Activist or Advocate?

Advocacy is often seen as working “within the system” whereas activism is seen as working “outside the system” to generate change. I think this is really useful, as clearly the role or issue can shift from one to the other.Author unknown

A meaningful meme basically black and white with the exception of a young child staring down a long hallway wearing the only coloured item in the picture.  The meme reads "There comes a moment when you realize that what you are advocating for is more than just accommodations.  You're really advocating for someones quality of life.  That's the moment you realize that you won't give up"
#SpeakOut, make your voice heard, silence only supports injustices

I have fifty years experience as an activist with another 25 years of advocacy experience built in there. The advocacy was a fight to ensure the successes gained as an activist were maintained. There is a difference between the two. Activists organize, advocates initiate. This difference is lost on a lot of people and it frightens me.

As a polio survivor I grew up in a time where there were not a lot of protections enshrined in any form of policy, regulations or legislation. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t guaranteed an education due to my disability. I grew up in a time when you “warehoused” the disabled in institutions. I grew up in a time where I wasn’t guaranteed a a vote until I was just about 26 years old. I grew up in a time when I had to have people of “sound mind and body” co-sign any contract I may enter from a rental lease to a credit card application. To me this isn’t ancient history, it was the experience of my life and it turned me into an activist. I fought hard for legislative change and protection.

I discovered early that, as an activist, words matter. Words like “should”, “try” and “consider”. When the word “should” shows up in a piece of legislation or regulation, that’s not a directive, it’s a suggestion. Legally should, as a noun, holds a different value than “will”, a directive. This understanding of language (semantics) are important lessons for any activist and they provide the groundwork for advocacy.

One of the words least understood is that of “public”. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is build on a specific understanding of the word “public”. Social programs such as “public” education, “public” health, or “public” service account for a substantial part of public spending however this is “public” as an adjective and has a legal bearing.

Public, as a noun, is simply the whole body politic, or the aggregate of the citizens of a state, nation, or municipality. Public as a noun has little legal ramifications when it comes to legislation, public as an adjective is where legislative protections come into play. What is happening in Alberta these days is a complete erosion of gains made by activists in the 70’s and 80’s because so few people understand the semantics around the word “public”.

Even fewer people understand the legislative process so people appear willing to let their rights be eroded rather than study the details of how we got here. Right now “public education” is a primary example. The Alberta Education Act does NOT supersede the Charter. The Charter is recognized as Primary legislation, which consists of Acts of Parliament or statute that hold a higher ranking and can supersede other legislation. Provincial legislation, like the Education Act is secondary legislation (delegated legislation) which grants additional law-making powers to other branches or jurisdictions of government. This is also part of the federal transfer payment arrangements designed to maintain “universality” in programming This is the types of knowledge an activist develops but not a necessary tool for an advocate. It provides the support an effective advocate needs but the detail can be irrelevant for their purposes.

A screen capture of Calgary business development advocate Jason Ribeiro reading "We cannot let the last thing the remaining members of the Greatest Generation see be the betrayal of the values and principles they fought so hard to protect.  We ignore neo-fascism at our own peril and dishonour their service".  Captioned "Defending and promoting change
Defending and promoting change

An “advocate” works hard in the community. An effective advocate is someone who is adaptive, open to change and can react quickly as new information unfolds. When I returned to Calgary a couple of years ago I was plagued with concerns over the future of Alberta. I initially bought into a generational myth that Millennial’s didn’t care about governance.

They lacked the historical context while seeming to show little interest in the detail of todays political system. However after meeting and getting to know Jason Ribeiro I was able to dispel that generational myth. It is not disinterest in the political system but a desire for modernization of the political system, something I fully agree with. We can no longer conduct 21st century business based on a system build over a 100 years ago. There is a reason for their frustration which many baby-boomers see as “generational indifference”.

There’s a large contingent of Millennial’s in Calgary working hard to keep the City moving forward while transforming into a more progressive environment. Jason is one of those leading that charge. It is difficult to check the local news without seeing Jason involved in something from business development to immigrant aid support. He is very multidimensional which is a major factor in being an effective advocate.

Knowing their are people like Jason out there advocating for the City does help me validate my years of activism. Jason’s remarks on this video remind me that my generation of change-makers can’t take what we know for granted. We were there and we lived it. The Millennials weren’t and will be dependent on us to be the story tellers, the sharers of knowledge. Don’t ever take “mentorship” for granted. We have a historical perspective that is of value to the policy makers of tomorrow. Regardless of your role or background, activist or advocate, be a mentor, don’t let the years of your accomplishments fall off the rails because you’ve given up.

Watching what Kenney is doing to Alberta had me close to “giving up” but I couldn’t bring myself to let my life’s accomplishments go down the drain because of a false belief. There are advocates out there that want to pick up the torch, like Jason, so pass that torch and keep a free democracy alive. It may look like it’s on life-support but it is not dead. As long as there are people like Jason working at the grass level and the Greta Thunberg on an international stage it’s looking like a flame of freedom is still there. Be informed…