Your Voice Matters: Intro to Advocacy

 

What does it mean to advocate or to be an advocate?  Can anyone participate in the advocacy process?  Do you want to participate in creating social change but are not sure where to begin?  Read on and begin to make your choice about how you want to engage in the vital part of the public policy process called advocacy!

 

Advocacy is a word that is applied to many different types of activities. A broad definition of advocacy is “the attempt to influence public policy, either directly or indirectly” (Pekkanen, Smith, & Tsujinaka, 2014, p. 3).  This definition encompasses the important idea that advocacy is part of the policymaking process.  The policymaking process is ongoing and requires consistent attention so there will always be a need for advocacy work.

 

There are two types of advocacy:  direct and indirect.  Direct advocacy actions most often include face-to-face meetings with elected officials or their staff, and are often referred to as lobbying activities. Indirect advocacy actions include activities such as educating the public about an issue or conducting outreach activities about a policy.

 

A policy can be thought about as an instrument used by an individual or a group through which society (i.e. the public) regulates itself, in an attempt to channel human behavior in a certain way (Kraft & Furlong, 2018, p. 6).  Public policies that are either enacted or not enacted will affect you in either a way you like or a way you do not like.  If you feel strongly enough to take action regarding a policy, the inaction taken on a policy, or the way a policy is being proposed you are engaging in advocacy.  It is that simple!

 

An advocate is a person who uses indirect or direct advocacy methods to attempt to influence the work of elected officials who have the job of deciding which action, or non-action, to use to deal with a societal problem.  There are many facets to being an advocate.  You can choose to be an advocate in the way, or ways, that work the best for you.  We live in a country where participating in the choices we make about how we connect with one another is imperative to the healthy functioning of a democratic society.  It is important for each of us to advocate for causes that improve the lives of each other, therefor strengthening the social contract between us (Avner, 2013, p. 18).  To answer the question at the beginning of this blog post, Yes!, anyone can be an advocate and participate in the advocacy process.  This means you!

 

Are you ready to be an advocate?  Ideas for action:

 

  • Register to vote and participate by getting your ballots to the ballot box.

 

  • Engage with an organization whose mission represents your interests.  Subscribe to the organization’s newsletter, volunteer some of your time to work on a policy-related project, or purchase a membership to the organization.  Now you are part of a larger network filled with people with similar interest to yours. 

 

  • Engage with an organization whose mission represents your interests.  Subscribe to the organization’s newsletter, volunteer some of your time to work on a policy-related project, or purchase a membership to the organization.  Now you are part of a larger network filled with people with similar interest to yours.

 

  • If there are regulatory issues about which you have a concern, email, call, or make an appointment with your representative, or representative’s staff, and share your point of view.

 

  • Contact your representative’s office if they supported an issue of which you approve.  Send a thank you text, email, or thank you note, or leave a thank you voicemail message.  Real people track all incoming correspondence to your elected officials’ offices.

 

  • Use technology to your advantage.  Sign up for action alerts from organizations.  If an organization sends out an action request email and you want to support the issue, you can advocate for it via the click of a button.  You can also delete the email if this issue is not of interest to you.  Easy!

 

  • Look for an Advocacy Day arranged by an organization, or a group of organizations, when elected officials are in their offices and go with a group of people.  Generally, there will be a group training session prior to your pre-arranged meeting(s) at which you will receive talking points for current issues on the political agenda to use during the meeting with your representative.  Usually a group of constituents from the same district as you attend the meeting together.  Participation in an Advocacy Day is a supportive and fun way to take the plunge into direct advocacy work.

 

Remember:  Your voice matters!  Participation is the key.  When you speak up and share your story or your opinion you are a change-maker, you are an advocate.  Choose your way to make a difference that will sustain your intellect and your heart, and you will become a life-long advocate, active in creating social change.
 

References

 

Avner, M. (2103).  The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations:

     Shaping Public Policy at the State and Local Level  (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Fieldstone Alliance.

 

Boris, E.T., Moronick, M., & Nikolova, M. (2014).  Shaping the Government-Nonprofit Partnership.  In                   Pekkanen, R.J., Smith, S.R., & Tsujinaka, Y. (Eds.), Nonprofits and Advocacy:  Engaging Community and       Government in an Era of Retrenchment (66-84).  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Kraft, M.E. & Furlong, S. R. (2018). Public Policy:  Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives.
     Thousand Oaks, CA:  CQ Press.

 

Pekkanen, R.J., & Smith, S.R. (2014).  Nonprofit Advocacy:  Definitions and Concepts.
     In Pekkanen, R.J., Smith, S.R., & Tsujinaka, Y. (Eds.), Nonprofits and Advocacy:  Engaging Community           and Government in an Era of Retrenchment  (1-17).  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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