Advocacy Series: Strategy, Targets, and Tactics…Oh my!


As social workers, we have a duty to make sure our clients are treated with dignity and respect, in addition to providing advocacy and fighting for social justice. Part of our role as advocates and social workers is to evaluate the needs of our “clients” and the policies that may affect them and service delivery.  We must be mindful that the needs of vulnerable populations continue to grow in difficult economic times especially when programs for low-income families are the firs to be cut.

I started the beginning of the advocacy series with an overview of how advocacy influences policy. This article will take you a bit further by giving you strategies, targets and tactics as well as some ideas on how to market your cause.

There are many reasons why some people advocate which include things such as equity in health care, income disparity, education equality, and public awareness. There are several types of people whom make persuasive arguments as advocates which include:

  • Those who share a personal connection with the issue
  • Those who could be impacted by the issue
  • Anyone who wants to make a difference

Strategy – What are you advocating?

If you have decided there is an issue worth fighting for, then you need a strategy for a plan of action. An advocacy strategy typically is an approach aimed at persuading someone in power, usually in government or corporate, to  change action for the public interest.

Without a clear obtainable goal, your advocacy plan will lack purpose. You must first analyze the problem and decide what kind of solution is within your spoke of experience. This is for both short and long term goals. A short-term goal has a more immediate resolution and may be only a one step plan. A long-term goal is one you eventually hope to obtain, and it usually has many factors to address.

If the issue you are advocating is controversial or not supported by the community, you will need a longer time frame to make any affect. Also, you must frame the issue in a way that will gain the most support depending on whom you are targeting at the time. However, you do not want to use a “cookie cutter” approach to all your advocacy efforts.

In addition to analyzing the issue, research the counterpoints to your cause in order to be effective in presenting your issue. You must have knowledge of both sides of the discussion. Remember, if there wasn’t an opposing view, there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

Make sure your key points:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Have a clear target
  • Result in meaningful life improvements
  • Instill a sense of power to the powerless

Targets – Who are the key players?

Targets are people who have a stake in the proposed change. Identifying the key players is crucial in determining the potential success of your advocacy efforts as well as knowing how to present information to them.  Determine which of these targets would have an interest to advance or protect your issue as allies. In addition, research those in opposition to your issue, and look at your issue from their perspective.

Possible stakeholders could include:

  • Elected officials
  • Federal, state, and local government
  • Organizations
  • Religious, civic,  public and private
  • Media outlets
  • Television, radio, print, internet
  • Family, friends, co-workers

Tactics- What’s the most creative way to make a point?

So, you have a cause and a plan. Now all you need is to carry it out. Tactics are activities used to influence targets to produce the desired change.  This is when advocacy can be very creative and fun. Tactics can be as simple as requesting a meeting to more creative activities such as a candle light vigil or a flash mob. Some advocacy groups have used innovative tactics such as displaying a life size Chutes and Ladder’s game to promote policy change for youth.

Some examples of tactics include:

  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Appointments with officials
  • Rallies /Demonstrations
  • Advocacy days
  • Emails
  • Blogs
  • Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
  • Phone calls
  • Writing campaigns
  • Letters to the Editor and to officials
  • Petitions
  • Editorials
  • Media coverage
  • Grassroots, door to door campaigns

Building relationships is one of the most important things you can do in your advocacy campaign. Even with your opponents, you want to create a relationship where they welcome the opportunity to speak with you again. Also, follow up with the targets you have spoken too by sending them a thank you letter, email or phone call. Remember to provide a debriefing with allies and other participants to discuss where to go forward. This will also help to establish any new networks that have become supporters.

Stay connected to your supporters you will ensure your cause will grow!

Don’t Follow the Rules When You Can Change the Rules: Fierceness of Jane Addams

Jane Addams is known for being the mother of social work. However, she did not fit the image of the “traditional” lady of her time. She was seen as radical, bold, and unconventional in a time when women were not allowed to vote. People like Jane Addams and the women of Hull House did the unthinkable and advocated for themselves and others.

women-rightsJane Addams practiced what is known today as macro practice social work. Macro practice does not follow the rules, it changes the rules. Somehow social work has gotten soft along the way.

The profession has abandoned its mission of building the “infrastructure of society” and left the responsibility to people outside the profession. As a result, the rules were changed and so has the focus. We can see this in the language used in social work today.  Many times social work is mentioned as the “safety net” of society.

Jane Addams was against seeing her work as “charity” she saw it as “lateral progress” or “civic housekeeping.” Instead, she saw her work as an investment in society and stated, “I am always sorry to have Hull House regarded as philanthropy.” Jane Addams believed the progress of society was measured not by the elite, but by the “weakest link.” This view is still not popular, and we are still playing by the rules that people “need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

We could all be inspired by Jane Addams because she was a fierce pioneer who was not afraid to go against social norms. She did not wait for change to happen, and this is what our society needs to help facilitate change. Advocacy and community organizing inspire growth and progress however many times this means challenging the status quo.

It’s time for the social work profession to stop being led and start leading society again.

