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Allies and Advocates Assignment Essay
When I was a kid, there were ads on the bus that showed a light-skinned male hand holding a college diploma. The caption below the image said, TO GET A GOOD JOB, GET A GOOD EDUCATION. Thats still sound advice. A college degree doesnt guarantee getting a good job, but it greatly improves the odds. Many employers want people with the skills that higher education imparts: excellent reading comprehension, the ability to find and analyze information, and the ability to write well. Acquiring these skills is not easy. Which is one reason that only about a third of US adults have a college degree.
We usually think of attending a college or university as something we do not only to boost our career prospects but also to discover new interests, to develop our potentials, and to acquire knowledge that helps us understand and appreciate the world more fully. In these ways, higher education equips us to get more out of life for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this; its reasonable to expect some kind of return for the time and effort we put into learning. But perhaps, if we want to make the world a better place, we should think of this return in broader terms.
Imagine a modern society in which only one percent of the adults had college degrees. If this were the case, its likely that powercontrol of the economy, government, and other major institutionswould be concentrated in the hands of the educated few. Most people would be unequipped to participate in running society, and democracy would be impossible. Now imagine a society in which all the adults had benefit of higher education. In this case, it would be much harder for elites to monopolize power. Nearly everyone would be equipped to participate in running society; and, although not ensured, democracy would be much more possible.
What does this thought experiment suggest about the United States as it really is? Perhaps that those who are fortunate enough to acquire the skills that enable participation in running society have an important role to play when it comes to finding democratic solutions to social problems. Consider, too, that much of the suffering caused by social problems is borne by those who are least well equipped, at least by formal education, to challenge elites for power and pursue solutions that serve the common good. This condition further suggests a special role, or special obligation, for the beneficiaries of higher education when it comes to making the world a better place.
One way to play this role is by advocating. By this I mean using ones skills and knowledge to help change the laws and policies that cause others to suffer unfairly. In a competitive and individualistic society, we often feel pressure to do the opposite: to take action only when we will benefit. Of course we need to look out for our own interests, and there is nothing wrong with doing so provided that it doesnt harm others. But if we want to make the world a better place for everyone, including ourselves, we need to look beyond our narrow self-interests.
Advocating does not require a college degree. Anyone who works on behalf of others who are more vulnerable and more directly harmed by a problem is acting as an advocate. Still, the knowledge and skills conferred by higher education offer a clear advantage in this kind of change-making activity. This is one reason Ive connected higher education to advocating. Another reason is that most readers will encounter this book in a college course, on their way to acquiring resources that most Americans lack. If such relatively privileged readers then ask, What can we do to help solve the problems that our education brings to light?, one especially fitting answer is advocating.
I am not suggesting that an educated minority should presume to know how best to solve other peoples problems. This sort of presumptuousness is a potential downside to higher education (or, really, to the unequal distribution of higher education). Ill say more later about how advocates can avoid this problem. For now, I want to make the point that advocating does not mean taking charge or claiming the authority to speak for others. It means adding ones strength to efforts to reduce the suffering of others, in a way that best suits ones abilities, without diminishing the dignity of those being helped.
Some readers might be familiar with the idea of being an ally, which perhaps seems much like what I am calling advocating. The two ideas are indeed closely related, though theyre not quite the same. By distinguishing them, it is possible to see different ways that one can contribute to making the world a better place by working on behalf of others. While we all can be allies at key moments, being an advocate implies something more.
Allies and Advocates Assignment Essay
Both allyship and advocacy can help resist injustice and reduce suffering, and both practices are important. The main difference, as I see it, is that advocating means working in the public sphere to change laws and policies that are unjust and/or cause surplus suffering, whereas allyship usually occurs out of the public eye. In this sense, all advocates are allies, but not all allies engage in public advocacy. Because both practices are important and because the distinction Im drawing might seem a bit abstract, Ill offer examples of each.
Examples of Allyship
Allies are members of privileged groups who seek to change the cultural beliefs and practices that give them those privileges. As a matter of principle, allies believe that it is wrong for some people to enjoy higher status, fairer treatment, or more opportunities in life simply because of the social group or category to which they belong. And so, when appropriate occasions arise, allies try to break the patterns of everyday behavior that reinforce inequality. They try to ensure that members of marginalized, devalued, or subordinated groups are afforded equal status, fair treatment, and equal opportunities.
Many examples of allyship come from organizational life. Imagine a meeting in which most of the powerful actors are white males. Because of how racist and sexist biases can operate both consciously and unconsciously, it would not be surprising if a young woman of color struggled to be heard and taken seriously in this situation. A white male who saw this happening and intervened, making sure that the young womans ideas were given a fair hearing, would be acting as an ally. If, in a different situation, the same white male challenged racist and sexist joking among his white male peers, this would be another example of allyship. Still another example would be reaching out and offering mentorship to people, such as women of color, who had historically been excluded from leadership positions in the organization.
