The word advocacy is rooted in the Medieval Latin words advocare and advocatia: meaning summon, or call to one’s aid. Unfortunately in today’s world, advocacy has taken on a political connotation. Most definitions today read something like: a political process which aims to influence decisions within political, economic and social systems. I, however, prefer the more simple definition of: the act of supporting a cause.
So many citizens have chosen to remove themselves from the politics of the day that I believe that advocacy has also gone by the way-side. Many of us surround ourselves with those who hold the same beliefs, education, and values as we do (also known as homophily), and thus the need for advocacy has seemingly decreased. Take a look at your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, and your email contacts...I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them feel the same way as you do about most issues in today’s world. Which news station do you watch? What radio station do you listen to? We have allowed ourselves to become surrounded by those who we agree with.
Then what DOES advocacy look like in today’s world? I believe we each need to start over. We need to take baby steps to begin advocating for what we think is right. We need to actually speak up and support a cause or issue. The first thing I recommend is to attend a meeting. Don’t attend the meeting with the intent to speak. Simply attend with an open mind…and be willing to listen and learn. There is a place for everyone at public meetings. There are those who always attend EVERY meeting. They definitely have their place. However, if you show up when something that matters to YOU is on the agenda, I guarantee you will make an impact; even if you do not speak.
Another simple way to start advocating is to log into the website of an organization that generally supports the issues that you do. From the American Medical Association, to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, to the ZooAction Advocacy Program, they all have a process for advocacy. I have discovered that most of them have a great system in which they will email you about issues that you might be interested in that are coming up for discussion or vote in state or federal government. They even provide you with a letter to send to your congressman. All you have to do is make a few clicks and your letter is sent. It couldn’t be any easier!
Additionally, more traditional ways of advocating include calling your elected officials, or visiting their local office, or at the state capitol or in DC. Often times you will only be able to talk with staff, but it is their job to pass your message along. And they do. Don’t be nervous about speaking to your elected officials. In most cases, you know more about the particular issue you are passionate about than they do. They WANT to hear your ideas and opinions. Their job is to represent their constituency…to represent you.
The only way we can make our community a better place, is for all of us to take responsibility for participating in the process of developing it. We have to step forward and let people know where we stand. Do it this month. I promise you’ll learn something, and you’ll make an impact.