How To Effectively Advocate for Change

Today, no matter what your political persuasion or social issue that you hold dear, there is a need for courageous people to stand up and advocate for change.

Marches, protests, boycotts, sit-ins, and sit-downs are all fashionable today – but are they the best way to stand up for what you believe in?

Is your means of advocacy effective in getting folks to talk about your issue?

During the National Anthem sit-down debates, it was interesting that there was very little conversation in most circles about racial oppression or other issues that the demonstrations were about.

Instead, most of the talk was about whether or not that was a valid form of protest.

A similar thing takes place when a flag is burned.

Even though the courts determined that burning the flag is a constitutionally protected right, when someone chooses to do so, the conversation is shifted from the topic at hand to the mode of demonstration.

I remember similar things taking place in the 1980s when environmental groups were ramming fishing ships.

During the popular campaign in the British Empire that eventually led to the end of slavery boycotts of coffee and sugar, abolitionists would mark sugar bags with labels that basically said that the sugar was tainted with the blood of slaves.

This caused conversations about the issue more than a boycott alone would have produced.

Ineffective or effective marches and boycotts?

While marching today is fashionable, many times, people are left wondering what the march was all about.

Several years ago, I was in Paris, France, with a tour group.

When our proposed route through the city was sidetracked by a protest, the guide told us that there are over 300 marches a year in Paris.

Most of the time, nobody (except the marchers) knew what the march was all about.

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In order to be effective, there needs to be clear communication from the leadership (i.e., this march is about X).

We will march and utilize boycotts as well as other forms of protest until Y happens.

Suddenly, the conversation is about Y, which is what you really want.

Of course, that means that you must know WHAT you really want to see take place.

Are you looking for new legislation?

Are you standing for keeping certain legislation in place? 

Is it your desire that a company will change its hiring policies? 

Whatever it is, if you are going to stand up for what you believe in, you must know the best possible outcome if you are going to get your way.

Evaluate your form of communication.

Are people talking about the actual topic, OR only about the march, boycott, or sit-down?

If they are talking about the form of protest, then you will need to communicate more clearly to get your point across.

3 Tips on How To Advocate for Change For What You Believe In

1. Be open to negotiation.

While it is important to consider the best-case scenario if we get our way, it is critical that we take time to consider the feelings and opinions of others.

It’s okay to disagree.

In many cases, there are more than just two solutions to a problem.

To be effective, we must take time to look beyond ‘my way’ or ‘your way’ and find a higher road.

When we advocate for change, it’s important to consider long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes. 

Take time to research what has been done in the past.

Did those things work? 

Why or why not?

Be open to conversations and become creative.

Yes, you may NOT get what you want in the beginning.

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But it is likely that the higher road will lead to something even better.

2. Listen to the other side.

We tend to live in a world that vilifies the opposition to whatever our stand is.

What I have discovered over the years is that many people who disagree with me are actually pretty nice people.

They have a passion for a certain worldview – it’s just in opposition to mine.

That does NOT make them the latest Adolf Hitler or evil personified.

I do not need to destroy them. 

Instead, I need to listen to what they are saying. 

I need to ask clarifying questions so that I can understand what they are saying.

Do they have information that I do not have?

Sometimes, we have received information that is exaggerated and blown out of proportion.

When we advocate for change, we are filled with passion for our issue and can start to speak and defend, even attack others.

If all sides of an issue could honestly present their case, we would find that there is much misinformation out there that has been blindly believed.

Recently, I read about a group in Oregon that had essentially been at war over water rights for many years.

A small group of people from opposing viewpoints started having breakfast together once a week.

Over time, they were able to see each other as people and were even able to negotiate a solution to their problems.

Unfortunately, none of the people at the breakfast were in a position of power to actually implement the plan.

So, it did not take place for over ten years.

While it may take longer to come to a solution, talking through all of the ramifications of issues will typically lead us to a better solution that is peaceful and acceptable to all.

3. Be action-oriented.

Why don’t you do something?”

The question rings in my ears.

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People are hungry, homeless, and trapped in addiction.

There are many folks who talk about solutions and write great books or articles on making a difference.

But many of these have NEVER sat with people and their problems, never actually talked to them.

What do they have to say about the issues that have led to their circumstances? 

How do they feel about the solutions that others have come up with?

If you want to stand up for what you believe in, it is important that you take time to listen to those who would be most impacted by your actions.

Once we have talked it all out, it is time to actually DO something.

This might be a march or a protest.

But it could simply be an informational campaign, too.

Maybe it looks like a boycott, but other times, it might be calling a legislature.

Advocate for change that you believe in

If you want to advocate for change, talk is cheap.

There must be action connected to your advocacy.

Gandhi went on hunger strikes and nearly died several times.

He walked over 300 miles to go to the ocean to make salt.

His protests were powerful and set a nation free.

Honestly, could he have accomplished any of that with letters to the editor and fiery speeches?

The odds seem against it.

The stand YOU are taking is certainly important and can have a dramatic impact on the world.

We need to hear from you.

Even if you disagree with my worldview, I need to hear from your viewpoint because that makes me wiser and more compassionate.

We need you to stand up for what you believe in. 

Go forth and make our world better.  

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