What has happened to advocacy? The new face of modern advocacy

December 9th:


The new face of Advocacy:

Once upon a time we wanted to change something, we had to go to great lengths to even be heard. We would wait outside our local news agent with a card table, some cheap pens and a clip board and we would collect signatures until it was a big enough number to call in the media, then this would give us more signatures until we could collate them all into a big folder and take them to our local MP.

From our local MP we would hope they would listen to us enough to do something about our petition.


Oh how times have changed.

Recently I helped start a letter writing campaign to MPs all over the country. Mostly by email, we saw hundreds, then thousands of resulting emails. Paper was sent too, no idea of the numbers, but a lot went out. We have seen click petitions set up, and although these can be very successful, they are sometimes very easy to click on and just agree. One recent one was also very successful and well done on that, but click petitions will never have the same impact as paper hitting the desk like in the ‘old days.’


Now we have social media, where things are played out in real time. We make snap judgements based on a one or two sentence paragraph with minimal fact. We all become instant experts and the worst kind of warrior, the ‘Keyboard’ kind.

Advocacy has been affected by this both in a positive and negative way. The quiet achievers pump out their one or two messages a day, while the more vocal ones tend to inundate us with all sorts of information. Either option is great, it gives us knowledge about current events and what these groups are up to.

The problem is not in the delivery of the message, sometimes it is in the delivery of the response. We need to remember that whatever we think about each group and their activities, most of the people in these organisations are not on Facebook or Twitter 24 hours a day. It is usually done in spare moments or largely at night. Keyboard battles start often without the original posters knowledge. Some of us don’t even read all the responses and may miss the looming battle of the QWERTY.


But advocacy doesn’t stop at Social Media, it is something that carries on after the computer is shutdown. Done behind closed doors and inside small rooms (usually with large bookcases). It carries on to public forums in town halls and general meetings. Small groups meet all over the country, they are sometimes called BUGs or Bicycle User Groups, and discuss issues that affect them. They then use that information and pass it on to the larger advocacies and ask for help. There are a growing number of councils with BAC’s or Bicycle Advisory Committees, these are council managed private citizens that provide their insight for making the world a better place for bikes and active transport.

Fun rides and fundraising hides the horrible truth behind how little money these organisations have and how underfunded they are. Trying to raise funds through a mass participation ride is hard work. Road closures and police need to be paid for. Volunteers are only allowed to do so much. Advertising and marketing of these events costs money to hope for a good return on your initial investment. The confusion over the disbursement of the funds raised never seems to be answered. But I can assure you, these fun rides are an important part of the advocacy efforts of so many groups, even if riding down Beach Rd in Victoria is easier every other weekend of the year.

Advocacy gets a bit of a bum rap from the public. Some assume large amounts of money is passed around, some think these groups get together and eat, drink and talk rubbish. But most times it is these groups that start change. The smaller group that will actually petition the local politician to try and change the ‘status quo.’


I would recommend you all get involved in your local BUG. If your council doesn’t have a BAC, tell them they need one. We all carry a torch, some for years, and some for weeks. This torch needs to be handed down to the next person willing to put their hand up. The energy required to beat your head against a wall is hard to find in people. It is easier to just bash out your anger on a keyboard than turn up to meetings each week, but if you don’t do it; can you be sure someone else will.

I put a challenge out to everyone today. Find one group in your area, ask them what help they need. Even if it is just a once off assistance, it will be more appreciated than you could possibly imagine.

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