Advocacy Musings for a New Year.
It seems to be just this time of year that many people (the media in particular) look back over the year that is going or has just gone and look forward to the one that is beginning. In that way we are, perhaps like Janus, the Ancient Roman God after whom January is named, looking in both directions. The future is tricky at the moment when nationally, internationally and even globally so many dreadful things happened in the recent past. And yet advocacy is based on hope and a strong belief that things should and can get better. I’m not saying that advocacy is the solution to religious differences, poverty, war, homelessness, global warming et cetera. But it does stand for giving an effective voice to those who are not listened to so perhaps it has a role somewhere in all of that. In any case I feel that we should hope for a better world and nurture positive shoots in any way we can until they grow into good green plants.
What can Peaks and Dales Advocacy look forward to? Well it would appear that we are slowly growing back into a viable organisation which will contribute yet again to increasing the well-being of members of our communities who might otherwise be overlooked. Yes it is true that we want and need more funding and more opportunities through funding, to do what we are good at doing but perhaps it is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be, what can people on the margins of our societies look forward to in the Peaks and Dales and the county of Derbyshire as a whole? Without good, effective advocacy or the strength and confidence to challenge things themselves further marginalisation, powerlessness and possible neglect may well be their experience in 2018. So let us look forward to advocacy organisations locally and county-wide strengthening their resolve to act independently and effectively in order to change things for the better. And let’s “hope” that will be achieved.
Looking back a lot could be said about PADA’s twists and turns throughout 2017 and the switch-back ride we seem to have been on. But I’d like to look back a bit further than that to the early 2000's. I had got to know a man called Patrick , now sadly deceased, but at the time a strong and convincing ambassador for the National Downs Syndrome Association. Patrick lived in Derbyshire and he and I often travelled to London and elsewhere together in connection to work we were both engaged in. One day during this period my brother phoned me at home and said, “You’ve just been mentioned on breakfast television.!” This came as a surprise to me but subsequently I discovered that Patrick had been interviewed in his ambassador role and in the middle of his bit had turned to camera and said, “I just want to say hello to my friend Peter Dawson in Derbyshire!” Be that as it may the thing about Patrick is that as he got more confident and assertive he developed the courage to stand up for himself and the way he wanted to live. As a friend and colleague I gave him a little help in this and there was one occasion when he needed me in a meeting where it felt that the powers that be, including a close relative, wanted him to settle down into being a good, compliant little man with Downs Syndrome who might do his ambassadorial work sometimes but who would not challenge the system in any way. However, Patrick had other ideas and had found himself a lady friend who had more or less moved in with him and whose company he preferred over anything else. By being there with him in the role of advocate, whatever my personal opinion might or might not have been, he felt supported and the others present had to acknowledge that there were other ways of looking at the situation. He continued to live his life the way he wanted to live it.
Janus, I recently discovered, was thought by the ancient Romans to have been the god of transitions, passageways and doors. Good advocacy may often be a door which opens up the way for people to think differently about a situation, especially to consider things from the perspective of the person for whom the advocacy is primarily intended.
I will conclude these musings by wishing you all a Happy January.
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy. January 2018
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