Here we stand in yet another very pivotal moment in our nation’s history. Decades to come will look back on our journey, and hold us to account for that which we’ve allowed. It’s been encouraging to see so many dedicated public school advocates march to Austin, TX this week to speak on behalf of students, educators, and families.
Our public schools are truly the bedrock of our society. And our commitment to supporting these institutions will be critical to our ability to create a better world for us all.
The past couple years have presented a fair share of challenges. But built within those challenges have been opportunities to grow and strengthen our resolve. My journey has been filled with unimaginable lows and incredible highs. Through it all I’ve learned that, no matter which state one may be in for the given moment, it is just that – a moment, a season – so never allow yourself to get too high, never allow yourself to get too low – just keep pushing forward.
These days I’m often asked for guidance on advocacy efforts. While I’ve always been an advocate for youth and educators within the public education space, I’ve gleaned broader insights from where I sit today.
So here are 5 things to consider when you sign up to engage in advocacy work:
With advocacy comes risks.
Your cause is worth it. But you have to know, and deeply understand, that your advocacy for such a cause comes with risks. It’s hard work.
Ask yourself: What are you willing to risk?
Consider this question at a very deep level. Think about your job, friends, family, emotional, psychological, etc. I’m not trying to scare you, just want you to be real with yourself about the costs that may be associated with your willingness to be an advocate.
Also, understand that within those given contexts (family,job, friends, etc.) there will be disappointment. People you considered trusted colleagues and friends will show their true colors. Your workplace may prove to be a very different space than you experienced when you just chose to remain silent about things and just “stay in your place”. This may bring about some very difficult decisions for you to make.
What are you willing to risk to have your voice heard and advocate for the causes you believe in?
Start with a realistic goal.
Get real with yourself with regard to how much you have to give to the cause.
Ask yourself: How hard are you willing to work at this and how much bandwidth can you afford to give?
Is that 2 hours a week, 1 day a week…what is the minimum you can commit to? Be careful. When we find something that fits our purpose, something that we want to push for, we have a tendency to GO HARD early, then fade. Remember, this work is a marathon, not a sprint. Start small and build healthy advocacy habits.
You’ll be surprised at what incremental, strategic goals can help you accomplish (Note: Atomic Habits by James Clear is a phenomenal resource if you need help here). Whatever it is you choose to do, be consistent and persistent so create a cadence of what that looks like for you. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Do not let the work consume you. Take care of yourself and that will allow you to help take care of others.
Stand in your truth.
Determine what drives you most and allows you to walk in your purpose.
Ask yourself: What is it that I see that conflicts with my beliefs/values? What gap do I see in my community that desperately needs to be filled?
Being laser-focused here is absolutely critical. Don’t jump into something because it’s a fad or because you see “all the cool kids doing it”. Pour your energy into things that align with your North Star. That’s not to say that other things don’t matter, but engaging in something you deeply care about is going to allow you to be more effective than something you marginally have your heart in. Protect your energy and spend it where it matters most.
And know that resistance will come. As James Baldwin said “you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty…you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen.”
Once you accept this, attempts to quell your voice will no longer be a surprise.
Your awareness protects you from the distractions of those who stand against you.
Communication is key.
What we say and how we say it impacts the reception of our message.
Ask yourself: What message do I want to convey to others anytime I’m asked or afforded an opportunity to speak on these issues?
I strongly urge you to write this down, keep your talking points succinct and put them to memory. Being able to do this helps build authenticity which leads to trust. When you say something, say it with your WHOLE chest! People can feel how genuine you are about your cause which is another reason to be sure this is something you’re willing to “go for broke” on.
Additionally, you must understand that not everyone will understand some of the more cause-specific terminology. One of the most sure-fire ways to lose people is to talk in acronyms, assuming everyone knows what they mean. Break it down into consumable chunks. Clear, informative messaging is paramount to educating and obtaining allies.
Don’t ride solo.
Being in community with other dedicated people makes a world of difference.
Advocacy work can feel very defeating and isolating at times. Do not do this work in silos.
Ask yourself: Which organizations in my community are engaged in efforts to support my cause?
Once you identify them, get involved. Contact members of their board or other representatives and acquaint yourself ASAP. Advocacy work is hard and not meant to be done alone.
Isolation is an enemy to progress. Find your tribe and you’ll be energized in ways you can’t imagine.
I just want to encourage you. I know that the days seem long and the work can be exhausting and downright frustrating, at times. You won’t always feel valued or appreciated but I pray that, along the way, you’re able to see, feel, and hear the impact of your noble deeds.
Understand that, for so many that came before us, they did not live to see the fruits of their advocacy efforts. Those would come long after they left this world. May we lean on those examples. Refusing to bow to apathy and despair – leaning in to the advocacy meaningful work that comes with planting trees we may never see bloom.