Using Advocacy for Change
Learning about issues and using our voice is a right and a civic responsibility and vital to a healthy democracy. Teaching youth at the earliest ages about using their voice prepares them to be civically engaged as adults. It teaches them to learn more about issues and see each person as a valued member of society with an equal vote and an important voice.
What Is Advocacy?
Definition: (n) the act or process of writing or speaking in favor of, or supporting, a cause
Choose from these resources to explore the practice and importance of Advocacy:
- "Characteristics of a Good Advocate" handout
- Social Activism Film Activity Guide
- What Is Advocacy? Film Activity Guide
- Philanthropy and the Government Film Activity Guide - This video clip and discussion guide highlights the balance of the needs addressed by government, by business, and the nonprofit sector.
- Nonprofit Advocacy – a white paper defining the advocacy work of nonprofits
- Youth Advocacy and Voice – a white paper about ways for youth to be advocates
- Understanding Advocacy and Action - This video describes different ways to take action.
As our politicians at the highest levels struggle to compromise and truly listen to opposing views, it is more important than ever for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn their power to listen, speak up, find common ground, and be advocates for what is important to them.
According to US Legal, “Youth activism refers to activities of youth voice engaged in community organizing for social change. Youth activists are engaged in activism as planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, social workers, decision-makers, advocates and leading actors in the environmental movement, and social justice organizations.”
Youth engagement leads to civic engagement in adulthood. The lessons learned through past movements will help young people grow into adult advocates and changemakers. Some may turn into entrepreneurs that open new nonprofit organizations and some may become ambassadors for certain causes. There is no limit when it comes to the possible results of youth advocacy.
How to Be an Advocate
Even though youth are not of voting age, they still have the power to learn about reliable facts, influence without anger, and share their valued voice! After they gather facts and take a stand, they can use language and images to persuade. Here are some components of advocacy:
Learn about Issues
- Keeping up with the news and current issues may raise awareness of needs and what youth care about. They can conduct research on issues they care about through reliable news sources and articles.
- These Media Literacy Tips will help youth as they sift through a mountain of information sources—many of which are not entirely reliable.
- Local nonprofits may have expert staff willing to talk to your group or classroom about issues and their work to address them.
- Community Mapping – Use this guide for youth to identify community assets and potential partners in project planning.
- Blue Sky Activity - This future-envistioning activity helps participants get to know what they care about and discuss first steps they can take.
- Spoken Word Poetry for Justice - This mini-course (requires login) gives an overview and steps for creating poetry for change.
- Personal Advocacy Style - Take this Survey to determine your advocacy style.
- Advocacy Posters for Social Justice - This video by artist Favianna Rodriguez gives tips for creating effective advocacy poster.
- Document and Share Philanthropy - This step-by-step communications guide helps you publicize or demonstrate your service.
- Media Literacy – These tips help you identify credible sources and use critical thinking.
- Civic Online Reasoning - These Stanford History Education tools help readers find reliable sources for information.
Service Project Ideas
- Host an equity forum - Youth research the history and current climate of civil rights in their community. Invite local civil rights advocates as key speakers. Include students, teachers, community members and families to be a part of the forum. The goals are to increase dialogue around the issues and to learn from each other.
- Make an ABC book about Advocacy - Learn and teach the language of advocacy as you advocate for equity in an ABC book. Directions and sample
- Make an effective advocacy poster - This guide helps youth focus on an issue they care about and make a poster to simply communicate a message they want others to hear.
- Create a campaign to raise awareness and promote tolerance. Investigate the civil rights issues of today, such as equity and inclusion, LGBT rights, or mental illness. Look at civil rights models from the past and current media to learn about effective communication and persuasion techniques.
- Write a personal “I Have A Dream” speech related to an issue you're passionate about. Record and share in social media or in front of the school or community.
- Take nonviolet action to demand change. Scan for ideas from the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.
- Create PSA videos for civil rights issues. Show them at school or on local tv stations. Or, write and perform skits that are based on justice, advocacy and civil rights issues.
- Recreate courtroom scenes from famous cases on justice issues to inform and inspire others.
- Ceate a civil rights or LGBTQ alliance student group at school.
- Interview civil rights and LGBTQ leaders in the community. Have them tell their stories and give ideas of how to get involved.
- Research and recreate famous speeches by leaders and advocates for justice such as Harvey Milk, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Temple Grandin and others.
- Read aloud to younger children picture books about Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, and other leaders of justice.
- Create a survey for the school or community on their opinions of the most pressing civil rights issues in the community. Compare, contrast and present the findings.
- Advocate for fairness and justice by writing a letter, calling or emailing a public official, or speaking at a public meeting.
Share your vision of advocacy and civic engagement with others by presenting these lessons to the age groups below:
At this age, we can have conversations about rights and responsibilities, the history of our Constitution, and democratic processes at the classroom and community level.
These youth can seek knowledge, express personal views, and make responsible decisions. This is a time to teach about the roles of different elected officials, the process of elections and appointments to positions of authority, and the role of advocates and nonprofits in speaking for issues.
- Making Our Voices Heard (lesson plan for Grades 6, 7, 8)
Teens can be challenged to do a project in which they exercise a first amendment right through a march, a petition, attending a meeting, and asking for change with their research and words.
- Advocacy and Activism Introduction (lesson plan for grades 9-12)
Introduce quotes to spark discussion and reflection on the meaning and role of advocacy in history and today.
- “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” - Malala Yousafzai.
- “All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.” - Samantha Power
- “Every important change in our society, for the good, at least, has taken place because of popular pressure-pressure from below, from the great mass of people.” - Edward Abbey
- “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” - Harriet Tubman
- “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Wiesel
- “Obviously these are some exceptional young people, but what they have in common is that they were ordinary people who cared. They wanted to act, to do something, to make life better for other people—and they have.” - Morgan Carroll
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - A guide to accompany the reading of this nonfiction account of one attorney's journey to acquit innocent Black men on death row.
Say Something by Peter Reynolds - A guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this book for all ages. Choose from activities and discussion questions to spark youth voice and small actions to respond to issues they care about.
Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen - A guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book and build understanding of working together for positive change.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas - The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions to build understanding of the idea of social justice and what it means in the world in which they are living.