Re: activist/advocate

P. Myers (
Fri, 12 Dec 1997 14:14:40 -0800 (PST)

let's talk about the  Pat Myers
Hi, Pat Myers here.

This may be 'way too simplistic for most, but to me, advocacy is done
*for; activism is done *with.  Example:

Working as Social Worker at a community college, discovered women were
required to (new requirement; administrative discretion), as mandated
criteria for keeping AFDC grants during college matriculation, required to
speak to a board of 6 caseworkers.  These low income moms were terrified;
they'd just managed to get it together to believe in themselves enough to
make the choice to try to go to school and better their lives, and here
was this, demand; what felt to them like an insurmountable road block. 

I suggested they call their caseworker and tell them that they would be
bringing, as was their right, individually, representatives and a tape
recorder, should a Fair Hearing be necessary.  This, an example of
activism and education.

They told me they couldn't do it.  So

I called DSHS with their permission, and informed the program caseworker
for the adjudicating board that I, as social worker, would be attending
each "interview" (interrogation), as my client's representative, and
further, had contacted the local pro bono legal service providers, who
were interested as well in attending several "hearings," (of course, we
all realize there was, in fact, no intention to "hear" anyone, but to
discourage matriculation, which would have influenced the "success rate" 
of what was then call the WIC [work incentive program]) in order to
ascertain the possibility of a class action suit.  (untrue, well...half
true)  That of course we would bring a tape recorder, and, if necessary, I
would help my clients file for a Fair Hearing: back then, quite expensive,
and (the cost, born by the Dept) a counter weight to administrative
discretion aimed at frightening recipients away from self-initiated,
independent action. 

No interview were held.  But the above was *advocacy.  *I learned; *I was
model; *I assumed what was right to say *for my clients; *they played
little role in what actually occurred.  And to me, that is problematic.
Had I not recently been an AFDC recipient, and therefore, something of a
peer counselor, I would be more ashamed of my actions now than I am.

Advocacy offers great good feelings of righteousness and power.  But it is
inherently ego-centric.  We must begin to realize this, and limit those
times and places when we perform advocacy roles, in order to minimalize
them;  allowing those who are suffering to speak to that suffering; to
define *themselves; to learn, through doing, that the system may be
questioned, and challenged, and that *they, they alone and collectively,
have the strength of character, the intelligence, and the internal
resources necessary to make the changes in their lives that matter to

In activism, one either joins with, but does not lead, the group one
wishes to speak gives up power and authority, with love, and

The only reasonable advocate is also an activist...carries the words when
asked, and provides the resources requested.

Incomplete, and perhaps flawed, but my two cents.  Pat.