What Does It Mean to Act as an Advocate?

“We need people to stand up and take on the problems borne of oppression as their own, without remove or distance. We need people to do this even if they cannot fully understand what it’s like to be oppressed for their race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, class, religion, or other marker of identity. We need people to use common sense to figure out how to participate in social justice.”

–Roxane Gay in “On Making Black Lives Matter” for Marie Claire, July 11, 2016

Advocacy work starts with understanding how to do effective ally work and digging into how our own actions and choices can impact the lives of others. For most of us, once we start to see how the oppression of many groups is systematic and steeped in a long history of bias, start to see not only how more work needs to be done to achieve equality, but also all of the ways that we might be inadvertently contributing to these unequal systems.

This series of posts will build on the principles learned in our Allyship 101 Workshop Series. We will start to focus outward on how we can have the greatest impact within our own communities and when contributing to global causes and movements.

Advocacy work is always going to start with passion and your own perspective on an issue or situation. While we can research and listen to others, we only ever really know our own viewpoint and side of the story. When you’re getting ready to do this work, it is important to start by assessing yourself and to establish who you are going to trust with information and who and what will help set the cues that you take when acting towards change. 

Joseph R. Campbell is a sports administrator and advocate living in Australia. He is the co-author of the film Defending Thomas, about a Black presenting boy born to two white parents. He also recently penned the piece “Speak Loud…Or Don’t Speak at All” on Medium. In his 2017 Tedx Talk, he discusses his approach to being an effective advocate:

To recap, here are his 5 steps:

  1. Lock down your motivations
  2. Establish some role models
  3. Understand your historical context
  4. Focus
  5. Find a way forward

Your role in any advocacy is about more than simply having your voice heard. This is work that needs to be done collectively and being aware of current and changing information, adapting to new situations and really taking the time to understand the issues that you’re fighting for from those who are most affected by them are key elements to consistent effective advocacy.

Passion feeds advocacy and allows you to stay focused and motivated through setbacks and periods of upheaval or indifference (which are inevitable along the way). It is important to remember that advocacy work is something that needs to happen consistently and it is not work that is finished after a day, month or even year of work. Many of the goals that long-term advocates are working towards will take years or even decades to see any sort of finish line. 

Within that work, you will make mistakes and sometimes move in what turns out to be the wrong direction. You will face road blocks, both from others and from within your own mind as you reexamine your values, actions and beliefs that you have held for a lifetime. It is important to understand how difficult this work can be and recognize that while you might have chosen to take on work in advocacy, there are others who do not have a choice and need to fight for themselves and those closest to them on a daily basis. 

Setting smaller goals along with your hopes for the future can help to fuel you through difficult times. It is also important to know the areas where you can do the most good. There are many tools at your disposal that can help you shape your advocate journey.

Continue to the the next article in this series, Your Advocacy Tools.

Being an ally is about building community, spreading kindness and getting out of our own comfort zone and this piece encourages all that.  Shop >

The Ally Journal has a custom design by artist Bridget Moore and is a welcoming place for you to explore your own thoughts, feelings and plans for the future.  Shop >

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