Advocacy in Action: Figuring Out Your Lane

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Being an advocate  lawyer is rarely about being a transcendent political leader who saves the galaxy. It is about the countless ways, most of them small and mundane, in which any person lawyer can make a difference for the better.

W. Taylor Reveley III

Forgive me for revising the above quote, but I think this hits exactly to the point we want to make today, that through the “small and mundane” tasks we can actively pursue advocacy of an issue. I am not sure when you are reading this post, but our country is dealing with another murder of a young black man by the police. We are writing this post in collaboration with Notley Tide – which focuses on racial justice. We have to be honest that people might be upset and angry, propelling them to think about what they can do in a big way. But in reality, the real work that upsets the status quo is the repetitive work completed daily, weekly, yearly challenging our system to add equity in all we do, to seek racial justice in all that we do.  

And let’s be sure to all start from the same place, by advocacy we mean: publicly expressing interest in specific causes and taking clear actions to support the positive advancement of those causes.

Along the way, I have found out that it is important to not pursue every issue in the same manner, sometimes I need to be superwoman, and other times, I need to simply stand and hold a sign. It will never get old, reminding people that it is important to figure out your lane when it comes to advocacy, and pursuing that is what we are here to talk about today.

First things first, there are a few activities all advocates are able to participate in:

  1. Research and educate yourself about a particular issue. It is important to know BOTH sides of any issue to be an effective advocate.
  2. True grassroots advocacy which in its most simplest terms, “contacting your local, state or federal officials regarding a certain issue.” Plugging into advocacy groups, like the Notley Tide Partners, that work on these issues makes it easier, but you are able to do this on your own as well. 
  3. Talking to friends, family and even co-workers (if appropriate) about the issues. 

If you are doing any of these things, you are at least, what I call a “starter advocate”. That’s right, I have some non-Webster like definitions to walk through different advocates in action. We have:

  • Starter Advocates
  • Committed Advocates
  • Seasoned Advocates
  • At a Distance Advocates

Depending on your stage in life, your interest and the landscape/climate of the issue determines what kind of level of advocacy you fall into. But I want to make it clear, people often look to “seasoned advocates” and get discouraged from pursuing advocacy at all. We need people to come at this work from all different angles, and the best community leaders will tell you that we need advocates of all kinds. Seriously. 

Starter Advocate:

If you have never pursued advocacy, but have a lot of skills (or none) to offer, your best chance at making an impact is to show up and listen. This is the most undervalued action people forget to take. A lot of times, people want to show up and do, and that’s great, but it is better to understand an organization and not over promise and underdeliver. If we look at racial or social justice advocacy groups, they are working on breaking down barriers in racist systems so when people show up with what you already want to do, the skepticism is high. 

Find an advocacy group and first show up to their meetings (if they hold them) or volunteer in the opportunities that they have. The best way to be an authentic and committed advocate, is interacting and learning more about the populations you’re trying to help advocate for (this is much easier when we’re not in a pandemic). Try these activities before suggesting the way in which you want to volunteer with a particular organization. 

Committed Advocate: 

This can be the most interesting place to sit, oftentimes advocates are in this season till they burnout or have a life change. Volunteers who have the capacity and time to contribute significant efforts to a particular issue or campaign are the lifeline to many small, bootstrapped advocacy organizations. 

A committed advocate might help with a single policy initiative, chair volunteer projects such as phone banking or canvassing and/or commit to helping the affected group of the cause in some capacity. The committed advocate is usually able to give the elevator pitch to a stranger and one of the key reasons an advocacy organization has their network expanded. The more you become involved in an organization, the more you want to share, naturally. 

If you are reading this, and this is starting to resonate with the work you are looking to do, you must stop and ask yourself if you’re ready to make the commitment and deep dive especially if you are already casually involved with an organization. Reach out to their volunteer manager or community engagement contact on how you can engage further, and be patient for the right opportunity. 

Lastly, board service is another avenue and more common in the non-profit space, but it too is a way a committed advocate shows their dedication to a particular cause. 

Seasoned Advocate:

If you are a seasoned advocate and reading this post, we are already honored, not sure you are learning anything new, but we would like to highlight and encourage seasoned advocates to mentor or pursue public writing opportunities. The knowledge that you have is invaluable, and you might not be a person who is looking for the limelight, but you have the expertise to share. Telling the stories of the work in the trenches are the most compelling pieces of advocacy that you can provide to the issue. Find ways to mentor newer advocates or use your voice in the media / public spaces to help amplify the cause.

At-a-Distance Advocate:

You might be asking, if I am at a distance, can I really be an advocate? Only you can answer that question for yourself, but if your capacity for at the moment is donating money and haven’t committed to anything else, your donation is 100% appreciated. However, your time and voice are also vital. One thing I want to encourage is that if you tried to work with one advocacy group and you couldn’t get plugged in, don’t stop there. As with anything, all groups are not created equal. For example, what the Austin Justice Coalition pursues is very different from Grassroots Leadership. It is okay to be at a distance, if your life stage requires it of you for the moment, but don’t let laziness or one bad experience deter you. The people who lead these groups are imperfect and sometimes have specific opportunities. Date around, it’s okay, the impact that you can make when you find it is worth it. 

Now, there is a reason we want you to figure out your lane. Advocacy work, including racial justice work, is needed even when it is not trending. It is important to continue engaging in the fight to advance racial justice in whatever level of advocacy best suits your current stage of life. 

Until Next Time, 

Frances 

This is a collaboration between The Frame Up and Notley Tide.