There are times that promoting a cause or working on a specific social issue can be overwhelming. Conflict, misunderstanding, and disappointment can quell the passion to continually engage. This has certainly been the case for many in my town with ongoing debates and discussion about how to address homelessness.
|Feb. 24/14 rally at Abbotsford City Hall showing solidarity with Abbotsford's homeless population following the city council's rejection of a proposed housing project.|
It’s interesting how we often think of people who are vocal about social issues as activists or protesters. An activist is someone who promotes or opposes a specific cause or issue. A protester, similarly, is someone who publicly declares objection or dissent regarding a social issue. This is certainly how those of us vocal about addressing homelessness have been perceived in Abbotsford.
This is fine and good. But it’s incomplete.
Yes, we need activism and protest to raise awareness on important social issues. There are moments when opposition requires a clear (and at times loud!) voice. By itself, however, protest can leave us only fighting issues. This is why I think it’s important to place protest within the broader task of advocacy. Advocacy focuses on the people impacted by social issues, offering necessary support or defense to people. As a Mae Elise Cannon summarizes, “advocates are change agents who work on behalf of others who might not [be heard] or have the power to change their unfortunate circumstances. Advocates are people who help secure justice for those who are experiencing injustice.” Towards issues, protest is appropriate some of the time. Towards people, advocacy is appropriate all of the time.
It’s been inspiring to participate in a movement in my community towards advocacy. Ministries like 5and2 have been at this for a long time. But for many, myself included, relational investment with all our neighbors is a more recent development. There is a collaboration called “Voices for Dignity” that has given space to inspire and encourage advocating for the dignity of all people. In Abbotsford, we’ve come to see our city not as a place with “issues” but as a place with people.