Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tips for effective political advocacy

by Stacey Prince

You are having dinner with your in-laws, who live in the Southwest, and one of them makes a derogatory comment about Mexican immigrants, blaming them for increased crime in the neighborhood. He make no reference to factors such as poverty or lack of availability of legal employment, nor does he back up his contention that it is in fact Mexican immigrants who are to blame for the increased crime rates. Instead he comments on the need for the US government to provide more stringent "protection against illegals". You are steaming inside but wonder how you can possibly make your point when you know they are so entrenched in their views.

You are angry that your city's new policy on the homeless has led to the closure of several encampments that previously provided some safety and community. You decide to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of legally recognized camps and other services for homeless individuals and families.

You have the opportunity to go to your state Capitol to lobby for a particular piece of legislation you feel very strongly about. You know you will likely have 5 minutes or less to make your point to your local congressperson before the next wave of visitors gets their turn.

Besides being anxiety producing (at least for me), what do these scenarios have in common? They are all about getting your message across in an effective way, a way that has credibility, will be heard by the recipient, is impassioned enough to connect with the listener but not so emotional that it gets dismissed. I am going to loosely call this advocacy. Though we usually think of advocacy as the more formal process of trying to influence decisions in a political arena, such as is described in the last example above, one can also advocate with family members, colleagues, through the media, etc. Wikipedia defines advocacy as "a deliberate process of speaking out on issues of concern in order to exert some influence on behalf of ideas or persons".

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