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Advocating #OnBehalfOf Change: how a Millennial learned to make a change the old-fashioned way
As a millennial, I think I can change the world. My generation knows how to grab attention through Youtube, Twitter and Instagram. We’re used to viral videos, ice-bucket campaigns and instant “likes” to move people to action. And don’t get me wrong, I believe social media really does have the capacity to make an impact. Recently, however, during IJM’s Advocacy Summit, I learned how to affect change the old-fashioned way: through face-to-face conversations. I also learned that sometimes, change is a long, hard road.
One rainy morning in September, over a hundred people shuffled into a hotel ballroom a few blocks from Capitol Hill, coffee and notebooks in hand. Our goal was to learn how to appropriately ask our senators and congressmen to support the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI). What I took from this experience was far more than how to present a beautifully compelling presentation to a politician. I learned that change is possible, and to stay the journey—because it’s worth it.
As I was sitting through this crash course in lobbying, I realized that lobbying is hard. Okay, I know that is a naive statement. Of course it’s hard. I am coming from the world of change=instant-gratification where every tweet, Facebook post and Instagram hashtag makes an impact on my social sphere, and believe me, I’ve watched these tweets, posts and likes stimulate change. However, this idea of lobbying shifted my view on how and what it takes to sometimes make a difference.
This is what I learned:
- Change is hard and it takes time—a lot of time. It takes research, planning and preparation. And sometimes, after weeks and months of preparation, things happen. People are not in their offices, they get called away to meetings or they send staff members at the last minute. Once your meeting finally gets scheduled, the actual process of getting the piece of legislation passed, takes time too—a lot of it. It can be discouraging. It can get tiring. It certainly is hard. But I learned it is worth it.
- Change is not glamorous. As I walked through the grand marble halls of the Capitol, I felt such awe. I was star-struck as I walked into the offices of a presidential candidate and the Senate majority leader. However, as soon as I walked through those grand doors, I realized that people just like me work in these offices. Many are young. Just like me. Maybe they had fancy job titles and wore suits, but just like me they had passions, goals, dreams, bad days, meetings, tasks to complete and paper work to fill out. Change is not glamorous. It may not be what we expect on the other side of the door. It may look ordinary. But I learned it is worth it.
- Change is possible. Despite some challenges, we were able to share the stories of our clients with our nation’s leaders and their staff. Many of them were compelled to support the bill. They heard us and acted. They decided our mission, our goal and our clients, clients, clients like Griselda* and Mien, were worth it. Change is possible. I learned it is worth it.
Change is hard and it’s not glamorous. So, if it is this difficult and often dull process, then why do we advocate? Why do we lobby? Why do we devote days to go to meetings with busy politicians on behalf of people we’ve never met? Because change can happen. We have a voice that has the capacity to make a difference. We have the ability to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. A voice for those we may never meet, but for those on whose behalf we are helping to create a positive change.
I advocate because I care about the world around me. I want to make a tangible difference for those who are not able to go to a senator or a congressmen and talk about how they have been trafficked, enslaved or have lost their citizen rights. I lobby because I care about our clients who deserve to know that justice for the poor is possible. I spent two days out of my work week advocating because I believe I—we—have the power to make a difference and that change is possible.
This experience has given me a deeper appreciation for our electoral government and for the power I have as an ordinary citizen to raise my voice. I’ll still tweet, post and like. Those things make a difference too. But I’ll have face-to-face conversations. I’ll write letters too. I’ll call too. And I’ll wait. Because change is hard. I learned it’s not instant. It’s not glamorous or easy. But I’m convinced change is possible.
Being a young, average American, I came into the Advocacy Summit with this notion that I could change the world. I’m now certain of it. I now know and understand that I have the power to make a difference. Having that knowledge is a pretty powerful thing, but having that ability and being able to use it on behalf of someone else—someone like our clients Juliana or Charito*—is what makes change worth it.
Meet the author, Meredith Schellin
A graduate of Asbury University, Meredith completed a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Digital Storytelling with a minor in Literature. While a student at Asbury, Meredith had the opportunity to be a cheerleader, the editor-and-chief of Asbury’s student newspaper and worked at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as a camera operator and reporter. She loves to travel, having visited places like Honduras, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Belarus. Meredith is a self-proclaimed political junkie, lover of quality food, great conversations, beautiful photography, listening to music and good humor. Currently, she is serving as the Public Relations Communications intern at IJM.