You’re nervous about advocacy? We are too!
You’re nervous about advocacy? We are too!
For many CARE advocates, holding meetings in Congressional offices is a brand new experience. While a few newcomers might think that speaking up among powerful people about foreign affairs, legislative issues and CARE’s work is a breeze; for many, it’s anxiety provoking, terrifying stuff. We’d wager there might be more advocates in the latter camp than the former because we get nervous too. You’re among friends. Those of us who advocate for humanitarian assistance tend to be sensitive folk who care a lot and feel things deeply. Feeling nervous is what we do!
Brenda Rose lives in Vancouver, WA and could be described as a card-carrying introvert with extreme shyness credentials. She’s donated to CARE for a decade, but she’s only been advocating for two years and Brenda says, “It’s about the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing.”
Brenda shares her story:
The year I turned 40, I wanted to take on a big personal challenge, though I wasn’t sure what that would be. I certainly didn’t think it would be to become a volunteer foreign assistance lobbyist. I’m a designer, preschool teacher and an artist with two little boys and I co-own a couple of small businesses with my husband, but speaking to any group where the average age is over four-years-old just isn’t my thing. I’ve always been terrified of public speaking, no matter how many people are present. Speaking up in any group situation makes me extremely anxious. My voice shakes and I get emotional. It’s a mess.
When my aunt asked me to join her and CARE at an in-district meeting with my Congresswoman, I intended to say, “No!” but it came out “yes.” I decided this was the big challenge I needed. I had no intention of actually speaking during the meeting, but I was willing to show up as a constituent. The meeting was only a few days away and I was a nervous wreck the whole time. I studied everything I could about CARE’s mission and issues and brushed up on my high-school civics. I wrote it all out, practiced introducing myself and tried my best to become as well informed as I could. Even though I planned on only saying my name and letting other advocates do the talking (which I later realized is a totally legitimate advocacy option for people even shyer than me), I wanted to understand the issues thoroughly.
When Brenda joined a few other CARE supporters at her Congresswoman’s office a few days later to talk about women’s empowerment, maternal health and food security, she took her seat at the table for what was to become the first of many meetings.
I was terribly anxious. I took my notes with me because I was sure that if I had to say anything, I’d forget my facts. I didn’t notice everybody was carrying notes. I thought I was the only one with the nerves. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I felt myself freezing up with anxiety. I said my name and my lip trembled, my hands shook and I could have shut down. But I didn’t. I took a breath, slowed down and said what I came to say. I spoke for several minutes and never once looked at my notes. I literally found my voice. I participated in an entire conversation about critical foreign affairs issues with experienced advocates and Congressional staffers. It was awesome!
When the meeting was over, I understood what empowerment really means and after that, I was all in. I attended my first CARE conference a few weeks later and held eight meetings on Capitol Hill in one day along with a team of other advocates and CARE staff. I joined a selected fellowship of CARE advocates from key congressional districts on a learning tour to Benin and spent the following year deeply immersed in advocacy training and events. I’m now coming up on my third CARE conference and over this past year, I’ve developed a level of self-confidence and sense of purpose I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified of public speaking and I’ll still be the last to speak up in any group, but I know that when I have something important to say, my voice won’t shake. I know that what I have to say is important and that CARE has my back.
If Brenda’s story sounds something like yours, let us just reiterate: We get it. You’re among friends. All of us are nervous. We all know the stakes are high, but those of us who’ve done this a while also know that the most important part of effective advocacy is simply showing up. Like Brenda, you carry your notes, say your name, speak your piece and know that if your voice should falter, other members of your CARE team will support you. We’ve got you! You’ve got this.
Before you attend your meeting on CARE’s behalf, spend some time on Advocate U to brush up on the basics. Your regional advocacy coordinator will make sure you have all the background information and talking points you need. Give them a good read, jot a few notes if that helps to solidify your message and then bring everything you’ve got to your meeting. If that includes a case of nerves, a big dose of courage and a compassionate heart – all the better! That’s what it takes to be an effective advocate.
By Ellen Carmichael, Deputy Director of Citizen Advocacy