Throughout sociology and social policy classes at Brandeis, as well as other advocacy experiences, I’ve learned that progress is slow and not always linear. In democracies, progress is often slow because of the amount of voices and opinions being debated. Although having more voices can make change slow, I still see this kind of collaboration as positive. The more voices and arguments you hear, the more informed you can become on an issue.
My classes at Brandeis have centered on the importance of discussions with people holding different viewpoints and life experiences. This learning is significant for me as someone who wants to go into a career related to advocacy work. Advocates for any social issue must gather lots of people and information to share with the public and legislators to explain to them the problem they would like to solve, as well as possible solutions.
Social problems do not have quick fixes because many of them are intersecting and are fueled by longstanding systems and ideologies that some people do not want to reform or abolish. At Brandeis, I took a class on social movements where I learned about their complexities. Social movements and their advocacy may not always be straightforward because people within movements may have different ideas for solving the social issues they are focused on. For example, some people may favor legislative advocacy while others are more interested in solving problems without government intervention.
These ideas about progress and advocacy have informed my thinking about the work of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI). I now understand the need for the multi-pronged approach that lawyers at MLRI use to help low-income and BIPOC families that have been hurt by social institutions. MLRI’s homepage explains that they work on “impact litigation, policy advocacy, coalition building, community lawyering, and public information.” This approach allows MLRI’s team of advocates and lawyers to make reforms by advocating for policy changes to legislators while also pursuing litigation directly targeted at social institutions themselves when they have showed clear violations that are hurting the people they are supposed to help.
These ideas I have learned about advocacy inform my work with the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition by putting me into the mindset that collaboration is the best way to handle the current and future issues of child welfare in the state. However, progress takes a long time as advocates need to prepare arguments and data, and must have many meetings with each other and legislators in order to make a substantial positive impact.
Collaboration can be especially difficult when it comes to legislative advocacy because of the way politics work. Although legislators are elected officials, they do not always understand the depth and scope of the problems that their constituents want them to fix. It then becomes the job of impacted individuals or advocates to provide the necessary information to legislators to prove to them that the problems exist, and to present possible legislative solutions. The media can also help spread information about the work of coalitions and advocates, like in this article where the attorney I work with at my internship is quoted.
As my internship continues, I am becoming increasingly excited about the work the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition is doing to help families impacted by the child welfare system. The child welfare system can be very messy and complicated, but I am grateful to be working with such outstanding advocates who are working their hardest to change the system for the better.