Advocacy vs. Activism

UK boards braced for new 'golden age of activism' in wake of Brexit and  pandemic - Financial News

The word “activism” is described as: the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. “Advocacy” is defined in a slightly different way: public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. While these may seem like the same thing at first, I would argue that they are very different. Here are my definitions:

  • Activism: fighting against policies or practices that one considers harmful or unethical.
  • Advocacy: fighting for individuals or communities affected by harmful policies or practices.

I consider both of these to be valuable, necessary contributions to the betterment of society. However, that doesn’t mean we are all suited for them. Some of us may be more capable of handling the consequences, whether they be physical, emotional, or mental, of activism more so than advocacy or vise versa. For example, maybe someone finds it easier to go to protests and lobby their government than personally supporting victims. Perhaps they have a lot of passion for a given issue, but it is more painful to see the end result of those affected. This would be someone better suited for activism. As an advocate, I find it easier to support and care for the individual than to fight against what has harmed them. Then of course there are those that can’t bear the weight of either one, and that’s perfectly fine too. In order to make the most of our energy and make the biggest impact, I think it’s important that we honor these personal differences.

Today I wanted to take the time to offer some suggestions for those of you, like me, that find your energy is best spent doing advocacy work instead of activism. First, I think it needs to be reiterated that both of these are amazing and much needed. Regardless of what or how often you contribute, know that your efforts matter. I’m only focusing on advocacy because I feel it is the lesser understood of these forms of social justice. For organization sake, I am going to break down my suggestions for advocacy by issue. I also want to stress that whatever you do, no matter how small, is something for the world to be grateful for. Maybe you feel you can’t be vegan yourself, but support the vegan movement. You can still donate to sanctuaries, share information, foster shelter animals, etc. Maybe you’re too afraid to leave a toxic religious organization, but you want to support others who are. You can still help in creative, even clandestine ways. So don’t be discouraged by anyone who says it’s not enough. However much you feel you are able to give is enough. And maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to give at all, even then, you can share these resources with others who might be able to offer more. That too is a great help.

1. Feminism

  1. Volunteer Clinic Escort: I just recently discovered that this is something you can do at Planned Parenthood. Instead of arguing with misogynists online, trying to make a difference in the collective consciousness, why not make a guaranteed difference in at least one woman’s life? Rather than raise your voice to shout down the hateful, ignorant protesters outside these clinics, let your voice be the gentle one at a fearful woman’s side championing her onward and wiping away her tears.
  2. Abortion Fund Donation: If you’re able to more easily give money than time, try donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Their mission is “to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.” Often the women that most desperately need to terminate a pregnancy are the ones least able to afford or access services. The procedure itself can be expensive, but now with abortion rights being threatened in more and more states, there can be added fees such as out of state travel or hotel stays. Donating to these funds is an excellent way to make sure that we are helping the most vulnerable maintain bodily autonomy and their human rights.

2. Religious Freedom (Freedom from Religion)

  1. Support Recovering From Religion: This organization offers people leaving religion dozens of resources to help them cope in this new phase of their life. It also offers supportive counseling for anyone who would like it. You can help by volunteering your time for this counseling and/or you can offer a monetary donation. Often when one leaves a very toxic religious group, it can be insanely difficult to adjust. Some churches completely cut you off from friends and family still involved with the church, leaving you with no support system at all. This is obviously an intimidation and manipulation tactic that organizations like Recovering From Religion help combat.

* I actually had a much more difficult time finding resources for this section than I imagined. Another great way for you to contribute would be by adding new resources. You might work to start a non profit or make your own fundraiser to support people leaving religion in various ways. Also if you know of any other organizations or sites offering help to people escaping from religious groups, leave them in the comments. I’m happy to update this post as often as needed to incorporate new resources.

3. Racism

  1. Black Lives Matter: At this point, I’m sure I don’t need to explain what this group is to anyone. However, even after hearing so much about this movement in the news, this is the first time I actually went to their website. There are a lot of amazing resources and information on there. You can sign up for their newsletter to stay updated on information and events. You can volunteer your time by helping to report misinformation on social media. And of course you can donate or purchase merchandise to help the group financially.
  2. Educate Yourself: One of the most important things that all of us can do is educate ourselves about the history of racism in our country. I think even one individual making an effort to absorb this knowledge is a step in the right direction. No matter how much I think I know about the oppression of black and brown people, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of searching to find out about even more horrors. The more we know the better we will be able to support and show respect to our black friends and the black members of our community. Here is a list of resources you might find helpful in your pursuit for understanding. Just make sure that you are doing the work of educating yourself. Don’t burden you black friends/acquaintances with the job of educating you.
  3. Support Black Creators: I learned just the other day about the way social media algorithms actively suppress the voices of black creators. They are less likely to be recommended or broadcasted on the platform, therefor much less likely to be visible. If you use social media, you could make an effort to follow more black and brown accounts. You can also make the conscious choice to seek out movies, shows, books, etc. that were made by black people. In this way, we are not only offering financial support, but broadening our perspectives by exposing ourselves to more diverse content.