The War on Education

Social work pioneer and activist Jane Addams felt that America’s future would be determined by both family and education. She stated that we become what we learn, and whatever that turns out to be is up to us. In North Carolina, the future is looking pretty grim where priorities are given to private corporations over the future of our country.

tanita wallaceThese values in our current policies are not helping our children flourish. Currently, state lawmakers want larger class sizes in grades K-3 ,even though smaller class sizes are more beneficial to students. They also want to cut Pre-K and to cut teaching assistants in grades 2-3. North Carolina is already ranked 48th in per pupil funding among states and 46th in teacher pay, what will we be ranked after these polices are implemented?

There are differing opinions on this issue. Some of the beliefs behind this bill is that it will let districts lower class sizes for at-risk students while having larger ones for kids who don’t need as much help. However others feel that this will disproportionately affect low-wealth school districts, and that smaller class sizes and more funding are needed.  The misguided legislators behind this bill say that rising class sizes could “maximize student achievement”.  Senator Jerry Tillman stated in the article:

“…Local school officials who feel they can improve achievement by raising class sizes to use the money for some other educational purpose should be given the opportunity. If districts don’t raise achievement after raising class sizes, he said that they should be held accountable.”

In contrast, a glimpse of the Finland’s school system, where the gap between the strongest and weakest students are the smallest in the world. Finnish students take only one mandatory standardized test, at age 16 and this is with some interesting outcomes… “Fully 93% of Finns graduate from high school – 17.5 points higher than American students. And 66% of Finns are accepted to college, a higher rate than the US and every European nation”.   Because Finland is not obligated to prepare students for a nation wide standardized test, teachers can do what they do best and target lesson plans that best meet their students needs. This is a person centered approach where students are met where they are at.

Why are people who were not trained to be teachers making decisions on education? The teachers are the experts so why is our government not taking their advice? This shows us that a better system is possible if we want it, if it is important enough for us. We need to bring our state toward progress again. Education is a right for all people, this means a quality education as well. If we don’t nourish our educational system, how will we nourish our society? A country’s values is determined by how its most vulnerable people are treated.

What will our values be? Rallies  and press conferences  organized by Progress North Carolina are gathering all over the state in response to this issue. If you would like to take part in the peaceful civil disobedience, please write for what you can do to help. There will be more to come.

Photo credit: Progress North Carolina

Advocacy Series: Advocacy for Beginners

We live in a democracy, and it takes a certain amount of citizen participation to make any democracy work.  I have decided to write a series on advocacy because many people do not become aware of issues until after the decision is made. Laws become passed and then affect lives before many people ever notice.

10825063-dictionary-definition-of-the-word-advocacy1Staying active on policy issues may be a chore for many, however, we live in a society where decisions are made by those that speak up.

There are many ways to stay current on issues in your area. You can register to the newsletters of those that represent you, find bills on the NCGA website, or “call to action” sites like Progress NC.

While calls to action are crucial, direct contact to your legislators are more important. Be strategic and contact your legislators when they are not in session, they will have more time to talk to you.. There are three main reasons or strategies to contact your legislators.

  •  To build the relationship
  • Provide them with information
  • Ask for action.

Politicians are less likely to listen to your call for action if they have never heard from you before, or if people only respond for a call to action like on a lobby day. Lobby days are a great way to get the message out that a lot of people feel strongly about something. However, it can be overwhelming for legislators and if you want them to have a personal response to your issue, it might be more effective to communicate with them when they are not so busy.

Take time to set up a meeting when they are not in Raleigh and in their home district. Schedule a meeting and introduce yourself, let them know you are a constituent, provide them with information that you know about. Developing a personal relationship is the most effective way to influence the legislators’ positions on an issue. Phone calls, faxes, e-mails and letters are all great but are not as effective as face-to-face meeting.  They are not experts and many times are so removed from the lives of “everyday people”, that they welcome any perspective or feedback.

Some things to remember…

  • Ask for your legislators’ view on an issue. Be kind and don’t react angrily if you don’t get the response you want. Stay calm and be polite always.
  • Use the specific bill or legislative action. Give several brief points why your member should support this legislation.
  • Research your issue and back to them if you cannot provide information about an issue on the spot.
  • Remember to say thank you; and send a thank you note after your visit. This letter helps build a relationship over time with the legislator.

Whatever your preferred method, communication is key for having the society that we want.  Next in the series Tactics and Strategy in Advocacy.

