By Alli Weiss, JWI Intern
JWI kicked off its ninth annual Summer Series for interns and young professionals Tuesday morning with aspiring campus advocates in mind. Part one of the three part series of breakfast roundtables, entitled “So You Want to Be an Activist…Lessons from the Field,” gave the nearly 40 young women present some real-life tips about the world of grassroots advocacy on college campuses. Speakers at the breakfast briefing currently thrive in positions at Advocates for Youth, American Association of University Women, and Campus Progress.
Each of the three speakers gave her own take on successful advocacy, focusing on a specific facet she has found effective in her years working with college students. Julia Reticker Flynn, the youth activist network manager at Advocates for Youth, explained the importance of focusing an advocacy initiative on a problem that is not too narrow but not so deeply rooted that a change will never be tangible. Comparing social issues to the parts of a tree, Flynn defined the leaves as identifiable problems that can be solved with “Band-Aid solutions”, the roots as “underlying historical, social, or economic root causes of a problem,” and the trunk as the “structures, practices, and polices that institutionalize the problems.” According to Flynn, focusing a campaign around the “trunk” of a problem is one’s best bet at a prosperous movement.
Deborah Swerdlow, grassroots advocacy coordinator at AAUW, emphasized the importance of working in coalitions with “unusual suspects,” or groups on campus that a cause wouldn’t typically think to collaborate with. Swerdlow also spoke about finding a natural hook, such as a date or holiday, to prompt individuals to take part in an initiative.
Campus Progress’ advocacy manager, Katie Wilson, began her presentation with an uplifting personal story, explaining that using empathy and sharing personal stories can create long-lasting connections. Wilson highlighted the usage of empathy as a means for forming bonds, explaining that personal connections formed through similarities can help a movement gain momentum.
Inspired by these speakers? Want to join in on the female empowerment with other young professionals? Be sure to join JWI for our next two Summer Series workshops, “Becoming a Professional in Washington, DC” on July 9 and “Personal Economic Empowerment for Young Women” on July 23.