For most members of dominant groups, everyday life provides plenty of chances to act as allies. Whenever members of less privileged groups are disrespected, mistreated, or unfairly excluded from opportunities, allies can speak up and say that this is wrong. This might seem like a simple matter of being a decent person. What makes allyship hard is that it means challenging the biases and discriminatory behavior of people in dominant groups. But this is precisely what allies are best positioned to do, and its the insider status of allies that makes their actions so powerful.
Examples of Advocating
Whereas allyship usually involves interpersonal intervention, as suggested by the preceding examples, advocacy involves intervention in more public processes, such as policy debates, elections, and organizing campaigns. The goal of advocating is to change not just individual behavior but the social conditions that affect the lives of many people. Like other allies, advocates believe in fairness for all and try to use their knowledge, skills, and other resources to reduce the suffering experienced by less powerful, less privileged others.
For example, suppose that state legislators want to create a lottery as a way to raise revenues. An upper-middle-class person with a high income might think this is fine. It will keep his or her taxes low, and it will be mostly people with lower incomespeople hoping, against enormous odds, for a big winwho buy lottery tickets. But another upper-middle-class person might see the unfairness in a lottery system, precisely because, as a tax in disguise, it puts a heavier burden on those less able to afford it. If this person publicly opposed the lotteryby signing petitions; writing letters to the editor, op-eds, or blog posts; e-mailing legislators; or attending ralliesthis would constitute advocating.
Imagine, for another example, an upper-middle-class person who is white and lives in a safe, affluent suburb. For this person and his or her family members, the likelihood of suffering violence at the hands of police is low. And so the issue of police violence, when raised by black activists in an inner-city area, might seem remote and be easy to ignore. But if this same person took the issue seriously and publicly supported efforts to reform police training (to teach de-escalation rather than intimidation), to establish citizen review boards to monitor police behavior, and to change laws that protect police from the consequences of misbehavior, s/he would be an advocate.
One more example: imagine that state legislators are proposing to enact a law that will require new forms of identification before people are allowed to vote. Previous experience shows that such a law will make it harder for poor people, the elderly, the disabled, and college students to vote, thus lowering their participationwhich is perhaps the goal that some legislators are aiming for. A person who would not be much affected by the law might shrug and take no action. Another person who likewise would not be affected might nonetheless believe that voting is a right and should be made as easy as possible for everyone. This person could become an advocate by publicly opposing passage of the new law, in the ways noted above.
These examples of advocating are not far-fetched; they exist in the real world: men who advocate for change that will benefit women; whites who advocate for change that will benefit people of color; able-bodied people who advocate for change that will benefit the disabled; wealthy people who advocate for change that will benefit the poor. And so on. Many people who are not directly hurt by a policy or practiceand might even benefit from ittry to make change that will improve life for others. These are the ways in which advocates can make the world a better place.
Sociologically Mindful Advocacy
Like all the change-making practices described in this book, advocating can be done in more or less effective ways. We can accomplish more, I think, by using the findings and methods of sociology to analyze social problems (see chapter 3 on researching) and by being sociologically mindful when we act as advocates. Allyship, too, can benefit from being done in a sociologically mindful way. So whether one aims to interrupt the reproduction of inequality through quiet, backstage interventions, or through vocal public ones, here are some suggestions for how to do this work more effectively.
Take time to listen and learn. Being an advocate requires understanding the circumstances and experiences of others. How does some policy or practice affect them? What is the problem they face? How does a policy or practice create this problem? It takes effort to find good answers to these questions; and for this purpose, listening, empathizing, and researching are essential. One danger of higher education, as I noted earlier, is that it can lead advocates to think they know more than they do and thus to jump in prematurely and unhelpfully. Advocates who take time to study an issueto gather facts and to respect the knowledge of those whom they would presume to helpwill be able to speak with more credibility and force.
Consider your sphere of influence. Its fine to speak out about big issuesmilitary spending, foreign trade, climate change, war. Advocating in regard to these issues is important and can make a difference. But often we can have a greater effect if we speak to issues closer to home. Our neighbors and local politicians are more likely to care what we think and to listen to us than people who are more distant. So when considering how best to use the limited time available for advocating, it is wise to think about where we are likely to have the most influence. We should also bear in mind that acting locally can produce effects that ripple outward and create farther-reaching change (see chapter 12).
Speak to common interests. An affluent white suburbanite who advocates to reduce police violence could cite the suffering of inner-city residents most likely to be hurt. Another approach would be to say that we all have an interest in seeing that police officers are well trained, professional, and not prone to unwarranted violence because we all might need to call on the police for help, and because more crimes will be solved if everyone feels that they can trust the police. Even the police could benefit from more trust and less tension when doing their jobs in economically distressed areas. Looked at this way, we can see that there is a common interest at stake; the community as a whole could benefit from police reform. This approach to advocatinghelping people see their common interestsis crucial to mobilizing broad support for change.
