Here in St Louis, our RESULTS group working on global poverty celebrated four months since our launch. Yay! Four months is a great time to reflect and talk about how we want to proceed for the next part of the year, so we went around and each shared our vision of what we want our group to look like. Years ago, I would have given a very specific answer like, "I would like us to have a couple of strong media writers, members lobbying regularly in congressional offices, and an annual fundraiser." Those are still nice goals, but I think my experiences as a bona-fide "soccer mom" have changed my perspective. Now, the vision I want to offer is, "I want a group where Everyone Plays."
If you are one of the thousands of families involved in AYSO youth soccer leagues, you're probably familiar with the first of their six AYSO philosophies, which is "Everyone Plays." Their webpage states: "It's no fun to spend the game on the bench...and that's no way to learn soccer!" You know what? That's no way to learn advocacy either.
In the movement to end poverty, there's room for all kinds of advocates: quiet ones...noisy ones...people ruled by their passions...people who best communicate via numbers and graphs...people with little education and people with Phd's...people who won't return a phone call but will reply to you on facebook in 30 seconds, people who like to write with pens on paper, and people who have no idea what you're talking about when you tell them a celebrity re-tweeted you.
If you can't figure out how to use the strengths of someone offering to help with advocacy, then consider seeking out a little more coaching for yourself on the wide range of activities that can push the movement to end poverty forward. Just off of the top of my head, here's a word cloud with some of the kinds of people who would be welcome at any of my group meetings to work on any given issue of poverty you can think of...
Do some of those words surprise you? When we think of advocacy and activism, does the emphasis usually reside with charismatic individuals, politicians, or celebrities with microphones? Those people are important, but no more so than other people who are critical to making those memorable moments possible...the people who design invitation graphics, write letters to Congress, design t-shirts, invite people to fundraisers, talk to students in their classrooms, popularize Twitter hashtags, teach other activists how to advocate... Oh, the list goes on and on.
There is always room for everyone.
Well...there is an exception to that last statement. As on the soccer field, there's never very much room for negativity, name-calling, showboating. Sure, it happens. But when it does, we don't get very far very fast.
So, my suggestion to all advocacy group leaders: Open up your doors and set out an extra chair out at your meeting. Embrace whoever sits down. We need to let everyone play in our activism, so that every child can play no matter where they live, no matter how much money their parents earn.