“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”

Maggie Kuhn, an American activist who spearheaded the Gray Panthers movement to protect the rights of the elderly, is attributed with saying this. Her quote is a great reminder that sometimes advocacy requires a bit of vulnerability. You may be passionate about an issue, and that passion may pack a lot of emotion, too.

Whether it is big movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo, or smaller scale movements like advocating for the local library levy, there are lots of opportunities to use your voice to enact positive social change, and it is okay if your voice shakes in the process.

Tips for Effective Advocacy

  • Find your passion or cause. Or ask yourself, “What’s your why?” Are you passionate about smaller class sizes for your student? Or do you believe we should be doing more to help people who face food insecurity? There is something that ignites a spark in everyone. What makes you excited or what makes you tick?
  • Do your research. Find out more about the challenge or issue. Make sure you look at views other than your own, so you can gain a better understanding of the overall issue.
  • Lean in. Talk to people who may have opposing views. While you may not agree with their opinions, you will gain valuable perspective.
  • Develop your pitch. Share why you got involved with the issue or cause. Having a one- and a three-minute pitch in your back pocket will serve you well. Be sure to include a personal story as this is both empowering and enlightening.
  • When advocating, try to propose possible solutions to the problem. Do not just complain when something is not going right; brainstorm and propose solutions to bring to the table. Sometimes you may not have solutions, and that is okay, but be forthright about this. For example, you can say, “Distance learning is not going well for my child, and I’m not sure how to remedy this. Could we bring together my child’s teacher and administrators to brainstorm some ways to make this better?”

Ways to Get Involved to Enact Change

Here are some ideas to set you on your path to implementing positive change:

  • Get involved with your local faith-based community to feed those who face food insecurity or call a local nonprofit to find out how you can help fulfill its mission or cause. Visit United Way of Lane County’s Volunteer website (www.volunteeruwlane.org) for dozens of local volunteer opportunities for youth, adults and seniors.
  • Join the parent/teacher organization at your child’s school. While this may look a bit different this school year (i.e., video conference meetings rather than in-person meetings), there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn about issues facing students and schools. Bring up any concerns you may have for your student and work collaboratively with the school to address these issues. If something is affecting your student, chances are, other students may be impacted as well.
  • Join other parent organizations. Join the Early Learning Alliance’s Parent/Caregiver Advisory Council to help guide decisions that impact young children and families here in Lane County. Stand for Children is an organization that advocates for quality and equitable education for students. If you are a parent with a child with special needs, connect with Families Connected, a local family network that helps advocate for positive policy and system change.
  • Look for opportunities within your own neighborhood. Is there a neighborhood association you can join? Could you organize a neighborhood potluck (post COVID) to bring neighbors together? Could you organize a day of service with your neighbors to help someone in need?
  • Contact your mayor or city councilors if you see a need in your city. Are cars driving too fast in your neighborhood? Write to the mayor to request the city traffic engineers install “Slow: Children at Play” signage. Subscribe to your city’s newsletter to be kept abreast of local happenings. You will learn about many opportunities to get involved, whether it is providing input on a park design or participating in a local park clean-up event.
  • Write and call your legislators. Many people feel out of touch with the legislative process, but it is important to remember, your legislators work for you. Legislators need to hear from parents about issues impacting schools, neighborhoods, and the quality of life of its most vulnerable citizens. Find your legislators online. Send them an email or schedule a meeting with them to tell them about important issues to you and your family. Testify at a committee meeting. This is when your three-minute pitch will come in handy.

Effective advocacy is not about being a confident public speaker. Effective advocacy is about believing in a cause and wanting to see positive change. If your voice shakes, it is a sign of your passion and authenticity. Remember, if you do not speak up, there is little opportunity for change, improvement, or advancement.

As Dr. Seuss once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Laura Dahill is the director of marketing and communications for The Arc Lane County and author of the book, Dreams Without Limits: Changing Perceptions About People with Disabilities. Dahill helps families in their journey of raising children with special needs, and she advocates for policy and systems change to improve the lives of people who experience disabilities. Dahill’s dream is to make the world more welcoming for her son and others who experience disability; she is actively involved in her community to help make this dream a reality.