2014 Policy Conference 2.0
Energizing for Activism: Recommitting to Policy Change
(download the program)

Wyndham Garden Hotel, Austin, Texas
May 29-31, 2014

“A remarkable opportunity for learning and community building”

”I felt empowered and became more passionate about

studying policy and teaching macro practice”

“I can’t remember the last time I left a conference feeling this invigorated and enthusiastic, and wished it could have been longer!”

These comments reflect the very positive feedback from participants in this year’s Policy Conference 2.0, Energizing for Activism: Recommitting to Policy Change. From May 29-31, 2014, in Austin, Texas, 75 social work educators, students, and policy practitioners from 25 states and the District of Columbia gathered in Austin to revive the original Policy Conference, sponsored by the University of South Carolina and held annually from 1998-2005. Policy Conference 2.0 was organized by four social work faculty: Sunny Harris Rome from George Mason University, Katharine V. Byers from Indiana University, Stacey Borasky from St. Edwards University, and Jessica Ritter from Pacific University.

The conference included two plenary sessions, a pioneer panel discussion, workshops and presentations, poster presentations, and a concluding session on next steps and plans for the future. Session topics ranged from teaching strategies and how to engage students in policy practice to current policy issues including the impact of Citizens United, working with people who are incarcerated, immigration, and the Affordable Care Act.

Policy Conference 2.0 had two exciting plenary speakers. Mr. Cliff Walker from Battleground Texas kicked off the conference on Thursday evening. Mr. Walker is the Political Director of Battleground Texas, which is charged with changing the face of Texas politics and expanding the electorate by registering more voters and mobilizing those Texans who have not been engaged in the democratic process. Cliff shared with the audience Battleground Texas’ neighborhood-based approach to getting Texans registered to vote and his sincere belief that, with some hard work, Texas can be turned into a progressive state in the near future.

On Friday morning, conference attendees were delighted to hear a rousing, humorous, and inspiring talk from Jim Hightower. National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of 7 books, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the powers that be. He shares his hard-hitting populist viewpoint through daily radio commentaries and the award winning, political newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown,” which now has more than 135,000 subscribers. Mr. Hightower told the audience stories of progressive, populist movements that are occurring around the country and had the audience in stitches with his hilarious sayings and observations. At the end of his talk, he received a standing ovation from the audience and signed books and took photos with grateful conference participants.

The pioneer panel discussion included three distinguished social policy faculty: Mimi Abramovitz, Bertha Capen Reynolds Chair for Social Welfare Policy at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College; Bruce S. Jansson, the Driscoll/Clevenger Professor of Social Policy and Administration at the School of Social Work, University of Southern California; and Nancy A. Humphreys, Professor of Policy Practice and Director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut. All three have been leaders in advocating for a focus on policy and policy practice in social work, and attendees benefited from their experience and perspectives. Their reflections on where we have been and where we still need to go were both stimulating and challenging. Mimi focused much of her discussion on the policy climate and how to reconnect social workers to policy change. She asked why social work was tentative in supporting unions and suggested we may need to redefine the profession. Bruce described how he became involved in policy practice and emphasized that policy folks are the keepers of social work values and history. He challenged those present to consider whether our social work programs are truly committed to policy practice. Nancy discussed the need to clearly define what we mean by policy practice. The discussion generated by the panel continued through the dinner that followed.

The concluding discussion was designed to solicit feedback on the conference itself and a sense of the group of what our next steps should be. There was overwhelming praise for the conference and support for another one next year, and so planning has begun for a conference May 28-30, 2015, again in Austin, TX.