As we emerge from COVID-19 in our state and nation, I have many emotions. First, on a personal level, there is a huge sense of relief that my family, friends and I have survived, remained healthy and employed. Unfortunately, this is not true for too many Americans and Wisconsin residents.
On a professional level, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the wonderful work of so many of you who have had to pivot overnight to continue to serve clients virtually, when in-person services could no longer be provided safely. I appreciate and admire the courage of those of you, who during the height of the pandemic, continued to provide in-person services in situations where there was no other way of serving your clients. I also tremendously appreciate the creativity and responsiveness that social workers demonstrated by developing new programs to address the challenges that clients were facing during COVID-19. Roberta Bronecki’s moving article in this newsletter is a great example of why our profession is so special. The 2021 Social Work Month Theme, “Social Workers are Essential” has clearly been demonstrated throughout the pandemic. So many of our clients experienced major losses and trauma during the pandemic. They will continue to need our support for a long time into the future.
The other pandemic we faced this year was racism, and I so appreciate the leadership of Dawn Shelton-Williams, our President, along with members of our Diversity Task Force who have helped guide NASW-WI in a positive, active direction towards becoming an anti-racist organization. Throughout this other pandemic, Dawn’s Presidential articles have been powerful, moving and a call to action. NASW-WI can never stop working to make our communities, state and national free of racist institutions and racial disparities.
Often when a nation confronts an emergency situation, (think 9-11) people come together to work together for the common good. Sadly, this has not happened during the COVID-19 pandemic or our racism pandemic. The polarization on mask wearing, for instance, which I have experienced in my return to lobbying at the State Capitol, is ridiculous and unacceptable. Although there is some attempt on a bi-partisan basis to do something about the racist policing, the programs that can actually get support from both parties are so weak, in many cases, that it is not clear if much will change.
In my commitment to social justice and support for social work values, I have found the extreme polarization and partisanship a huge hindrance. On bills like the Child Victims’ Act, Banning Conversion Therapy, and the Extreme Risk Protection Ordinance (Red flag legislation), our lobbying and our Advocacy Day have found Republicans who support our positions. However, when asked to sign their name on the bill, most Republicans refused to do so as a result of pressure from their leadership, powerful special interest groups, or fear of losing a primary election. Most recently, we were involved with lobby visits to stop the Transgender Athlete bill. One of the most gay friendly moderate Republican legislators, who gave us advice on who to lobby on this bill, switched his position at the last minute in support of the bill.
Now that we seem to be at the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, but nowhere near on the pandemic of racism, I want to express my appreciation in advance for your dedication and rededication to your service to our clients under such challenging circumstances. As your Executive Director, I pledge to dedicate and rededicate myself to continue to have your back and fight for social justice that is so integral to our identities as social workers.
By Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW