Advocacy 101 – A Basic Introduction

“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.  Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight” – Bob Marley

I wrote a brief “rant” a couple of weeks ago regarding social justice.  I had a lot of feedback and a common theme was the request for steps on “how” to be a social justice warrior.  I have made a lot of attempts to capture the process on paper since then but was never satisfied with what I was writing.  It looked more like a plate of spaghetti than a coherent logical description.  I began to realize I couldn’t do it in one sitting.

It was like expecting a kindergarten student to have a grade 12 learning level.  I have spend close to 40 years fighting for social justice, learning, developing, adjusting, adapting and applying.  How do you take 40 years of experience and condense it down to an 800 to 1000 words article?  The reality is you don’t.  I cannot justifiably provide a comprehensive explanation to a process I have been learning for over 40 years.  However, due to the reasons listed below, I have to do something.  It’s not in my nature to turn my back on those who need some help.

In the past week I have had five families contact me looking for an advocate.  Families whose children have just entered the world of inclusion by starting schools.  Families that have spend the last five years being overwhelmed by the complexities of the world of special needs (hate that term but will use it for now).  Families who by their own admission hadn’t given any thought to terms like “social justice” prior to the crisis they now find themselves in through no fault of their own.  Families who admittedly held to the belief that there was a social safety net there to assist families in need.  Families who, in a minute of childbirth or a five minute medical emergency, entered a world totally alien to them.  Families who prior to the situation they now find themselves in had never realized just how lacking or confusing our system is.  So for those families I believe that a I can provide a simplified overview of the tools and language they are going to need to know.

There are two mains ways to pursue social justice and that is as an advocate or an activist.  These two terms have different meanings but shared values.  An advocate tends to focus on one issue, an activist challenges concepts.  That’s a very simplified overview but I don’t want to confuse this article by being exceptionally over-detailed.

However I do need to clarify the difference between a Charter Challenge (federal) and a human rights complaint (provincial).  A Charter challenge is a federal issue and usually focuses on protections laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  That is a federal level process but may, as the need requires, be the final step following a provincial human rights complaint.  For the sake of this article I am going to focus on the provincial human rights complaint.

A provincial human rights complaint is just that, a process laid out in a specific way and often requires the assistance of an “advocate”.  Since it is considered a quasi-judicial process it can be very complicated and detail oriented which usually involves a lawyer or advocate.  I know that because I did my own in 2006 to a successful conclusion.  It wasn’t easy.

Each province has their own piece of human rights legislation that pertains to that jurisdiction.  Each province has their own Human Rights legislation so you do need to know which province you are dealing with.  You can’t make a BC complaint based on the Alberta Human Rights Act but you do need to #SpeakOut regardless of what province you are in.  Having rights does not guarantee they will be applied.  You are the oversight in your world for social justice which often demands fighting for those rights otherwise you lose them.  You always have a choice, be an advocate, an activist or a victim.

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends".
It’s the strength of our allies that determines our chance for success

As an advocate I have five basic steps I look at.  A condensed overview doesn’t really do it justice however social justice is a complicated issue.  It is fluid which makes it very difficult to come to a conclusion.  A simple example would be “just because there is a ramp into the library doesn’t mean it is accessible to someone with a visual disability”.  So these are my five steps (I refer to them as the five “A”s of activism) and I will do my best to provide more in-depth descriptions in future articles but for the time being here goes:

  • Awareness – to solve a problem you first have to identify it as a problem.  Never take an issue or response from someone as a definitive.  That is just settling and “just settling” opens the door for the erosion of rights.
  • Analyze – review your awareness.  What is it impeding and where is the injustice?  You need to see it through your eyes, not someone else’s opinion.  Accepting someone else’s opinion as “fact” is, again, a form of settling.  Those who offered the opinion are not living your situation.
  •  Answer – what needs to be done?  What tools are available to you?  This may require some research but the problem will not solve itself.  If you are not prepared with logical information you are setting up to lose.  I tend to tell people I have advocated for that responses based on emotion will get them a couple of free tissues and a pat on the  back but logic with facts will get you solutions.
  • Allies – Who have you got on your side that understands the issues?  Tap into those, they don’t have to be friends (however that helps) but they do need to have some role in the issue (politicians, community leaders, organizations, etc).  People who can substantiate your call for social justice.  That is really where a good advocate comes in.  Good advocates have good networks.
  • Action – What is the remediation you are requesting?  Adherence to current policy, some type of reasonable accommodation based on current legislation or regulations, reversal of a previous decision, etc.  Know what you want correct and know the steps required for resolution.

Hope this helps…


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