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A New Year’s Resolution

January 6, 2012

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions and I generally spurn the notion up until December 31 rolls around, when it’s suddenly hard for me to resist the urge to declare some cliche intention to eat better, exercise more, reduce my stress, etc.  So this year I started some resolution planning in advance and decided to make the New Year’s resolution process more meaningful.

I’m on a variety of lists which send me e-mails periodically about some bill I should call my Senator about or a funding decision being made in a committee that my U.S. Representative is a key member of.  Or it could be asking me to sign a petition, write a letter to the editor, post something to my facebook page or even perhaps, come out to volunteer to call voters or go door to door talking to my neighbors.  There was a time when my response rate to these requests was fairly good, but that is no longer the case.  As much as I believe in the power of advocacy, I seem to have a lot more excuses these days – I’m already doing my fair share, I’m way too busy to do this, I’m just one person, my voice doesn’t matter, we’re not going to win on this issue anyway.

And so, my resolution this year is to no longer listen to the nay-saying voices in my head and remember what I know to be true.  Policy advocacy is absolutely essential to bringing positive change to this world.  As much as the individual programs and services that our community delivers matter, ultimately we are limited by the resources that are available, the priorities established by those in power, and the framework of laws that govern how we do are work.  As to my excuses, it’s simply not true that I don’t have the time to make a five minute phone call.  It’s also not true that one person doesn’t make a difference.  To quote Margaret Mead, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  And as to the notion that this particular effort doesn’t stand a chance, there were many who said that at one time about women’s suffrage, civil rights, gays serving openly in the military and pretty much every other social justice issue that has ever ultimately found success.

We know that real change is possible through legislative advocacy (AB12!).  And while much has been accomplished, there is still much to do.  Efforts to reform the foster care system and improve the lives of foster youth are far from over. Further, there must be new resources in place for all young people who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness.  And while preventing youth homelessness is essential, what about the social systems and systematic poverty that underlie youth homelessness, child abuse and other social woes?

There is clearly much to be done and it can be overwhelming so I’ve decided to start small. When I get a request, I will ask myself the question “can I do this in 5 minutes or less?”  If the answer is no, I will give myself a break for now, but if the answer is yes, I will do what I’m being asked.  I’ll work my way up from there.  My favorite list personally (other than the JBF list of course) is the weekly newsletter and advocacy alert published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  They have a campaign dedicated to ending youth homelessness along with their other broader anti-homelessness efforts and often have concrete “asks” that can make a difference.  So I do hope you’ll join me in the effort to add a little more advocacy work to the already tremendous work that you are doing and together, we will make an even bigger difference in the year ahead.

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