It's been too long since I sat down to write a post. The ideas have been flitting in and out of my head, but I suppose I got caught up in preparing for and taking my comprehensive exams and graduating from grad school. I actually meant to write a post about advocacy back in April when I went to Springfield with The Ounce of Prevention Fund to encourage funding for early childhood care and education programs in Illinois.
The Ounce's Advocacy Day consisted of those who work in childcare, preschool, and home visiting programs, parents who's children benefit from those services, and community members who recognize the value of early childhood experiences. Participants were encouraged to email, call, and personally talk to the members of the governing body to share with them the benefits of these programs and to ask their legislatures to protect funding for the programs. It was exciting to see so many people actively speaking up for our youngest citizens. Ultimately, this form of advocacy revolves around relationships. It is through the relationships that we make with those who determine where the funding goes that influences a share of the money for the programs we believe in.
Advocating in the manner is important as it not only educates those with the decision making power, but it can serve to educate the masses and rile people up for action. This ability to draw in the crowds can be seen by the tireless groups of parents, teachers, and community members working to educate the public on the inner going ons of the city's public school system.
Advocating though speech making and marching and rallying is important because it's loud, noticeable, and draws in others to a cause. But it's not the only form of advocacy, nor is it the type of advocacy and social justice activity that I generally participate in. Words and marches have value, but to me the heart of advocacy is action. And I see no higher form of action, no better way to act for social justice than that of volunteering.
I believe that social justice is not a choice and it's not passive, that it is the active responsibility of us all.
This is why I spend time volunteering and leading other volunteers in service. Although I participate in a wide variety of service projects, and have been since the time I was a young child, one of my favorite days of service is the Chicago Care's Serve-a-Thon. In this annual event, thousands of volunteers are lead by hundreds of volunteer leaders in a day of service that benefits Chicago's public schools, parks, YMCA's, and Senior Citizens. Yesterday I led my 7th Serve-a-Thon project. As a primary volunteer leader I rallied 10 volunteer leaders to lead 100 volunteers in painting 3 hallways/stairwells, planting flowers in the playground, building benches, bookcases, and planter boxes, and creating inspirational banners, murals, and mosaics. And while we spend the day doing hands on work that will serve to add a touch of beauty to a school, in the end the day is about so much more than that.
In the end, it comes down to actively taking a stand for social justice. By spending the day working in an often forgotten neighborhood you are showing your willingness to stand up for children and families and the communities they live in. The volunteers at the elementary school my project took place at yesterday showed the children, teachers, and community that somebody cares for them, somebody believes in them, and that they are not forgotten. Volunteering provides a platform to actively fight for social justice. Because while powerful words are motivating; without the action to back up the words change won't happen.
And if by spending the day leading others inservice encourages even one volunteer to come back and serve in another capacity, then it's a start. It's a start of a social justice movement through action and love and respect. And I can't hope for anything more powerful than that.