Three Ways to Reduce Power and Privilege

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Pure and honest political conservatism as an ideology is often at the heart of our global problems – it unapologetically promotes privilege. While I might be wrong and certainly will be persecuted for this line, it seems to me that true conservatism is synonymous with privilege.  If we are to save our planet and our people, don’t we need to change our current acceptance of political conservatism?     

If you have followed along to this point, there are logical interventions we can put into place to make sure that we challenge the status quo and ensure we leave our own power and privilege at the door when possible. Social Workers and helping professionals need user-friendly tools to remind us of the foundational elements in any given intervention.

For example, if we are sitting with a client who is accused of or discloses the abuse of power and control against women and children, we have a window of opportunity to present information or introduce interventions to challenge and redirect the client’s path. Are you with me?

In thinking about power and privilege as I do, I came up with the following acronym to remind me of our ethical obligation to challenge privilege and the status quo. A.C.T. is a useful acronym to remember when trying to think about how to combat the structural inequities helping professionals are faced with daily.

A.  ACKNOWLEDGE

Acknowledge represents the foundational best practice of self-awareness and begins at home.  In order to combat privilege and power inequalities at the micro and macro level, we must first be aware of our own histories and privilege before we move forward in challenging privilege in our systems.

If you are a white male, for example, you have privilege. As a helping professional, it is necessary for us to understand our own person-in-society/environment position before we can help others. What do we inherently bring to the table at the outset of any conversation? What is our place in the power hierarchy in relation to our clients? How do we leave, to the extent possible, our power and privilege at the door in order to engage with our clients where they are at? How do we ensure we don’t replicate the power dynamics already impacting our clients?

C. CONVERSE

While for some it may seem overwhelming to challenge social and political systems, it can be done, and it doesn’t need to be complicated.  It starts by having conversations about the privilege you know about which is likely your own. Simply, have conversations about privilege and these conversations will bring more conversations and before you know it people are talking about power and privilege.  Conversations lead to actions and change. Conversations about power and privilege are tied to and link back to our awareness. If we question and analyze our own privilege, we are then able to help others do the same.

T.  TEACH

The next step and sometimes in conjunction with conversations is teaching.  Social workers and helping professionals are the best teachers of structural inequalities and privilege. Teach people through conversations what you know and understand about power, inequality and… you guessed it, privilege.

Our work is inextricably tied to the power structures of our organizations, our communities, and our states and our nations. As Gandhi so eloquently said, “be the change you want to see in your world!” If we desire a more equitable society, we must A.C.T. against power and privilege.

Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Cognitive Dissonance: How We Dismiss the Refugee Crisis

Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.
Hungarian Camerawoman trips refugee child to prevent them from eluding police.

Whilst politicians appear concerned about the monetary deficit invoked by refugees, many people are currently concerned with what appears to be a deficit in compassion.

This is particularly with regard to the current humanitarian crisis of refugees, for reasons ranging from their numbers, their religion, and their reasons. What we are seeing is dehumanisation, which arguably has two facets – the first being mechanistic dehumanisation, where we believe others are lacking basic human traits such as warmth, emotionality, and depth. The second form of dehumanisation is animalistic dehumanisation where we see others as lacking human uniqueness – elements such as rationality, maturity and moral sensibility that separate humans from other species.

But, how does this happen? There are many theories about how dehumanisation can occur on both a personal and societal level. Here we are going to consider the theory of cognitive dissonance, alongside ideas about how our social environment can have an impact.

Cognitive dissonance theory stipulates that we feel uncomfortable when we hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. We also experience cognitive dissonance if we act in conflict with a belief or value. For example, my health is important, but I binge on pizza every night.

How much dissonance we experience depends on how important our personal values conflict with our beliefs. If I need to get up early, but I’m staying up late watching a film, I might feel a tad conflicted. However, if I have a very important interview tomorrow, I will feel more conflicted about staying up late. If the interview is for a job I don’t particularly want, suddenly it’s easier to stay up.

The level of dissonance is also affected by how much information we have supporting each belief. Usually it’s harder to hold on to beliefs which have a mountain of evidence against them. However, linked to the above paragraph about values, conflicting evidence is most likely to change beliefs we don’t value very much. If our belief is very dear and important to us, conflicting evidence can actually make us strengthen the belief and hold onto it tighter in order to erase the conflicted/dissonant feeling.

If we are in ‘dissonance’, we somehow need to make these two conflicting beliefs balance out again – essentially so we don’t feel like a hypocrite.

There are several ways we can do this. In the example ‘refugees need our help’ we could:

  • add extra cognitions to justify ourselves (‘help at home first’)
  • ignore conflicting information (e.g. avoiding the news)
  • change the cognition which causes conflict (‘they are not victims, they’re economic migrants not refugees’), and finally…
  • change our behaviour to make it in line with the original belief (i.e. doing something to help).

Another example might be that I believe I’m a ‘good person’, but I do things which do not fit with ‘good person’ labeling. For example, ignoring a petition about a humanitarian crisis. To resolve this conflict, I could choose to act congruently with my values and sign or take alternative action such as making a donation. I could, however, seek out people who support my lack of action, people who think online petitions don’t have any impact, to make myself feel better. I could also seek out information which confirms my altered cognitions consisting of news stories about refugees being terrorists or liars. As another alternative, I could alter my beliefs about what a ‘humanitarian crisis’ is to make it something that is not my problem or not a real humanitarian crisis.

I believe many of these things are happening en-masse at the moment with the current refugee crisis. Here are some of the ways people are resolving cognitive dissonance to make ourselves more comfortable and less compassionate.

Firstly, we can reduce the human element of the crisis. This includes likening refugees to animals or insects, and using anonymous numbers without corresponding personal touches. Refugees have been called a swarm by the UK Prime Minister in addition to other using references  such as cockroaches and towns being ‘swamped’.

Large numbers of refugees without individual cases to humanise them can lead to facelessness and a lack of true understanding or empathy toward their plight. Perhaps that’s why it took a photo of a single child, Alan Kurdi, alongside the numbers, for people to remember these numbers are not abstract. Each refugee represents a life, and nearly half of Syrian refugees are children. On top of this, Britain has only taken in a trainful of Syrian refugees – the apparent swarm is currently missing in action.

We can also create an us-and-them situation.

“The decision to cooperate and expend resources for another’s benefit is a dilemma of trust since the ultimate benefits depend on everyone else’s willingness to do the same”. – M. Brewer (1999)

The dynamics of this are complex and contingent on multiple levels of belief systems and environmental safety. However, lack of trust helps us dehumanise and conflict with ‘outgroups’, alongside feelings of superiority, assuming the moral absoluteness of the ingroup, and feelings of fear/threat over resources.

At the moment, people in Britain are fearful of their job security, worrying about paying rent, food prices are rising, and the media is playing up to stereotypes of people who are trying to swindle the taxpayer in order ‘get something for nothing’. This is in light of a long list of Britain’s elites squandering taxpayer money on moats, chauffeurs, and second houses. It isn’t difficult, therefore, to foster a lack of trust in others to create a threat from the outgroup ‘stealing’ jobs or money, and add extra cognitions which justify lack of action with a sense of “help at home first, what has anyone ever done for me, we don’t have the resources”.

People generally find it hard to dehumanise others without a corresponding dehumanising environment. To start with, we have people feeling under threat as explained above which leads to Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Study documenting ways to foster dehumansing environments. This includes living in an unpredictable environment and the UK arguably had one of its most unpredictable elections ever in 2015.

Beginning with smaller abusive acts such as fake stories about misuse of the Human Rights Act, anti-immigration rhetoric being framed as economically sound in spite of contrary evidence), and minimising individual social responsibility to do anything. This plays with the fact that the British public are disillusioned about politics, and presumably their ability to make any meaningful broad-scale change in light of this.

Additionally, Zimbardo notes the role of providing people with a solid ideology or rhetoric for unpleasant actions. Perfect case examples include, but are not limited to, Donald Trump in America and UKIP in the United Kingdom. In both, it allows them to perform dehumanising acts against certain groups whilst feeling ‘justified’ in doing so. For example, a parent may beat their child ‘for their own good’, or a politician might argue that ‘real’ help does not come from accepting refugees – it is ‘for their own good’ to find a bigger solution that does not involve accepting refugees.

This also involves lack of adequate information about what is happening to refugees – shelters have been torched, refugees have been ‘tattooed’ with permanent-marker numbers in the Czech Republic, refugees including babies and children have been pepper-sprayed by police and by the public. Additionally, there are ongoing deaths in Calais and 2,200 refugees have died at since since July this year. The Still Human Still Here campaign raises awareness of the horrific destitution facing refused asylum seekers in the UK alone. This atrocities are not hidden, and it can be found on any search engine. But why would you seek this information out only to increase your sense of discomfort when it can be avoided?

Again, it goes back to threat – economic migrants want to steal our jobs and money, refugees are economic migrants, therefore refugees are a threat. Therefore, the refugee humanitarian crisis is also linked to misinformation about migrants more generally.

People of the UK overestimate numbers of immigrants nearly doubling the true number, alongside overestimating other social issues such as unemployment and teenage pregnancy.  A University College London study found that immigrants who have arrived in the UK since 2000 have made a net contribution of £25bn and were less likely to receive ‘benefits’, tax credits, or live in social housing.

