By Jasahn M. Larsosa | January 2022
This unprecedented pandemic complicates the already difficult task of engaging social issues, which is particularly frustrating in this time of social and racial unrest, especially around MLK Day. COVID makes it all but impossible for us to gather safely as we did in previous years to support annual marches, peacefully demonstrate, or attend our favorite educational programs. But advocacy remains critical as it ever was. Listed below are a few simple steps you can take to engage in advocacy and help build the beloved community about which Dr. King dreamed.
- Bond with neighbors—If this strikes you as basic, it’s because it is in that little can be accomplished outside basic connections with those around us. This is the way we test the strength of our ideas, because, odds are, if you are experiencing an issue, so is someone else near you. Even if you don’t agree on what to do about it, you at least become more aware of the way those around you are impacted.
- Try This: One day while you are shoveling snow, taking out trash, or unloading your groceries, spark up conversations with neighbors doing the same (keeping social distance, of course). See where it goes or if others join. Offer to exchange contact information so you can light-heartedly follow up on the discussion.
- Bridge to strangers—You might be surprised to learn the commonalities between you and people who live different. Connecting with them is critical to coalition building, which is necessary for constructing systems that support the happiness and prosperity of us all. Assume those in poverty are deserving of better and that those with a little more remain concerned about their safety, security, and welfare as well as that of those they love. Together, this can be achieved for all of us.
- Try This: Shop at a market, visit a social event (consider virtual), or patronize a hairdresser or barber you normally wouldn’t. Spark up conversations and do your best to listen no matter what you hear. Your goal is not to be “right”, but to understand and achieve solidarity outside your community. Again, offer to exchange contact information and remember to follow up. You may make fast friends.
- Amplify minority voices—This is like “playing devil’s advocate”, except for a good cause! The minority voice is that of the people who stand to be affected by a policy or practice but are least considered by it. This can be people of color or disabled people but can also be a colleague with less seniority or a child in the family. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel instituted a 10th Man department to amplify the minority voice and avoid repeating the self-defeating practice of “killing the messenger” for bringing dissenting opinions. While your employer, friends, or family may not offer such protections, find ways to speak up for the minority anyway, even if their concerns seem to contradict yours. History teaches us that rule of the majority is always temporary, and that the best way to sustain peace and prosperity is to work toward consensus.
- Try This: Speak out in meetings or find ways to submit thoughts anonymously. Agitate decision makers. Enlist others where possible. Talk it through with an expert or advocate on the issue. Follow up until something happens. You may not achieve the result you were aiming at, but your efforts will undoubtedly expand your outlook, prepare you for future endeavors, and possibly touch someone’s life.
Advocacy doesn’t have to involve huge gestures like marches or protests. In fact, fundamentally, advocacy is making friends and sticking up for them. After all, the Beloved Community, first and foremost, is comprised of friends.
Jasahn M. Larsosa is a community organizer, DEI and business strategist, and nonprofit leader serving as Founding Director of Advocacy, Equity, and Community Empowerment for the Detroit-based and nationally renowned civil rights and human services organization Focus: HOPE.