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.