2020 was a year that brought out the inner social justice advocate in many of us for whom it may have previously been dormant. At the heels of the Me Too movement came Black Lives Matter, prompting a reckoning with systemic racism. In a major election year, voting rights were a top priority in the U.S., as were climate justice, gun violence, food insecurity and immigration rights.
And, of course, there was a global pandemic – which has served, in part, to further expose the vast disparity in healthcare and access to resources resulting from America’s income gap.
There are various effective ways that people can influence the political landscape and shape public policy – that is, be social advocates: voting, monitoring current events, writing letters to elected officials, donating to nonprofit organizations, volunteering with a community center, or attending a protest.
Truthfully, there are so many causes one could support, so many kinds of movements, and so many levels of involvement, that it can be difficult to know what to do. This is called compassion fatigue and it is especially prevalent right now.
So, how can we meaningfully support people and organizations working on behalf of the greater good? Below are some ideas to get started. You may also want to check out The First 90: Practicing Social Advocacy group coordinated by UW Combined Fund Drive staff.
Learn: Identify what causes you care about, then learn about them and what they hope to achieve
Consider any personal connections you have with an organization that shares your values. Do some research on their website and look the organization up in CharityNavigator to determine their financial allocations. Then ask:
- Does the organization do work that makes you feel proud, joyful, relieved?
- Are they able to respond quickly to changing priorities?
- What is their mission and vision and are these achievable?
- Is the organization working locally, nationally, or internationally, and to what degree is this important to you?
- Does the organization provide opportunities for you to learn more and get involved?
Reflect: Work on your own biases
Practicing social advocacy requires truthful reflection on your own beliefs and habits of mind. Why? According to diversity thought leader Howard Ross, “If you are human, you are biased.”
Acknowledging and addressing unconscious bias allows you to move forward in effecting change as a social advocate. It also allows you to avoid microaggressions, the “everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups,” (Dr. Kevin Nadal, https://www.kevinnadal.com/).
Ready to start? Here are some resources:
- The National Museum of African American History & Culture has a comprehensive guide to thinking about received beliefs in I am a Person Committed to Equity as well as its page on bias.
- Rerouting Shortcuts: Cognitive shortcuts can lead to stereotyping and biased behavior. Here are some suggestions on how to “reroute” these shortcuts (Tolerance.org).
- Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How to Talk Them Out and When To Walk Away (Andrew Limbong, NPR, June 9, 2020)
- Bridging Differences Playbook: Learn research-based strategies to promote positive dialogue and understanding (Greater Good Research Center, UC Berkeley).
Show up: Find affinity groups and engage with them
Research suggests that to effect real and lasting change, organizations and movements need to get people into settings where they can build trust, make connections, and learn to work together toward a common goal – even with people who are different from them. And people need to act on their ideas with feet on the ground, not just smiling pictures on social media.
Even with Covid-19 restrictions in place, there are many opportunities to get involved with organizations and groups working in the weeds, in-person and virtually as well as locally or from afar. Check out the Practice Social Advocacy Resources UWCFD page for some suggestions to get started.
In the greater Seattle area, younger professionals can get involved with programs like the United Way’s Emerging Leaders 365 or, specifically for people of color, Project LEAD. YPIN, the Young Professionals International Network, is a member group of the World Affairs Council and operates a robust Seattle cohort.
Older activists may want to check out encore.org, comprised of “older activists, innovators and leaders, standing with younger allies to bridge divides, connect across generations and create a better future together.” Aging for Life helps citizens become more informed, engaged, and conscious about aging and ageism, as well as emphasis on social justice and climate activism.
Seattle Works is a local civic organization helping people connect to causes and to each other through a wide range of volunteer service, leadership training, and meet-up experiences, with particular emphasis on dismantling racism and decolonizing the workplace.
Once you identify an organization that resonates with you, consider volunteering or donating
Considerable research has demonstrated that giving—whether it’s of your time, your skills, or your support —boosts physical and mental health with benefits extending to lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, lessened depression, lower stress levels, a longer life, and greater happiness overall.
With even a couple of hours to spare, you can support a cause you are passionate about. Reach out to the organization’s volunteer coordinator to find out what opportunities are available.
Likewise, financial contributions to an organization you believe in are a great way to say something about who you are, what you value, and the change you want to see in the world. Advocacy is central to the mission of many non-profit organizations, and your donation allows them to continue doing their work. Consider making a monthly gift through payroll deduction to your organization through the UWCFD.
Whatever way you choose to get involved, supporting a cause you care about can and will result in stronger connections to others as you work collectively toward a better world.