“Catch on fire and people will come from miles to watch you burn,” shared Jinyoung Englund, a candidate for the state senate in Washington and Marine Corps spouse, to the room of military spouses at Homefront Rising in Washington, D.C., last week.
Englund was one of this year’s speakers at the event aimed to help military spouses learn how to become effective advocates and run for public office.
As a political junkie, the idea of running for office is in the back of my mind, but for me, it’s just not doable right now.
After attending Homefront Rising in Washington, D.C., I have a number of tactical ideas for getting involved in my community today on the issues that matter most to me. This year’s sessions focused on the various ways that military spouses can impact local and national government, from being an advocate, to working for the government, to running for office. Attendees left energized and armed with the tools to take the next steps in their path to public service.
To say that I left Homefront Rising feeling inspired is an understatement.
I made amazing connections with other military spouses and organizations and am excited to continue my personal advocacy work. Here are my 5 takeaways from Homefront Rising.
5 Ways to Become an Effective Advocate
Do your research. This came up during every single session of Homefront Rising. Every. Single. Session. Whether you are looking for a job, wanting to start a nonprofit or considering to run for public office, know who is in that space already.
- Who is a leader on the issues that you care about?
- What organizations are already in the space and is there a way you can join with them?
- What does your community really care about?
By connecting with those that are leaders in your cause or community you will learn how your voice and your story is a part of the larger picture. You may find that by volunteering with a local nonprofit dedicated to the cause that you are passionate about, that your story can be a part of their story, instead of starting something entirely new.
Maybe there is no one in that space talking about your cause – then be that person. But before you start, do your due diligence.
Know your message cold. Whether talking to members of your community, an elected official or the media, practice your message until you know it in your sleep. This will help you clearly articulate your goals under pressure.
Your advocacy elevator pitch is what will connect others to you. Tell your story and your goal quickly and clearly because no one has all day to sit and listen to you talk (even though we all wish they did!). Once you pique their interest with your pitch, then you can hit them with your flyers, data, talking points and more in-depth solutions.
Put your head down and work hard. This advice came from Rory Brosius, formerly deputy director of Joining Forces. Sure you want everyone to see what you are doing all the time, but to be successful you’re going to have to DO the work. So put your head down and focus. Do the best work that you can and you will be noticed by those around you.
Most importantly, don’t do something that you hate. No you will never love what you are doing 100% of the time, but if you are working on something that you love the work will be successful.
Be a connector. Keep in touch with people in your life to help you with your cause. These folks may serve as advisers to you or help you raise money. But until you launch your campaign, be generous with your list. If you know of someone that is looking for folks and you know 10 people that would be interested in their work, connect them with a quick introduction.
Be smart about who you connect, don’t send people that may not be interested at all, but instead those that you know have a common interest. Sharing your network helps everyone and when the time comes to grow your own organization or campaign, your network will remember and hopefully share their connections with you.
Get involved in government. There are many paths to public service, including working for an elected official, serving on a local committee and being elected to office.
Shannon Kula, former chief of state to a U.S. senator and Marine Corps spouse, shared that the elected officials she worked for often turned to her for her experience as a military spouse when making policy decisions about the military. Being that voice in an office is powerful.
If you want to serve in another capacity, look into local commissions, committees and boards. These often require an application and appointment by local officials and are a great way to learn more about what it’s like to serve.
If running for public office is more your speed, check out nonpartisan organizations like She Should Run and Running Start, to help you learn about fundraising, solidify your messaging and connect you to further resources.
At the end of the day being an effective advocate requires research, a clear message, hard work and your community. Remember, as a military spouse you can be politically involved, but be sure to have a conversation with your spouse and decide what’s best for your family as you take that jump into being involved or running for office.