(Photo by Ebonee Johnson)
The onslaught of causes to champion for or against — the injustices faced by various groups on a regular basis — can seem never-ending.
But how are the folks on the frontlines handling those battles?
Recent discussion event “The Rising Tide: A Multi-issue Advocacy Town Hall,” hosted by arts coalition Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA) and moderated by the org’s VP of advocacy and strategic partnerships, Anne Marie Rhoades, convened a panel of intersectional advocates to discuss advocacy fatigue and best practices for avoiding it.
First, what’s the difference between an activist and an advocate?
Rebecca Kirzner, the campaigns director for community engagement at refugee aid nonprofit HIAS, believes advocacy is about convincing someone to believe in a cause, while activism involves defending or standing up for one.
“An activist is always on it,” said program manager at the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Michelle Currica, who identifies as an advocate. “I always feel like I’m catching up, like I’m learning new things.”
How can advocates avoid “resistance burnout?”
“Sometimes saying no and going to sleep instead,” said STAMP (Students at Museums in Philly) Teen Council member Amelia Dogan. The high school junior balances homework and intramural school activities with her own social engagement. On average, she said, she’s on the go about 12 hours a day.
Rhona Gerber, anti-gun violence group CeaseFirePA’s development director, said she “goes off the grid for 24 hours.” The long-time advocate of civic engagement said allotting hours for only spending time her with her family helps to remind her why she does the work that she does.
Ways to work smarter, not harder?
“Figure out what’s most important to the people you’re lobbying,” said deputy chief of staff to Mayor Jim Kenney, Steve Preston. The former organizer for clean energy group NextGen spoke of deploying “disruption teams” to the speaking events and rallies of Republican politician Scott Brown in years past. “Look at where it can hurt,” said Preston.
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Similarly, CeaseFirePA’s Gerber asserts that one’s mission must be “targeted and focused.” When considering the wide array of policymakers, “go for the person you think you can actually move,” said Gerber.
Bonus points: Keep your advocacy representative.
“The work will only get better if, when you realize whose missing from the table, you do the work to move beyond tokenism,” Currica said.
“Something I can do as a white woman is making sure I don’t speak for anyone else, and giving others the platform who don’t have the same resources,” Kirzner said.
Morgan Hugo, an independent living specialist with Liberty Resources, raised her hand to add a comment: “Make sure you’re keeping people with disabilities in the conversation. Make sure these spaces are available to everyone.”-30-
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