Advocacy is our middle name — literally. It is the “A” in PPAL, which shows how important we think advocacy is for both making things work and making things better. Without advocacy, finding support and information simply isn’t enough. Advocacy helps get better outcomes for our children and youth. Advocacy brings the barriers and hurts that families quietly deal with into the light of day. Advocacy can change things a little at a time and sometimes, in one large leap. We know that when change is needed, advocacy has a role to play.
Change is what advocacy accomplishes, often through a set of skills or strategies. Those skills or strategies are the “how” of it. But what are the basic ingredients of advocacy? Advocacy is composed of three P’s: patience, persistence and passion.
Advocacy is one part patience. Whether advocacy is focused on a short term or a long term goal (or both), it takes time and effort. Patience often gets a bad rap and is seen as passivity or inactivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Thomas Edison said, “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” Patience is necessary while waiting for a slow-moving bureaucracy to respond or a legislative session to begin. Patience is needed when waiting to see if this treatment or program is the one that makes a difference. Patience is letting go (for a while) of the large “push” and putting energy into the smaller check-ins and updates. Change takes time, time to lay the foundation and develop relationships so that people see you as part of the next steps.
Advocacy is another part persistence. Advocacy requires follow through. Follow up is essential to make sure promises are kept and agreements are carried out. Success is often achieved through the little things, done consistently. Advocacy is an ongoing process. Some families have found, for instance, that they achieved a perfectly written IEP and then the services were not put in place. Great advocates use ongoing strategies to influence attitudes, behaviors or systems to either benefit an individual or promote systems change.
The third “P” of advocacy is passion. Advocacy means getting to the heart of the issue and heart always involves passion. Dale Carnegie said, “Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” Advocacy is having a passionate conversation about what matters to you with the right people. There are times when things seemed stalled and “getting to yes” pretty unlikely. Passion is what gets you up in the morning to try again. The level of passion you feel will often dictate your level of involvement.
Some days advocacy is a slow plod and at the end of the day it seems nothing has changed. Other days are more exciting and progress is made and you think to yourself, This is why I doing this! On the slow days, patience and persistence lay the groundwork and build the momentum. Passion is the steady fire that lights the way and fuels the journey.
Maybe there’s one more P: partnership. I still remember the first professional who came into my house to work with my son and my family. He treated me as if I knew what to do and as if I would make the right choices. At the time, I wasn’t so sure I had the knowledge, information or expertise that my family needed. But he knew that he would only be there a short time, while I would be there forever. This partnership laid the groundwork for my future relationships with professionals, insurers and schools. I still needed advocacy. I found I could be successful with patience, persistence and passion. But a partner with patience, persistence and advocacy of his own? Can’t beat that.