I, like many others in my cohort, went to the NASW Day at the Legislature. It was my first time visiting the Capitol as a constituent, advocate, and social worker*. I’d like to share this experience because it was one of the most valuable experiences I had this semester.
I listened to many guest speakers about how business on the Capitol typically goes. I learned more about how lawmakers do business and how to approach them. It was imparted upon me that personalized, face-to-face contact has the largest impact upon legislators, over phone calls or letters. Secondly, I was encouraged to build a relationship with my legislators before I tried to influence opinion about legislation. I listened to a panel of lawmakers talk about their second day in session and, from that small panel, gained insight that politics does not have to be politically divided among Democrats and Republicans.
From there, I was encouraged to visit my legislators, Senator Jack Fry and Representative Scott Inman. I was very nervous to bother these important men. However, I pushed forward and stepped into Representative Inman’s office. His aide said he wasn’t in. Her name was Lindsey, too! I briefly talked with her and learned her job keeps her very busy. I bid her good day and sought after Senator Fry…. And he was gone too! Turns out there was a funeral that most legislators were at. I guess I learned the value of scheduling an appointment to meet! (I also learned that you should wear comfortable shoes because climbing up/down stairs and walking across marble floors gets uncomfortable fast!)
But the day hadn’t gone completely to waste – I helped a classmate find her Senator and we spoke to him. We spoke about the value of education in Oklahoma. He had some very specific opinions about that subject and I could tell his mind was made up about public schools. Nonetheless, he was warm, yet professional. I suppose is a trait politicians need to develop.
Before this experience, I felt legislators were very elite and out of reach. I had this notion because I was unaware of how to approach them. Instead, I learned they live in my neighborhoods and shop at my local Wal-Mart. This experience helped demystify who legislators are and helped me see how I could begin to operate in this setting as an advocate.
*A few years ago, as a caterer, I once delivered sandwiches to the Capitol. I was led to the front of the House of Representatives so someone could sign my receipt. I waited, standing by the front podium, looking out over the floor. I felt so impressed an involuntary “wow” escaped my mouth. My voice traveled through the room. That’s when I learned the microphones were on. Nonetheless, I was impressed. A delusion of grandeur entered my head about – maybe, one day – being a lawmaker.