Advocacy Week: Advocacy or Activism? (#WinterABC- Day 5)

The temperatures are dropping and the temptation to do the bare minimum and stay warm is at a high. However, we as Afrobloggers are defying the odds and pulling out our creative, informative and educative cards as we adequately deliberate on various topics. This week ushers us into the next phase of the #WinterABC2021 challenge.

As can be seen from my title, this week is all about Advocacy!!! I am more than excited to use this opportunity to share my convictions, beliefs and support to various causes on my blog. I am also thrilled to see what my fellow bloggers will be up to this week. I expect the various blogging platforms to be intense with LOUD, UNFILTERED and UNAPOLOGETIC voices!

For my first post of the Advocacy Week, I decided to be more procedural than substantive by discussing the difference between Advocacy and Activism ( for some reason, I believe this topic may be tackled by more bloggers- but, I feel it’s a fundamental build up to the rest of the week, so I’ll dive into it anyway).

I must state immediately though, that I did not always know that one could differentiate advocacy from activism or vice versa. For a long time, I used the two terminologies interchangeably. Until I discovered there are actually different albeit being related. This post will highlight the major differences between the two.

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is defined as β€œan act of speaking on behalf an individual, organisation, or idea”. It is used as a canopy term for many intervention tools.  It includes active lobbying via letter writing, meetings, running public forums, questions in parliament and other influential settings, participating in various consultative processes, digital advocacy etc.

To be an advocate is to speak and learn about social and political issues. Advocates bring attention to and EXPOSE injustices, thereby helping the activist in the fight against that said injustice. Advocates bring pivotal considerations from a grass root level to the forefront of popular conversation. It is said that Advocates use their platforms to draw attention to activists who initialize change.

Eva Lewis raises a cardinal point by arguing that, there are two parts to advocacy- vocalizing and amplifying. She importantly highlights that although everyone’s voice is important, there are instances were a step must be taken back to not vocalize but rather amplify the voices of others. (SO PROFOUND)

Stephen Hall summarizes the characteristics of Advocacy as follows:

  • Advocacy has three key components: relationships, sound policy, and respect;
  • Advocacy could be described as pre-emptive influence;
  • Advocacy can be either pro-active or re-active;
  • Advocacy usually has a non adversarial, diplomatic; soft touch
  • Advocacy can look like: lobbying for budget allocations, taxation changes, policy development and initiating and promoting dialogue

What is Activism?

Activism is understood to be the collective action to exert pressure on centers of power in order to remedy grievances and felt injustices. This is achieved by organizing, strategizing, mobilizing, and educating.

To be an activist is to act on one’s own behalf and on the behalf others when solving multi-sectorial issues such as: social, economic, cultural, religious and political issues. It is to be at the forefront of a movement, often times compromising one’s energy, resources and safety in order to seek justice and evoke change.

Stephen Hall summarizes the characteristics of Activists as follows:

  • Activism involves the use of vigorous campaigning to bring desired change;
  • Activism is often the result of a lack of relationships or unsuccessful advocacy
  • Activism sometimes uses questionable tactics – or even “illegal means” such as civil disobedience and non-violent or violent actions
  • Activism tends to be reactive to an issue
  • Lacks direct communication and relationships with key decision makers, hence relies heavily on media or the role of Advocates who may be better placed to have influential discussions with centers of power;

My understanding is that, most times activists are part of the direct group feeling the impact of a certain injustice. Whereas, Advocates albeit not being directly impacted, empathize and still use their voices in solidarity to champion the cause being driven by Activists and to amplify their concerns and greivances.

Can one be both an Advocate and Activist?

My answer to the question is YES.

From the foregoing distinction between the two, one would perceive Activists as soldiers on the battlefront whilst Advocates help in procuring the needed ammunitions and other supplies required to win the war. However, I would argue that Advocates are war buddies of Activists and that both play a pivotal, battle front role in fights against injustices.

Both are necessary in order to create systemic change. They help to bring about important social, political, and cultural changes throughout the world. Arguably, without one, the other cannot function.

To be an activist is to speak and act. To be an advocate is to listen and dialogue. Society can’t move forward without both.

In my view, the consequence of mislabeling when it comes to what one identifies as between the two is not detrimental. In fact, I believe it does not matter whether one identifies as an Activist or an Advocate. If anything, I would argue it is very possible to act in both capacities- consecutively or simultaneously. I believe what is cardinal is to speak and fight for what is right.

After all, as the saying goes:

One who remains silent in instances of injustice, chooses the side of the oppressor”

In the days to come, I will use this platform to vocalize my various convictions and amplify sentiments shared by others. Whether I will be regarded as an Activist or Advocate should be secondary to the matters that will be tackled which should be of primary importance and great concern.

Until then, read on & live long!

19 thoughts on “Advocacy Week: Advocacy or Activism? (#WinterABC- Day 5)”

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