The NHS owes a huge amount to people who were not born in the UK and tight immigration rules are negatively impacting the NHS due to lack of nurses. One can ignore this information or add cognitions which allow the facts to be dismissed such as assuming the study was mis-conducted or done on incomplete data, suggesting we’d have fewer foreign-born nurses if there was more ‘space’ for people born in Britain, or that we wouldn’t need as many nurses if we had fewer immigrants.

Unfortunately, this ‘economic migrant’ and utterly false ‘welfare benefit’ rhetoric has placed the British public nicely in a position to alter their belief about the intentions of refugees, reducing cognitive dissonance because one can believe that ‘their’ home countries are safe; ‘they’ are here only for ‘our’ money and jobs; ‘they’ have no legitimate reason to be here. If the other’s intentions can be considered illegitimate, manipulative, or meaningfully harmful, it makes it easier to dismiss their beliefs, actions or values.

This dissonance has very real and deadly consequences. 67% of the British public would support sending troops in to France to stop what have been termed ‘immigrants’from entering the country. Refugees are being treated like criminals. Although there are petitions to allow more refugees into the UK, news outlets showing how individual people can contribute, crowdfunders, websites helping people to share a room in their house, viral videos of Germans cheering arriving refugees, and grassroots campaigns. However, there is still a widespread sense that refugees are a horde to be rid of rather than fellow humans to be welcomed with open arms and kept safe.

The discomfort of the humanitarian crisis is apparent for anyone who has had even remote contact with news of the situation. However, the way to resolve this discomfort is not for us to alter and add beliefs until we feel safe in our inaction. It’s someone else’s problem, we need to tackle things in home countries alone, we will ‘open the door’ to anyone if we let in refugees, and that’s bad, we have enough on our plate, there’s no room, im(migrant)refugees take up our resources and they’re only here to steal our jobs but also to not-work and they take all our benefits anyway.

Enough is enough. We have to stop using a lack of compassion to resolve our own discomfort and face up to the hard truth. Otherwise, history will not look kindly upon this period of time.

 

Social Work for a New Generation

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Social work is at a crossroads. As a new generation of social workers move towards graduation and entrance into the profession, we face a unique conundrum. Millennials overall are earning less despite being the best educated generation in history. We are struggling to pay student loans and are widely expected to be the first generation to fare worse than our parents. We know from our own struggles this is not for lack of effort.

Injustices have been allowed to fester and grow unchecked. The social work profession must choose how to address the concerns of this new generation–dedicated to meeting the needs of others, but who are also struggling to meet their own.

For millennials, there is little choice. We will lead for a better tomorrow.

Millennial social workers are recognizing the importance of clinical, community, and political practitioners working in tandem for change at all levels, and the foundations to support this philosophy are being laid down at this moment. Recognizing the unique perspectives of our generation, YSocialWork is launching as a millennial-driven organization that will apply social work methods to the profession itself.

YSocialWork, originally launched as a hashtag for the inaugural Student Advocacy Day platform for social work students in the United States,  is a socially conscious, grassroots start-up based in Washington, DC.  It seeks to provide training and education to youth and young professionals in the areas of innovation, leadership development, and political engagement.  Since its inception in 2014, as the driving force behind creating new opportunities for students in policy-entrepreneurial engagement, YSocialWork continues to empower its members to transform ideas into sustainable solutions in the classroom, community , and government.

Examples of policy-entrepreneurial activities led by YSocialWork will include (but not be limited to): idea generation activities, problem framing activities, dissemination activities, strategic activities, demonstration project activities, activities cultivating bureaucratic insiders and advocates, activities enlisting support from elected officials, lobbying activities, and administrative and evaluative activities (Roberts & King, 1991).

I’m a millennial who became politically conscious under the second Bush Administration–tainted as it was with an air of corruption and illegitimacy. My entire adult life, the United States has been at war. I’ve only experienced an economic recession, despite the alleged recovery. My political reality has been shaped by seeing advocates who stood against the conservative Bush agenda all but disappear as a new Democratic administration came to power–but the injustices remain.

I saw a political system change but go unchanged.

I changed. What might have been the making of partisan loyalty eroded. The belief that good politicians could change the system from the inside dissipated. Because every good politician must confront a system fueled by money and seniority–two things that have a way of influencing political thought and behavior.

I cheered the Arab Spring, the occupation of the Wisconsin capitol, and of course Occupy Wall Street.

In the midst of it all, I became a social worker, drawn by its values–so simple yet essential–a belief in the inherent value and worth of all people and the pursuit of social justice. It is the only profession that carries such a mandate. Social work seemed like the obvious answer to our fragmented systems for social good with micro, mezzo, and macro practice united by a common mission to enhance human well-being.

Unfortunately, our profession has become unbalanced, with an emphasis on clinical practice that comes at the expense of organizing and political work. This is not unlike my own generation. No matter how idealistic we may once have been, we have disengaged from the political in favor of individual impact. We are a generation undeniably invested in social good, but we have not yet mastered how to maximize our impact.

To be sure, this is changing. The vestiges of Occupy–once apolitical–have found a candidate in Bernie Sanders. The historic Black Lives Matter movement has grown to engage not only in street protests, but the political sphere through its strategic confrontations with presidential candidates and the launch of a policy agenda–Campaign Zero. We are learning quickly how to use all the tools at our disposal and to attack the ills of our world from multiple angles.

We must recommit to our core values. We need social workers helping communities to stand up and force systemic change. We need social workers to be political leaders who will listen and take action with the interests of society’s most vulnerable at heart. We need front-line social workers to help individuals overcome their personal struggles and navigate existing systems. We need a united front of social workers for social justice.

Why the Hate for Hillary Clinton

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Having spent too many hours trying to understand the reasons for the incessant negative media output, I can find no rational explanation for why those in the media have taken a disliking to the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton to put it mildly. She is simply hated because she is Hillary. Certainly most media types do not know her well enough to form a reasoned opinion and negative poll respondents have no clue about who she really is. I have never had a conversation with the former Secretary of State.

I probably have read more about her than most and I like her plenty. Then again, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t know you, I assume you are reasonable until I have reason to believe otherwise. Think about it, if the media could cherry pick mistakes we have made in life, they could readily construct a narrative that would make anyone seem undesirable.

Like any politician, public person, or human being, Hillary Clinton has made her share of mistakes. The worst thing I have read or heard about the probable Democratic nominee is that she and Bill Clinton have made a lot of money and that it is possible that they may have done so by bending the rules or participating in unethical behavior. It’s called business as usual on the Hill. I call these speculations circumstantial hypotheticals with not much there.

New York Times readers are all too familiar with the many hatchet jobs America’s paper of record has inflicted on Bill and Hillary Clinton—beginning with the egregious Whitewater exposé. The investigation was based on a malicious New York Times article that former reporter Jeff Gerth later admitted was filled with errors that he blamed on his editors. Six years later after spending more than $50 million of taxpayers’ dollars, the Office of the Independent Counsel released a report declaring there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against President Clinton and the First Lady.

There were Filegate, Travelgate, and now the overblown Emailgate and about a dozen or so other innuendos and speculations about Hillary Clinton misdeeds. It is understandable that people would believe something must be there, wondering why she is constantly accused of wrongdoing. She gets accused because she is hated and feared by many conservatives.

Now that Hillary Clinton is within striking distance of becoming the first woman President of the United States, her enemies are frantic in their desire to deny her this historic moment. Her detractors in the media are practically begging Joe Biden to enter the race, despite the emotional strain he is under dealing with the still fresh grief of losing his son Beau. I doubt if his candidacy will be a difference maker, but it could be disruptive if President Obama chooses to endorse a candidate. His press spokesman Josh Earnest has all but declared that choice would be the vice president.

I have been a big Hillary Clinton supporter since the days I stood on Broadway in upper Manhattan in the freezing cold handing out campaign materials for her Senate campaign. I knew about her then what I know now—that she has a passion for young people in distress that grew during her time working with Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund. Hillary’s book, “It Takes A Village,” received rave reviews from top newspapers for her thoughtful advocacy on behalf of children.

Hillary Clinton is unarguably the most qualified candidate to run for President in my lifetime. Elected twice to the United States Senate, served on the Armed Forces Committee, Secretary of State, she has a lifetime of public service. She can only be disqualified on character issues. Dare we suggest that some of her attacks are motivated by sexism? That’s like suggesting some attacks on President Obama are motivated by racism. Haven’t we put both of those isms to rest?

I do not want a saint as President of the United States. I want someone in the Oval Office who is going to kick some butt on behalf of the 90 percent. I want someone who is going to fight tooth and nail to bring hope to the 40 percent who are struggling just to keep their heads above water. I want to see Hillary Clinton as the first woman President because she is a fighter. She can take the heat. If you don’t trust her, then hold her accountable. If she is bad as some make her out to be, make her a one term President. She is the best hope to beat the Republicans if Democrats rally around her, and that is priority number one.

The New Koch: Anyone Buying?

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Charles and David Koch

Back in April of 1985, the Coca Cola Company sensing a decline in its leading share of the cola market, tried to rebrand its soft drink by tweaking the secret formula that had been successful for nearly a century. Thus we got the “New Coke.” Unfortunately, consumers were not convinced that the New Coke was better than the old Coke. In fact, they saw through the marketing ploy and demanded that the Coca Cola revert to its true self. Less than three months later, Coca Cola began restocking shelves with what became classic Coke.

