Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to be an advocate

Sitting here with my headphones, listening to nothing at all, I realize that I don’t follow through with many things. Sometimes my interests change. Sometimes I’m lazy. Other times I just don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not that I’m not trying; it’s just that I don’t know the next step. Slightly over a year ago I embarked on a new path. I wasn’t going to just help myself. I was going to help others.

I’ve been putting the pieces together, looking at every angle, learning to use what is available to impact society – to leave the world better off than how I found it. Without picking an issue, I’d like to describe my thoughts on how to be an advocate. I haven’t quite found my issue yet. It might be cancer research. It might be global warming. It might be finding an end to hunger. The point is, that while spending time volunteering to ease the symptoms of certain problems, I haven’t devoted much, if anything, to eliminate these problems. I want to advocate for the elimination of problems. Big words, huh?

Well, they need to be bigger. An advocate needs to be heard. Louder still, folks. Not that being an advocate is like joining an exclusive club or anything, but certain professions carry with them some pretty loud voices. Think of journalists for instance. Lou Dobbs comes in pretty loud and clear when he criticizes illegal immigration. People stop and people listen. Politicians can often command an audience. Even celebrities, lauded by the masses, opine on political and social matters, resulting in news headlines and 30-second segments on the 24-hour news channels.

So you’ve become a journalist and want to advocate for an issue. What next? I’ll simply repeat what’s been said for many years: Stay on message! Be consistent with your message. Oftentimes people can become diverted by rhetoric, distracted by semantics, drawn into arguments on other matters. Be consistent. Advocate for a cause. Advocate for a solution. If you have to take some time to develop a white paper, consult with experts and bullet-proof your plan, then do so. An advocate needs to come well educated with a well thought-out plan in hand, armed with conviction and ready to withstand criticism.

This leads me to my next piece of advice: know your enemy. Have you played Devil’s Advocate? Who opposes you? What is their motivation? Are there lobbyists ready to pounce? Be sure to think about their agenda and study their ideas. Come well-educated on not only your own plan, but your enemies’ as well. Know the differences. Know the similarities. In politics it is very rare that one side completely dominates another. Where is the common ground? Where can compromise be reached? You need to know your enemy.

This is real life. This is not a text book. In the past, what has worked? What didn’t? History is studied for a reason. Hitler didn’t know the history of war during the Russian winter and thus lost WWII (there were two other failed campaigns in the Russian winter – can you name them?). Study history. Study advocacy. This essay is just the beginning. Who knows, maybe your issue will be the same as mine. We may be on the same side. We may not. In any case, you better do your homework.


Andrew said...

I agree completely with what you say here. None of that flip-floppery of the Kerry days! No, I'm kidding of course. To advocate something specific you can not deviate from that or else you are then advocating something else, however I think that how you decide to advocate can change, e.g. if a commercial advocating the sale of wine in grocery stores in Massachusetts does not seem to be influencing enough people then you need to change tactics.

I think the advent of blogging is going to make a huge difference in the way politics is carried out because there will be so many opinions that are disseminated from so many diverse sources. Blogs such as this one that have a grand total of two readers (which is strange being there are three writers/editors) may not hold a lot of clout but even if there is a small group of people that read and agree with a post on this blog and then decide to discuss it with their friends or link to a post on their own blog then it may be possible to have a significant impact on whatever it is that is being advocated.

I can only think of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow as another example of a failed military attempt in Russia during its cold winters. What's the other?

Ian said...

You bring up a good point. I think one can change tactics while staying on message. Use of media should be comprehensive, targeted and flexible.

As far as the Russian Winter, I believe the other one was the Great Northern War between Sweden and Russia. I wrote a paper on it in high school but can't quite remember the details. I don't have a memory like Seth Lloyd. Man, that guy has some recall!

Anonymous said...

It is really inspiring to hear from the activists and advocates that are in the trenches fighting for change day in and day out and really make a difference. keep up the great blog guys!