Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of advocacy. I used to wear a name-badge that said “Beth Williams, Advocate for Life”. To me, it meant that I would always be an advocate in some way, where I offered a voice to the voiceless. It always surprised me that such a small indicator of my belief system would garner such a full-size reaction. Most times, I was approached by someone who instinctively knew the meaning of “Advocate for Life”. Other times, those three, simple words triggered a slew of questions by someone demanding the meaning of my cryptic/mysterious slogan. My explanation would receive an enlightened “Oooooh!” or just create more confusion. And then, someone would read my name-badge and profess that they too, were against Capital Punishment and/or Abortion!!
I suppose, the meaning of advocacy is influenced by one’s personal experiences and values. So, advocacy means, what it means, based on who you are and where you are both geographically and in which era you live. According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, *ad·vo·ca·cy is a noun that means, the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal; the act or process of advocating something (*http://www.merriam-webster.com/). How does “supporting a cause or proposal” manifest? Do you write letters to officials or can you pray for a cause. Do you organize a movement or revolution or can you send a financial donation? Again, it seems, the act of advocating is personal and depends on one’s current circumstances, passion for a cause and self-expression. Working for the Alzheimer’s Association, provides numerous opportunities for improving my skills as an advocate. Whether, I’m reassuring a family as they embark on their journey with this disease or traveling with volunteers to the GA State Capital for Alzheimer’s Awareness Day, I know I can impact their quality of life. It just takes time, supportive co-workers and a mindset that one can make a positive change.
I wore that name-badge diligently for 6 or 7 years, when I was a Long-Term Care Ombudsman. I even gave a select group of kindred, co-workers their own badge. We were united in our cause, to preserve the rights of nursing home residents. As a result, our status of advocate was realized because it was our job to advocate. Right? Hmmm, what about the 4th grader who speaks out against bullying to protect a friend or citizens who form a neighborhood watch to keep their families safe? Aren’t they advocates? Does advocacy only take place during formal situations or can advocacy spring up unplanned when needed? My quest for this year is to define advocacy as it affects my life and the people and causes I care about.
I’ll keep you posted,
P.S. Just so you know, I’m always ready for a revolution. I got the placards and bullhorns at the ready!
Beth Williams is the Program Director at the Augusta Regional Office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter. Her professional background includes work in nursing home administration, advocacy as a long term care ombudsman and academics as a professor of gerontology studies.