Now, it seems Charles and David Koch (pronounced “coke”) have grown weary of their characterization as villains. They are tired of being viewed as fat cats who are making a mockery of our election process by spending millions to support Republican candidates who have become the pawns of the rich and well-to-do—the job creators.

Supply-side Republican tax policies have been very favorable to the rich while efforts to shrink government by scaling back resources for social welfare programs have hurt the middle class and the both the working and non-working poor. Reductions in Pell grants make it harder for middle and low-income families to afford college education. Assaults on unions and a 16-year freeze on the minimum wage have exacerbated wage stagnation.

So during their retreat last weekend in Dana Point, California, the Koch brothers began their campaign to rebrand as champions of the poor—zeroing in on criminal justice reform as a particular concern. Fellow donors and beneficiaries like the five Republican presidential candidates attending the retreat embraced this new brand of Koch. But will it sell to the general public? United Negro College Fund (UNCF) president Michael Lomax warmed up to the brothers last year when he accepted $25 million from them. Former Obama administration official Van Jones became another strange bedfellow when he teamed up with the Koch brothers to push for passage of the SAFE Justice Act.

frabz-The-Media-mentions-koch-brothers-I-picture-Randolph-and-Mortimer-16c057The Koch brothers would like us to believe that policies promoted by the Cato Institute—the think tank they created—have negligible negative impact on the poor and middle class but are advancing their principles of limited government.

For them and other patrons of Ayn Rand, smaller government means more freedom. Taken to its logical extreme—the smallest government results in the greatest freedom—but for whom?

They would have us accept that unfettered, unregulated capitalism would create a more just society, but only if you buy into social Darwinism and have no problem discarding the poor and less fortunate.

It’s the kind of thinking that empowered anti-tax maven Grover Norquist who said he did not want to abolish government but to “get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Depriving the government of revenue would surely shrink it.

Norquist’s organization Americans for Tax Reform boasts on its website that nearly 1400 elected officials—including 49 Senators and 221 Members of the House of Representative—have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge—avowing not to raise taxes. It is a silly pledge. The cost of living does not stop increasing because taxes are frozen. The population continues to grow and our infrastructure continues to wear down.

Then, there are those annoying expenses like war. The idea of conflating smaller government and freedom doesn’t wash. Dictators can have small governments. The government should be as large as needed to efficiently promote the general welfare. Libertarians and conservatives believe government assistance promotes dependency and makes us slaves of the government.

The purpose of the pledge was to reduce government revenue until there was little choice but to begin dismantling the welfare state through block granting of social service programs and attacking the solvency of Social Security and Medicare. It’s not about freedom; it’s about ideology.

The results have been disastrous. By not taking in adequate revenue through taxes, future generations will be saddled with 18 trillion dollars in debt and counting. Our system of government is corrupt beyond belief because the wealthy are able to finance policies that increase their wealth.

Economic inequality is off the charts. Millions of Americas, particularly children languish in poverty with minimal hopes of escaping. Thousands forgo college because of the enormous expense and concomitant burden of student loan debt. Who knows what inventions and cures are being lost because we live in a society where only the haves can optimize their talents and skills.

The new Coke was a flash in the pan, and I am not buying the new Koch either. We’ve seen this before with compassionate conservatism. It has a nice ring to it, but it’s the same old song.

Getting Social Workers Involved in Social Justice: Who Will Take the Lead

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If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu. This pithy bit of wisdom was offered as a reminder by University of Illinois Springfield social work professor David Stoesz in a discussion thread on a social work policy listserv about the profession’s paltry participation in policy and politics. Social workers on that listserv are concerned about our level of effort on social justice issues in order to bring about societal change as our code of ethics mandates. Helping people cope with policies that have disproportionately favored the wealthy over the past several decades is not enough.

However, we must do more to change those policies and create a more egalitarian society. Two interesting articles caught my attention last week. One that was posted on Social Work Helper’s Facebook page had appeared in the Guardian. The article featured young social workers in the United Kingdom who expressed concern about their futures and the future of the profession of social work. One young man, Justin, who became a social worker after serving in the British military in Afghanistan, worried about the absence of a strong voice to represent the interests of social workers.

The other article was published in Al Jazeera by Sean McElwee, a young Demos research associate, titled: “Inequality is a disease, voting turnout is the cure.” This is an idea I have been preaching recently. He provides research to support this hypothesis. The questions are: Can social work can be the x-factor that helps propel a movement leading to full voter participation? And who will be the leader(s) of that effort?

What McElwee is stating is quite simple. The 2016 election will not turn so much on who votes but on who stays home. Non-voters are more likely to be low income and lean significantly towards Democrats. Registering these potential voters and getting them to the polls could have significant effects on the outcomes of elections at all levels of government.

Unions traditionally mobilize voters and got them to the polls. However we have seen the number of members and the power of union decline in recent decades.

Will social workers help fill that gap? I believe we can. Social workers can help would-be voters break through barriers such as voter identification. Republican strategist Chris Ladd says it’s time Democrats stop whining about voter ID laws and begin to help people get the documentation they need. Sounds like good advice.

Mildred “Mit” Joyner proposed this idea several years ago when she was president of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). She believes this is something social workers at every level can participate in. Direct service workers can assist clients in understanding the particulars of voting regulations and ensure they have proper documentation when they go to vote. Administrators of agencies can make it a matter of policy to inform clients about exercising their right to vote.

However, according to WRAL News in North Carolina,

Local social service agencies are not giving poor residents adequate opportunities to file and update voter registrations as required by federal law, a letter sent by a group of voting rights advocates warned the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Department of Health and Human Services. Read more 

On the macro level, social workers can work with churches, tenant organizations, and other community-based groups to organize and implement voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Joyner suggests social workers engage the League of Women Voters for information and support. Agencies can learn more from organizations like Nonprofit Vote. Social work students can work with Rock the Vote to encourage young people to vote.

At the same time social workers can continue efforts to overturn misguided laws that restrict voting. We can continue to press Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Social workers have a responsibility to work for a more just society that permits and promotes the self-actualization of everyone.

Policies, laws and systems that restrict one’s ability to be all that one can be should be the object of intervention on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. While social workers must pay attention to licensing, research, and building reputation as a fully scientific profession, we also have a mandate to pursue social justice.

Richard Nixon galvanized a large swath of voters who he saw as being neglected and appealed to them as the silent majority. There is a new silent majority today—voters who have been demoralized by the vast sums of money that are gaming the political system. They see the rich getting richer and not much being done to expand opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans. They are turned off by the negative campaigning and believe voting is an exercise in futility.

Social workers should be participants in the effort to restore hope to these voters—to help them understand that staying away from the polls is exactly what those protecting the status quo wants you to do. Social workers need to be involved politically and be at the policy table. If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu.

More Social Workers Needed for Political Action

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It is time for social workers to begin to flex our political muscles because not much will change in the pursuit of social justice. Until there are more people in the political arena fighting for a more just and equitable society, opportunities for everyone willing to put in the effort will not become a reality.

Many of the politicians in office at all levels of government need to be retired. They need to be voted out of office, but until more people are energized to go to the polls, too many corrupt and selfish politicians will remain in office to the detriment of society. As many social workers as possible are needed to replace these unfit elected officials in office while other social workers are needed to mobilize voters and manage campaigns to elect new leaders, change unjust laws and policies, and get government working for the people and not just the few. It’s been repeated so often, it is now a cliché.

Political activism is not for the faint of heart. It sometimes takes all of the toleration for sleaze one can muster to roll up your sleeves and dive headlong into political campaigns. Attacks on candidates are considered necessary strategy if you want to win an election. Charges and accusations against your opponent do not necessarily have to be true if you can make some of the mud stick, so there is much innuendo, conspiracy theories, and circumstantial hypotheticals. These tactics are designed to discourage voters from even wanting to participate in the process—to become jaded and lose all interest in political participation and leave elections to the cutthroats and ethically challenged. These scenarios are extreme but political warfare can get pretty ugly.

It is important that people of conscience, people for whom a more just and egalitarian society are sincere goals, stay involved in political struggles because politics may just be the last frontier in the fight for social justice. Human institutions are invariably susceptible to corruption—from religion to politics and everywhere in between. Politics attracts more corruption because of the power and resources that often come with holding elected office.

New accounts of political corruption seem to break daily. Someone gets caught trying to redirect government funds into the bank accounts of friends or those they are trying to bribe. Or exploiting or creating loopholes in the law that will allow some or all of their campaign funds to find their way into their personal bank accounts.

Not everyone in political office is there for personal gain. The majority of people who seek office do so hoping to better the lives of the people they represent. Many work diligently to resist and escape temptations that would invite their baser instincts to rule. Many do resist although some may succumb to minor indiscretions like breaking franking rules—mailing more items than the rules allow.

Political systems that function on money transfers are ripe for corruption. The more money, the greater the temptation, the greater opportunity and the more likely corruption will occur which is why the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should go down in history as one of the most undemocratic actions ever perpetrated. Until the influence of money is reduced, politics will attract the corruptible.

