Advocacy Series: Advocacy 101

What is advocacy? Let’s spell it out: advocacy is not a four-letter word (although we may have been frustrated enough to use one). Advocacy and advocates are not something people need to fear.  It is simply being for Something.

Advocacy does not mean you have to burn your bra…or your jock strap.  You don’t have to heft poster board with a magic-marker-message above your head and chant, “Down with (insert antagonist of choice here)” among a sea of protesters, nor do you need to lie down in front of a bulldozer. True, this is advocacy.  But this assertive form of activism is one that has often reached the desperation stage—and admittedly, there have been moments of desperation in my own caregiving days and nights where I considered extreme attention-getting methods.

So what are the different forms of advocacy?

  • Legislative – lobbying to legislators to influence public policy.
  • Legal – authorized to represent someone in a legal process.
  • Mass – large group efforts, such as petitions and demonstrations.
  • Social – create awareness or change on behalf of something or someone.
  • Self – speaking up for yourself, your particular demographic.

Think of advocacy like a story. Where starts and where it goes is up to you. You choose the characters and decide the setting. Don’t worry about the key element that drives the narrative—conflict. That’s a given or you probably wouldn’t be advocating for/about a Something. If you don’t know where to start, channel your inner Glinda: “It’s always best to start at the beginning.”

Advocacy begins with a passion. What do you feel strongly about? Who do you feel strongly about? What causes you to spend your time, your energy, your money on? What is the philosophy, situation, need, obstacle, frustration, or joy that gets your blood pumping, that massages your heart.  What is your Something?

Call to action. This is when your “I am for…” can’t sit still, can’t be quiet. You feel the need to do something about your Something, to no longer be a bystander, to shed the sense of helplessness and become empowered through action.

Finding your voice’s comfort zone. Shy? You can voice show your support through passive methods: t-shirts, petitions, e-mails, letter writing, awareness bracelets, attendance at events. Outgoing? Any of the above of course, but add advisory committees, boards, meetings with policy makers, testifying, public speaking (stay tuned for a personal account in the Advocate Series: Speaking Of)

Fortunately, the wheel was invented some time ago. While no one has your unique perspective, skill set, or experience, there is a very good chance that there are other people who are advocating for a similar Something. Find them. Pool your energy. Share your stories. Connect with other advocates—there is strength in numbers.

Advocacy training resources:

Disabilities:  The Advocacy Institute has an online webinar. Note that there is a charge, but you can view past presentations for free for “a limited time.”

Autism: Autism SPEAKS has a tool kit download for families and individuals. You will need to fill out a form to get the link.

Medical: Patient Advocacy Resources is a site with links, books, and guides that can point a patient or patient advocate in the right direction for becoming a better partner in health care.

Lions Club Parade with MDS staff

Lions Club Parade with MDS staff

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