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What is Advocacy? Part 1. Introduction

Advocacy is guided by the principle that every person should be valued, and ensures that people are not ignored and excluded because of the prejudices they face, that lead to lack of respect from others.Advocacy places the person in the centre of its aims and goals, while holding to the principle that everyone has the right to be respected, listened to and involved in the decision-making process, especially on issues that affect their lives. Because it focuses on helping people be heard and getting what they need, advocacy is closely associated with the principles of social justice, civil and human rights.

Advocacy is important because no matter the issue, big or small, local or global, it provides the means to fight for justice, stand up for truth, and experience solidarity as individuals or as a collective. It provides a means for people to build a true culture of democracy, where collectively we can forge a common future together, creating and changing policies. That being said, advocacy is most effective when combined with action, and in particular non-violent action. While it is important to clearly state goals, objectives, and express satisfaction or dissatisfaction, it is equally important to back up a position with concrete actions to achieve goals and objectives.

There are many advocacy models that various organisations and people use. They include:
Citizen Advocacy
Citizen advocacy is a one-to-one ongoing partnership between a trained advocate and a person who is not in a strong position to exercise or defend their rights and is at risk of being mistreated or excluded. Citizen advocates are free from conflicts of interest with those institutions or politicians being targeted and represent the other person's interests as if they were the advocate's own.
Legal Advocacy
Legal advocacy is work undertaken by lawyers - usually in the form of litigation and judicial reviews - on behalf of a person or a group in quasi-legal settings like an ombudsman’s office, tribunals or in court.
Paid Advocacy
Professional advocates are people that are paid to provide an advocacy service, usually focusing on particular issues.
Self Advocacy
Self advocacy essentially means 'speaking up for yourself'. Self-advocacy involves a person who expresses their own needs and concerns and representing their own interest. Group or Collective Advocacy is a form of self advocacy that occurs when a group of people experiencing similar difficulties or situation come together in a formal way to support each other. Collective advocacy may consist of individual members supporting each other regarding specific issues and/or; the group as a whole deciding to tackle an issue or problem that affects the membership. Groups can become lobbying organisations, involved in awareness raising and often provide training and other resources to members, government institutions etc… on issues that are relevant to them.

The line between self-advocacy and collective advocacy is often times blurry. Many of the social movements that we have seen in the past have started because one person or a small group of people decided to speak up for themselves. The fight against segregation in the United States is a good example of how individual action has strengthened social movements. Segregation involves separating people, usually by race, and providing separate public and private facilities for both groups (bathrooms, schools, residential areas). The quality of the separate facilities is very unequal, leaving one group severely disadvantaged. In the American South, where segregation on public transportation was practiced until the mid 1950s, many Black-Americans refused to stay silent about this discrimination. In 1944, Jackie Robinson, then a soldier, refused to sit at the back of an Army bus in Texas. Almost ten years later, Claudette Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks, also refused to give up their seats on buses to white patrons, thus violating the segregation laws in Montgomery Alabama. Though Rosa Parks has become an American civil rights icon, the actions of all four women sparked the Montgomery bus boycott (that lasted for more than a year, causing steep financial losses to the companies) and let to dismantling segregation laws around the United States. When these four women and one man stood up for themselves and demanded that they be allowed to use public transportation like everyone else, they also incited Black-Americans to stand up for themselves. They also inspired thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and religions to fight injustice, regardless of whether they were directly affected. In this manner, individual self-advocacy used by one person is often an important part of effective collective advocacy.

How to - Advocate For Yourself.pdf, written by Vedna McGill and Dorothy McKenna, is a very helpful guide to self advocacy that you can access on the womanspace.ca website. Here, the authors have outlined these useful tips for effective individual self-advocacy that can also be applied to other forms of advocacy:

  • No matter how upset you may be or how badly you have been treated, try to stay calm. It may be helpful to talk with a friend about what happened to upset you. Your friend(s) can offer support and advice. Claudette Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks were treated very badly but did not lose their cool.
  • Don't give up once you have started. Remember that you have the right to ask for what you want or need. From the beginning of segregation in 1875 until the desegregation of public transport in 1956, 81 years had passed. It took 96 years for official desegregation of public schools to happen. It took almost one hundred years for segregation to end.
  • You don't have to go it alone. There are many organisations which may be able to help you with your situation by saving you some steps and by speeding up the process. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and helped the four women with their court cases and also was a key organisation within the American civil rights movement.
  • Remember that you have the right to :

o Be treated as a competent individual.
o Speak to someone who has the authority to make decisions.

  • The American civil rights movement as a whole demanded from the bus companies, schools and from policy makers to treat Black-Americans like as equal citizens of the United States.
  • Remember that you have the responsibility to:
    • Request to see a supervisor or a decision maker if you want to do so.
    • Be honest with the person you are dealing with (a politician, judge, law enforcement officer, an ombudsperson, etc…) and to tell them the whole story, even if some of the story shows you in a bad light.

Claudette Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, Jackie Robinson, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks all broke the law and got arrested. The fact that they did something illegal may have caused people to see the civil rights movement as something bad or negative. But it is important to note that their actions were non-violent. There will be more on the importance of non-violence later on in the article.

What is advocacy? 
Part 2: Advocacy and Non Violent Action
Part 3: Gandhi: Advocacy and Non-violence
Part 4: Advocacy, Non-Violence and You