So why should social workers want to wade into the cesspool of political warfare? It is a necessary undertaking. Social workers are equipped with skills and knowledge that will work against all the corrupting influence in politics. Social workers are guided by a code of ethics that challenges us to do the right thing by our clients, our colleagues, and society at large. Social workers are not perfect and social workers do break rules but we are not inherently rule breakers. More social workers in politics would reduce corruption.

Getting more social workers involved in politics is not the panacea to what ails America. But it’s a start. Social workers are empowering individuals, families and communities. Social workers are doing quality research and focusing more on making that research relevant to policy discussions but the political system is a mess and some effort must be put into restoring integrity in government. As long as money is the primary language spoken in the halls of government the lines between quid pro quo will continued to be blurred.

President Obama, A Social Worker Is Your Ideal Poverty Czar

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Last week, President Barack Obama once again did the unusual by participating in a panel discussion as part of Georgetown University’s Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty. It was a rare setting for a sitting president but proved to be an interesting exchange of ideas with a couple of thought leaders on the subject of why so many (45 million below the poverty threshold) have so little in the land of plenty.

Moderated by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, the discussion included Harvard professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute’s president Arthur C. Brooks. Putnam’s latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” has renewed interest in the numbers of American children who are mired in poverty with bleak hopes for the future. Brooks has captured the imagination of many with his own brand of compassionate conservatism which sees free enterprise’s most important work as not generating wealth but creating opportunities for the poor.

It was a bold move for President Obama to put himself on the proverbial hot seat because his administration has garnered criticism from those who believe he could do more for the poor. This appearance prompted Martin Luther King, III to renew his call for a “poverty czar” to coordinate poverty reduction efforts across agencies. King was among those who called for the appointment of a poverty czar during the run up to the 2008 presidential elections. Candidate Obama was noncommittal then, however, candidate Hillary Clinton embraced the idea. Appointing a poverty czar this late in President’s tenure does not seem likely, yet those living below the poverty line can use all the help available.

What other profession equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to bring people together to address issues of great magnitude such as poverty? At the top of the list would be Oakland, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who currently chairs the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. She is the co-founder and co-chair of the Out of Poverty Caucus and chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.Should the President decide to appoint someone as poverty czar, it would be wise to consider a social worker for the position. Who else would you appoint? Who better understands the many dimensions of poverty than a social worker?

Reducing and eliminating poverty has been at the forefront of Congresswoman Lee’s legislative agenda. One of the first bills she introduced in the 114th Congress in January was H.R. 258—the Half in Ten Act of 2015 that would establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would develop a national strategy to reduce the number of persons living in poverty in America by half within 10 years after release of the 2014 Census Report on Income and Poverty in the United States. She also sponsored H.R. 1305—the Income Equity Act of 2015 that would address escalating income inequality by denying employers tax deductions on excess compensation. However, Congresswoman Lee has much unfinished business as a Member of Congress and may wish to remain.

One might think retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski would consider taking on the challenge of being poverty czar but that’s probably not in the cards as newly-elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan could appoint a Republican as her replacement diminishing the Democrats very good chance of recapturing the Senate in 2016. Should the President look off the Hill, there are several highly qualified social workers who would fill the role of poverty czar.

Michael Sherraden, the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis is director of the Center for Social Development and has done extensive research on asset development for the poor. Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia University, played a significant role in crafting policies that help cut Britain’s child poverty rate in half.

Social workers have provided significant leadership for the federal government, most notably Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins who were key administrators for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the implementation of the New Deal. Social workers are uniquely trained to understand poverty and address it roots causes. If President Obama decides to appoint a poverty czar, he should have social workers at the top of his list.

Social Workers Must Speak Against Austerity Says BASW UK Chair

BASW APM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix
BASW AGM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix

Today, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is holding a members conference in order to set the vision and aims for the Association for the next 5 years. Highlights and thoughts from the conference are being shared on twitter using the hashtag #BASWAGM15.

Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers, said social workers were better placed than any profession to report the consequences of policies that were likely to continue being implemented after the General Election.

Social workers must collectively speak out as a profession against the damage being done by austerity to society’s most vulnerable citizens, says Shennan to association members.

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Guy Shennan Chair of the British Association of Social Workers

“After five years of cuts to public services, what we can be certain of is that cuts will continue, as every major party remains committed to austerity,” said Mr Shennan.

“So we need to ensure that the social work voice is added to all those other voices demanding an alternative to austerity policies.

“Through a clinical psychology friend I have recently come across a group called Psychologists Against Austerity, who are drawing attention to the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

“I believe we need to have Social Workers Against Austerity too, as, more importantly, our service users need this. Because, I would suggest, social workers more than any other profession know about the damage that neoliberalism is doing.

“We see it day-in and day-out – damage to the nation’s mental health, to the welfare of our children, to family relationships, to the wellbeing of disabled people and older people.”

Mr Shennan said joining organisations like BASW and other social work groups was a “political act” that helped strengthen the profession’s voice.

“It is a political act to organise locally in branch activity. To meet at work as a group, to stop working and have lunch together, even if only once a week, to talk about your experiences at work that day, that week.

“To write a joint letter to a local paper, as a group of BASW members. And there will be many other routes to acting and working collectively.”

Doing “real” relationship-based practice was also a way of “reclaiming” social work’s ability to make positive change by “getting alongside service users”.

Mr Shennan said: “It is our profession, our practices, doing what we have been trained to do, and following the great, real social work traditions, that should constitute social work.”

Tax the Rich: Research Supports A More Progressive Taxation

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In an issue brief from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, policy analyst Nick Bunker weighed in on the ongoing debate about marginal tax rates and economic growth. He points to research by economists Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, Emmanuel Saez at the University of California-Berkeley, and Stefanie Stantchava at Harvard University whose paper, “Optimal Taxation of Top Labor Incomes: A Tale of Three Elasticities,” concludes the optimal top tax rate on labor is 83 percent. There has been an ongoing debate about the effect of marginal tax rates on economic growth. Piketty and company argue that tax rates for upper income earners could be much higher without impacting economic growth and could result in higher wages for average workers.

According a report published by the Congress Research Service (CRS) in 2012, the top marginal tax rate throughout the 1940s and 1950s was above 90 percent. It had been lowered to 35 percent at the time of the report; it is now 39.6 percent. Also the tax rate for capital gains had been 25 percent during the 1950s and 1960s, 35 percent during the 1970s, and was 15 percent in 2012 at the time the report was published.

Thomas L. Hungerford, the public finance specialist at CRS who authored the report noted that GDP increased by an average of 4.2 percent during the 1950s, and real per capita growth increased annually at a rate of 2.4 percent compared to a GDP growth rate in the 2000s of 1.7 percent and annual real per capital growth of less than one percent following the Bush tax cuts.

Hungerford concluded there was no definitive evidence of an association between marginal tax rates and economic growth which angered congressional Republicans who suppressed the report contending it had methodological flaws. Hungerford’s findings were at odds with supply-side theories that tax cuts would result in increased economic growth.

Despite any real evidence that tax cuts for “job creators” are the remedies for our anemic economy, congressional Republicans continue to promote tax reforms that lower marginal rates for top income earners. In the meantime, the economy continues to sputter because most consumers do not have the disposable income needed to buy the goods and services that would put more people back to work or in fulltime positions with higher wages.

The fact that the country experienced solid economic growth when top marginal rates were much higher than they are today suggests that current Republican tax reform proposals are based more on ideology than fact. Yet we see few if any Democratic tax reform proposals that would significantly increase top marginal rates while providing tax relief for the middle class. Piketty and company say it is not only plausible but may help restore the economy.

Without going into great detail—you can read the original publication here—the researchers expanded their analysis beyond the conventional idea that high income earners respond to higher marginal rates by trading some of their working time for more leisure time. They looked at additional ways high earners behave in response to higher marginal rates.

Top wage earners may look to shift their wage income to capital income such as stock options in order to avoid higher income taxes, or reduce their rent-seeking behaviors because lower tax rates provide an incentive for pursuing greater compensation.

They found top earners do not tend to shift their income in response to tax rates and—using an international dataset—they found that lower tax rates are associated with higher income for corporate executives supporting the idea that higher tax rates are a disincentive for corporate executives to cannibalize corporate profits.

Piketty, Saez and Stantchava found that combining elasticities for labor supply, taxation avoidance, and bargaining, led to an optimal top tax rate on labor of 83 percent. If you only consider the effect of the overall elasticity of income to tax rates, the optimal top tax rate on labor would be 57 still much higher to today’s current rate of 39.6 percent.

The idea that income redistributive policies are a death knell for the economy has been preached so much that there is nearly universal acceptance of this as the gospel truth by the right and the left yet there is scant evidence to confirm this belief. Here Bunker showcases evidence that clearly disputes the contention.

What Should Social Workers Want from Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton and the World's Women

Of all those actively seeking the presidency, former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton seems to be the most likely successor. It is not just because she is the most qualified among those seeking the presidency, nor is she the least disliked among the candidates, but it’s probably about time a woman gets the chance to lead the nation and demographics increasingly favor Democrats winning the White House.

According to the most recent Real Clear Politics consensus poll, Clinton leads former Florida Governor Jeb Bush by 7.7 points (Fox News has the matchup as a tie). She leads Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by 9.2 points, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by 8.6 points, Florida Senator Macro Rubio by 8 points, Dr. Ben Carson by 13.3 points, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee by 11.7 points, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie by 10.2 points. Much can happen with more than a year and a half left before the election, but Hillary Clinton is clearly the frontrunner.