Backward in Values: North Carolina Rolls Back Needed Programs

NC Rolling Back Needed Programs

What happened to the progressive state we once knew here in North Carolina?  This state of ours, which was once on its way to becoming progressive, has turned completely bizarre in its direction.  There is a plethora of policies in our current legislature that discriminates against many of our vulnerable populations. Here are just a few of them:

  • North Carolina GOP Files Arizona-Style ‘Show Me Your Papers’ Bill
  • NC lawmaker equates Islamic prayer with terrorism
  • Lawmakers Pass Bill To Resume Executions In North Carolina
  • North Carolina has power to establish official religion, resolution says
  • North Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Penalize Parents Of College Student Voters
  • Corporate tax breaks rolled out in Senate committee
  • ALEC-Sponsored Bill To Repeal North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Standard Narrowly Passes Out Of Committee
  • North Carolina ‘Healthy Marriage Act’ Would Set Two-Year Waiting Period For Divorce, Require Counseling
  • N.C. House passes cursive handwriting bill
  • Top North Carolina Republican Introduces Florida-Style Voter Suppression Bill
  • Eleven North Carolina Republicans Sponsor Resolution Saying Their State Can Ignore The Constitution
  • North Carolina Is Going Out Of Its Mind

This has flourished many advocacy efforts throughout the state. With lobby days already scattered out at the Capital such as, Women’s Advocacy Day , Equality NC Lobby Day and Momsrising Chutes and Latters event, there are many more rallies and citizens advocating all of the madness that is going on at the legislature this session.

These policies are going backward in time for our state. Our laws should protect our freedoms and stop discrimination. If you don’t agree with these policies, please contact your representative.

Poverty Simulation: Making Cents of Being Poor, Part 2

Recently, I posted about The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Poverty Simulation that was held on March 27th as part of their social justice week, a celebration for social work month.  The simulation was to provide students and other members of the community a glimpse of what the poverty experience might be like for them.  This simulation  is an interactive experiential guided exercise that walks participants into an alternate universe of second class living in which some people have never experienced.

The day began at 9am on a chilly March day. Students first met in the gym for their training of the simulation which lasted until about 11am. The simulation ran from 12PM until 4PM, and it closed with participants and volunteers processing their reactions to the simulation and sharing what they have learned.

The events consisted of participants playing roles of families, single people , some jobless, homeless, sick all trying to get their needs met. Below are some of the highlights of the day.

The “police” taking a “homeless” person to jail for loitering


Photo of Jack Register UNCG professor and Luke McCollum

Students learn the experience of long lines at the Department of Social Services


Mental health professional” telling “prospective clients” that they must have insurance to receive assistance.


UNCG professor Jason Yates and social work students

Another homeless person whom after he could not find any place to stay  is arrested for sleeping in the streets.


Social work student Daniel de la Cruz

The Housing Authority checking for proper documentation before providing services.


Lydia Long and two other participants.

PROTEST! Social work students organizing a protest to advocate for health care being cut.


DSS social worker assisting clients on receiving services.


Social Work alumni Calvetta Watlington (DSS worker)  and social work senior Electre


Students experience frustration and laughter as they navigate through the simulation.


Social work students taking part in the simulation.

The simulation is held annually during social work month at UNCG. It was a rewarding experience, and I encourage any locals to participate in the upcoming year. This experience is one that will undoubtedly impact your perspective of your community and society.

Photos by Mike Long Photography

Making Cents of Being Poor

What do we mean when we talk about “poverty and the poor”? How do we define it? How we understand it affects how we respond to it in our culture. Historically the way we have understood poverty is that it is something that people can control, rather than something that is much more complex. A socially systemic issue that makes it almost impossible for people to escape.

If poverty is seen as an individual problem than a community one, than we don’t have to address community concerns such as living wages, lack of affordable housing, lack of public transportation, lack of availability for quality childcare, and lack of healthcare. Unfortunately, the traditional view in our country I believe is that it is an individual concern; that if a person is having difficulty it is their own fault.

In addition to that, we are outdated on how we measure it . The data that has  been used to define poverty in the U.S. was originated in the 1960’s and didn’t take into concern factors such as regional differences in the cost of living across the country. The government did release a new experimental poverty measure last year, however it will not replace the one currently in place. Even though the new version sees more people in poverty.

We need to re-evaluate how we understand poverty in this country and we need to look deeply at how to tackle this problem. Part of this involves challenging the beliefs we currently have. Jack Register, activist and social work professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is aiming to challenge these beliefs in our society. As part of the social work department’s celebration for Social Work month, Jack Register is conducting an interactive experiential guided exercise that will give participants a firsthand look at the state of chronic crisis that plagues so many of our citizens.

This exercise walks participants into an alternate universe of second class living that many people do not experience. This poverty simulation is called Making Cents of Being Poor, and is being held on the UNCG campus on March 27, 2013. Jack Register explains,“The poverty simulation is a way for students to gain perspective about how they not only understand the concept of poverty, but also- and in a very small way- have an emotional response to trying to meet the needs of their hypothetical family.  That is why we chose the name “Making cents of Being Poor.”

This event  includes UNCG students, members of the community and participants invited from five other universities in North Carolina, including North Carolina A&T, and NC State. This will be a huge, all day event, participates and volunteers are still highly needed and lunch will be provided to those that participate. This is an extraordinary event to experience, it is open to the public to observe as well and all are more than welcome.

Photo Credit: Jack Register,  UNCG professor and Rhonda Lang Bruner, a school SW in Forsyth County.  Rhonda was a community volunteer who came to help out.

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