This article originally appeared in the York Sunday News
How one person can change the world
Nann Halliwell, Community Columnist 2:58 p.m. EST January 11, 2016
Personal advocacy can make a difference.
There are very few people who would describe themselves as satisfied with the world situation or even our country’s political path. Yet, for the most part, the only action taken is complaining, especially on social media.
There is no logical action taken to try to improve the situation. How does that effect change? Instead of unproductive complaining, there is a simple tool that can be used to effect change and is as equally powerful when wielded by the individual as by the masses. That tool is advocacy.
When people think of advocacy, we tend to think of the “big boys” and their causes, Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s, Susan Komen and Breast Cancer, and the NRA and gun control. Reminiscent of the belief that our individual voices are not heard in politics unless we belong to one of the two mainstream parties, we buy into the thought that we must have an organization to advocate for us. While organizations can be helpful in advocating, they are by no means necessary. All you need to advocate is your personal experience and the desire to make your voice heard.
I was diagnosed with Essential Tremor, the most common yet least known movement disorder, when I was 39 years old. The president of Tremor Action Network (www.tremoraction.org), Kathleen Welker, helped me understand how advocacy works and mentored me as I left my comfort zone to advocate for an increase in research.
My advocacy is minor compared to two local women whose advocacy has literally saved lives.
Vickie Glatfelter and Alyssa Rohrbaugh both watched their children suffer with addiction to heroin. Shortly after losing her son to a heroin overdose, Vickie decided to reach out to others in the same situation. She stated, “I felt the need to be there for other families to help them in any way I could.” Alyssa meet Vickie at the rally organized to make the problem of heroin public. They decided to form a local chapter of the national organization “Not One More.” Through their advocacy, lives have been saved. Narcan, a heroin antidote administered in overdoses, is now available for police and first responders.
Vickie perfectly sums up the benefits of advocacy, “I feel the more vocal we are, the more awareness we will raise. By reaching out and letting others know we understand and want to help, we will begin to break the stigma. There is so much we can do, but it is a long and winding road until we will see a difference. But by working together, we can accomplish this.”
So how do you start to advocate? You simply start telling your story. Whatever your issue is that you want to see change in, share your story. To share your story, you first must create it. Remember when creating your story to highlight the two “I”s: Issue and Impact. What is the issue you want to change? How has it impacted your life? You may have to tweak your story depending on the audience you are sharing it with, but the most important thing is to share.
Who should you share it with? Your audiences can be anyone who you feel needs to hear your voice. A couple of examples are legislatures (local, state and federal), news outlets (newspapers, TV and blogs) and other local resources.
While it may seem intimidating to contact your legislative representatives, keep in mind, they work for you. Not the other way around. Your time is valuable, and if they want to keep their job, they will listen.
When you are ready to host an event or put up a display, your local library may help you by providing you with a space and advertising an event.
Use social media. Today, social media is one of the most important and influential ways people receive their information. Use your existing social media (Facebook, Twitter) to raise awareness. Or start a new account specifically to keep your topic a part of the Internet conversation. Remember to use your social media to educate and raise awareness, not start a Twitter war. Your tone must be calm. Provide information from reliable resources and links to relevant articles online related to your issue.
A few final tips to help make your advocating effective: If you can see the person (legislator or their aide), it adds another level of personalization to your story and helps lock it into their minds. Be persistent. Keep emailing or calling until you finally reach the right person. Face-to-face meetings trump phone calls or emails. Support others who are working toward the same goal as you. Share why you advocate and educate those whom you come in contact with.
One person can make a difference. I did. I was able to get my congressional representative as well as another representative to join the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus. Vickie and Alyssa were able to literally save lives by getting Narcan into the hands of the people who can save addicts from overdosing. Is there more we can do? Yes, and we are not done by a long shot. You can make a difference. Just harness your passion and go.