4. Veganism

  1. Vegan Outreach: This is one of my favorite vegan organizations. Founded in 1993, Vegan Outreach is a nonprofit organization working to end violence towards animals. They “seek a future when sentient animals are no longer exploited as commodities.” Their website offers a lot of different ways to get involved. You can join their vegan mentor program and give helpful advice to people just starting out of their vegan journey. You can assist them in offering vegan food to local communities during Covid-19. You can even do something as simple as reviewing vegan foods through an app called abillion. In doing so, the app will automatically donate $1 to Vegan Outreach for each review!
  2. Make Vegan Art: What is more prevalent in today’s day and age than memes? Why not try your hand at creating some new catchy vegan slogans or images to share online? Currently this is the route my vegan advocacy is taking. There is no need to share the art you create on your personal accounts if you’re trying to avoid confrontation. You can simply publish them on your blog or even in chatrooms. Who knows? Maybe one will go viral and make a huge impact!
  3. Donate to Sanctuaries: Farm animal sanctuaries are doing the important work of protecting animals that have been rescued. Obviously it takes a lot of money to house, feed, and care for these animals. Donations are a great way to ensure that they can keep doing so. You can even start your own fundraiser or volunteer at a sanctuary near you.
  4. Foster an Animal: Veganism isn’t only about helping farmed animals. It’s just as important to do our part for the various other types of animals in shelters around the world. You can always donate to your local non-kill shelter, or offer to foster animals until they are able to be adopted.
  5. Share Your Food/Recipes: This is a little bit trickier given the pandemic, but as long as you take the proper precautions, sharing your delicious vegan food with non-vegan friends and family can be a great way to bolster the vegan movement. One of the main things people fear about veganism is not knowing what they would be able to eat. Everyone loves good food. Even if sharing your recipes with others doesn’t make them go vegan, it can lessen that fear of the unknown. In addition, it may keep an animal off of their plate for at least one meal, which is a win in my book. Sharing my vegan creamer at work has led to our non-vegan intern switching to it at home!

I hope that you’ve found these suggestions helpful and that you’ll give some of them a try. There are many ways to make a difference, so don’t get discouraged if activism is a bit too damaging for your mental health. You can always find new, creative, peaceful ways to help a cause that you are passionate about. Again, as I stated earlier, please let me know of any other resources you think I should add to any of the sections above. I would love to pack this post with as many options as possible to get people involved.

How to Help Even When It Hurts

Vegan activism is something I deeply admire. Not only because of the time and effort it takes, but because of the pain one must endure to keep fighting this hopeless battle. In the early years of my veganism, I had never felt more energized to fight for a cause. The urgency, the immensity, the horror of it all was always with me. The only thing that shielded me from the grief I harbored for these precious animals, was the white hot rage I felt toward the people who refused to look at them. I wanted to scream. I wanted to stop the world. I wanted to save these animals more than I wanted to live. If I could have sacrificed myself to do so, I would have. And most likely, still would if given the choice.

Within a few years, I was hopeless and burnt out. I simply couldn’t bear to continue being confronted with the selfishness, the ignorance, the self righteousness of humanity. Although I felt monstrous for doing so, I largely gave up. I laid down the torch I had been carrying for these animals. It felt like I, myself, had been on fire. My soul was that torch and it had all but been extinguished. I had to turn away, despite the shame I felt for doing so.

Of course I didn’t stop being vegan. Nothing could make me go back to being a willing participant and sponsor of the animal agriculture industry. I simply couldn’t see the point in trying to convince anyone else to join me, or even acknowledge the atrocities being committed everyday. To constantly be thinking about the horrendous conditions billions of animals are currently trapped in was destroying me, which would have been okay if it was actually making a difference.

Since then, I’ve started to think of different ways that I might contribute to the animal rights movement. It came to me today as I sat in court with a family torn apart by child abuse. I really felt like I was making a difference, that I was a part of helping these amazing kids. But what exactly had I done to help fight child abuse? I certainly wasn’t participating in protests, writing articles, lobbying the government, or hunting down pedophiles. No, I get to be on the other end of the issue completely. Rather than fighting against the monsters hurting these children, I fight for the children themselves. I get to be there for them through the process. I get to offer loving kindness and support to people who, sometimes, have never experienced that before.

Realizing this inspired me to try again to add my voice to the vegan community. Instead of focusing on shining a light on the unimaginable conditions these animals face, why not shine a light on the joys of living as a vegan? By now I’ve realized that someone isn’t going to go vegan because of facts and data. You can’t force someone to make the connection, no matter how hard you try. All that I can do is support the people who are ready to make that change, the people standing on the edge, afraid to jump. I can offer advice. I can share all I’ve learned through my own experiences. I can help guide them on their journey.

I don’t believe that the world will ever go vegan. Perhaps if we had more time, but unfortunately we simply do not. What I do believe is that each individual animal matters enough to keep fighting anyway. If I can help even one person to become vegan, thousands of lives will be spared. It is estimated that the average person will kill and eat 7,000 animals during their lifetime. If I can save even one of those animals from suffering, all of my efforts will have been worth it. So from now on, I am going to try harder to keep up with this blog’s original purpose. I’m going to be posting more content to help people go and stay vegan.

