Advocacy is one method that many citizens
use to challenge economic structures. Advocacy is a set of
deliberate actions in support of a cause. For example, an
anti-poverty advocate may work towards improving life for
poor people in her province through improved public housing,
higher minimum wage, and increased social assistance rates.
A human rights advocate may work with a First Nations community
arguing for adequate compensation for natural resources taken
from the Nation's land (oil, lumber, hydro-electricity).
Advocacy is usually a long-term process;
some advocates wait years and even decades before they see
change. Advocacy isn't always successful - sometimes the problems
get a lot worse before they get better - but sustained advocacy
on a particular issue often leads to significant changes.
of the Lubicon, a tiny group of people advocating for
the rights of the Lubicon Cree people of Northern Alberta,
have been able to stop the logging on Lubicon land for nearly
Besides bringing about important change,
advocacy also enables citizens to feel that they have a voice.
Advocacy empowers people, educates them, and if they are advocating
on their own behalf, allows them to play a part in determining
their own future rather than feeling like pawns in a game
controlled by others. Advocacy is not only our responsibility,
as citizens, it is our right.
The first step to advocacy is to identify the problem that
you would like to address. While you may be concerned about
the effects of economic globalization on the world's most
vulnerable people, it may be most effective to choose a
particular campaign on which to focus your efforts, for
example the No
Sweat campaign against sweatshops. Identifying a problem
must be done in constant consultation with the groups affected
by the problem ensuring that advocates clearly understand
the issue and potential risks involved in resolving the
Once you have identified a problem, spend time developing
a clear analysis of it. Find out about the current situation
- do laws already exist that protect people whose rights
are being violated? What is the exact nature of the problem?
Where are there opportunities for remedies? In analyzing
the grave effects that cuts to social services were having
on people in her province, human rights defender Josephine
Grey discovered a UN Convention that protects people's
economic human rights. Jo was able to use this convention
to publicly embarrass Canada for its treatment of poor people.
Jo spent several years doing research on the exact nature
and effects of the government cuts so she was well prepared
when the time came to face international officials in Geneva.
The third step to good advocacy is strategizing. This likely
means picking specific campaigns that will support your
overall goals. One Winnipeg coalition focused their antipoverty
efforts on urging the Manitoba government to raise social
assistance benefits so that a telephone was included as
a basic right. They picked a time period and wrote sample
letters asking groups to write their own letters during
the specified period. Strategizing also involves considering
long, medium, and short-term goals, choosing campaign partners,
and developing a time-frame.
Mobilizing support for your campaign is the fourth step
to advocacy and marks the transition from idea to action.
Mobilizing involves soliciting clear commitments of human
and financial resources from all partner organizations and
people involved. One organization may offer office space
and the use of a computer. Another may provide $1000 towards
the cause. An individual may offer to work two mornings
a week answering e-mail and responding to phone calls. Someone
else may volunteer to chair the meetings or be the secretary
or treasurer. Write down all the commitments you do have
and note what is still needed. Keep asking until you have
all the resources you think you will need to proceed.
Once you have mobilized all parties, it is time to start
educating the public. Every advocacy initiative is an opportunity
to reach out to new people and get them involved. The Child
Care Coalition of Manitoba has used several different strategies
to educate the public and to facilitate public input into
government policy-making. Their postcard campaign provided
citizens with an easy way to contact political leaders asking
them to make changes. During the campaign they also organized
press conferences to educate the media and public debates
to get citizens and politicians talking together. Once citizens
were educated on the issues, they were more inclined to
contact their elected representatives themselves.
If your publicity campaign has been successful, people who
have the power to bring about change will have heard about
your group and its wishes. It is at this point that you
organize direct contact with these community and government
leaders to discuss their openness to considering your demands.
This is called lobbying. Meeting with government likely
means meeting both with elected representatives as well
as government bureaucrats who will be the ones who will
actually implement any change in legislation - it is important
that you advocate for change from both the bottom and the
top and get all levels on board. While some of your suggestions
may be implemented soon, others may get ignored or left
behind. You may have return to Step 5 and reeducate the
public on the work that remains.
If you have a good time-line set out, you will eventually
come to the point of evaluation. You never know about the
success of your campaign - change might happen sooner than
you ever thought possible. On the other hand, it might take
longer than you ever imagined. Whatever the success of your
campaign, it is important to step back and evaluate your
advocacy effort. Compare your results with your original
objectives. Identify the things you did right and note the
places where you could have done things better. Judge your
success both in terms of actual legislated changes but also
in public knowledge of the issue - is the general public
more aware of the problems? Take note also of the effects
on the people who have been involved in the effort - have
you equipped future leaders? Has advocacy led to greater
self-esteem among participants?
The final step to good advocacy is writing your story. Be
sure to be honest about your experiences, your success and
frustrations. Thorough documentation of your advocacy efforts
will ensure that others have the opportunity to learn from
your experiences and will provide good historical background
to advocates who come after you.
These original 8 steps were developed by Human Rights Network
Uganda (HURINET) and published in their excellent handbook
Human Rights Advocacy in Uganda: A Toolkit for Human Rights
Promoters. (2000). They have been adapted for use in the
Canadian context. Knowing your welfare rights and responsibilities:
a plain language advocacy guide, revised edition by Janet
Smith and The Social Planning Council of Brandon was also
a helpful resource.
Photos are from a discussion on women and the economy at the
Brandon Women's Centre, April 2002.
"The only possible weapons to hand to for us are proven
ability and persuasion. We must become skilled in negotiating,
lobbying and the preparation of resolutions, documents, legislation,
These are the only means we have of gaining respect
in those arenas, international or national, where we must