For a decade I’ve been involved in our communities as a mental health peer advocate, with a directed focus on community education to lessen the scope and impact of detrimental stigmatization. Through many collaborations with other advocacy movements, something I’ve learned is marginalized groups contend with many of the same stigmas and face many of the same challenges when seeking social reform.
I’d like to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way, insights that might benefit peer advocates in their directed efforts.
1.) You can’t force others to care about what you care about.
2.) Conducting advocacy from inside an echo chamber creates unreasonable expectations of the community.
3.) There is no obligation for anyone to understand and accept your movement’s values and goals.
4.) Your advocacy movement is not more virtuous or important than other advocacy movements.
5.) Mass media is not your friend; mass media hijacks your advocacy movement’s direction and purpose – portraying your movement as victims and not champions – to generate business for themselves.
6.) You’re going to become frustrated and disappointed over and over and over. Learn from it and incorporate the lesson into your advocacy efforts.
7.) If you start wondering why you’re even doing this, step back long enough to answer yourself.
8.) People within your advocacy movement will have different ideas, values, and goals; often these differences run contrary to your own. Collaboration is ideal but staying true to your ideas, values, and goals is why you’re doing this.
9.) Advocacy work is exhausting at times. Self-care.
10.) Civil rights lawyer groups are typically completely out of touch with grassroots advocacy and are a detriment to peer advocacy.
11.) You are the authority on your peer advocacy because you live it. Let no one tell you otherwise and let no one take advantage of your good heart.
12.) The enemy of innovation is asking for permission. Listen to your own heart and do what is right for your community.
13.) You wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t care deeply about others.
14.) Everyone has something of great value to offer the world, even those whose efforts seek to undermine your advocacy efforts.
15.) Peer advocacy isn’t about being an inspiration to others. Peer advocacy is entirely about helping others learn to empower themselves so they can inspire themselves.
16.) Most importantly, it’s too easy to get completely drawn in and completely immersed in your advocacy community. Take time and care to remind yourself there’s an entire world outside peer advocacy.