Your work in advocacy can and does make a difference. Policy makers at all levels value your time and information as a constituent, as well as your professional knowledge and experience.It not only raises awareness of issues, but increases the likelihood that action will be taken.Next time you are faced with an issue, look to influential community leaders and policy-makers as partners in the policy-making process.Engage your community leaders and policy-makers to support your advocacy activities.Think of the contributions your individual citizens, local associations and boards can make, not only on local manners, but also on regional and state issues that have a local impact.
What is Advocacy and Why Do It?
An advocate is a person who argues for a particular cause. To advocate is to act in support of a particular issue or cause. Anyone can be an advocate. As an advocate, you are exercising your right to participate in the democratic process. Being a health advocate gives you the opportunity to influence the way the public and policy-makers think and act on health policies. Remember the saying - "all politics is local." This often repeated phrase holds true. The power of grassroots advocacy comes from individual action and groups of committed constituents joining together to provide policy-makers with the expertise they need to make decisions.
Knowledge and Expertise
Policy-makers at all levels of government cannot know every constituent. But those constituents that make an effort to develop a relationship with and act as a resource to their elected or appointed leaders can have a real impact. By introducing your policy-makers to the work that you do, they know how public health serves their constituents. Initiating and maintaining a relationship with your policy- makers is the access point into the policy-making process. How do we know this? Just ask a policy-maker. They will tell you one of the most important parts of their job is to stay in touch with their constituents. They rely in information from individuals and organizations to help them stay informed and aware of issues of concern.
Myths and Realities
Has there been a time when you wished you would have acted on a health issue and didn’t? There are many reasons why people choose not to get involved in public policy making. The myths we hold about the policy-making process can influence our actions.
"I’m apprehensive about getting too involved in advocacy." The best advocates are not full-time, paid lobbyists, but rather health professionals who share their experience with policy-makers and their staff.
"I’m expert on occupational health and I can’t contribute much knowledge on other health issues." Being a health professional gives you a set of skills and expertise.You may not know the specifics of one policy, but you can speak broadly about the importance of diet, nutrition and physical activity.
"I just do not have the time to engage in policy-making activities." Health professionals have full time jobs, families, community commitments, and still make time for advocacy. WAND makes being an advocate easy by providing you with the resources you need to contact your legislator. With each WAND action alert, you receive the facts, background, and status of an issue to make taking action an easy endeavor. The effort can take as little as five minutes, and all you need is a stamp, a phone, or e-mail capability.
"My policy-maker is a lost cause. Whatever I am for, she is against." Write, visit, and call anyway. It’s important for the legislator to know that people in her district care about issues and oppose her position on pending issues.Put your policy-maker on your organization’s mailing list, continuing to provide her and her staff with accurate, high-quality materials that pertain to their district or state.Invite the legislator to your organization. Remember, it is about establishing a relationship with the legislator.
"Isn’t advocacy just another word for lobbying. I’m not a lobbyist.” The number one job of an advocate is to educate policy-makers and the public.As a health professional, you have information that policy-makers need.Again, invite your policy-makers to your program, clinic, or organization.
Advocacy: A Lifelong Adventure
Most importantly, remember advocacy is a lifelong adventure, an activity that is always changing and is never boring. To guarantee a bright future for programs, funding, and protections, means not concentrating solely on an immediate legislative win, but also on building and advancing our mission. Keep in mind when you visit your policy-maker or send an e-mail about a piece of health legislation, you are working to build a long-term relationship with that policy-maker.
Success in advocacy is not just measured by the passage or defeat of a local ordinance, a bill in a state legislature or before Congress.Success in advocacy means changing opinions and educating the public and policy-makers alike. It is also about making your policy-maker a champion of health.
So, now that you are convinced that health advocacy is important, how do you learn the basics of being an effective advocate? The following sections provide you with some general guidelines as you involve yourself in the public health policy arena.