Learning to Advocate Starts in the Classroom

Nov 17, 2017

Sitting down with my dad, I put on a pleading face and told him my dire situation. “It’s nearly the end of the school year and my grades are slipping! I just took my last test and I’m afraid it won’t help my average. What do I do?” 

My dad set down his soda with a sigh and looked me straight in the face. “Listen, the end of the year is a stressful time for teachers. Just approach them respectfully, and be the first one to offer help. It’ll pay off.” What he said resonated with me as a key way to advocate for myself, and anything I was passionate about. 

Too often when advocates who seek something from a person holding a position of power, like with me talking to my teacher, we lay out their case and hope for the best instead of getting involved in the process. Many times these will be people the advocates don’t even know. Asking for something without forming a relationship with that person is one of the most ineffective ways to advocate. Personalizing, and presenting yourself as a relatable, emotion-feeling, average person, will go leaps and bounds in your favor. 

I had a moment to do an interview with state Senator Amy Volk, and ask her what the most common way people try to sway her opinion is. 

“By email. For example there was a solar bill, L.D. 1604, that I received probably over a hundred emails about,” she said. “Sometimes [emails are] customized, people had written them in their own words, and sometimes you can tell they just clicked a button and it’s automatically send to me. I’ll get the same email from 20 different people; those are not at all convincing.” Senator Volk said, “It’s more convincing if people have taken the time to write something in their own words.” 

Forming a relationship with someone and standing out in unique way grabs a person’s attention and makes them want to listen. Doing what everyone else does, like signing a petition, or sending an automatically generated email/message, is seen as lazy and bothersome. This will actually hurt your cause, and people will become tired of listening to you.

Don’t be deterred; forming relationships with people such as legislators, is not as hard as it seems. “When people call me, it makes a much bigger impact than if they quickly send me an email. It just really shows a willingness to actually have a dialogue about it. It really gives me an opportunity to ask where they’re getting their information, and why they’re concerned about a subject,” said Senator Volk.

Simply not bombarding them with information or getting in their way is a huge step. Offer them relief after talking to a group of people by asking them about something besides their job. Engaging them on a personal level will make it seem like you’re interested in them. The legislator, in some cases, will remember how you acted and might vote in favor of your said passion if you seemed like a genuinely well intending and affable person.  

Unfortunately, friendly and social approaches to advocacy are not as common as one might think. When asking people on the streets of Portland the last time they were politically active, over half responded with some variation of no, or that they only vote in presidential elections.

Dan Morin, who’s been a lobbyist for 12 years, and is also my father, says. “It’s very important for the general public to be involved with advocacy. Otherwise lobbyists and other advocacy groups have an easier time promoting issues on behalf of their clients in the absence of public input.”

Kathryn Morin is a student at Scarborough High School. She produced this piece as part of the 2017 Raise Your Voice Workshop in Portland, sponsored by Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project.

Everybody by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.