party to a Crime Law” (Section 939.05 of the Statutes) that, theoretically, could be used against a social worker or other individual who helps someone receive an abortion in Wisconsin, if and when the provision of abortion becomes illegal in our state.

Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Josh Kaul, has said publicly that he will not enforce the 1849 law if Roe is overturned. The Milwaukee County District Attorney has said the same, although many other district attorneys have not yet taken a position. AG Kaul has also publicly raised the legal argument that the 1849 law may no longer be enforceable because of the age of the law. It is very possible that there will be legal challenges if any Wisconsin DA decided to enforce the 1849 law.

So, if Roe is overturned, what can and/or should a social worker do if confronted with a client who is requesting an abortion? We know that social workers have an ethical obligation to serve clients. We know that even if abortion is illegal in Wisconsin, it will not be illegal in Illinois, Minnesota and probably not Michigan. We also know that there is a medication option that is available to patients from out of state and even out of country. We can surmise that it would be legally fraught for a social worker to refer a client directly to a medical practitioner who provides abortions illegally in our state. Whether any district attorney would actually use the “Party to a Crime Law” against such a social worker, and whether any jury would actually convict someone, is another question. On the other hand, a social worker serving a client seeking an abortion procedure or medication abortion might refer the client to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin ( https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-wisconsin) or Planned Parenthood of America (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/). It seems less likely that a referral for abortion options counseling would be found to make the social worker a “party to a crime.”

If one of the Republican candidates for Governor is elected this year, it is highly likely that the 1849 law will be strengthened and fully implemented. It is also possible that specific provisions might be adopted (following the lead of other states such as Texas) making it illegal for someone in state to assist a pregnant person to get an abortion either in or out of state.

Any social worker trying to navigate this murky legal environment should check with their malpractice provider and/or the attorney for their agency or practice, and otherwise keep themselves up to date on the latest legal developments in our state.

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

Executive Director's Blog

NASW-WI STATEMENT ON THE BUFFALO MASS SHOOTING MAY 2022

March 2022

I am currently sitting in my son and daughter-in-law’s home in St. Louis, visiting my first grandchild! It is an incredible experience seeing a new life, a brand-new baby and a new generation born. My grandson, along with all other newborns represents hope and belief in the future.

This trip is happening at the very same time a terrible tragedy is occurring half-way around the world with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here we are in 2022 and a country is engaged in a barbaric war of choice committing war crimes against their neighbor.

When I was young, I though that the world would always be on an upward trajectory and that my generation would make such a difference. I could not have imagined that we would still be experiencing hate, racism, Anti-Semitism and nations and individuals committing terrible crimes against other individuals and nations. I could not have imagined that there would still be attempts to suppress the vote in our country and suppress attempts to tell the true story of racism throughout our country’s history. I could not have imagined the existential climate change crisis we are all facing today and the continued resistance to make needed changes.

What it means to be a social worker, despite all the traumas experienced by individuals, communities and nations, is to have hope and faith that we can make things better. It is the belief that people can heal and grow and that we can make our communities and world a better place. We walk forward with our eyes wide open, yet optimistic and hopeful for the future.

Former President Barack Obama and the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr used to state that the “Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. However, a better future is not inevitable. This statement is only true if all of us do our best to work towards justice and work towards healing. Change occurs in individuals, communities and nations with persistence and hard work.

Social Work Month is a time to honor all of you who persist in your commitment and belief that you and we can make a difference in the lives of others on an individual and societal basis.

And all of us have made a difference in our work as social workers with our clients, clinics, agencies and communities.

It is said in the Talmud1 (Sanhedrin 37a) “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world.”

Thank you for your precious day to day work to heal your clients, your communities, our nation and world.

Never forget why you do what you do, let that sustain you in hard times and continue to inspire you every day.

Happy Social Work Month!

1 The Hebrew term Talmud (“study” or “learning”) commonly refers to a compilation of ancient teachings regarded as sacred and normative by Jews from the time it was compiled until modern times and still so regarded by traditional religious Jews.

