Means to an End

In a conversation with some nonprofit advocates a few weeks ago (where, yes, we were again talking about the framework!), one leader with a long history of working on civil rights and equity issues for people of color in Kansas questioned the utility of even showing up to provide testimony in the legislature or directly lobby members, given the unlikelihood of positive policy movement in the near future.

Again, this is an advocate with a track record of taking on racial inequality in a conservative state.

She’s no neophyte, and she doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Her question wasn’t, “what’s in it for me?” or even “what’s the use?”, but, instead, given the opportunity costs of engaging in any advocacy strategy, “is this the best use of my advocacy capacity?”

That conversation, and her honest accounting of when it’s better to walk away, led to my second sort of ‘aha!’ moment, in thinking about what our advocacy needs to look like in this context:

Sometimes, we can use legislative advocacy–or, really, any advocacy strategy–to generate outcomes elsewhere in the framework.

In other words, our policy analysis might, sometimes, primarily be a way to generate media attention. Our testimony might primarily be a way to energize our community mobilization work. Our efforts to develop elected official champions might be a vehicle through which to build public will, too, through the use of messages that will resonate with both audiences.

We don’t have to only ‘play’ in the area where we want results.

Stuff spills over. In good ways.

As long as we’re clear–to ourselves and to those who are walking alongside us–about what our aims are and what the strategy that links them to our activities is, we can use those ripples.

It’s like advocacy echoes, I think.

And, especially these days, I’ll take all the two-for-ones I can get.

6 responses to “Means to an End

  1. Aw, but what of the negative echoes? When we are televised speaking with legislators as if we believe that they care about folks, or that what we have to say matters to them, are we making waves that say “this is a democratic society” or “these are the proper channels to launch a complaint?” Perhaps to many we are saying “we don’t get it that this doesn’t work, we do not understand the anti-democratic nature of these means and aren’t yet capable in being allies in a true struggle?”

    • Certainly we have to be careful that we’re using legislative processes as tools, not being used by them–or the actors within them. And we can’t forget that those policy channels are but one venue for social change, and that our complement of strategies must include many others. I feel much of the frustration and resignation, too, but I can’t concede this whole arena, not while it is capable of such destruction in the short-term. However, your poignant reminder not to forget the other paths to change is a critically-important one. And, certainly, we must never confuse these means with an end that, while we perhaps have a harder time seeing it, is far more valuable.

    • Thank you for your comment. I always appreciate what you have to say.

  2. Thank you for this. Preparing myself for a bout of advocacy that is draining me. You are so positive and encouraging. I truly appreciate it…Your energy spills over, like your various forms of advocacy.

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