Our Role Within Advocacy
When jumping into the advocacy space one can find themselves in many challenging situations. While speaking up for injustices people can often find themselves torn between their passion of projecting their cause in a loud and urgent manner, while simultaneously trying to win the hearts and attention of those who are less inclined to focus their interest and compassion in the first place. However, doing both, effectively and successfully, is often challenging, and individuals can frequently find themselves balancing between a fine line of passion and necessity, along with the ability to captivate and engage their audience.
During my recent studies, I attended a lecture presented by Professor Colleen Hayward surrounding Human Rights Activism, Advocacy and Change. Within this discussion, there was an emphasis on the importance of foundational values in justice and compassion. Through the inclusion of these values within the fundamental groundwork and understanding of activism, one can apply it to multiple situations and advocacy settings.
Appeal to Fairness
Hayward emphasised the need to appeal to fairness in activism. As advocates, individuals must create the narrative, so that the opposition can see where the fairness lies in each request. Activists will not always be successful in convincing an entire population, however, through the approach of appealing to ‘the idea of fairness’, individuals can capture and engage a broader audience. It is important to construct a narrative that invites the audience to be reflective in their response.
Establishing an interaction that welcomes an individual can be challenging. Depending on the subject of focus, people can often become defensive in their response when met with a discussion that is foreign to them; particularly when it surrounds injustice and inequality. More often than not, these conversations involve complex situations that are challenging in their comprehension. Confronting discussions can provoke feelings of uncomfortableness and uneasiness that can often challenge the very notion that many live with surrounding ‘ignorance being bliss’. As a subsequent, this often leads to people becoming overwhelmed with their interaction and can induce feelings of inadequacy. With such feelings, people are often left feeling foolish and unequal in the conversation, and in return become disengaged and often hostile towards the issue.
While the preservation of a person’s ego should not be considered a priority when addressing human rights issues through advocacy, we must not forget how essential it is to establish the narrative and build relationships. A key part of advocacy is connecting the audience, drawing them in and getting them to not just engage, but to also listen, and further, understand. When these issues are additionally connected with politics, people are even more inclined to interact less within these situations. Politically charged situations require an appeal to fairness, even more so than any other situation. Unfortunately, most human rights situations entail this connection, so require activists to create a narrative that is inviting, fair, and patient.
Understanding Your Audience
A concept that has been mentioned previously within my writing, and one I draw on regularly, is something I heard from activist and director Eva Orner. When creating a discussion and conversation, not only is it important to create the narrative, but it can also be effective to be aware of your chosen audience. Orner broke down our society into three categories. She claimed that 25% of our society is made up of individuals that have a strong knowledge, passion, and consciousness for social change. Another 25% are on the opposite side of this spectrum. These people can be considered as the ‘conservatives’ of our society; often unwilling to accept change and diversity.
The 50% that sit in the middle of these two categories should be regarded as the most important audience for conversations within advocacy. Often regarded as the 'fence sitters' of our society, this 50% do not side either way in a debate, and usually do not have a strong opinion; whether that's because they are preoccupied with other commitments in life, or simply because they are not interested. This 50% make up the largest part of our society and are also the most crucial within these debates and discussions, as this 50% can be persuaded either way.
It is with this argument, that activist should continue to be aware of their situations when entering debates and discussions, and continue to approach each interaction with fairness, control and understanding. While it is essential to encourage the conservative 25% to engage, it is incredibly hard to achieve a successful outcome in the limited opportunities and small windows that can come with advocacy. The strong opinions and views that have been aligned with the conservative 25% create further obstacles and challenges when entering in discussion. Although we mustn’t neglect to challenge this small percentage, exhausting all our efforts into such a small number can be considered pointless at times; thus, reinforcing the importance of recognising our audiences and encouraging those who sit in the middle.
Adaptability is also essential for effective advocacy. Advocacy involves a number of different approaches, depending on the environment, individuals involved and further, the issue at hand. Hayward emphasises that successful advocacy involves matching the right approach to the right situation. She highlights the value of understanding specific contexts to gain an in-depth insight into the framework that an individual is working within.
