Athens, Ga. – Students from the University of Georgia School of Social Work joined more than 450 social work students and faculty from across the state for the 12th annual National Association of Social Workers Georgia Chapter Student Lobby Day recently held in Atlanta.The annual gathering provides attendees the opportunity to learn and practice the basics of legislative advocacy, while uniting social workers in Georgia to support a number of causes.
Participants began the day at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot, near the Georgia State Capitol building, with a legislative workshop conducted by NASW-GA lobbyist Wendi Clifton. Other presentations relevant to the 2011 legislative session followed, including talks by president of NASW-GA Jennifer Moore and executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Eric Spencer.
Students had the opportunity to speak with various state representatives regarding SB-46 on dating violence prevention and HB-185 on shelters for youth runaways.
“The energy within the Capitol was enticing,” said second-year MSW student Meghan Coyle-Thurman. “I can see myself making weekly visits to meet with legislators and advocate for particular policies after graduating this May. It is exciting to know that we might be bringing light to a struggling issue proposed as a bill, which might otherwise land [dead on arrival].”
More than 50 BSW students from UGA visited the Capitol earlier in the session and participated in similar activities. “In the morning, we were able to watch the House of Representatives meet and listen to the various Georgia representatives speak on behalf of certain bills,” said BSW senior and president of the Social Work Club Blair Golman.
The BSW students met with Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. “It was exciting to speak with a person who facilitates such important meetings that may ultimately decide future aspects of the state,” said Golman. “This day reminded me how important it is to be aware of the policies and bills that are being considered in our own state, and how much knowledge and awareness are power, especially in the field of social work.”
The students left the Capitol with an increased knowledge of Georgia politics and a reenergized interest in policy. The presence they had at the Capitol was significant in showing not only the interest they have in policy and law, but their commitment to learning more about the various systems that will play a role in Georgia’s future, Golman explained.
“Social workers have been called ‘the voice of the silenced’,” said Coyle-Thurman. “We speak for those whose voices often are not heard. We can no longer shout to the wind and expect the breeze to carry our message. We must go to the source where change is either enacted or rejected, and make our voices heard.”