Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

In a recent community meeting, I was asked if I’m an activist or an advocate.  My immediate answer was that I’m an advocate.  Afterwards I pondered my answer because the word activist has always been less than desirable to me.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve often been called an activist and it was a description used to dismiss my work as being “radical”.  I believe the word was used in the context as being an insult and it invoked a picture of being a radical or militant person.

I think that most of us can agree that radical or militant behavior is less than desirable and is dismissed by many, putting the actions down to someone who is fanatical.  Radical or militant is often associated with violence an extreme and undesirable direction to follow.  I certainly don’t condone it and I believe that violence begets violence.

Over the past couple of years, a huge building binge of chicken warehouses by the poultry industry on the Delmarva Peninsula has invoked division within our communities.  This is what my conversation was about when it came down to the question of advocate or activist.  My involvement in the issues, is supporting what the community interest are and their interest was decided by those affected.  This is what defines advocacy or activism.

On the other hand, there are a few activists involved in the issues.  I say activists because involvement came from an already decided campaign coming from somewhere other than the community and represented concerns other than decisions made within the community.  Forcing the will of others than those affected, never works, and is doomed from the beginning.

Representing non-profit organizations, activist have a defined campaign in mind long before they disperse into communities.  I say this because most often funding for campaigns come from private foundations or individuals.  Most of us within the non-profit world who have ever applied for funding know that goals are decided for a specified amount of time and are for specific objectives.  The funds applied for are granted before the issues are defined by communities.

Any who’ve worked on any of the issues surrounding the poultry industry know that there are several factions within the community and most often those different factions don’t agree because they have differing concerns.  Finding the common thread within the community and moving forward with agreed upon concerns are the goals of an advocate and it goes a long way toward developing common allies within the community.  An alliance, if you will!

Attempts to bring together differing factions are sorely hampered by activists because they bring a previously decided campaign to the table which is often different than anything within the individual communities.  This becomes a weapon for industry to use and its representatives can often be heard saying that these activists have a hidden agenda which brings about doubt and further divides communities.

According to the dictionary the following applies –

  • Advocate – one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group
  • Advocacy – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal
  • Activist – one who campaigns to bring about political or social change
  • Activism – the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change

It’s a fine line between the two words, definition wise.  However, understanding the difference between supporting or promoting (advocate) and a decided campaign (activist) easily defines the difference between the two.  One could say that actions speak louder than words!

Providing assistance to communities in efforts to address its issues within is essential to success.  Telling communities what it’s issues are and how it will address those issues won’t result in positive outcomes.

Comments on: "Advocate or Activist, what’s the difference?" (5)

  1. Kathy Phillips said:

    Hi Carole – hey, this blog kind of got me thinking and I think you may have it backwards. CCAIC, NAACP, Backbone Corridor Neighbors Association, and others are indeed the ‘activists’ because they are the people who are ACTIVELY applying public pressure and making the changes in local zoning codes and forcing pubic officials and agencies to do the right thing and protect the public health.

    Groups like Food and Water Watch, SRAP, Fair Farms and ACT are the ‘advocates’, because they are not only providing the resources these local community groups need to ACTIVELY get their message spread, but these are the groups who are ADVOCATING on behalf of these communities at the state level (CHAA) and through social media public awareness campaigns (Fair Farms) throughout the state.

    Don’t let the bastards at DPI, etc. control the message because they are (on purpose) using the labels incorrectly.

    Just my two cents worth… matter what the label, everyone is in this together as a team to keep our air and water safe and keep Delmarva a place we all want to live in.



    Kathy Phillips

    Executive Director/Assateague COASTKEEPER

    Assateague Coastal Trust

    PO Box 731, Berlin, MD 21811


    Member: WATERKEEPER Alliance and WATERKEEPERS Chesapeake



  2. Amber said:

    Did you hit a nerve or what? Is the dictionary wrong in the meaning it gives or should it say that activist means you are active. I was at the meeting last week that you are talking about and heard what was said to you about others sticking their nose in things to advance their own agenda. They don’t hear what anyone else says and don’t care because they know better. The list of organizations sounds like an advertisement. Consider the source.


  3. Gracious as always Carole you didn’t stoop to naming names while getting the point across. Those who identify with what you are saying named their selves all on their own. As always they pretend that they have done something without ever setting foot out in the real world. They preach to the choir and pat their selves on the back for a job well done. Local governments adjusted county zoning regulations to fit the recommendations made by the poultry industry and took nothing into account from the dream team mentioned above. Bossy and rude behavior is all that has ever been seen from the person making the first comment. One of my neighbors attended a meeting this bunch held said that she would never attend another and wouldn’t be associated with anyone who didn’t care about what the people wanted only cared about what they said we wanted. The colossal failure is on their doorstep Geez what a bunch of jokers.


  4. I should have made it clearer that the meeting I referred to was not attended by industry, it was a private meeting. Those in attendance were ordinary local citizens. The question about advocate or activist came about when the discussion went in the direction of the lower counties zoning regulations for CAFO’s and what went wrong. It was an off the cuff question and said in a humorous way. My pondering over the two words brought about my post in relation to the meeting and comments that came from that meeting.


  5. Carol said, “Finding the common thread within the community and moving forward with agreed upon concerns are the goals of an advocate and it goes a long way toward developing common allies within the community. An alliance, if you will”.

    If anyone knows about building a community alliance it would be you Carol. One of the best alliance’s ever built in the country you helped to build and ran it for several years. The Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance was a model for all and many tried to emulate it without much success. Obviously they didn’t know what they were doing.

    Bringing together radically different and sometimes adversarial partners is not an easy thing much less getting everyone to work together. You were able to do that. If people could get over their self and hear one another without making demands or talking over others thoughts progress might be made.

    It’s to late for something like this to develop and stop the building of the huge chicken houses and the concentration of many of these houses on one property. Now the citizens suffer the results.


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