It is far too soon to know who the Republican nominee will be. In the April 15th Public Policy Polling results in New Hampshire, Scott Walker led the pack with 24 percent—ten percentage points ahead of his next rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Rand Paul (12%) and Jeb Bush (10%) managed double digits while Florida Senator Marco Rubio (8%), Christie (8%), Huckabee (7%), Carson (7%) and former Texas Governor Rick Perry (4%) rounded out the field.

So, should we wake up on Wednesday, November 9th with the first woman President of the United States in Hillary Clinton, what will social workers expect from her during her first four years? I say we should avoid making the same mistake Dr. Cornell West and Tavis Smiley made who have spent the last seven years criticizing President Obama for not having a sufficient agenda for black Americans when they failed to present the President with a specific policy agenda they wanted him to support.

What are the specific policies social workers would like to see advanced during a Hillary Clinton administration? That policy agenda should be made known before she goes into the White House. We may not agree on everything but certainly there are several key policy proposals we can all get behind.

Of course, this is easier said than done. How do social workers come up with a relatively concise and specific list of policy priorities we would like to see implemented during another Clinton Administration? There are many notable policy social work scholars who can assist in developing a policy agenda. We can begin with economist Jared Bernstein, a product of Columbia University School of Social Work’s doctoral program. So is Lonnie Berger, the director of the Institute for Research on Poverty.

CRISP has several distinguished policy scholars on our advisory board including Michael Reisch at the University of Maryland and Jane Waldfogel at Columbia University. All the ideas need not come from social work scholars. Developing social work policy priorities, while a social work-led endeavor, should draw on ideas from other disciplines. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Washington Center for Equitable Growth Executive Director Heather Boushey, and economist Joseph Stiglitz all have worthwhile policy prescriptions.

Why should President Hillary Clinton care about what social workers want? Candidate Clinton is on a listening tour and may well be interested in hearing social work policy ideas. She says she wants a more egalitarian society—so do social workers. She says she wants to see the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC—so do social workers. She has been longtime advocate for less fortunate children with the Children’s Defense Fund.

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are approximately 800,000 social workers strategically placed in nonprofits, governmental agencies, and businesses throughout the nation. We are the ground troops, the managers, and the strategists needed to turn things around. If and when we flex our political muscles, we will be a force to reckon with.

Oh dear, there goes my alarm clock. It’s time to stop dreaming and get ready for work.

North Carolina Women United Fighting to Improve Outcomes for Women

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Failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, erasing the State’s earned income tax credits for low wage working, eliminating tax deductions for contributing to your child’s college funds, and cuts to public education are just a few examples of how women and children are being impacted by the 2014 election.

While many middle class and low-income families are paying more in taxes, the wealthiest North Carolinians received a $10,000.00 per year tax break. Programs such as Meals on Wheels and other in-home care programs for seniors have also been cut in addition to increasing their tax burden because the medical expense deduction was also removed.

Republicans also introduced House Bill 465 which seeks to ban abortion training in medical schools across the state. Both activists and medical professionals agree this legislation will not only affect access to reproductive services, but it will also comprise the training of medical students and residents throughout the state.

In an interview with Tara Romano, President of North Carolina Women United (NCWU),  I had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges specifically impacting women in our state.

SWH: Tell us about North Carolina Women United (NCWU) and your work to improve outcomes for women.

Tara: North Carolina Women United (NCWU) is a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social, and economic equality of all women across North Carolina. Since the late 1980’s, NCWU’s goal has been to bring women’s voices to the policy table. With women still making up less than 25% of elected and appointed public officials, lawmakers need to hear from women about their experiences and concerns to inform policies that will benefit women and families across NC. We see our role as bringing a gender lens to state policies, and also looking at how multiple issues intersect to affect women, bringing those intersections to policy decisions. For example, it is critical to adequately fund domestic violence crisis services, but regressive tax cuts that leave the state short on revenue will impact that funding; also, without adequate safety net programs in place – such as affordable housing and health/child care, access to paid family leave, and jobs that pay living wages – many domestic violence victims may stay with their abusers because they can’t afford to leave.

NCWU is a non-partisan, all volunteer, nonprofit that includes members and supporters from across the state. Our focus is on educating women on how to be effective citizen advocates; this includes issues education as well as education on how to be fully engaged in our democratic process, from the importance of voting to the role citizens play in creating government policies. Our members provide us with our issues expertise, and we cover four main issue areas: violence against women, access to health care, civic participation and equality, and economic self-sufficiency. It’s a large umbrella, and we are always looking for new partners and supporters who can let us know what other issues may be important to women and that we need to consider.

SWH: What legislative and policy issues do NCWU Support, and what actions are you taking to effect change in North Carolina?

Tara: We advocate for the full equality of all women across North Carolina and take a progressive approach to the policy solutions we look for. We believe that women still face barriers in society because we are women, and we look for policy solutions to remove those barriers. As caretakers, breadwinners, mothers, educators, workers, and partners, women fill multiple diverse roles in NC in 2015, and we need policies that recognize those realities; affordable child care and housing; protection from discrimination on the job; access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care; pay equity; increased protections from sexual and domestic violence; and an accessible way to bring our voices to our democracy are just a few ways we can support women to achieve our highest potential. We also believe women face additional barriers due to race, ethnicity, immigrant status, sexuality, age, and disability status; we are committed to an agenda that is anti-racist and anti-oppression as the means to lift up the status of all women across North Carolina.

Our member organizations provide us with the expertise on specific policy issues to help us develop our agenda every other year during the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) long session. Our members are service organizations, advocacy groups, and member organizations that use research and constituency feedback to develop positions on proposed and anticipated legislation coming from the NCGA. On Women’s Advocacy Day (WAD), women from across the state come to Raleigh for a day of issue education, advocacy training, networking, and the opportunity to bring our voices to the policy table. Also on WAD, we will be discussing our 2015 legislative agenda and top priorities. Whether you are a regular at the NCGA, or are speaking to your lawmakers for the first time, WAD is an engaging and impactful day.

SWH: What are some of the challenges and barriers NCWU faces in connecting with North Carolina women?

Tara: As an all-volunteer and somewhat “virtual” organization, a big challenge for NCWU is getting our information out to women across the state. With our members’ expertise, we are able to provide informative and useful documents and tools for advocacy, but it’s not as easy for us to get it out to women. Also, women face numerous barriers and issues across the state, and we know there are issues that we do not have deep expertise on, and therefore aren’t highlighting them as much as we may need to. We are always looking for new members and partners, which is why we officially joined the HKonJ coalition (the organization behind the Moral Mondays movement). It can also be a challenge, as we join with other coalitions, to keep certain issues considered “women’s issues” – like child care – on the overall movement agenda.

SWH: How can women and other allies both in and outside of North Carolina support and engage with NCWU?

Tara: As an all-volunteer organization, we try to do a lot on limited resources, and we feel the women of North Carolina (and our allies) are our biggest resource. There are many ways to be involved with our work, including joining us on the board or on our committees, donating to our work, supporting us financially with donations, amplifying our message on social media, coming out to our members’ events, or bringing your voice with us to the General Assembly. Join us for Women’s Advocacy Day at the North Carolina Legislative Building on April 21, 2015.

You can also watch the interview with President Tara Romano, Directors of Policy Emma Akpan, and Felicia Willems for all you need to know about WAD including more on how we put together our agenda and what to expect during the day.

Selma 50 Years Later, Then Back to Work

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Obama Family leading the 50th Anniversary March- Photo Credit Whitehouse.gov

 

President Barack Obama, in what may be his most eloquent and thoughtful speech, helped us to understand the profound place in history held by those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 in pursuit of social and economic justice. In Selma, Alabama 50 years later, it was their encounter with the forces of bigotry and hate that helped change the course of history.

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President Barack Obama share a moment with Georgia Congressman John Lewis during the commemoration of Bloody Sunday.

It was the determination of the protesters to endure the most vile and despicable slurs imaginable, to withstand flailing police batons, ferocious dogs, and battering waves of water pouring from hoses, that moved the needle ever so slightly from oppression towards freedom. We are constantly reminded by injustice in Ferguson and other places that the battle is far from over.

As the President stated, this is no time for cynicism, no time for complacency or despair. Many Americans of good will believe the social contract that the Framers had in mind was not one that favored a few who would reap a disproportionate share of the benefits of a society whose prosperity depends on the work of many.

I came of age in the 1960s, and it was a turbulent time—Vietnam, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. There were riots, uprisings on college campuses, and, yes, black men were still being lynched. Yet through the turmoil there was always a sense of community—a belief that people were better off if we stuck together. We were told that we either swim together or drown alone. Events like Woodstock brought thousands of young “hippies” together for marathon sessions of the best that music can be. Not surprising, the 1960s was the heyday of community social work.

We hardly got into the next decade when another turning point arrived in a tragic day at Kent State University. It occurred one day before my 20th birthday on May 4, 1970—four unarmed students were shot dead by the National Guard and nine others wounded. The age of law and order had arrived with a vengeance. After all, it was the slogan that propelled Richard M. Nixon into the White House. He was soon to be followed by President Ronald Reagan and a new era of conservatism that swept the country. Community was too close to communism and socialism to be an acceptable form of lifestyle. It was the individual that was paramount.

Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama
Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama

Robert Ringer’s Looking Out for Number Onethe tome du jour—became a New York Times #1 bestseller, and supply-side economics heralded Ayn Rand’s great man theory. Unions and collective bargaining began to wilt from constant attacks from corporations and their Republican allies. We were all competing for the American Dream when we should have been working together to achieve it universally.

The President reminded us that the single most powerful word in our vocabulary must be we. We can get a lot more done than me. At the risk of sounding like Rodney King, it is time that we put aside our differences and begin to look for common solutions to major problems. The commemoration of the historical Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama is cause for neither celebration nor despair. It should, however, energize us to go the extra mile—as the old folks used to say—to see what the end’s going to be.

We must believe that things can get better. We must believe that we can have a more egalitarian society. Economic inequality reaches a point where it becomes evil because it robs so many children of their chance for a meaningful future. The only weapon we have to fight this injustice is political power. We must use it or lose what little hope we have today of achieving some measure of social and economic fairness.

What Do You Know About the Social Work Reinvestment Act

Social work students from several schools in the greater Washington, DC area and from as far away as Kentucky and California, will gather in the Members Room of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on March 17, 2015 preceding the Social Work Day on the Hill reception that will be held in the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Former Congressman Ed Towns

Social Work Advocacy Day will feature a panel discussion on the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, a bill before Congress to create a commission to examine the state of the social work profession and to provide funding for several initiatives designed to strengthen social work education and practice.

Former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns will be on hand to present an overview of the bill he first introduced in 2008. Mr. Towns founded the Congressional Social Work Caucus in 2010. ”I am honored to play a leading role in the important forum in our nation’s capital,” said Ms. White. ”I think it is important for clinical social workers to be active advocates for policies that impact the clients they serve.”

The student event is being organized by Shauntia White, a student at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America and member of the sponsoring organization, the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work (GWSCSW).

Shauntia White

Ms. White was recently honored by the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund during their third annual Forty Under 40 awards ceremony as one of society’s future leaders. She participated in the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program at Prince George’s Community College and the University of Maryland.

She also received the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health Dean Senior Scholar award and was a member of the Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Scholars Program and the Entrepreneurship and Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) Program at Oklahoma State University.

Ms. White holds a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Science from Oklahoma State University. She currently works as a research assistant at the Center for the promotion of Health and Mental Health Well-Being at The Catholic University of America.

Students will meet in the Members Room of the Jefferson Building to register and to participate in a panel discussion about the Social Work Reinvestment Act. Following the panel, students will form groups to visit offices of Members of the Congressional Social Work Caucus to encourage them to co-sponsor a bill that will be re-introduced in the 114th Congress by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Chair of the Social Work Caucus.

For more information about the program and how you might participate, please send an email to ysocialwork2015@gmail.com. Please click on the button below if you would like to register for this event.

Online event registration for 2015 Social Work Student Advocacy Day powered by Eventbrite

What Social Workers Can Learn From Mahatma Gandhi

Social workers can learn from Mahatma Gandhi on how to step into the light. How to raise your voice and still be modest and a servant to humanity. This is what all social workers want. Right?

Although Mahatma Gandhi was very modest man and a great leader, he was also someone who wanted to be seen and heard. His mission for peace empowered get over his fears, stand up, and step into the light in order to deliver his message of service to the people.

social workersThe fact that social workers know their place in the shadow of their clients comes from a good and serving heart. I understand that because I have been there too, but how would it be if we stand with our clients and share the light?

When I was walking with my puppy Sas the other day, I was surprised by a blackbird singing his best song ever. I looked around to see him and there he was at the top of the roof of the highest building. To be visible and heard, the blackbird found himself a beautiful spot to sing his lovely song. The blackbird was on a mission is not modest at all!

A friend of mine named Charlotte told me how she once spoke to the local council: “we, social workers, stand in the shadow of our clients”. I reacted with a quip and said, “It can be cold and dark in the shadow. Standing together with your client in the light seems more attractive.”.

However, Charlotte was very serious. She explained: “Social Workers don’t position themselves in the spotlights. We are here to help others to solve their problems. Being in the shadow, we are not always visible but at least we know our place and many can learn from that. If it is cold in the shadow, just put on a warm coat. As long as we keep telling others why we stand there!”

Now, I don’t agree with Charlotte. If your voice is coming out of the shadow and no one sees you, will you be heard? I don’t think so. In my opinion, this is exactly the reason why the modesty of social workers can be fatal.

When you are in the shadow no one will hear you, so step into your light. You don’t have to search like the blackbird for a spot on the highest roof! Just do it in your own modest way. Let your mission guide you, and if you need help, just let me know!

Social Workers: Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

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I became a social worker because I believe this profession has the greatest potential to create a more egalitarian society for all Americans and residents on the planet. We are taught the skills needed to organize and mobilize people and resources. We learn to do the research necessary to find solutions and policies to address our social problems, but we must be more political. That is the call of the 21st century for anyone not satisfied with the status quo. As Eldridge Cleaver once said: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

As Black History Month rapidly draws to a close, we are reminded how much life is different for the average American depending on the color of your skin. The wealth of the median white household grew to 13 times that of the median black household in 2013, up from 10 times the wealth in 2010. Minorities still lag in health outcomes and educational achievement and blacks—especially black men—are disproportionately under the supervision of state and federal criminal justice systems.

Singer/songwriter John Legend used the white stage—I meant bright stage—of the Academy Awards ceremonies to inform America of the startling fact that more black men are under criminal justice supervision than were in slavery at any given time. True a greater percentage was enslaved but the sheer numbers are startling. One in three black men in this country has a felony, and black women are being locked up at an alarming rate.

Many argue that blacks disproportionately commit crimes. However, black men and women face a system where the police are often predatory, quick to arrest and sometimes shoot, and sentences are for longer terms than whites for the same crimes. In the words of Michelle Alexander, the criminal justice is the new Jim Crow.

The American society has long been hostile to the aspirations of black men as witnessed by a new report on lynching released by the Equal Justice Initiative. All of this leads to the destruction of opportunity for African Americans and weakening their ability to create healthy families without which the cycle of failure continues. Some view all of this talk as an excuse for the inability of black men to capitalize on their opportunities. In their minds discrimination does not exist in any significant degree as to deter the conscientious individual from achieving his or her full potential.

Many who desire and are willing to work towards a more egalitarian society are not by nature socialists. There are those who appreciate the free market system’s ability to distribute goods in society in a reasonably fair way but are not satisfied with the unequal distribution we have seen in the past several decades.

There will always be the greedy among us who will seek unfair advantage and use their economic power to game the system. The fact that we have a political system that encourages the free flow of money is evidence that money matters. Why else would the Koch brothers be willing to spend one billion dollars to influence the presidential election? This system favors and rewards those with wealth. Both parties are held hostage to donors without whom winning elections seems unattainable.

Meanwhile policies are put in place—tax cuts, campaign financing laws and gerrymandering, that solidifies the advantages of the wealthy and insure the election of a critical mass of legislators who assist in perpetuating their advantage. It becomes easier if you are able to demonize the opponents of this plutocratic scheme as un-American, envious of success, and those who would want to take the crumbs left for the middle class and give them to the undeserving poor. The irony is those who are able to see through the charade often become discouraged and complacent. These jaded citizens give up on the one thing that could really make a difference—they stop voting. And they fail to organize other jaded citizens.

Our economic and political systems are certainly stacked against the average American. Without collective bargaining, without collective organizing, little can be done individually to increase the valuation of labor or make sufficient political change. It is no coincidence that wage stagnation correlates significantly with the decline and near demise of labor unions.

The only line of defense against oligarchy is democracy, but it requires full participation by all of society’s citizenry and not just the comfortable. I believe the only way to get to full employment and adequate wages is by full political participation. How much different our society would be if ninety percent of its citizens would vote?

The Radical Age Movement Comes Out

New York-The Radical Age Movement held its first public event last evening at the New York Ethical Culture Society.  One hundred people came out in the freezing cold to hear about what it takes to “leverage the power of age”.

The evening began with a welcome from Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, Chairperson of the Social Service Board of the New York Ethical Culture Society.

Alice Fisher, founder of The Radical Age Movement, then talked about the need for people who don’t like the way that old people are portrayed and regarded in what she described as the “youth oriented culture of the United States” need to speak up.  Alice told of her deep interest in longevity and its multiple effects on society and how this led her to the founding of The Radical Age Movement.

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Founder Alice Fisher, MSW

“I came to the realization that the extra years many of us will be living are not tacked on to the end of our lives.  Rather, a whole new stage of life has opened up along the life span, and those are people between approximately 60 and 80 years of age who are still a vital and relevant part of our society.”  “We”, said Fisher who is 69 years old, “are not ready to throw in the towel.”  After being asked, “how do you change an entire culture”, her response was “with a movement.  It’s the only way we’ve ever done it.”  Right then and there the seed for The Radical Age Movement was planted.