Priorities

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I feel I may have revealed a bit too much of myself to my coworkers this morning. When I get nervous, or in this case, excited, talking to people I’ll often say things without thinking. I went to college with someone we used to work with, although neither of us ever really acknowledged it. I mentioned that I thought this other woman probably disliked me because she was an overachiever in college, going to fundraisers, very active in all of our psychology clubs, etc. I, on the other hand, was somewhat of a slacker. I did the bear minimum that was required of me. I was a member of Psi Chi, but basically only so I could put it on my resume, I never went to meetings or anything. I didn’t even go to my own induction ceremony. I blame that one on social anxiety though.

Everyone seemed to get a kick out of hearing about my college memories, but I immediately began to regret being so honest. I’m often afraid that my coworkers will get irritated with me for being lazy or a slacker. Now I feel like I’ve given them even more proof of my poor character, more proof that they’re right to think that. I don’t really picture myself as lazy though. I guess I’d describe it more as selfish. Maybe that’s even worse, now that I think about it.

The thing is, I get a lot done everyday. I have dozens of tasks that I diligently complete day in and day out. The problem is that none of these things really matter to anyone but me. The rest of the world could care less if I study Spanish or workout and do yoga for hours or read. These are all personal endeavors. Ideally they are things that are about self-improvement. But in what ways am I really trying to improve myself? To who’s benefit? It’s probably time for me to reevaluate my priorities.

Since I entered the working world, my mindset has always been me against them. The working poor, against the corporate machine. Even though I must partake in this system to survive, to play the game, it always felt like an act of rebellion to do as little as I could get away with doing. If I was going to be paid nothing, I was going to do as close to nothing as possible. Spiteful, yes, but in my mind it only felt fair. If I didn’t matter to the place I worked, then they didn’t matter to me. This is a mantra that for so many years I burned into my heart and mind. Always playing the part of the petulant child.

I never expected to find myself working for a place that I do genuinely care about. A place that also seems to genuinely care about me. I work with such incredible people. I don’t want to let them down. I love my job. I love what I do. I believe in what we do. I want to be helpful. I want to prove that I am worthy of having a place here. But no matter how many times I resolve to do better, I always find myself falling back into old patterns. Shirking my responsibilities just because I can, because it’s even easier to do here where no one is breathing down my neck, micromanaging my every step. Everything in me, everything about who I’ve been, keeps tempting me to take advantage of that. It’s nearly irresistible.

I am tired of feeling guilty. I am tired of feeling like I am letting everyone down. I am tired of feeling like I am taking advantage of an organization that is truly a benefit to this world. I really want to go above and beyond what is asked of me here. I have a lot of ideas too. I know I am smart. I know I could really make a positive impact for this organization, for the kids we see here everyday. I could really help them. I’ve just always been afraid of showing my full potential. Any other job would take advantage of that. I’ve seen it happen to my mother and my sister. I’m also afraid that I won’t be able to live up to the standard I set for myself. I’m afraid I’ll crack under the pressure of always doing my best. When no one expects anything of you, there is no pressure, it’s easy to impress when/if you need to.

After working here for a year and a half though, I think I finally feel safe enough to show my true colors, to really contribute as much as I can. Self-improvement may once have looked like only inner work, but now I think it looks like giving back, sharing my intelligence and creativity with those that will be able to benefit from it, to be an asset to my friends and coworkers, to finally utilize this freedom and agency at work to be all I can be. I know I can do this. I want to do this. I’m going to enjoy doing this.

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Grateful for the Chance to Give

It has been nearly a year now that I have been working as a Child and Family Advocate at a local Child Advocacy Center. Before I began this job, I had no idea that this place even existed or what a Child Advocacy Center was at all. I’ve come to learn that they are incredible things, especially mine. Here we help children who have been physically or sexually abused or neglected and their families. We facilitate forensic interviews, which are basically just recorded disclosures by the children of what they’ve been through.

I know a lot of people shudder at the idea of hearing these often heartbreaking stories from the mouths of the children themselves. However, it’s easy for me to focus instead of the wonderful opportunity I have been given to be a part of these kids’ lives and to help make sure they are protected from now on. To be honest, I really admire the kids that I meet every day. They are so incredibly resilient, strong, and loving despite it all.

I know I have made posts in the past about not having children in order to save the environment. And I still stand by that position and never plan on having any of my own for many reasons. But I’m so grateful that this job has allowed me to have children in my life. Until now I never really had the chance to be around them. To be honest, my social anxiety was even worse whenever I was. I didn’t know how to act or what to say to them. Now I have so much fun getting to know all the kids that I meet and seeing how unique they all are.

I am also extremely grateful for the few people I work alongside at this small non-profit. They are truly some of the most wonderful people I have met and I deeply admire them. They are smart, empathetic, passionate, skilled, and witty as hell. I greatly enjoy having them in my life now. I hope that I am able to continue to contribute and improve and stay here with them for a long time. I may have blindly stumbled into social work, but I am happy to be discovering how rewarding and fulfilling it can be.