“I asked why doesn’t somebody do something. Then I realized I was somebody.” Anonymous
It's simple. Raising your voice on a critical issue — in this case, our children's health—helps achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It is a powerful strategy for making people's lives better and building stronger communities.
Often, people are passionate about a particular issue, but are unsure how they can make a difference and have an impact. There are many ways to do so with the issue of comprehensive sexuality education. While there is much to accomplish and no one person could possibly do it all, there is a lot that one person can do! In fact, it is often one person who steps up and gets things changed. Perhaps there is a school administrator within your district that has been thinking about trying to implement a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum and they just need a little reinforcement. Just posing the question could be the tiny push that person needs to move forward. Sometimes, one person starting the conversation and encouraging others — students, parents, community members and school district personnel — to engage has a catalytic effect.
You certainly don't need to be an expert or have a lot of experience to be an effective advocate. But, you do need to be organized. Here are some helpful tips and additional resources to begin the journey.
Who can be the most effective advocate?
One person can influence a key decision maker. Effective advocates are:
- Passionate. People who can speak with conviction on the issue. People who care — whether they are expert or not. Don't be irrational or hostile!
- Impacted. People who will benefit from your cause and the services you propose make powerful messengers. Also, people who reside in the area served by the decisionmakers can be particularly influential.
- Local leaders. Can you identify a CEO, elected official, civic leader or other people identifiable in your community to help?
How To Craft Your Message
- Focus on one issue. A laundry list dilutes your message!
- Get to the point…quickly! Can you summarize your message in 1 minute? On one page? If not, shorten it!
- Be specific. State your position clearly and give reasons for your point of view. Personal experience is always powerful to convey.
- Write/speak from the heart. Avoid clichés and canned content.
- Consider your audience. Know where the person/people you are trying to influence are likely coming from. If that's not possible, respect their questions and point of view even if you don't agree with it. Describe the impact this issue has on your listener and those he/she represents.
How To Deliver the Message
- Identify your target audience. Do you know who the decisionmakers are on this issue? Make sure you understand the "chain of command" in decisionmaking and your audience's place in that chain.
- Justify the messenger. Be able to explain why you are a legitimate spokesperson for this issue. You don't need to have an official title. It is absolutely legitimate to be a citizen who cares enough to speak up and speak out.
- Be prepared! Have notes. Jot down talking points. Stay on message. Proofread written correspondence.
- Value their time. Public hearings rarely allow more than 5 minutes per speaker. Meetings with public officials can be brief (typically no more than 30 mintes).
- Prepare for follow-up. Be sure to leave contact information so you can be reached. Write a thank you note!
Remember this…"if you believe in great things, you may be able to make other people believe in them, too."
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
Here is a list of great tools to help hone your advocacy skills further. Most don't relate to comprehensive sexuality education but offer lessons that are equally valuable and applicable for this work.
Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest: www.clpi.org
Spitfire Strategies: http://www.justenoughplanning.org/
Alliance for Justice: www.afj.org/for-nonprofits-foundations/howtoadvocate.pdf
Alliance for Justice: Immigrant Advocacy Toolkit | Alliance for Justice
OMB Watch: “So You Want to Make A Difference”: www.ombwatch.org/node/169 ($7)
Birth to Five Policy Alliance: http://www.birthtofivepolicy.org/Portals/0/pdfs/B25%20toolkit%20FINAL.pdf
ASCD Advocacy Guide: www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/newsandissues/ascdadvocacyguide.pdf