Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Advocacy 2011

I participated in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's Advocacy Day in June. Survivors and loved ones of those taken by this disease go down to DC to urge Congress to pass a bill that would lead to a strategy that would make this diagnosis less than the death sentence that it currently is. I have been thinking a lot about advocacy and what it means since then. (A wonderful two weeks in Croatia kept me from capturing these musings sooner.)
Advocacy sounds like such a formal word and is not typically used to describe the activities of our daily lives. And yet, I believe that we do so quite regularly. There's the advocacy akin to lobbying for a position in the halls of power. But what about the advocacy we do for each other – for those in our family, our friends, our neighbors, those we love and those in need.
On the more institutional side, I was down in Washington advocating for more funding for cancer research. I find it interesting that in many languages, the word that we translate colloquially as "lawyer" is "advocate'. In that sense, it actually makes sense (and may not be such a negative) that many of our elected officials are lawyers.
This was my second year down and I, once again, found it to be near equal parts exhilarating and frustrating. On the one hand, what other country would allow an average citizen to speak with two Congressmen, one Senator and several aides about a single (relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things) issue in a single day? What an amazing country we live in! On the other hand, our priorities drive me batty. We routinely find the money to support the profits of large corporations and our nations richest but have to fight for years to take care of our sick and needy. The benefit from medical research is much clearer to me than what we gained by the $4 trillion spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%. I very firmly believe in a government of, by and for the people and it is maddening to me that we willingly relinquish that power. Forgive the soapbox, but… I see our priorities as a citizenry severely misplaced. I am convinced that the only way we can start putting real, deserving people ahead of faceless institutions is for us to talk about it and exchange ideas amongst ourselves. (So, I invite any and all of you to engage me in civil discussions if you agree with the choice of war funding and tax cuts for the rich instead of better pay for teachers, cops and soldiers and better cures for the diseases my children face. Please help me – because, I don't for the life of me understand that choice and really need to.)
We also have a reasonable expectation of advocacy in our lives. We expect that our elected representatives will advocate for us (or ought to). We expect our loved ones to advocate for us too. We want folks to look out for us, to listen to us, to help us when we are in need.
That same challenge also lays before us when it comes to those we don't know. We are meant to advocate for each other, for the friends we don't yet know, for the least among us. We all know someone who needs an advocate. There is certainly no lack of opportunity. Advocacy is a form of love and loving our neighbor. This is, after all, what Christianity calls us to do.
We are human. We need each other – and that's good. Advocate politically, because we have this wonderful system that allows it. Demand that your government and its' representatives advocate for you, because that's their job. Advocate for your family and friends because love call you to. Advocate for the neediest in our society because it's what Jesus modeled and challenges us to do.
Advocacy is exhilarating and frustrating and the only way to change the world or a life. Let's get to it.