The Social Work classes at Luther are full of many great opportunities to experience and observe practice. One of the greatest hands-on opportunities in the program is the annual Social Work Lobby Day at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Within the social work major, we have incredible opportunities to observe micro-level practice, and lead our own groups in the community, but the lobbying experience was my first encounter with macro-level social work.
In class, we prepared fact sheets in pairs for bills on issues such as: public health, minimum wage, medical cannabis, opioid antagonists, gun laws and immigration. Seasoned volunteer lobbyists from the community came in and helped us practice our elevator speeches that we would later be giving to legislators!
With our research, zero lobbying experience, and a healthy dose of nerves we loaded up on a bus at 4:30 a.m. to head to Des Moines. Once we arrived, we started the day meeting with over 200 other social workers and students at an event put on by the Iowa chapter of the National Association for Social Workers (NASW).
The executive director of the NASW-Iowa chapter started off the day with some inspiring words and helpful advice. It was exciting to get to mingle with other students and people out in the field, as well as getting a chance to learn more about certain bills during several breakout sessions. Once our minds were full with extra knowledge and our bellies full with a great lunch, it was time to transfer to the Capitol building.
Once at the Capitol, we met with Senator Breitbach and Representative Bergan—legislators representing the Decorah area. Each student pair got the opportunity to present the information on their chosen bill to the legislators and to get some immediate feedback. We all walked into the meeting feeling very nervous, but we walked out feeling much more confident in presenting our research and ideas. My partner and I got valuable advice about a recent amendment to a bill, so we felt even better having some insider information.
After meeting with our legislators we had the opportunity to go lobby on our own. Experiencing the old-fashioned process of sending in slips to call out senators, representatives, or their clerks was unlike anything we had anticipated. We were surrounded by a frenzy of advocates trying to win a few seconds of time with legislators. My partner and I were lucky enough to get to talk with several people about our bill, and even though not all of the legislators agreed with us, I was impressed that most people were willing to listen to the views of students.
Social Work lobby day at the Iowa state capitol was an incredibly formative experience. It was very exciting to get to experience first-hand one way that a social worker can advocate on a macro-level. From this experience, I feel called to lobby again in the near future.