I’m thinking a lot about advocacy lately because I’m frustrated by feeling mistreated by some big, powerful players (NYAW, PSC, LIPA) and concerned about how we will meet the challenges of drugs, traffic, toxins in our environment, over-development, maintaining our excellent public schools, all while affording to live here.
Advocacy is working to support something you believe in that is bigger than just you. Being bigger than just you, advocacy is about connecting to other people. It is about finding common ground and shared values and joining together to support what we together care about.
It’s really easy to disagree. It’s really easy to find differences between ourselves and others. Our society is competitive, which demands distinction and separation. Resources feel scarce which supports concerns like “do I have enough?” over concerns such as “is it fair to everyone?” Corporate and political power structures are obscure making accountability difficult and greediness easy.
In this community, we don’t have anyone rich enough or powerful enough to change our situations with NYAW or LIPA or stop unchecked development in Glen Cove or unfunded mandates imposed on our schools or drug overdoses or clean our Harbor or make our streets safer. The power we have is in each other and the potential for us to come together around any or all of these shared values and advocate for fair water prices, fair taxation, responsible development, fair funding of our schools, the end of death by opioid overdose, clean water, and safe streets.
None of these situations happened by accident. NYAW will not lower our rates because it is the “right thing to do.” LIPA will not pay their taxes because it is “fair.” RXR will not stop building high-density developments because they care about the environmental impact. Drug dealers (corporate, FDA-approved and otherwise) will not stop selling drugs because people are dying. People will not drive more safely because we are upset that they are not driving safely. Traffic will not diminish because it bothers us.
To change these situations we are going to have to be smart, resourceful, strategic and together. We will need to use the power we have when we stand together on an issue, when we stand together for each other, for the healthiness, goodness and wholeness of our community. Many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that someone else is watching out for our interests. Who is that? The CEO of NYAW? The Public Service Commission? The state senators that approved the appointment of the PSC Commissioners? The drug companies? The drug dealers? The police? LIPA? RXR? Our elected officials? Who is looking out for our interests and do they have conflicts of interest that have caused them to sell us out on any of these issues?
The list is overwhelming and it can be overwhelming to think about pushing back against all those interests. Advocacy is not a quick fix. It takes time, focus, organization, persistence. But advocacy does work, which is why the best communities, the strongest, healthiest communities are engaged communities. National and international crises may seem so drastic and dramatic (and certainly get more media coverage) than what happens within 3 miles of your house, but you have a much greater chance of having any impact at all by being involved locally — right here, right now.
You don’t have to be Erin Brockovich to be an advocate. North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse (NS CASA), Committee for a Sustainable Waterfront (CSW), and North Shore Schools Legislative Action Committee (LAC) are some of our hyper-local advocacy groups researching, strategizing, organizing and mobilizing people to defend our rights, make our community safer, cleaner, our schools properly funded and more. Check out these groups (follow the links above) – read about the issues, contribute, participate. It will take some of your time, but it doesn’t have to be much. Spend a few minutes reading these websites to understand what they do and then stay in touch and participate when asked.
Advocacy can be just that much – being aware and informed and participating by writing or calling when asked. When decision-makers – elected and appointed officials, agency heads, corporate developers — are first challenged by organized communities they often have more money and power to invest in getting their way. They hope the people’s bonds will be weak. But time and again when communities have stood together, they have been able to push back the powerful and rich who seek more power and money at the people’s expense.
Do you think we can be this kind of strong, healthy community? What do you think holds people back from getting involved in advocacy efforts? How would you like to be involved? How do you see our community addressing these issues?