Dialogue about advocacy and Pride

My colleague Thomas Waters picked up on my Pride post, focusing on the advocacy assessment.  Thomas and I share a fairly similar world view so often it does come down to tactics and strategy differences (very different).  I had commented that:

My frustration with these events is that they gear people up for an activity which can be very difficult to pursue – face to face meetings with elected officials. 

Thomas responded:

But I really disagree that face to face meetings with legislators is difficult. It is enormously easy, and even fun! All state representatives and senators make time to meet face to face with their constituents. PA representatives spend Thursdays and Fridays in their district specifically to facilitate these types of meetings and other responsibilities. A simple phone call is all it takes to get a meeting arranged.

I wasn't suggesting the process itself is difficult.  Most legislators are happy to meet with people, agreeable and certainly interested in what you have to say — you pay their salary!  As he outlines, it really is similar to any other type of face to face meeting which requires you to be prepared, personal and succinct.  And I do not question in the least the effectiveness of this type of advocacy.

My concern is that this is pushed to the forefront so much that is unintentionally perhaps excludes significant groups of people who simply do not have the privilege of taking a lunch meeting or a half-day vacation.  I say this as someone who DOES have this privilege, let me admit. But I can count on many hands the numbers of queer people and families (and allies) who simply cannot. Either their jobs don't offer that flexibility or they simply must conserve their limited PTO for their families. 

While this strategy is probably very conducive to a professional/upper-middle class career trajectory, it leaves a very important part of the community out — those who are even more socio-economically vulnerable to the status quo. 

I believe the advocacy groups should acknolwedge this divide for what it is and come up with alternatives means for otherwise disenfranchised groups to get involved.  My fear is that when a working class dyke with two kids realizes she can't waste a day off that might be needed for her kid's sickday, she is further isolated from the political organizing efforts.  The myth of gay affluence sort of creeps into this approach and I fear that is does some harm.

The harm?  Well, the legislators are meeting one strata of the community … as I described above.  They don't meet the lesbian waitress/bartender and her office admin partner who could really use dp benefits and any kind of pension security.  They don't meet the schoolteaching gay men who juggle daycare with critical afterschool activities and have firsthand insight into the experiences of gay youth in the public school system.  They don't meet the single-mom struggling with custody, a hostile ex and the constant threat of being outed in her workplace.  They may not be meeting trans men and women who historically struggle with economic security and job stability more the rest of our community. 

I was one time asked to help organize some constituents for a meeting with a local elected official that ws 8:30 on a weekday.  It was impossible for any of the persons I knew to make that happen.  It doesn't mean the issue wasn't important to them; it is just the reality of their lives. 

All I am suggesting is that the advocacy training have bit more realistic approach.  If the truth is that weekday meetings are what it takes, then acknowledge that our fate is in the hands of the more elite in our community and figure out how to make them accountable.  Perhaps dues to the member organizations could be lowered to allow more people to vote on the leaders? 

Or lay out the other viable options.  Most people have cell phones.  Invest in a cell phone harvesting system and send a mass text when you need calls, NOW.  People can typically do that.  Identify a volunteer to try to set up some non-traditional meetings and aggressively recruit people to attend — maybe do a survey of how many people would meet with Legislator X if they could meet at 7 PM on a weeknight.  Be strategic and creative.  But give people options.

By all means, continue the mainstream training.  I feel somewhat frustrated sitting here because my elected officials are pretty good on most issues, if not perfect.  Wagner, Fontana, Green, Payne and Doyle.  That's a pretty good lineup on the homo questions. If  I'm going to meet face to face with Doyle, I'll thank him for his full support of an inclusive ENDA and then discuss choice with him. 

My comment is just meant to remind the organizers that a myopic approach will necessarily leave some people behind and urge them to be sensitive to the message they send with a “this the BEST way” approach, especially those are making good decisions for themselves and their families about getting involved. 

It may be what it is, but there's no denying it adds to the growing systemic rifts along socio-economic lines in our community.

Thomas' enthusiasm for the process of face to face meetings is infectious.  Perhaps you do have the time and just need the push to make it happen.  Great.  I know of multiple people who promise me they are going to call and then get distracted — it IS frustrating to see Facebook updates about trips to kiddielands and playdates  and shopping trips with Mom while civil rights issues go untended, but I know it takes careful education to help people make the leap from the family unit to the larger community. 

Now an advocacy training specifically for LGBT families might be an interesting twist.  Or “Advocacy on a Budget.”  What group do you join when you literally have $25 to invest?  Hmm … might be interesting to see some of the various “advocacy” groups have to prove their cases. (You know I'm going with Steel City Stonewall.)



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