After working for over a year with a small 10 person steering committee and launching a website a few months ago, The Radical Age Movement was ready to come out.  “When people leave their career positions, whether by choice or not by choice, they walk into a void”, she said.  “There is no role for us in society, unless we want to accept the description of old just because we are collecting social security.”  People of this age, although older, are not ready to be consigned to the rocking chair. “Nobody even knows what to call us.  Sometimes we’re the old boomers or the young seniors.  We don’t even know what to call ourselves”, said Fisher.

The original agenda for last evening’s event included a participatory demo of what it is like to be part of an age-oriented consciousness raising group.  Not expecting such a large turnout and without enough facilitators to guide the number of groups that would be necessary to run this part of the program as planned, Radical Age decided to let the program run with interactive discussion.  After a presentation about ageism by Joanna Leefer, 65, a care-giving consultant, three people gave personal testimony about their own confrontation with ageism, while two others testified to the effect that participating in consciousness raising around the topic of age has had on the way they are experiencing ageing.

Corinne Kirchner, 79, who is a sociology professor at Columbia University and  who experienced two strokes in her 70’s, talked about the way that people constantly try to give her too much help.  She described Thanksgiving dinner where a nurse who was a guest at the dinner followed her around, prepared to catch Corinne should she fall. Understanding that the nurse was trying to be kind, Corinne was very polite but “inside I was so angry that this person was treating me like a child learning to walk.”10911401_414546068714498_9154173076394596286_o

Hope Reiner, 70, the founder of “Hope Cares”, a companion service that provides one-on-one stimulation, socialization and engagement to older adults, talked about her abrupt dismissal from the consumer magazine publishing world where she worked for over 33 years. “Despite the magazines’ high ratings and high revenue and my standing as the #1 salesperson for much of that time”, she told the audience, “my career ended. I can only assume my dismissal was based on my age.”

Next it was Rodger Parsons’ turn to talk about his personal experience with ageism.  Roger, 68 years old, does voiceovers for Radio, TV, Cable commercials as well as author voiceovers for other venues. He spoke about how ageism is especially relevant in the Voice Over world and ways of dealing with it. “It is especially important to confront situations as directly as possible to get outcomes that make it clear that access to work should be based on the talent of the performer not the performer’s age.”

After each of these testimonies, lively discussions from the audience ensued. People shared their own experiences or commented on the testimony they had just heard.

Alice then took the podium and gave a brief description of the consciousness raising process that The Radical Age steering committee has been using. “The one advantage to participating in this process”, she said, is providing participants the space and time to examine our own ageist tendencies”.  “After all”, said Fisher, “we did grow up in this youth oriented society.”  The Radical Age Movement is developing a guide for people who want to start their own consciousness raising group around the topic of age.  This guide will be posted to The Radical Age Movement’s website, www.theradicalagemovment.com, in the coming weeks and be distributed at their next event on February 21st.

Barbara Harmon, 72, a speech language pathologist, and Jon Fisher, 70, artist and real estate broker, then testified to the changes that participating in the consciousness raising process has made for each of them.

Barbara spoke of how she came to accept the graciousness of those who offer her seats on crowded subways after coming to the realization that her own ageist attitude was getting in the way of her being able to accept aid when offered.  “Accepting a seat acknowledges the fact that my age is recognized; but because of the discussion and support of my peers, I now feel comfortable with the recognition”.

Jon talked about his career in the ad business where everything had to be new and fresh, including the people.  “I had the mindset that I had to look, act, and feel young; and I carried that with me into my personal life.  When I was invited to join the consciousness raising group, I really didn’t think that my ideas about ageing would ever change.  Now, I also feel more comfortable in my age.  The consciousness raising process has made a major imprint on who I am and who I am becoming”.

Remarks and conversation continued until it was time to leave.  Alice asked everyone to take a save-the-date for The Radical Age Movements next event on February 21st.  This will be a 4 hour workshop entitled “The Age Café.”  Through this process, those who attend will have the opportunity to help plan Radical Age’s agenda going forward.

Reacting to Alice’s expression of disappointment at not being able to proceed as planned, one attendee said that  the evening was one huge gestalt consciousness raising session.  Another comment by a member of the steering committee was, “I think we have the start of a real movement here.”  That expression was echoed by many who attended the event.

The Westminster Child Abuse Inquiry: Blood on Their Hands

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Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Geoffrey Dickens campaigned to uncover a pedophile ring at the heart of Westminster. In 1984, Dickens presented a 40-page dossier of evidence to Margaret Thatcher’s then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, implicating numerous prominent figures “in positions of power, influence and responsibility”, including the name of the late MP Cyril Smith. On receiving the dossier, Leon Brittan sent a letter to Dickens, informing him that his file would be given to police and passed on to the Home Office for investigation.

After the Jimmy Savile scandal broke in Britain in 2011, Peter McKelvie, a former Child Protection manager, contacted Labour MP Tom Watson with claims that at least 20 prominent figures, including former MPs and government ministers, had abused children for “decades”. McKelvie had discovered links between paedophiles and the government while assisting police in investigating convicted paedophile Peter Righton who had made his career as a child protection expert. Amongst evidence seized from Righton’s home in 1992 were a vast number of documents that pointed to a “very well organized pedophile network.”

As more information emerged, different investigations were launched by the police, under Operation Fairbank, including inquiries into activities of child abuse at Elm Guest House in London and Operation Midland, which is specifically looking at information about three possible murders linked to child abuse.

HORRIFIC ABUSE

The allegations that are surfacing from victims of the pedophile ring, push the boundaries of human depravity.  Amongst the allegations, is the claim that Liberal MP Cyril Smith, who died in 2010, abused boys at Knowl View residential school in Rochdale and at Elm Guest House, in Barnes in south west London, during the 1970s and 1980s. In one incident, Smith is accused of molesting an 11 year old boy at the National Liberal Club in London in 1978, insisting that the boy remove his underpants before attempting to fondle him.

At least three other MPs are reported to have been questioned in 1982 after a police raid on Elm Guest House. It was reported at the time that it was being used as a brothel where children as young as 10 were being abused. Whips, chains and ropes were discovered at the Guest House by police officers.

A particularly chilling statement was given by an alleged victim, known as ‘Nick’, who stated that, as a child, he and other boys, aged between 10 and 14 were repeatedly raped by government ministers. He recalled that chauffeur-driven cars were sent to pick up young boys and drive them to locations where they were to be abused. Nick states that he was present in the room when a 12 year old boy was raped and strangled to death by a Tory MP.

Nick also claims that another 11 year old boy was deliberately hit down and killed by a car in broad daylight on a London street as a warning to other boys not to speak out about their abuse. Worryingly, Home Secretary Theresa May has hinted that this only touches the surface of the horrors committed by the Westminster paedophile ring.

Whilst, it was clear that evidence had been collected at the time of the abuse, what makes this heartbreaking reality more sickening, is that there appears to be a widespread and deep-rooted cover up of what happened.

The details of the 40 page dossier, passed from Dickens to Brittan in 1984, still remain unknown, as the police later stated they had no record of any investigation into the allegations and a Home Office review revealed that the dossier “has since been destroyed or lost.”

On 1 July 2014, Labour MP Simon Danczuk publicly called on Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him when he was Home Secretary in the 1980s. Brittan has always denied any wrong-doing, however his death on the 22nd January 2015 has meant that a full investigation in to his actions can never be undertaken.

MEDIA SILENCING

The scale of the cover up reaches much further than a select group of politicians. Two newspaper executives have stated that when they attempted to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse at Elm Guest House, their publications were issued with D-notices. D-notices (Defence Advisory Notice) are issued by government as warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security.

Don Hale, the former editor of the Bury Messenger between 1980 and 1988, recalls being given a file by MEP Barbara Castle, which contained details of a Home Office investigation into allegations made by the Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens of the existence of a Westminster pedophile ring. Hale said that he asked the Home Office for guidance on the dossier and the progress of the investigation but was repeatedly stonewalled.

“Then shortly after Cyril Smith bullied his way into my office. I thought he was going to punch me. He was sweating and aggressive and wanted to take the files away, saying it was a load of nonsense and that Barbara Castle just had a bee in her bonnet about homosexuals. I refused to give him the files,” said Hale.

“The very next day two non-uniformed officers, about 15 uniformed officers and another non-uniformed person, who didn’t introduce himself, came to the office waving a D-notice and said that I would be damaging national security if I reported on the file.”

Officials running the D-notice system, which works closely with MI5 and MI6 and the Ministry of Defence, have said that the files which would contain the record of the D-notices have been destroyed.

THREATS AND INTIMIDATION

The threats and intimidation extended to more than just media reporters. On the 29th November 1985, Geoffrey Dickens said in a speech to the House of Commons that “the noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat (Peter Hayman) on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list.”

The same week that Dickens handed the dossier over to Brittan, his flat in London and his constituency home were subsequently broken into and ransacked. Nothing was taken from either premises.

However, the level of intimidation becomes even more disconcerting. Last year, Scotland Yard confirmed that they are looking in to the suspicious murders of two men who were in the process of whistleblowing to reveal the Westminster paedophile ring. In 1993, Lambeth Social Services Manager, Bulic Forsyth told a witness that he suspected children were being assaulted by an organized group at a children’s home said to have been visited by a Labour politician. Days later Forsyth was beaten to death in his flat which was then set on fire. A caretaker who was in the process of giving evidence against the child abuse gang died in similar circumstances. Both cases remain unsolved.