Learn from mistakes. Advocating often entails leaving ones comfort zone. It takes time and effort to learn and listen, and listening can mean hearing some troubling things (e.g., how members of ones own group are responsible for a problem). Speaking out about a problem suffered by the less powerful can incur the wrath of the more powerful. Speaking out before doing the research and listening necessary to understand a problem, or speaking with unearned authority, might be criticized by the people one is trying to help. Its possible, in other words, to get flak for trying to do a good thing. Whats important is not to let discomfort or fear of making mistakes become a barrier to advocating. Discomfort and mistakes are parts of the process. Learning from these experiences is how we become better advocates.
Speak to other members of ones group. Unfortunately, the knowledge and experience of people who suffer from a problem are often discounted by members of dominant or privileged groups. Reports from people who suffer the most are seen as biased or as whining. Here is where advocates, presuming that they have done the necessary listening and learning, can help. Advocates, like allies, can make it a point to speak to other members of their group. Sometimes this is what gets a message across because the advocate is not dismissed as having an axe to grind. Helping other members of a dominant or privileged group understand the seriousness of a problem is an especially powerful role for advocates to play.
Amplify others voices. If the people hurt by a problem are marginalized or relatively powerless, they can have a hard time being heard. Advocates can help by taking what needs to be heard and conveying it to other members of dominant and privileged groups. They can also try to create platforms and opportunities for those who are hurt to be heard. This could mean providing opportunities to speak at panels, conferences, or group meetings, or opportunities to publish. It depends on what a person who wants to be an advocate can do. As I said when I wrote about empathizing (see chapter 6), social problems cant be understood, let alone solved, unless the perspectives of the people affected are taken into account. Advocates can try to make sure that this happens.
Seek solutions, not praise. Being an advocate might earn us praise for being willing to strive for justice on behalf of less-powerful others. Such praise is of course rewarding; it makes us feel virtuous and appreciated. But advocacy driven mainly by a desire for these kinds of rewards is not likely to last long. The sustained commitment necessary to create social change is more likely to arise from a desire to end the injustice and suffering that motivated the change effort originallya desire to find solutions. Effective advocates, to put it another way, learn to keep their eyes on the prize, not the praise.
Advocating in Concert with Others
Although its possible to act as an advocate without joining a group or consulting with anyone else, this is probably not the best way to go. When trying to learn about a problem, it helps to connect with others who are already knowledgeable, and especially with those who experience the problem. Others who are already working to find solutions to a problem may also know what kind of advocating is most needed at any given time. We can then coordinate our action with theirs so that efforts are not duplicated, and we can make a more useful contribution.
Advocating can also be emotionally taxing. It can mean facing disapproval, puzzlement, or indifference from family, friends, and other members of the groups and categories to which we belong. They might say to us, This isnt your fight. Why are you taking up this issue? Leave it alone. Stop bugging us about it. Such responses can be discouraging. This is another reason it helps to connect with people who are already working on a problem. It is through such connections that we gain the moral and emotional support necessary to carry on the work of advocating. We can also provide this kind of support to others.
Another reason for working with others is that advocating aims at changing social conditions, changing laws or policies, changing widespread cultural practices, or all of these. As I said in chapter 5 on organizing, these are not the kinds of changes we can make on our own. We can sometimes spark or catalyze change through what we do individually, but changing how society operates requires collective action. This is especially true when change threatens privileged or powerful groups. In such cases, adding our voices to those of others is likely to be more effective, and make us less vulnerable, than speaking out alone.
In writing about organizing, I also said that a campaign for change can be successful even if every goal isnt met. Successes can include gains in organizing skills, new relationships of solidarity, and deeper commitments to seeking justice. The same is true of advocating. By learning to advocate well in regard to one issue, we gain the ability to advocate more effectively on other issues. By advocating in concert with others, we learn the value of organizing, and perhaps also form relationships that will sustain our commitments to future struggles to reduce the suffering of others. So advocating, like organizing, can produce changes in the present that will enable greater changes later.
Advocating can also promote change because it is a powerful form of teaching by example (see chapter 9). One persons acts of advocacy can inspire others to become advocates. One persons acts of advocacy show that all people in a privileged group are not the enemies of justice. One persons acts of advocacy show that it is possible for people of conscience in all groups to find common ground on which to work together for change. When advocates exemplify this possibility through their actions, they fuel the hope that keeps people engaged in trying to make the world a better place.
The background and significance of the problem and a clear statement of the research purpose is provided. The search history is mentioned.
The background and significance of the problem and a clear statement of the research purpose is provided. The search history is mentioned.
Content is well-organized with headings for each slide and bulleted lists to group related material as needed. Use of font, color, graphics, effects, etc. to enhance readability and presentation content is excellent. Length requirements of 10 slides/pages or less is met.
More depth/detail for the background and significance is needed, or the research detail is not clear. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is little integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are included. Summary of information presented is included. Conclusion may not contain a biblical integration.
Content is somewhat organized, but no structure is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects, etc. is occasionally detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met.
The background and/or significance are missing. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is no integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are not included in the summary of information presented. Conclusion does not contain a biblical integration.
There is no clear or logical organizational structure. No logical sequence is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects etc. is often detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met
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Allies and Advocates Assignment Essay