Last November, I became part of a Community Advocacy Alliance training group affiliated with Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, CA. According to the gallery’s website, CAA “…is a new program aimed to strengthen communities and generate more opportunities and resources for art.” After years of searching for meaningful organizations that would get work done instead of talk, the group seemed like a good fit and natural progression. Advocacy has become a taboo word like feminist, liberal, and accountability. However, I vigorously and positively embrace it. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary website, advocacy means the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal. Not so bad…right?
At an all day meeting in Oakland last Fall, the Community Advocacy Alliance members received the book: The One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush. He is president of Soapbox Consulting and has done training seminars for organizations like the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and many others. Finally on a flight to Milwaukee in January, I had the opportunity to read it.
Kush points out five influences that a grassroots activist can influence change: vote, volunteer, contribute, communicate, and be visible. Lawmakers will also care the most about local interests instead of national ones. If passionate about a cause, fasten your seat belt and enjoy the long ride. Change doesn’t come quickly and can be messy. Kush: “People can and do have an impact on our system of government, even against well-funded interests. Many people are surprised to discover the attention that lawmakers will give to a thoughtful letter or conversation that provides insight into the district or the voters who live there. There is a tremendous amount of influence we can choose to exert in our democracy beyond our vote on Election Day.”
Requests from activists or constituents must be specific and a personal story makes change more accessible. Focusing time and energy on the legislative branch at every level of government, is the best way to facilitate transformation in policy. Great tip from Kush: “Keep an up-to date list of your representatives at every level of government and how to contact them. In that way, you are always ready to communicate with the people who have the authority and the incentive to act on your behalf.”
This Kush line hit home: “Before you join an organized interest group, make sure it offers an effective grassroots network.” Too many times, I’ve been asked to become a member of a group or donate art/money to organizations that are disorganized and unfocused. As a result, finding a group that can analyze legislation and communicate effectively is very helpful to change. Finding “quality” groups can be difficult, take time, and much effort. Kush: “Establish your limits before you volunteer a local campaign, and stick to them.”
A few years ago, I went to a meeting for an arts organization for the first time and was asked to be a committee chair. Two days later, I was receiving over 10+ emails a day asking detailed questions after being a member for less than one week with no guidance, background, or history. Asking other members for advice resulted in little or no response. As a result, I never went back and searched to make a difference by myself until the “right” group appeared. For example, Kush explains if passionate about a cause individually, writing letters to an elected official and including a personal story is more effective than forwarding a mass action email alert. However, more than one letter, email, and person is needed for positive revolution. If “change” occurs, hopefully it’s on “left” not “right” side of history…