This piece was originally published on Raising World Children on January 16, 2019. You can find the original piece here.
What is an Advocate?
What comes to mind when you hear the term advocate? Who or what are you picturing?
In conversations with friends, family members, and clients, I’ve noticed that many folks think that the term advocate only applies to people who are doing justice work full-time or in a professional capacity. They associate the terms advocate and activist with people who are leading protests or lobbying at the state Capitol building every day.
However, I’d like to remind you that every decision you make holds political weight. In other words, everything is political.
Therefore, advocacy is a practice that all of us can engage in.
We all have a range of tools and gifts that we can use to stand up for our values and beliefs each and every day. Additionally, tons of advocacy and activism work can be done without formal degrees or training, and can be accessible thanks to the internet.
This is my working definition of advocacy:
Using my resources, including my voice, physical presence, money, energy, and/or time, to honor, support, and partner with people, institutions, and policies that align with my values and vision for a world of equity and justice.
For example, some of the ways I practice advocacy on a regular basis include recycling, donating to local organizations that I am inspired by, and participating in anti-racist book clubs.
So, I will ask you to again consider: What comes to mind when you hear the term advocate? Who or what are you picturing? Is there anything different from your first thoughts, feelings, or beliefs? How so?
20 Ways to Be An Advocate for Social Change and Transformation
In developing a broad and inclusive exploration of advocacy and activism, one that invites each one of us to participate and collaborate, I have come up with a list of 20 ways to practice everyday advocacy with your family. While direct actions like protests are important and powerful ways to show up, there is a wide range of other ways to advocate.
I invite you to print and browse the list below and notice which items you are already doing; circle those numbers. Place a star next to the items that make you feel excited, motivated, intrigued, or curious. Additionally, notice which items you feel most resistant towards; put a dot next to these.
1. Spend time in your community. Get out and about in your neighborhood and city. Learn about the different community groups and efforts that already exist, as well as the areas of need that remain.
2. Commit to one small act a day/week that connects to your passions, interests, and values. For example, if you are concerned about environmental issues, you can work on the community garden in your neighborhood. If you are interested in food justice, you might start a little free pantry.
3. Vote. At every election. Did you know that school boards make a ton of decisions that impact your city at large? Yes, every election and every position matters. Even if you or your kids are not yet 18 or eligible to vote, talk about the voting process as a family.
4. Volunteer with local organizations or participate in mutual aid efforts. Find local organizations to support through your time and energy. Look out for local mutual aid efforts that you could collaborate with.
5. Read and research about the topics and issues you are called to AND the ones that feel at the edge of your comfort zone. Read more; explore a range of sources and mediums. Know that you won’t always leave your reading or research with an answer, and that;s okay. Learning and unlearning are processes. Encourage yourself to stay open, not only about the “issues” on the table but about yourself as well.
6. Check your privilege and reflect on systems of privilege and oppression. We all exist at different intersections of privilege and oppression, and one marginalized identity does not negate another privileged identity. Me and White Supremacy, for example, is a powerful way to explore White privilege, particularly if you are White or White-presenting. (Note: race is just one identity element we can explore. Others include gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, disability, education, nationality, language, age, and religion)
7. Find creative outlets for your processing and expression. As you read and research and talk, things can get heavy and emotional. Having outlets for these feelings is important. I, personally, turn to writing most often– hence this article. 🙂 Art and music are other wonderful ways to express the depths of your experience.
8. Talk with friends and family about the issues you are curious about. Sweeping politics under the rug just doesn’t work, and, furthermore, it’s a symptom of privilege. The call to action here is to be authentic in naming your values and concerns and engaging your loved ones on these topics, to the extent that you are capable and safe doing so.
9. Support products, services, and companies that DO align with your values. Spend your money supporting people and institutions that have values that align with your vision for social change and transformation.
10. Boycott products, services, and companies whose values DON’T align with yours. Simply don’t buy from companies that don’t align with your vision for social change and transformation. Look into big brands and find out whether they are ethical in the ways they make food, cleaning products, cosmetics, or clothing. Additionally, you can write letters to or tweet at companies who are engaging in oppressive practices.
11. Write letters, send faxes, tweet, or call local and federal politicians. Follow the legislation that is being proposed in your city and state, as well as at the federal level. When you learn about policies that you align with, write, tweet, or call in your support. Likewise, when you find a law that you see as harmful, write, tweet, or call in your dissent. Find out who represents you here!
12. Use online petitions and bots to send letters and opinions. Show support for issues you care about by signing on to (or starting!) petitions; explore Change.org (tip: don’t “donate” after you sign) or The Action Network to get started signing today or check out. You can also easily write letters to your politicians through bots like resist.bot.
13. Share and retweet content on social media. The internet has allowed us to share issues and solutions in a matter of seconds. Hashtags have helped people gather both virtually and IRL, and one way that you can show support for movements, news, and leaders is by sharing or retweeting. #BlackLivesMatter helped us realize the power of the internet in creating a movement and inspiring the masses to engage in advocacy.
14. Journal. Explore your own biases and gaps in knowledge and experience. When you have questions and curiosities, go to the page. Ask yourself to think through the questions. Maybe, like me, you’ll end up with more questions, and this, too, is growth.
15. Incorporate donation options into events you host or attend. From book clubs to neighborhood meetings to parties, invite attended to bring things like canned food or menstruation care products along with them. Then, donate the collection to a local organization. Typically, most people will have these items on hand already so this is a great way to engage your community in activism.
16. Host or participate in book clubs or conversation groups. You can find established book clubs via MeetUp.com or branch out on your own to gather a group of folks who are interested in reading and being curious in various types of advocacy. In the past, I have facilitated a feminist book club and a Decentering Whiteness community in Austin, Texas, for example, and I am currently participating in an abolition study group.
17. Find mentors and guides. Lots of them. Notice which leaders you are feeling called to. Which ones challenge you and offer you opportunities for growth? Again, explore different mediums— podcasts, books, Instagram influencers, educators, and so on.
18. Enroll in trainings to learn more about issues you care about. Seek out trainings (again, online or IRL) to support you in your journey as an advocate. Folks with jobs, check with your employer to see if they are willing to sponsor your learning opportunities!
19. Pay activists, educators, politicians who are working for change and transformation. Pay the folks on the front lines, people who are dedicating their lives to this work and the causes you care about. You can do this directly through organizations, Patreon, or Venmo, for example. Many activists and educators sharing their Venmo accounts and take compensation in this way.
20. Practice self-care AND collective care. In order to show up fully for this work, we all need to be refueled and recharged. Maintain practices that allow you to play, rest, and relax! Advocate for these practices becoming policy (whether formally or informally) in all of the spaces you show up– family, work, school, movements, etc. Collective care means caring for the wellbeing of everyone, knowing that we need one another and need our work to be sustainable.
Practicing Advocacy as a Family
Advocacy is not adult work, it’s human work. I invite you and your family to explore how you can make advocacy practices and vocabulary a part of everyday family life. If there are items you put a dot next to, you might take time, together, to be curious about why? Make a plan for how you all want to get started and how you will hold yourself and one another accountable.
As you begin this work, you may find yourself and your family having meaningful, yet difficult and uncomfortable conversations. This is part of growth!
Here’s to living with open hearts and minds as we work together as advocates for social change and transformation! See you out there! And please reach out if I can support your family’s process.