There are essentially three aspects to making a difference: awareness, advocacy, and action.
Awareness: Learn what you can; as the saying goes “knowledge is power.” Pick an issue that is important to you and learn everything you can about it. Get your information from reliable and accurate news sources, podcasts, and talks. Use a fact checker to double check any dubious information.
Advocacy: Be ready to speak out and to support others with encouragement, collaboration, resources, funding, and assistance. Consider the following action options for your advocacy plan and then add your own ideas:
- spreading the word about your issue of interest,
- signing petitions for your cause,
- donating to organizations that support your cause,
- attending or helping set up and advertise events promoting your cause, and
- boycotting stores and services that work against your cause.
Action: Do something, small or large, once or ongoing. Move forward with your advocacy plan and get involved. "Yes, we can." Take action now and make a difference! The following are three easy ways to get started:
- Join an organization that advocates for your issue of interest.
- Teach and model compassion, tolerance, and advocacy at work and in your personal life.
- Make quick phone calls to those with legislative power—your state and US Representatives—sharing your name, constituency, and concerns about an issue.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): defends and preserves individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution
American Federation of Teachers (AFT): champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities.
American Humanist Association: advocates progressive values and equality
L.A. Justice Fund: provides legal assistance to immigrants facing removal proceedings
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC): fights hate and teaches tolerance
START: posts lists of social justice organizations and ways to make the world a better place
Overcoming Others' Resistance to Change
You can be more effective in your advocacy when you know how to help others better understand and support your causes. For some people, it’s simply a matter of sharing information with them about the importance of the cause. For others who have very different perspectives and opinions, you need to help them see that change is in their best interest. The following is a process that can be helpful in overcoming peoples’ resistance to change:
1. Identify their points of view and acknowledge them. In an open and sincere way, ask and learn about their perspective and their concerns, fears, and assumptions about changing their beliefs about the cause. This helps in three ways: it shows them that you value and respect their opinions as valid; it helps them feel a part of a conversation; and it gives you information on how to respond to their concerns.
2. Address their concerns and interests. Let them know that you understand their concerns by clearly identifying them. Next, share the differences in both perspectives and how your perspective can work and address their concerns. Describe how a new way of doing things will benefit them and address their interests.
3. Give them time. People go through change at different paces. Let them reflect on what has been shared. Answer any follow-up questions or concerns. Give them time to form and justify a new perspective in their minds. Be open and supportive when they begin to recognize the change as their own and to advocate for what they had previously opposed.
Important Note: Discussing issues on which people have strong opinions can be a very emotional and delicate process. If this process is new to you, be sure to read over Tips for Respectful Conversations in Schools, Workplaces, and Communities before starting any conversations.
Adapted from Kevin Eikenberry’s online article, 5 Ways to Influence Change in Others.