MY story matters? Really?

The part of Living Proof that stayed with me the most is that it’s about telling one’s own story, and about how learning to tell that story in a compelling, public way can make a difference in advocacy.

As in, my story.

Not the story of an organization, although those stories can help others to believe in what a collection of people–in this particular organizational space–are trying to build together.

Not the story of an issue, since good stories are all, ultimately, about people, and since the reason that we care about issues is that they impact people’s lives.

Not the stories of our clients, although we have a tremendous opportunity, and a responsibility, to help them tell their own stories too.

But our own story.

As in, why I became an advocate for this cause, or what brought me to this work.

They have a whole ‘story map’ to help us do this, to divide our lives into ‘then’ and ‘now’, and craft a narrative about what is different, and why it matters.

And it makes a lot of sense, even if it took me halfway through the book to come to terms with the fact that “my story” meant, actually, me.

Because if we hope to authentically invite others into this work, if we aim to recruit them to advocate alongside us (which, of course, we do, if we’re in the advocacy or organizing businesses, because we need more voices joining ours), then we should be ready to tell the story of how we came to our advocacy, what being part of this cause has meant for our lives, and why others can find meaning and fulfillment here, too.

And, I mean, I guess I always got that, for the ‘volunteer advocates’.

That’s what I train leaders to do.

But me?

Yes, social justice is my passion. But it’s also my job. What’s the story there?

Truthfully, I have been asked this a lot, as a non-immigrant who has spent a bulk of my career working on immigrant rights. “What brought you to this work?” The first several times I was asked, I’m embarrassed to admit that I think I sort of stared blankly, said something about being able to speak Spanish, and changed the subject.

But then I figured out, in a sort of backwards way, that people were asking not so much because they were curious about me, but because they wondered what my advocacy story might say about them.

So I got a better answer.

Now, I mostly say something about how the immigration policy debate is not as much a question about immigrants as about America, and the kind of future we want to shape. It’s about figuring out how to make immigration a success story the way it has been since the beginning of our nation, at the same time that we learn from our mistakes and right past wrongs. It’s about who we want to be, as a country, and what we will stand for. And those are questions about which I have something to say, about welcoming and justice and the kind of United States I want my own children to be proud of.

What about you?

What’s your advocacy story?

The one that only you can tell?

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