MIDDLETOWN — You become an advocate when you declare to the world that you stand for something and believe in a cause. Advocacy takes many forms, from posting your thoughts on your social media page, writing to your legislator, or bringing a friend to volunteer with you.
The role of advocacy in an organization is not always simple. Taking a stance on an issue and bringing attention to injustices is something we at the Middlesex United Way take seriously, and we think you should, too.
This week’s column is a guest column written by Ed Carter from Able Futures, discussing the importance of having representation and advocacy opportunities in public offices.
When considering a run for public office, there are several things to keep in mind. The road to holding public office is long, slow and arduous, but there are genuine treasures at the end of this journey if your campaign is successful. Being in the position to be able to fight for the rights of people you represent is a wonderful feeling — maybe the whole reason you’re considering a run for office in the first place.
People with disabilities aren’t well-represented in the U.S. government, even though they make up one in four Americans. We need more people with disabilities in public office, because, as advocates for accessibility and inclusion, they have concrete impacts on disability policy.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan the stops on your journey to public office:
Establish your platform early
The National Council on Independent Living tracks the number of candidates with disabilities in the U.S. in its accessible (and public) database, noting that running for office is a great way to obtain better visibility for underrepresented groups of people and getting their issues in front of elected officials. Formulating a clearly defined policy platform is a great way to enumerate a community’s concerns (for example, the challenges facing the community of people with disabilities), and request or facilitate government action on their behalf.
It’s an even more important part of a political campaign, as you need to have unified messaging about your goals and desires as a political candidate — something for your potential constituents to identify with.
Volunteer in your community
As a person running for political office, you need to ensure that you are maintaining visibility within your constituent groups. One way to do that is to seek out volunteer opportunities in your area. This is a great way to put your finger on the pulse of the community’s needs, better understand the folks you’ll be representing, and earn some positive points from them as well.
After all, political campaigns are often won based on your standing in the community. You could have the best policy platform in the country, but you need to be a likeable, relatable candidate as well in order to succeed.
Gather the right team
Your team will be the backbone of your campaign. This group should consist of folks who know you well, and can evangelize about your strengths, as well as people who know how to run political campaigns. Bare minimum, you need a campaign manager, someone to handle money, volunteer coordinator and communications person.
Gather people around you who believe in you and your mission, because you will be spending a lot of time with them in the coming months. Make sure they’re trustworthy, hard working, and representative of the diversity of the community you’re going to represent.
You will also need to have translators on your team. These folks, who should include someone with American Sign Language fluency and Spanish fluency at the minimum, can help you get your campaign in front of nonEnglish-speaking people and will present a more diverse team. Finding the best Spanish translator (or any other language) via online job boards is simple, and you have the opportunity to weigh the cost and experience right there from the website. Don’t neglect this step!
The road is long, but the end is worth it. Once you have a platform, team, and your list of bona fides, you will be in a better position to launch a successful campaign and add your voice to the chorus of those tasked with making Americans’ lives better. Good luck!
Ed Carter is a retired financial planner.