Advocacy isn’t an accessory

According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is “one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group.” In the current sociopolitical climate, however, we know to be an advocate means more than simply agreeing with what a movement claims to represent. To advocate for longer breaks is much simpler than advocating for gun laws or rallying behind #BlackLivesMatter.

But, what exactly does it mean then? Far too often, advocates are just soundbites.

Plenty of things make up a good advocate: honesty, bravery and passion being just a few. It may be easier to define a bad advocate or a look-a-like of one. When your advocacy is limited to joining the bandwagon of complaining without a solution, it’s just for retweets.

As Jeff Berry explains effectively in his blog post, come to the table with solutions. The difference between complaining and problem solving is incredibly important in the world of advocacy. Further, complaining can only get you so far; you begin to sound like a broken record.

The same “eat the rich!” narrative can only be laid out and joked about for so long without recommendation on exactly how they’ll be eaten. 

A bad advocate is often an extreme advocate. Polar beliefs are dangerous, and when held too fastly without interest in hearing the opposing team or greater interest, is detrimental.

For example, take those who supported Sanders in the 2016 elections and chose not to vote after he did not win the Democratic nomination. Sanders, a long-time civil rights activist and a firm believer in democracy, would never have supported this. 

It starts to look hypocritical when advocates can only advocate for a single solution; if you stand for only one thing, you fall for everything else.

 “Advocates are people who try to educate themselves to stop the pattern,” Georgia State sophomore and member-at-large and Design Chair for Georgia State Alliance Soné Hastings said. “The line is crossed when you speak as if you experienced the same plight as the groups who suffered.”

Put more bluntly, “Stand with me, not in front of me.”

Consider feminism that fat shames or chooses silence in the wake up black trans women being murdered. White feminism is the most recognizable culprit of a movement that glorifies white women’s oppression while neglecting those of distinctly oppressed peoples. 

Can you really be an advocate when your advocacy is strictly limited to your own benefit?

What may be the harshest reality for a self-proclaimed advocate is the realization that you may not know what is best for a community, especially one to which you don’t belong. Sometimes, being a good advocate is letting someone else have a voice.

When a cisgender person presents themselves as a “knight in shining armor” to rescue a trans person, they’re sometimes not really doing any saving at all. By granting yourself the title of trans activist, you are establishing that the trans community has to be laid at the feet of cisgender people to be heard. 

By choosing to stand in the spotlight, you are pushing someone more oppressed out.