Ways To Be An Advocate
An attempt to influence the policies of government, usually by a small prepared group meeting with an individual policymaker or his/her staff. May also be used with business or other organizations, but requires that you follow the procedures of the entity involved. Success comes from moral suasion, convincing with facts, giving them something they want in return, or showing them that you represent numbers of voters sufficient to impact their next election.
- Petitions/Letter-writing/Emails/Phone Calls
Other conventional methods, less demanding of people but often not very effective. For people who don’t like confrontation, petitions are ideal, while writing is preferred by some and phone by others. They are ways of getting people involved and thinking about the issue, and can bring leaders’ attention to new issues or show them that more people care about the issue than they realized. Getting an op-ed published in a major local paper used to be a big deal, but with falling readership is no longer as effective as use of social media.
Most of us are very familiar with these and may love or despise them, but no one can deny that they have occasionally been extremely successful but more often have had little or no effect. Planning, followup and ongoing organizing work are critical. They can be polite, rude, angry, sad, or even happy, again depending on the issue and the organizers. Sometimes they can also be just about the only means by which to register our moral outrage at injustices that are not going away. Media attention is usually a primary goal, but it’s gotten harder to get and fewer people watch any given network now. Public statements, news releases and press conferences fall into this category as well.
No matter how unresponsive our elected representatives might be, they are ultimately accountable at the ballot box. Convincing enough people that the issue is important enough to base their vote for him or her on it (and letting him or her know) is a highly effective form of political persuasion.
- Direct Action
This is when someone physically or legally puts their body on the line to stop something happening, whether it's bulldozing a tree, the functioning of a workplace, or business as usual in a politician’s office or the streets of a city. This approach is confrontational; it often attracts media attention, but involves legal (and sometimes physical) risks. For that reason such tactics are usually only when the bulldozers are moving in, or all else has failed to stop ongoing harm to people). Actions employing these sorts of tactics can easily annoy and turn off people who are “on the fence,” so must be considered very carefully or they can do more harm to the cause than good.
- Internet/Social Media
This has become an essential tool in the advocate’s toolbox. Email, a website and Facebook presence are now “old-school,” with many other “apps” and platforms from which to reach out to and connect with others working for justice.
- Fun Tactics
These can be highly creative, such as street performance, art shows, and use of humor in messaging, via political “pranks,” etc. They can be more educational in tone, e.g. workshops. They are great for morale of the group and can send a positive energy out toward the curious, but hard to say one has ever stopped a war or passed legislation.
- Public meetings
Public meetings often involve a presentation or a panel of experts addressing the issue, and an open microphone, where anyone can come up and give their opinion. The aim of any public meeting is to try to reach or begin to work towards a solution of a specific issue.
It may seem like a paradox, but non-participation can be a powerful advocacy tool. Non-participation can take many forms, the most common being the boycott, non-payment of taxes, or even not voting. As consumers, “non-participation” in eating meat, or using gas-guzzling cars can not only be a way of living your values, but a form of quiet witness to others. But it takes a lot to get people to make the sacrifices involved, and to be effective the non-participation must have staying power as well, so while powerful this tactic is challenging and demanding.
- Use your own imagination!
Look at your own setting and context, and come up with a unique way to make your voice heard on behalf of justice and peace.