With this statement, it is important to mention that despite the importance of building relationships, within certain situations, events, and circumstances, creating disruption and inconvenience to the wider public is often necessary and effective in gaining wider publicity and exposure. Depending on the urgency of the situation and the circumstances at play, activism can benefit far more effectively through disruptive measures. However, it is up to the activist and those involved to be able to recognise the most effective methods, and understand the situation and those they are engaging with, and ultimately assess the potential outcomes that will come as a result.
Hayward further suggests that effective activism also requires individuals to be capable of countering arguments in advance. She emphasises that activist must be able to successfully anticipate what the issues and concerns are for the other party. If individuals are able to clearly, and effectively, anticipate, identify, and rebut the criticisms and concerns of the opposition before they are even voiced, then such concerns do not have the ability to develop and grow out of proportion. Through such a practice, activists are able to dispel misinformation and ignorance effectively, and coherently, within each interaction and conversation; thus, providing effective and solid alternatives for change.
Moreover, within the discussion, Hayward reiterated that advocacy should always be produced in a way that makes it easy for the opposition to say ‘yes’, and significantly harder for them to say ‘no’.
In addition to this, the importance of being prepared is fundamental. Through adequate preparation, activists must be able to counter the oppositions arguments in advance. We see similar reflections through Saul Alinsky’s (1971) teachings who emphasised the significance in providing and establishing viable alternatives. Alinsky further suggests that movements and activists must have alternative plans and preparations ready, so that they are clear in their demands and contentions in order to achieve an affective and successful outcome.
Activist’s must continuously be self-reflective and reflexive in their approach to activism and advocacy. Robert Heath (2009) describes advocacy as a process that can not only achieve “understanding, agreement, reinforcement and motivation”, but it can also bring “about misunderstanding, failure to understand, disagreement, diminished belief and demotivation”. Through this acknowledgment, advocacy must be recognised as a process of dialogue, and in order to achieve effect and successful encounters and results, advocates must create mutual dialogue, and continue to “learn, appreciate others' ideas and reconsider positions held” (Heath, 2009).
Activism involves multiple layers that have complex levels and relationships, that can often bring forward people’s egos, heightened emotions, and setbacks. It is essential when engaging within the field to be self-aware and continue to reflect on the situation and your contribution. There is a fine line within the advocacy realm, particularly at a grass-roots level, that can either see the success of drawing people in, or leaving people disengaged and hostile. Within each and every situation, an activist mustn’t neglect to compose the issue at the forefront of each discussion in a sensitive, receptive and accurate way, that enables the listener to engage and participate in a way that is accessible and encouraging. It is essential activists approach discussions in a reflective manner and be conscious not to make enemies out of a situation, rather build relationships to shape the human rights abuses as the adversary.
It is essential for activist to practice self-reflection. Not only must activists evaluate the position and understanding of others, but they must also be rigorous in their own self-evaluation and contribution within the movement. Moreover, it is crucial for individuals who engage within activism to be critical in their analysis of each situation and their own position within it. Activists must continuously remind themselves that each individual is unique in their approach and view of the world, and through such an acknowledgement, recognize the various interpretations that are brought forward in each situation that is encountered. Through this acknowledgement, individual’s must be prepared for numerous experiences, reflections and understandings and continue to engage with an open, and fair attitude.
Through critical reflection, advocates must also learn to address and acknowledge internal biases and predispositions, as well as continuously be self-aware during all encounters and engagements. Advocacy is an act that we can all participate in, on many levels in a number of different ways, through numerous methods and mediums. It is an effective way to spread the word and educate people about social injustices and inequality, as well as bring about a shift in public opinion and value. Whilst it is an act any one can participate within, it is essential that advocacy is done in an appropriate and effective way. Through effective practices, activists can ensure that their advocacy is coherent and transparent, therefore reaching a wider audience in a more effective and accessible way.