by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW
“America is hard to see”
“…never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it”.
Hillary Clinton 2016 concession speech
The results of the 2016 elections surprised and shocked people all over our country. Those who supported Hillary Clinton were dumfounded that a man who expressed his willingness to sexually assault women, and who demeaned Mexican residents, Muslims, veterans, a reporter with disabilities and retweeted an anti-Semitic cartoon, among other actions, could be elected President.
The spoken word has consequences. What has been most frightening is that since Trump’s election there have been reports all over the country, including in Wisconsin, of vandalism, graffiti, intimidation and physical and verbal assaults on African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews and women. The KKK is currently planning a Donald Trump victory march in North Carolina. The Southern Poverty Leadership Council reported more than 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the first ten days after the election. This has included the scrolling or painting of Swastikas around the country on college and high school campuses, including in Wisconsin. In a Green Bay high school it was reported to me that a Muslim girl had her hijab pulled down by a student. At Baylor University in Texas an African American student was verbally and physically accosted by a fellow student, who in response to another student asking him to stop, said he was “making American great again”. Fortunately over 100 Baylor students and professors walked in solidarity with this woman to class the next day. It seems the election of Donald Trump has given permission for racist individuals to openly express their racist thoughts.
As a profession that believes in the dignity and worth of all persons and social justice, we must strongly condemn any kind of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or homophobic expression in our country and stand in solidarity with those groups under attack. We also need to support those Trump supporters who have felt abandoned by government and have seen their economic conditions worsen over the years.
Aside from the many racist and sexist comments during the campaign, the implications of full Republican control of all levers of the federal government certainly threaten the policies of the Obama administration and previous Presidents that provide support for the most vulnerable of our population. Will the Republicans in power eliminate food stamps as an entitlement, as they have proposed, which could lead to an increase in hunger and destitution in our country? Will they eliminate or so drastically undermine the Affordable Care Act that tens of millions of Americans lose their health insurance? Will they eliminate Medicaid as an entitlement or block grant this program to the states which would likely result in the program reaching fewer and fewer of those needing the services. Will they deport the “dreamers” who received temporary papers to work through the DACA program? Will they deport millions of undocumented individuals in this country with minor offenses? Will they eliminate or block grant legal services for the poor, the WIC program, the school lunch program or other safety programs for the poor?
So what are we to do as social workers? First we need to redouble our efforts for social justice and against discrimination and racist thoughts, behavior and actions in our country. Although things may look bleak now, that has never stopped social work activists in history including Jane Adams and Whitney Young. We have always been at the forefront of social change whether in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, full equality for the LGBT community or other groups. As President Obama stated so eloquently during his campaign if we keep pushing at the pendulum of social justice, eventually it will move in the direction of change. He has also reminded us that social change does not always follow a straight line.
In these challenging times we need to take care of ourselves and others. Please know that NASW WI is here to support you in your efforts as advocates and compassionate and powerful social workers. With your help we will fight against regressive policies and hateful communication. We will never give up on the mission of our profession “…to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty”.
Together we can continue to move the pendulum of change.