Advocacy 101: A How-to on Activism

04.23.18

Kean University students recently learned how to turn their political causes like universal healthcare and pay equality for women into activism, in a step-by-step tutorial from someone who lobbies Congress for a living.

Marissa Sandgren, advocacy manager at the Enough Project, a nonprofit that supports peace and an end to mass atrocities in Africa’s deadliest conflict zones, held a workshop for about 75 students on Thursday, April 19 at the Miron Student Center on ways to engage with congressional representatives on important issues.

“Action doesn’t happen by doing one thing and walking away,” she said. “Activism and organizing is hard work, but they are good work for people who are passionate.”

The workshop was held in recognition of Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month and was sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, which encompasses Kean’s Africana, Asian, Chinese, Jewish, Latin American, and Women’s and Gender Studies programs, as well as a new Global Studies program starting in fall 2018.

“Many of these issues require us to think in civically active ways and engage with our elected leaders,” said Sara Compion, Ph.D., the Center’s director. “We can take action. We have the tools to make a difference.”

Sandgren walked the students through the process of securing, planning and attending an in-district meeting with a congressional representative or U.S. Senator. She encouraged them to fully prepare for the meeting, establish a shared interest with the politician, and make a direct ask for support of a short-term goal.

“Your ask may be as simple as a tweet supporting your cause,” said Sandgren. “Know what your ask will be before going to the meeting, and be direct when you ask for it.”

She also encouraged students to go beyond a thank-you note and establish a long-term relationship with the politician.

“What we are talking about is engaging with people and not being a bystander. We are talking about how to employ our activism in larger ways,” she said. “At a university, you have one of the strongest tools at your fingertips because you have infrastructure to create things, to bring momentum and mobilize people, usually at no cost. You can create a club on campus and create awareness.”

Erica Eyssalenne, a senior political science major from Valley Stream, New York, walked away inspired.

“This opened my eyes,” Eyssalenne said. “I didn’t realize how just one passionate person can make a change in their state or district. I didn’t think anyone would listen. I learned that if you really want to make a change, don't just sit around complaining – go out and do something. We can make the change.”

Photo Caption:  Marissa Sandgren, advocacy manager at Enough Project, held an advocacy workshop at the Miron Student Center last week.

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