While certain topics move in and out of the public eye with current events, being an advocate is a lifelong pursuit. Real change, especially on the governmental level, happens slowly and even when a large breakthrough is made, it takes dedicated advocates across multiple communities to ensure that the changes that were achieved are upheld by society as a whole.
Take the suffragette movement for women’s rights for example. This happened one hundred years ago and while women do have many more rights and freedoms than we did then, we are still fighting for pay equality, against gender-based violence and for our reproductive rights.
Being a long-term advocate requires passion, conviction, and a level of stamina that many people are not expecting when they first come onboard to do this work. There are a few different things you can do to help you remain focused and engaged for as long as possible with any given topic or issue.
Be truthful about your availability and interests.
It is likely that when you start getting out there to take action and help out your chosen cause, you are going to want to help out in a number of different ways and will feel like you have the energy to give lots of time to help instigate change. But it’s also likely that you have a lot of other things in your life that need your consistent attention. Once your advocate responsibilities start stretching over several months and years, you might find that it takes more effort to balance that time spent with your responsibilities to family, your job, and other areas of your community.
When you’re volunteering and joining with others on advocacy campaigns and efforts, it is important to let them know how much time and how many resources you are realistically able to give. While you should keep in mind that it is a privilege to be able to slow and increase your advocacy as your schedule allows (as those who are living within those spaces don’t have a choice), you are more useful to the movement as a consistent advocate over time than you would be if you were to burn out and end your efforts altogether after a few months. The key is to not get yourself into a position where you are not able to deliver work that you have promised or feel obligated to do even if you don’t have the bandwidth to do it.
Have short and long term goals for yourself.
With many of the topics we advocate for, it is difficult to quantify exactly what needs to be achieved before the fight is finished. And, despite our best efforts, with most, it is likely that there will still be ground to cover after our own lives are done.
To remain motivated even through roadblocks, it is important to set short-term goals for yourself and your own work while you’re looking towards larger goals for the cause itself. For example, your first goal might be to reach out to a local organization as a volunteer or to talk to people at your workplace about an issue . It is a series of smaller victories that will push movements forward.
When you’re setting goals for yourself or eventually working with groups to set goals, the mnemonic SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound — can be a great model for achieving success.
This short video illustrates these goal setting elements:
Find the areas where you can have the greatest impact.
Playing to your strengths and doing work that you’re not only passionate about, but also good at, will help you to achieve your goals and keep you feeling like you are making a positive difference in your advocacy. Don’t feel that you always need to be pushing yourself out of all of your comfort zones. If you’re more comfortable letter writing than protesting, for example, that is okay. Just don’t close yourself off out of fear. Sometimes where you feel the most comfortable is right where you belong, when you’re working in new environments and learning.
Learn how to deal with opposition and setbacks.
As an advocate, one of the most deflating things can be those moments when you feel like no progress is being made. Or, worse still, that the needle has been moved in the opposite direction. This could be due to a lost election, a new law passed, an example that a problem is still persisting or could be an encounter that you have while doing your advocacy work.
First, remember that when you’re dealing with any cause, there are going to be people whose values don’t align with yours and will have opposing views. And you are never going to change someone’s beliefs with one conversation. Keep in mind that not every situation is one for education. While some people will be open to hearing what you have to say, others will get defensive and argumentative without absorbing anything from you. When you are able to, pick your battles.
One of the best ways of dealing with setbacks is also to celebrate the successes. This will mean that when you do feel like things have taken a step back, you can easily recall how far you have come and good that you have done in the world.
If your setback is coming from a personal mistake, this is a time to recommit rather than pulling away. It is normal to want to take some time to examine your own feelings but it is also important to refocus on those who might have been affected by your mistake and do what you can to set things right. This is again about actions rather than words.
When you are passionate about anything, it can be frustrating when things don’t go the way you planned. But setbacks do not signal that you should quit or even that you should change course. They are inevitable parts of the journey to change.
Continue to Part 2: Creating Community & Self Care