How to Be an Advocate in Your Neighborhood, on Post and on the Hill 

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How Military Spouses Can Be Advocates

How to be an Advocate

I hate the word “bitch.” Among its many uses, we tend to use it to refer to women who have a backbone and show it, who aren’t pushed around, who don’t back down. I mean, how dare they! Those little ladies should sit down and take what’s coming to them. And if they don’t? We label them as “bitches.”

Oftentimes it’s difficult to push past that label when we think about advocating for ourselves, our families or our communities. And that label—fair or not—can color our interactions with others and especially those who have the power to change things.

But it can be done. And you can make it happen. Ready to become a diplomatic, firm advocate?

How Military Spouses Can Be Advocates

Build a Coalition

Upset about the safety at your child’s school? Maybe it’s veteran’s benefits that you’re passionate about. No matter what the issue, building a coalition is often the smartest way to talk about important issues with others.

Being an advocate is about more than just pointing out what’s wrong; it’s about wanting to make something better.

If you’re experiencing something that could be made better, chances are, others have had the same worries, complaints or thoughts. Seek those people out and begin to build a coalition of others.

And no, I’m not talking about creating an angry mob. You’ll want to ensure that the others in your coalition are willing to work hard and work with others to create the best possible outcome, not spin off into an angry diatribe and ruin your hard work.

Coalitions often snowball into something much bigger as you convince people to join your cause…and often they can be the people you’re directly appealing to. Imagine the boon to your cause if you’re able to persuade a representative or senator to join you. It’s happened before and it can happen to you—but only if you don’t burn bridges while trying to strong arm action on the issue.

Go Through the Channels

People tend to want answers or change immediately and try to jump up the chain of command to get them. Not only can this damage the relationship between you and the people you skipped, but it can often be a waste of time for you and the head-honcho you just invoked.

For example, if you are upset about something that your child’s teacher said in class, the best route of action is to have a meeting with that teacher, rather than going to the principal, superintendent or school board right away. After the meeting, if you need to, continue up the chain of command.

Stay Even-Keeled

If you want to be seen as a competent individual, keep your anger and tears in check. While the well-placed emotion can make a huge impact on others when leveraged, being continually offended, angry or insert-other-emotion-here will make people tune you out or worse, discount or discredit you (especially if you’re female).

Learn how to talk about the issue without being a raw, human ball of emotion before you go to others with it.

How to Be an Advocate in Your Neighborhood, on Post and on the Hill 

Have Solutions Ready

Being an advocate is about more than just pointing out what’s wrong; it’s about wanting to make something better.

Have a list of solutions at the ready when you talk to others about the problem at hand. You’ll be seen as a thoughtful bridge-builder, rather than someone who idly complains or spouts off about the first thing that comes to mind.

Be Flexible

New advocates often want—or demand—100% consensus about decisions. They want their problem taken care of and they want it taken care of the way they see fit. But the truth of the matter is it’s often never that black and white.

Know where you can work with people and where you must stand firm in order to be true to your cause.

See the Bigger Picture

Having a clear idea of what you want and how you are going to get there is truly important when you’re tackling a big issue. It might take years for you to see the kinds of change implemented that you think are necessary. Having your eye constantly on the bigger picture will help you stay inspired and give you the ability to keep it all in focus.

As an advocate, it’s very likely that you’ll suffer disappointing setbacks, but knowing where you’re ultimately going will help you win the war, even if you lose a battle or two.

Be Meticulous

It doesn’t matter what kind of advocate you are—have a system to keep records and notes organized and up-to-date.

Meeting with politicians? You’ll want to be able to talk about other people in your coalition, other politicians who you’ve met with who have lent their support. How embarrassing (and possibly scandalizing) it would be to name-drop someone who isn’t actually working with you?

If you’re being a medical advocate for your child, you’ll want to be able to call up the notes from talking to specialists and what their conclusions were when you speak to someone else for yet another professional opinion.

Your notes, dates and details matter. Keep them meticulously and keep them safe.

Being an advocate is hard, emotional, but important work. As you spend more time talking to others and working on your issue, you’ll learn how to finesse your talking points, dispel rumors or myths that hurt your cause and talk to others who are in direct opposition to you.

But make no mistake: your work is needed. It’s integral to the function of our democracy and will make a difference.

If you’ve been an advocate before, what advice or tips would you add to this list?

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