Social work students lobby at the Capitol

BY JESSICA JASPERSON
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“Close the gap! Cut the crap!” is just one of the many phrases MSUM social work students  used to lobby at the Capitol last Monday to make their presence known to state lawmakers.  Photo by Jessica Jasperson

“Close the gap! Cut the crap!” is just one of the many phrases MSUM social work students used to lobby at the Capitol last Monday to make their presence known to state lawmakers.
Photo by Jessica Jasperson

The air filled with advocacy as more than 800 people marched from the Minnesota History Center to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul last Monday.

Seven MSUM social work students took part in the 18th Annual Day at the Capitol. During this day people have the opportunity to lobby state lawmakers about matters of social policy.

Alyssa Colosky and Eileen Huggins, two social work seniors, were the liaisons for MSUM. In preparation for the day at the Capitol, Colosky and Huggins participated in training on Feb. 8 in St. Paul. Here they learned how to recruit students to attend the event, how to talk to Minn. legislators and the importance of coming together to advocate for social issues.

On the day of the event, social work students from every Minnesota university came together to march, chant and declare change. For social work senior Zachary Zuniga-Laducer, the march illustrated how two different groups can come together for the good of all.

“We had schools that were more rural and even big city schools,” he said. “Even though we come from two completely different lifestyles, there was still a unity about it. The issues affected both of us, and they may affect us in different ways, but a group of people still saw it as an issue we need to resolve.”

Colosky sees the march as a picture for what future social workers will accomplish once students graduate.

“I thought it was refreshing to see there’s going to be that many future social workers interested in social policy and advocacy,” she said. “I think a lot of social workers tend to lean toward micro practice whereas working with policies, grants and advocacy as a whole is not as popular.”

The main issue the National Association of Social Workers Minnesota chapter focused on is raising the minimum wage. The liaisons created chants for the issue like “Care for your neighbor! Fair pay for labor!” and “Close the gap! Cut the crap!”

However, during the day at the Capitol, students discovered that the Senate and House had made an agreement toward increasing the minimum wage from $6.15, among the lowest in the nation, to $9.50 by 2016.

“It was nice that all the campaigning and writing to the politicians about the minimum wage and why we were there had actually been moving toward getting passed,” Zuniga-Laducer said. “I feel like a lot of times in the media it’s projected nothing ever gets through the Capitol, and nothing ever gets passed these days. To actually see it happening in front of us — it was more beneficial.”

“Our efforts have actually done something,” Colosky added.

Other than raising the minimum wage, the group discussed what students and future social workers would advocate for including the state putting more money toward education, pay caps in addition to minimum wage and the 5 percent increase in funding for long term care workers.

Huggins and Colosky felt everyone accepted the students’ advocacy and appreciated hearing what they had to say.

“The senators and representatives said this is your house,” Colosky said. “I never really thought of it that way. We can belong here.”

“There were legislators who were excited to greet us,” Huggins said. “They even waited in line to speak to us in the rotunda. It feels wonderful to feel like you have a voice, and you’re supported by those who have the power to influence what goes on in the government.”

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