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

Executive Director's Blog

December 2021

LET US BE A LIGHT TO THE WORLD!

As I write this column, my family, along with Jewish families worldwide, is celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. This holiday celebrates the victory of a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, who were able to defeat the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who were trying to prevent the Jews from practicing their religion. After their unexpected victory, the Jews wanted to reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem but only had enough oil to last one day when it would take eight days to get more of this holy oil. Miraculously the oil lasted eight days.

Jewish families who celebrate Hanukkah, light candles in their Menorah for eight days, sing Hanukkah songs, spin a dreidel with their children and eat potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream, among other activities.

Jewish families often put their lighted Menorah in the window of their residence so others can see it.

The lighting of the Hanukkah candles has symbolism that certainly applies to our role as social workers. Some of its messages are:

1) Stand up for what you believe in

2) A little light goes a long way-your individual efforts can make a huge difference in the world

3) Go public with your messaging

As social workers, we serve as “lights” to our clients, agencies, our community and world. We are taught to be advocates and stand up for ethical practice and social justice. We are the conscience of our agency and our community, often without support from our superiors and many in our community. We lead efforts for social justice.

We shine our light by serving as role models for our clients and are there for them in their darkest moments. Whether we are helping troubled adolescents, protecting vulnerable children, helping challenged families, serving victims of domestic violence or sexual assault or helping clients in a hospital or nursing home, we offer hope and light to our clients.

As social justice advocates, we often struggle against seemingly impossible odds to fight against oppressive policies and promote humane policies.

We are leaders in our communities, state and nation against policies that harm diverse communities, our clients and the general welfare of our society.

After another day of setbacks for social justice in our country, one of our NASW-WI interns asked me, “How do you keep hopeful?”

My answer was three-fold:

One, we speak out and advocate because it is the right thing to do and we know we must do so regardless of whether we think we can be successful at the moment.

Two, we know if we don’t speak out, it only means it will take even longer for needed change to come.

Finally, as social workers we are always hopeful for our clients and our social justice work and believe change is always possible. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice”.

So, I want to take this time to thank all of you for being a light to your clients, community and world despite so many obstacles and challenges. You all give hope to me, our social work community, our clients and our world.

By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

Executive Director's Blog

NASW WISCONSIN CHAPTER STATEMENT ON THE ACQUITTAL OF KYLE RITTENHOUSE

The Wisconsin Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is greatly concerned about the community impact of the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all five felony charges. We believe this acquittal could send a message in our state and across the country that it is appropriate for private citizens of all ages to take a gun to a protest, public event, or other potentially volatile situation.

As social workers we understand the stages in human development, and we are well aware of research that shows that the reasoning part of a brain is not fully formed until the mid-20’s.1 To allow a 17-year-old to carry a military assault rifle into a volatile situation is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, allowing any private individual to carry a loaded weapon into a public setting and act as a surrogate police officer is a serious mistake. Individuals can behave in harmful ways under stressful situations, and having access to high-powered firearms in these situations can have deadly consequences, as we learned in this case.

On average, 621 Wisconsinites die by guns every year. Gun deaths have increased 17% from 2010 to 2019. This represents an increase of 103 gun deaths over this period in Wisconsin. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in Wisconsin, the rate of gun suicide increased 6% and gun homicide increased 48% from 2010 to 2019, compared to a 13% increase and 26% increase nationwide, respectively.2

Instead of encouraging and allowing Wisconsin residents and visitors to our state to carry guns whenever they see fit, we need to pass laws that can reduce gun violence; including requiring background checks on all gun sales, passing an Extreme Risk Protection Order and passing legislation requiring a waiting period for the purchase of handguns.

The riots and violence in Kenosha where Kyle Rittenhouse killed two individuals and injured a third were ignited by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an African American father. To avoid similar tragedies, police officers need continuous training in de-escalation tactics and racial bias. There also needs to be much stronger accountability measures for law enforcement officers who violate police standards in injuring or killing members of our community. These changes could lead to more trust between the police and the diverse communities they serve.