Every first Tuesday of November, in Melbourne Australia where I originate from, we have a public holiday to celebrate a two-mile horse race called the Melbourne Cup. It’s called the race that stops a nation.
This year I spent this day in the Texas Capitol building in Austin learning about the ABC’s of advocacy.
I have heard the word Advocacy throughout my life, with only a high-level understanding of what it is. I always thought it was only for professionally trained people who work in government or lobbyists from certain industries who have huge amounts of money to fund their efforts.
Who hasn’t seen lobbying by alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies depicted in TV shows and movies?
I love working here at Drug Prevention Resources, an organization that works daily with communities that have been negatively impacted by alcohol, tobacco and drugs. We do not have a multi-million-dollar budget to help us showcase the not-so-glamourous effects of substance use disorder, such as the breakdown of families, mental health issues, and physical and emotional abuse of our children.
Instead, our passionate team helps empower communities to bring change for the betterment of everyone. In other words, we are advocating at the grassroots level. These scenes play out across Texas (and as an Australian) the world.
So, what can we do? Simple-advocate even higher for change.
What astounded me most was that in Texas, only 10% of 27 million people vote. That means that only 2.7 million citizens are making decisions on how your state is run. Bi-annually, the Texas House and Senate will review 6,000 bills over a 140-day period. How do your local representatives learn so much about so many subjects in such a short time? They rely on subject matter experts to advise them. And this is where you can make an IMPACT.
I’m being a little cheeky when I say that advocacy is simple. The stories I’ve heard say that it takes not days or months -- but years for change. But isn’t being passionate and persistent about helping your community be the best it can be worth the fight?
So how does advocacy work? Let’s start with advocating for more drug prevention education. Your community knows the issues and you have ideas for solutions.
For example, studies show that providing drug prevention to children in schools leads to fewer youth using drugs. Say you want to advocate for the government to increase funding so that all schools can provide prevention programming. What is the next step? Work with your community to engage key stakeholders (in DPR’s case, community leaders, healthcare, law enforcement, schools, parents, youth, etc.), with a united voice you can start to approach your local elected officials to educate them about the issues affecting your communities and why you want them to fight for change.
Advocacy is like my Melbourne horse race. It is a slow process to get ready to actually run that race, not unlike the lead up to the legislative session. Advocacy will also take persistence, education, commitment, relationship building and respect. Respecting the slow pace of the political process might have you pulling out your hair at times, but knowing where you want to be at the finish line will make the process a lot easier.