More recently, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who has called for a public inquiry into the child abuse, has alleged that before his appearance at the Home Affairs Select Committee where he was to answer questions on child abuse, he was urged by a Conservative minister not to challenge Leon Brittan over his knowledge of the alleged paedophile ring at Westminster.

Danczuk said of the warning that he’d “never spoken to (the man) before in my life but he blocked my way and ushered me to one side… He warned me to think very carefully about what I was going to say the next day.” The minister said to Danczuk, “I hear you’re about to challenge Lord Brittan about when he knew about child sex abuse…It wouldn’t be a wise move…It was all put to bed a long time ago.” The minister also warned Danczuk that he could be responsible for Brittan’s death.

FAILURES OF THE POLICE AND CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

Scotland Yard has also been implicated in the cover up after retired magistrate, Vishambar Mehrotra, revealed the poor police handling of his son’s abduction in 1981.

Mehrotra’s eight year old son, Vishal, was abducted as he walked home from Putney on 29 July 1981. Months later Mehrota recorded a telephone call from an anonymous male prostitute informing him that his son may have been kidnapped and taken to the Elm Guest House to be abused by “judges and politicians.” The recording was given to the police but they refused to investigate the allegation. “At that time I trusted the police. But when nothing happened I became confused and concerned. Now it is clear to me that there has been a huge cover-up. There is no doubt in my mind,” said Vishal’s Father.

Similarly, in May 1979, the Rochdale Alternative Press magazine alleged that MP Cyril Smith had spanked and sexually abused teenage boys in a hostel he co-founded. The matter was investigated by the police but Smith was not prosecuted. Smith never publicly denied the accusations of abuse, nor did he ever take legal action. The Press Office of the then leader of the Liberal Party, Sir David Steel publicly commented at the time: “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.”

Tony Robinson, a former special branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, said that a dossier of sexual abuse allegations against Smith, which police claimed had been “lost” was actually seized by MI5. Robinson said that he was asked by MI5 to send to London a police dossier that had been kept in a safe in his office which he said was “thick” with allegations from boys claiming they had been abused by Smith. On 27th November 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted that Smith should have been charged with crimes of abuse more than 40 years earlier.

In September 2013, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme “The Pedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got Away With It” quoted the Crown Prosecution Service as claiming that they had not prosecuted Smith for crimes of abuse because he had been given an assurance in 1970 that he would not be prosecuted, and that prevented them from subsequently reopening the investigation under the law at the time.

In June 2014, Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson of Greater Manchester Police admitted the force’s previous investigations into Cyril Smith’s abuse of children at Rochdale Knowl View residential school “fell well short” of what would be expected today.  Allegations had been made that a paedophile ring had been operating for decades in the town of Rochdale and that men would travel from all over Yorkshire to Rochdale to have sex with Knowl View boys aged between eight and thirteen years of age. Greater Manchester Police had the names of 14 of the 21 suspects, including Cyril Smith. In July 2014, Rochdale council’s inquiry into child abuse linked to Cyril Smith at Knowl View residential school was halted at the request of police. Greater Manchester Police asked the authority to suspend their inquiry while detectives investigated claims of an institutional cover up.

MISHANDLED INQUIRY

In 2013 the Home Office conducted a review on their handling of the missing dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan and claimed that parts of the dossier described as “credible” and which contained “realistic potential” for further investigation had been passed to prosecutors and the police.

The review, covering the years 1979 to 1999, found 527 potentially relevant files the Home Office had kept. However, a further 114 documents that also concerned child abuse allegations were missing from the Home Office’s records.

The government has declined to publish the 2013 review, with a spokesperson saying that “the executive summary reflects very fully the report…If there are allegations, evidence of wrongdoing that people have they should bring that to the attention of the relevant authorities including the police.”

Last year, Home Secretary Theresa May announced a wider expert-led, independent inquiry into whether public bodies, such as the police, NHS and BBC, have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. Within days, the integrity of the inquiry was called in to question as Baroness Butler-Sloss, the retired high court judge, who was selected to chair the panel leading the inquiry was forced to step down when it was highlighted that her brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general for much of the 1980s and was the government’s senior legal officer at the time the Dickens dossier was considered.

Home Secretary Theresa May then chose corporate lawyer Dame Fiona Woolf as Butler-Sloss’s replacement, but she too was quickly forced to stand down after it was disclosed that she had lived in the same street as Lord Brittan and had dinner with him five times between 2008 and 2012. It was also revealed that the Home Office had helped her re-write a letter detailing her contacts with Lord Brittan seven times in a way that played down their relationship.

In April 2014, following the reports that there had been 144 complaints against Cyril Smith and that attempts to prosecute him had always been blocked, Tim Farron, President of the Liberal Democrats called for an inquiry in to his party to retrieve answers to “serious questions” about who knew that Smith had faced allegations of sexual assault. Nick Clegg, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party has refused to allow this inquiry.

In July 2014, Norman Tebbit, who had held a variety of government ministerial posts in the 1980s, when asked if there had been a “big political cover up”, said that “there may well have been”, describing it as “…almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time.” Tebbit also spoke of the political atmosphere of the 1980s, saying that “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system than to delve too far into it.”

WITHOUT JUSTICE THE ABUSE CONTINUES

As the inquiry in to what happened stumbles along and Theresa May struggles to find a replacement Chair for the investigating panel, we must remember that at the heart of all of this, are many individuals who suffered unimaginable abuse when they were at their most vulnerable.

One victim, now in his 40s, has said that the abusers “controlled my life for… nine years. They created fear that penetrated every part of me. That was part of my life day in and day out. You didn’t question what they wanted; you didn’t hesitate to do what they asked you to do. You did what you were told without question or the punishments were very severe. They had no hesitation in doing what they wanted to do. Some of them were quite open about who they were. They had no fear at all of being caught, it didn’t even cross their mind. They could do anything they wanted without question and we were told that.”

It is clear that those who are part of, or who have links to the establishment, are the people who can be least trusted to secure justice for the victims. This week it was reported that Keith Vaz, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has published four of the victim’s names online, leading to the victim’s receiving countless death threats. This demonstrates, yet another unforgivable mistake by those whom we should be able to trust the most. If those with the power to uncover the truth about this injustice choose not to, where do we turn to next?

This is a dark episode in British history and my heart is with all those, both victims and whistleblowers, who have fought hard to bring us back to the light. May we soon get there.

Social Work Members of Congress Launch Social Work Day on the Hill

WASHINGTON, DC—Spearheaded by former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and joined by former Congressman Ronald V. Dellums and current Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), Tuesday March 17, 2015 has been declared Social Work Day on the Hill.  A reception will be held in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. to highlight the day dedicated to celebrating contributions social workers make to Congress and the federal government.  The event’s theme is Engaging Congress in the Pursuit of Social Justice.

More than two dozen social work organizations and schools are collaborating to create the event in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus, founded by Mr. Towns in 2010 during the 111th Congress. Congresswoman Lee chairs the Social Work Caucus.  A focal point of the day will be stepping up efforts to pass the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13) succeeded Congressman Edolphus Towns as Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus

“Having a day for social workers on the Hill has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the former lawmaker acknowledged.  “This will be a day held each year when social workers from all walks of life can gather on the Hill to celebrate the many accomplishments we have made in Congress and salute the many social workers working with the federal government to create a more just and equitable society for all people.  March is Social Work Month so this is the perfect time to do this.”

Towns, who served 30 years in the House representing central Brooklyn, NY before retiring in 2013, earned his M.S.W. degree at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work.  He first introduced the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act in 2008 during the 110th Congress and it has been re-introduced in succeeding Congresses, most recently in the 113th Congress by Rep. Lee as H.R. 1466.  A companion bill, S. 997, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.  Both Lee and Mikulski are social workers.  Congresswoman Lee earned her M.S.W. degree at the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Work.  Sen. Mikulski is a graduate of University of Maryland School of Social Work.

“As a former psychiatric social worker, I know first-hand the impact that social workers have on our communities. Professional social workers continue to work on the frontlines, helping individuals overcome adversity, connecting families to critical care services, and making communities thrive,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “As the proud Chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, I am looking forward to attending yet another successful social work day on the Hill during Social Work Month in March.”

Former Congressman Ronald Dellums, who served in the House from 1971 to 1988 representing the 9th District in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker for the reception.  He later became mayor of Oakland, CA and is currently the Visiting Fellow at Howard University’s Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center.  He was the first African American to serve as chair of the Armed Services Committee.

“I am pleased to help bring social workers to the Hill,” Mr. Dellums said.  “There is a sense of urgency today that did not exist fifty years ago when I first arrived on the Hill.  When Congressman Towns and I first came to Congress it seemed like we had plenty of time to address the challenges we faced.  The world is moving at a faster clip today and too many people are being left behind.  Social work must find the big idea that will define the profession over the next decade which is why it is so important that we all come together.”

There are currently seven professional social workers in Congress—five in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.  In addition to Congresswoman Lee, other social workers in the House are Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA53), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA3).  Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are professional social workers.  Congresswoman Lee is the chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and founder and co-chair of the Out-of Poverty.  In 2013, she was selected by President Barack Obama as the congressional representative to the United Nations.

For additional information, contact Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr., president of the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) at celewisjr@gmail.com. CRISP is a 501(c4) nonprofit organization Towns helped to found to complement the work of the Social Work Caucus.

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