Why advocacy really matters

Scroll through social media, tune into an amateur podcast or flick open your local paper: there have never been more opportunities for ordinary citizens to tell the world what they think.

From ‘what I eat in a day’ to opinions on the failings of politicians and football teams, to documenting every aspect of our newborn’s development, many of us seem perfectly happy to put ourselves and our opinions out there into the public space.

But when it comes to letting others know about the people and causes we care about, the water is murky.

There are perhaps four reasons why we hold back from using our voices as advocates.

1. The sheer number of things in the world we could care about is overwhelming.

Rather than giving up and checking out, maybe pick just one or two things to focus upon publicly. Know why these issues matter to you and to others. Become an expert as far as you’re able. And then quietly, consistently, optimistically – tell the stories of the things you’ve chosen to care about.

Don’t just rant, rebuke or rail. Celebrate the wins.

And lend your voice whenever you can: sign petitions, write letters, attend rallies.

2. We’re ‘not political’

Advocacy, especially with the advent of online activism, can have a reputation for being aggressive. Both sides of politics have drawn battle lines around certain issues and the ensuing fall out can be ugly. But what if we saw advocacy as an expression of love more than anger?

When we’re called to love our neighbours, we need to understand the context in which they live. And if those contexts include violence, oppression or inequality, one of the most loving things we can do is to stand beside them, listen, offer support and speak up with and for them as much as we can.

While we might wish we could avoid ‘politics’, in reality we’re all part of groups that are negotiating how to use and share power. Love calls us to stand with those who have the least.

3. We don’t want to ‘virtue signal’ or bore people. We hate the idea of being seen as naïve, overinvested or woke.

The word ‘woke’ was used originally by African Americans as a call to be alert to racial injustice, particularly police brutality. It’s been reduced to a derogatory, smirking catch-phrase for a wide range of progressive ideas and politics, weaponised to belittle those who care ‘too much’. Interesting article here on the history of wokeness!

Depending on the cause you champion, you might just have to put up with being labelled by others. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon about every injustice that comes along, it can help to know and commit to just one or two things and understand the issues as well as you possibly can. It also helps to be known for listening more than speaking – both to the people impacted by the issue you’re interested in, and to those who disagree.

4. We’re not sure it makes any difference.

Some things make more difference than others. Hashtagging a post #PRAYFORUKRAINE may not have a tangible outcome other than signalling there’s a community of online people who claim to care. But supporting Amnesty International’s call to the Australian Government to reform our humanitarian refugee intake has genuine repercussions not just for Ukrainians, but for the increasing numbers of people who are being displaced by conflict and changing climate.

Likewise, supporting the increase of aid also makes a big difference. Whenever there’s a cut to be made, Governments look to our investment in overseas aid because it’s not an issue that local electorates generally protest about. But when we actually take time to encourage our Government to help Australia be the responsible global citizen we can afford to be, that matters. Read more here about INF Australia’s advocacy win on maintaining Australian aid to Nepal, and why we’re doing more of it.

Advocacy in a shouty world is a difficult thing to navigate.

One of the biggest dangers is taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach – either despairing that we have no power, or trying to be on top of every issue, all the time. There’s a happy medium that can be sustained over the long haul – that’s where change takes place.

If you’re considering dipping your toe in the advocacy waters, read more here about INF Australia’s call to the Australian Government to increase aid to Nepal, which has been falling over the last decade.

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