How to be a social justice advocate in 2021 (even when you aren’t sure where to begin!)
2020 has made it clearer than ever that we all have a duty to address racism in all the areas of our lives. We will not achieve social justice without a continued commitment to action. Gaining knowledge and evolving our personal understanding of social inequities is an important step, but we are most effective when we educate and mobilize those around us.
YW Boston challenges our community to commit to acting as social justice advocates in 2021. Advocacy is a concept that encompasses many forms of engagement and action. We understand that considering yourself a social justice advocate may be intimidating. So, check out our tips on how to become a social justice advocate when you aren’t sure where to begin.
In our work to promote social justice advocacy, we had the opportunity to partner with a number of local bloggers and social media influencers. We worked together to raise awareness about the importance of practicing individual advocacy and the work YW Boston is doing to pursue greater racial and gender equity. Throughout this guide, you’ll learn, from their perspectives, why we must all use our power and influence for social justice.
What is advocacy and how does one practice it?
YWCA USA defines advocacy as “Work done on behalf of those most negatively affected by a specific policy or practice.” Many people, when they think of advocacy, may imagine work done at City Hall or the State House. However, as the definition points out, any action that moves a policy or practice forward is considered advocacy. This can include public policy, but it also includes changing others’ mindsets, taking part in a community group, evaluating a workplace policy, and so much more.
By using our power and networks to bring awareness and empower action in support of greater social justice, we are social justice advocates.
“The future depends on us. We are the change for them to have better lives. Isn’t it painful to see racism still exist until now? Cut it from the root. How to end this? Start from ourselves. We create a community that can support each other. Our platform @ootdbostonian started and realize that diversity brings riches into our society.” – @ootdbostonian, Outfit Of The Day Bostonian
What can get in your way to being an advocate? How do you remedy this?
There are a number of misconceptions that can keep people from feeling empowered as advocates. For many people, they feel that they lack knowledge and expertise on areas of social justice. It is important for all of us to continually educate ourselves on issues of equity, and our learning is most impactful when it drives our actions. Remember: Knowledge is not finite, there is always more to learn. Don’t let this stop you from getting started. Try: Setting time aside for listening and learning about systemic racism and social justice. Then, schedule time to take action on what you’ve just learned.
“I think it’s important to use your reach to bring awareness to racial justice for two reasons: It’s the right thing to do, and racial injustice is most likely affecting at least one of your supporters who falls victim to it. Support them back. If you have the power to amplify an important message that can create a positive impact for underserved people just by making a post, do it. You have the power to influence people to think and see things from different perspectives in your own creative, on brand way.” – @ParissAthena, Founder of Black Tech Pipeline
Sometimes people hold back from taking part in advocacy because they do not want to appear political or divisive. Remember: The instinct to keep different parts of your life (I.e., your work, family, friends, and politics) separate stems from the widespread belief that political issues, or issues of social justice, aren’t present in all aspects of one’s life. In fact, our individual lives are inseparable from our identities, and that means inequities are going to show up in areas such as our workplace. By keeping quiet and trying to remain neutral, we are in fact upholding the status quo and perpetuating inequities. Try: Starting with small but impactful actions as you develop your voice.
For others, the scale of many social justice issues makes would-be advocates feel like their advocacy wouldn’t make a difference. Remember: Racism and other systems of inequity and injustice operate on a number of levels, including ones internalized beliefs, their interpersonal interactions, the institutions they are a part of, and their culture’s ideologies. This means that there are a number of entry points where you can base your advocacy – whether it be changing hearts and minds or changing policies. Each action you take is a building block for a more equitable future. Try: Taking inventory of spaces where you hold influence, like your friend group or your workspace. These spaces are where you will have the most impact.
“Any resource you have that could reach, educate and inspire even one person is worth it. Whether you have 100 followers or 100,000 followers, you can make an impact. People follow you because they care about what you have to say, and using that platform to advocate for important issues can make a difference. […] Find ways to connect your niche to the message and the message and the mission, and amplify the voices and content of Black bloggers, especially those in your niche. Connecting the content you create to this purpose feels like a sustainable way to continue advocating long term.” – @flourdeliz, Baking Blogger
Also, because advocacy encompasses such a wide range of actions, it can easy to discount your work as an advocate. If you are using your power and networks to increase awareness and drive action, don’t hold back. Consider yourself an advocate. In identifying with the term, you will be able to evaluate your work and become even more effective.
Now, where do you start?
On social media: Commit to posting on social media regularly. Don’t assume that social media isn’t actionable – it is a great way to educate and inspire action. Try using it to teach your followers about a social issue you care deeply about. You may also share examples of how you are taking action and provide advice on how they can take action, too.
“As someone who can influence even one person, it’s important for bloggers and influencers to use their platforms to advocate for racial justice. Personally, it means a lot to me as a woman of color, identifying as an Afro-Descendiente/Latinx woman. I matter and my voice matters and no matter how big or how small YOU matter too. No engagement with your followers is too small. Share knowledge you’ve learned in browsing, share in your stories, search out those advocating for racial justice and support them by liking, saving and commenting on their posts.” – @lifeasamaven, Eats | Travel | Style
Within your friend group: Use the power of your close relationships to engage more deeply with social justice. Consider how you can keep each other accountable to your commitments by checking in regularly. Your friendships are also a great place to develop your skills on ‘calling in’. You can be proactive in helping your friends learn about issues they were unaware of before. For instance, encourage them to use inclusive language.
At your workplace: We do not shed our social identities when we enter the workplace. They inform how we work together and often determine who has access to power within the organization. Therefore, it is a great place to step up as an advocate. Be sure to speak up when you recognize inequities such as a pay disparity or microaggressions. Consider joining, or suggesting, a workplace committee dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In your community: As you learn about the inequities present in your community, research what organizations and community groups in your town or neighborhood are making change. Join or support groups that are dedicated to more equitable outcomes and policies.
“Awareness, education, and retraining ourselves are some of the most impactful ways to counter racial issues in our community. Bloggers and influencers are a key factor in that first step of awareness. In an age where one influencer reaches thousands of impressionable people from different regions of the world, it is so important for them to highlight racial issues to people who may not be exposed to them in their daily lives. […] A blogger posting an article or educational resource or speaking about their experiences does much more to spread meaningful information than ever before.” –@ravjotmehek, Activist and Filmmaker
Commit to being an advocate in 2021
We have to keep our collective work moving forward. Using our tips, make a guide for how you would like to be more engaged as an advocate in 2021.
Remember, it is always best to follow the lead of those most impacted by inequities. Be open to feedback – it is how you will grow as an advocate. And if you get stuck, ask for help! Be sure to follow us on social media @ywboston to find more information, tips, and action items throughout the year.
Thank you to all of the bloggers and social media influencers who partnered with us this year!
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.
As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.