Advocacy Musings for October 18
Recently a friend told me that he had been helping a neighbour to access some Health services that he particularly needed. His neighbour had been unsure how to voice his need to the professionals and generally lacked confidence and assertiveness when in situations that required him to speak up to “authority.” My friend had gone with his neighbour to several appointments and had encouraged and supported him to put his case forward for extra help. “Does this make me an advocate?” he asked me. “It certainly does,” was my reply. He left our conversation feeling rather pleased with himself saying, “I’ve got it, I finally understand advocacy.” We had had many conversations about advocacy over the years but I was reminded forcibly that the best way of understanding something is to do it.
There are two other points though coming out of this little story: The first is that many people are indeed advocates for others. If a friend or relative goes with you to a meeting or appointment and speaks up for you when you stumble over your words or say something you didn’t mean to say they are being your advocate. If, as a parent you know your child has been wrongly accused of something at school or elsewhere or singled out and too harshly punished for something it is often the case that you will have words with someone on their behalf. You are being an advocate.
There are many situations where this occurs and it is very important to remember that advocacy is not something magical or mysterious that has to be performed as some sort of arcane ritual only by the initiated. Having someone by our side to speak up with us or for us is something that many of us experience and/or offer as part of our friendship to others.
The second point is that organised advocacy exists for those who for one reason or another do not have a family member, neighbour or friend who can be their advocate. This whole interchange of support is in danger of being professionalised out of all recognition when really it is not a complicated thing at all.
At the core of true advocacy is that word empowerment. Another friend of mine some years ago once asked me what the word “empowerment” means. I tried to explain but she stopped me and said, “ No one can empower someone else, the power has to come from inside you.” I think good advocacy is about assisting people to find the power inside themselves by knowing they have something to say and are worth listening to.
What else is there to say this month? Last time I quoted a poem and gave you a bit of one of mine. Today I’d like to share some lines by a favourite performer of mine. Robin Williamson, extraordinary singer, multi-instrumentalist and song-writer, started one composition with these words: “I’ll sing you this October song for there is no song before it, the words and tune are none of my own though my joys and sorrows bore it.”
Well, advocacy is my October song. But then again I think it might be my song in every other month too.
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy.
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