Advocacy: “to call to aid”

One of my favorite gems from the evening I spent with the infinitely likeable John Capecci, author of Living Proof, was his concept of advocacy.

He related it to its Latin origins, “vocare” and “vox”, meaning, respectively, “to call to aid” and “voice”.

What resonates with me about that understanding is how broadly it defines advocacy, and how, then, it eases the entry into advocacy for so many of our colleagues in the social work/social change field.

Because, while I don’t see my work (and never have) as ‘giving voice’ to anyone (because they have their own), the idea of lifting one’s voice and using it to call attention to suffering, to great work that deserves support, to the plight of certain constituencies, to the individual transformation that can come with contributing to a worthy cause–and rightly calling those efforts advocacy–is tremendously appealing.

We’re advocating when we have an ‘elevator speech’ ready to talk about our organization and why it deserves support, and we deploy it skillfully every chance we get.

We’re advocating when we prepare a client for a successful media interview, and the public gains new perspective on a pressing social problem.

We’re advocating when we give a presentation to a Rotary Club or a Sunday School class about why policies need to be changed, or about why what our organization does matters.

We’re advocating when we insist that a service participant be given a place to speak on the agenda at Board meetings. When we institute a new system to collect and use client stories in agency communications. When we ask for client feedback in order to reshape agency programming.

If advocacy is about calling others to aid–and giving them the chance to lend their voices in pursuit of meaningful social change–then aren’t we all advocates?

I think so.

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