There are a lot of myths surrounding advocacy, politics, and the political process in general. To get started, I’m going to focus this post on five.
Before we get to the magical five, though, I need to ‘splain something. I thought a lot about what to write for my first contribution to this gorgeous sexy blog. I have a lot of ideas and am really excited about the opportunity to share tips and tricks for fitting advocacy into your already busy life.
Over time, I’m going to share my secrets and more importantly, my screw-ups … because the world needs more involved human beings, and especially women. My hope is that you’ll find ways to get involved, maybe step up and take on another position of leadership, and maybe — just maybe — run for office one day.
For now, with this post, we start with some misconceptions about advocacy, public policy, politics … you name it. If you’re like me and you suck at patience, I promise you my next post will be tactical and a great bang for your buck.
So, here are five myths that keep folks from getting involved in the political game. There are lots more, but let’s get started.
5 Political Myths That Keep People From Getting Involved
Here, I’ll use it in a few sentences:
“The thing that’s wrong with America today, people are so political.”
“[She] was the perfect insider Washington politician.”
“The politics in the PTA are awful! We argue about everything! We all know that having the bake sale in the fall is better for selling the pumpkin spice cream cheese muffins, why can’t those women get on board?”
As a PTA President myself, I just had to throw that last one in.
This myth is a big one to throw out with the garbage. And here’s why. If you think “politics” is a dirty word, and that the act of engaging in the political process is synonymous with drug dealing, then you’re letting others get what they want. Who are these mysterious “others” I speak of? Well, play a game with me. You can do this in a minute or less.
- Pick any issue that’s important to you.
- Jot it down on a piece of paper and then write what you’d like to see happen with respect to that issue.
- Now, draw a circle around what you wrote.
- Divide out branches for all the reasons you believe what you want to happen won’t happen. Be creative.
Sometimes you’re up against other volunteers. The important common denominator is that most often these folks aren’t against what you want, they simply want to maintain the status quo, or the the anti-change. The important thing is that from this exercise you can see how this process starts to take shape.
I totally get the attraction to sitting at home and whining about how crazy the folks sound on cable news … and how icky it all is. Plenty of others have written about the need to be in the mix despite the ick factor of this year’s election, and the political climate in general. I’m guessing that if you’re here reading, then you already believe that you should figure out how to get more involved, and that you’d like some tips for how to do it.
Be excited because there’s so much more to come — on to the next myth!
Myth 2: The dollar gets the worm.
I’m not saying that money doesn’t matter. It does. In fact, I’ll write a blog post all about contributing and fundraising. The key point here is that money isn’t all that drives elected officials. Even the most cynical political operative will tell you that at every level of government, these elected leaders are people just like you and me. There are buttons to push and if you’re strapped for cash (and I don’t care why), you can still be an effective advocate.
Now, advocacy is much easier for those who have funds and time — you won’t ever hear me say it isn’t. That being said, if your life has you in a spot where you can’t devote as much time or funds as you’d like (that’s 99.9% of us, by the way), there is a path for you to advocate. Keep reading…
Myth 3: Emailing your congresswoman/man is effective.
I’m sure you’ve already read all about how personal touch still has way more impact than an impersonal email or text. In politics this is no different. Congressional offices receive thousands of emails a week, and in state legislative offices some offices are close to that number as well. If you send a form email you will receive a form response. A staff member may have quickly glanced at your email; most assuredly your elected official didn’t see it.
Consider that many national advocacy organizations are getting away from the practice of labeling their email campaigns as their sole advocacy efforts. Take People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for example. They publish a website guide to being an “effective activist.” PETA, like many other organizations that mobilize individuals to advocate, has recognized the value in training interested website visitors, rather than having them simply send emails.
I’m not saying email should never be used to communicate with elected officials. The how, what, and when all matter and we’ll delve into that later (see, look at all the teasers!). If you need information now, this guide (yes, even though it’s focused on federal advocacy) is a good primer to get started.
Myth 4: Community organizers are hippies who sit around smoking pot all day.
There are still those who jeer when they refer to President Obama as a former “community organizer” because the term has managed to evolve into a label that some view as negative.
Sure, many community organizers are 20-somethings who may imbibe in various illegal substances. There are many community organizers who are, right now, wishing for some sort of illegal substance to dull the pain of that three hour community meeting they’re sitting in. Some of you out there are community organizers who are just wishing for your next glass of wine while you clean up yet another bio-hazard in your home from the kids, the dog, or some combination of both. This is a no judgement zone.
Community organizers are by definition activists who work to unite people for a common goal. There’s so much more to it than that, but for now accept that these folks work their tails off. The reason this term has a leftist connotation is that it’s closely associated with writer Saul Alinsky who built the Industrial Areas Foundation in the 1940s, and is viewed as the original community organizer.
Then, when President Obama ran for office in 2008 with “community organizer” on his resume, conservative leaders demonized the term. Consider the conservative and progressive accounts of his work as a community organizer.
It’s important that you understand who community organizers are and what they do, how your issues may or may not be impacted by their work, and what you can learn from organizer training.
Myth 5: Reporters are scary and “always out to get you” . . . and lie . . . and portray you as a mean idiot.
Reporters are just ordinary people who are trying to do a job. I’ll spend a lot of time blogging about the press in later posts, but for now, repeat after me:
PRESS IS AN ADVOCATE’S BEST FRIEND.
If you’re gonna have a party, you’re gonna invite the press first. If you want to get your nails done, call up your new reporter BFF. Not kidding, not even a little. We’ll get to the “why” in the future. Until then, start paying attention to press outlets in your area. Understand who reports on what. And if you are advocating for issues right now, for the love of God (or who/whatever is good with you) answer a reporter’s phone calls.
So in conclusion…
If you’re still reading this then you’re already ahead of the curve. Below you’ll find some additional reading if you’re dying for more information following this blog post. I know you’re smarties and can do your own Googling but hey, part of effective advocacy is taking someone else’s work and making it work for you. Plus, it’ll save you some time.
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