By Jim Hennigan, Global Advocacy Group
Being an advocate seems daunting – and all the more so if we’re speaking up for others because there’s the added pressure of making sure we stick to their message.
What many people don’t realize is that we’ve all been lifelong advocates — for ourselves, our families, our schools, communities, and more. A lesson that most of us have learned over that long arc of advocacy experience is that we are most effective when we speak for ourselves and share the unique message that comes from our hearts.
Being an effective advocate means I must prepare by having a firm understanding of who I am. What are the things in life that characterize me best and influence how and what I advocate for? I can think of influencing experiences in my life which would, in my case, be centered on my family, my education, and my faith community. Like many people, I strongly identify myself through my career. And I’m a member of Together Women Rise as well as other organizations and affinity groups. It is by having a firm understanding of who I am and what moves me and why that I can become an effective advocate. When I speak, I am persuasive by inserting my perspective and experience.
As much as it helps to be able to convey to lawmakers the message of our grantees from around the world who do not have access to influential lawmakers, the first thing the lawmakers and their staff ask us is “Where do you live?” This is a roundabout way of asking if we’re voters who keep them employed. Constituency is where power resides. We gain credibility and become “credentialed” by making our message personal. It is through our own unique lens that we can persuasively convey to lawmakers the message of our grantees from around the world who do not have doors opening for them along Washington’s corridors of power.
Knowing who we are – individually – empowers us to tap into the moral conviction that’s needed to speak passionately about bills that do not exactly make for good beach reading. A familiar civil rights call-and-response goes “What do we want?” and follows up with “When do we want it?” As advocates we need to add “Why do we want it?” to this line of interrogation to help make a potentially dull subject come to life.
I have spoken with several of our group of advocates to learn what inspires their advocacy. When they meet with members of Congress and their staffers, they tell me they are tapping into the same passions and motivations that made them advocate for their own children at school – or for children like those they’ve met while living abroad. One retired teacher from Delaware summons that passion and wisdom to speak up for global vaccine distribution. Another advocate from New Hampshire realizes that the charities and organizations she volunteers for paint a clear picture of what inspires her to speak up.
It may be helpful to jot down some things or have a conversation with a friend or fellow advocate, where you identify who you are connected with in ever-expanding circles, starting with your family and closest friends, moving out from there to schools and clubs and congregations, to your workplace and the places where you shop or do your banking, and where and how you choose to spend your free time, extending outward to your national identity and ethnic identity.
Ultimately, you become an empowered advocate by knowing who you are, what you need, what you value, who you freely associate with and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Somewhere in that mix, I suspect Together Women Rise will find its way into your self-identity and self-interest story – and when that happens, the stories of grantees you can share will become powerful enough to sway billions of dollars in foreign aid.
And when you want to have a conversation about changing the world, we’re ready to have you join us for a meeting of the Advocacy Group with RESULTS. You can sign up HERE for more information and links to our monthly webinars.