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How to be a changemaker: advice from a career activist

Many of us want to create change in our communities and beyond, but we get stuck on the how. The issues seem too big. Systems are too confusing. And cynicism feels rampant.

But there’s a path forward. Dave Meslin, best-selling author of Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up, offered guidance to our members and guests as part of the Vibrant Voices Advocacy webinar series.

Using stories from his career in activism, Meslin walked participants through how ordinary citizens can turn ideas into action. We’ve included highlights and tips from Meslin’s talk below. The entire recording is available for members in the learning community RTOERO Learning.

Not a member yet? If you work or worked in any part of the education sector in Canada for at least five years, you can join us. Your membership is free until you retire or join our Entente Group Insurance Program. Sign up now to access the webinar and many more member benefits.

9 considerations for effective community advocacy

Advocacy can be empowering, exciting and rewarding. It can also be frustrating, confusing and stressful. These considerations from Dave Meslin unpack how to harness people power and make real progress. 

Change is possible and takes time

If you have an idea to make a place better, change is possible. Throughout history, humans have imagined what’s possible and pushed for change. You can too.

Start local

It’s easier to affect change at the municipal level because there’s no party system within municipal government in most parts of Canada. Municipal change can also be a catalyst for provincial change and, eventually, federal. 

Narrow your focus and make sure you care about the issue

If you have a broad focus, like RTOERO’s advocacy issues of environmental sustainability, senior’s strategy and geriatric healthcare, pick an aspect of the issue to focus on. For example, at the municipal level, you could look at transportation from the lens of both seniors strategy and environmental sustainability—is there something to address in that area? 

Since progress takes time, it’s important that the issue you choose to address is something you’re passionate about. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Have a small core group and opportunities for different types of people

Not everyone wants to spend hours a week organizing. Your core group should be small, but you need to create a broader network that will support you in smaller ways. Some simply want to make a donation or sign a petition. Your movement should include opportunities for all kinds of people to get involved.

Build community using an email list

Email is the cheapest and most effective way to keep your community informed and engaged in your work. You can start with a simple spreadsheet, and as you grow, move to an email service to maintain your list. Stay in touch with relevant, valuable updates, but don’t spam people!

Build endorsements for your work

Endorsements can be helpful because they give you credibility quickly—and that’s important because you don’t always have a lot of time to get someone onside. Endorsements can include other councillors who support the movement, businesses or community leaders/celebrities. 

Learn from other groups and jurisdictions

It’s easier to make progress when there’s already an example of what you’re trying to do. Plus, learning from others will help to generate ideas. You can reach out to other groups and collaborate by sharing ideas and information.

Start small and build an inventory of victories

Since advocacy work is a marathon, it’s helpful to have victories under your belt. It may be wise to pick an issue that will be relatively easy to move forward to get a win before moving on to something more challenging.

Make it fun

Lastly, change-making can be rewarding life-long work, and the best way to harness people power is to make sure it’s fun. Start with something basic like your meetings. Consider where you’re holding events and meetings. Are you in a boring boardroom or lively space? Is there food, music and generally a comfortable, supportive atmosphere?

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