A mini course on how to advocate on issues that matter to you.
Interested in an issue but not sure what to do next? The answer is advocacy!
Start with your own experience
To be an effective advocate, you don’t have to be an expert. You already have a wealth of experiences, stories and concerns—all of these are the basis for advocacy. If you have ever helped out at a soup kitchen, visited someone who’s sick, gone to a work camp with your youth group, volunteered your time at a nursing home or day care center, raised money to fight hunger, you have been an advocate. You made a connection between your life and someone else’s life, and you acted on that connection. You have firsthand experience with a real-life problem. The first step toward finding a solution is having a clear understanding of the problem or challenge you are facing.
The following questions can help you think about ways to act on your experience:
- How would you describe the problem or challenge?
- Who is being affected?
- Why do you think it matters?
- What needs to happen to bring about positive change (does it involve changing a school policy, a local, state or national law, or raising awareness of the problem)?
- Which people in authority are key to changing the situation (a school administrator, the school board, the local city council, a state senator or representative, a member of Congress)?
- How would you want to get others involved?
- Who might share your interest and help you think of ways to bring about change?
- How can you get the word out to others to raise awareness of the issue?
Learn more about an issue that interests you
If there is an issue you don’t have experience with but would like to learn about, get more information. You might want to pick an issue and follow it in the daily newspaper. For example, if you would like to learn more about homelessness, look for articles about homelessness in the paper, follow TV news reports. You may be interested in volunteering.
Your school, church or local library may have a periodicals collection including newsletter and newspaper. If you are interested, you can sign up to be a particular newsletter mailing list to keep yourself informed.
Talk to others about the issues that are important to you
A key to advocacy is getting other people interested and informed about an issue. Talk to family members, friends, classmates, fellow group members or others in the community about your experiences and your concern. For example, if you have just returned from a work camp, or if you volunteer your time at a community agency, talk about what you have seen, heard and experienced. Talk about what you see as the problems to be addressed and what might be done to bring about change.
Start a discussion group through your school, place of employment, civic or faith organization. You can begin to get ideas for action just by starting to talk about issue with others. Remember, your story is the most important tool you have. People often pay more attention to real-life stories and experiences than statistics.
Get the word out and get friends to help you
Working on a project is much more fun when you get friends to join you. Once you have found an issue you would like to work on, and an action you want to carry out, spread the work and find others to join. For example, if you decide to raise awareness about hunger, you might want to bring your concern to a student government meeting or your civic organization. Think about what jobs are involved and who can help (publicity, writing a letter or news article, making an announcement, holding a fundraiser or food drive).
For young people, it is a good idea to identify an adult or group of adults who can give you guidance, support and advice as you work on an issue. For example, a teacher or school administrator can help you figure out what activities can be held at the school and what school policy allows. A youth group advisor can help you get in touch with an agency in your community that is looking for help and can help you with ways to inform your organization about an issue.
It is always easier to keep on going when you take time to celebrate along the way. If you hold a successful food drive or letter-writing campaign, tell everyone about your success and celebrate with a party. If you have helped bring about some positive change in your community or neighborhood, tell your story in your local paper, the school paper or congregational newsletter. If your town has a local cable station, you might even tell your story on TV. This also helps to keep people informed and aware of an issue.