My advocacy journey began back in March, 2004 when I was elected to the City Council in Apopka, Florida. After beating a sixteen year incumbent by only five votes in my first election, I was successfully re-elected four years later, earning almost seventy percent of the votes. It was one of the greatest honors in my life to serve the people of this city. It is because of their support and trust I was able to find my passion for advocacy and build a successful career teaching others the lessons I’ve learned.
Having never served in public office, when first elected, it was obvious I had a lot to learn. Suddenly I was making decisions with a group of relative strangers that had much more experience than I. We were deciding on issues such as economic growth, measures for environmental protection, expanding our transportation network, improving our infrastructure and approving a multi-million dollar budget…just to name a few.
Advocacy was not even on my radar. However, it didn’t take long to learn how often decisions made by our state legislators had an impact on our city. That’s when I knew I had to get involved or at the very least make sure those I was trying to influence understood more about my cause. But success as an advocate required more than just a desire and a realization that something had to be done. It required a strategy.
One thing I learned the hard way when I first got engaged in advocacy was I couldn’t do it alone and I couldn’t do it without a plan. After a few years of frustration, finally I realized there had to be another way, which meant I basically had two choices.
First was to give up and let the chips fall where they may, which could result in devastating consequences for the people in our city. Or it could mean giving up millions of dollars available to help improve the quality of life for our citizens. The second choice was to develop a plan and do something about it! When I thought about this, it became evident this really wasn’t a choice at all.
But first, something had to change. I had to change. To become a successful advocate, meant starting over, admitting what I did wrong and learn from those mistakes. This wasn’t easy, but necessary. The good news is you don’t have to go through the trial and error I did! This book is designed to give you step-by-step strategies you can incorporate into your daily life and become a strong advocate for your community. All while balancing a career, public service and family commitments.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was understanding what had to be done to actually influence leaders. I naively thought that just because I knew them and they knew me and understood my city they would NEVER support any legislation to negatively affect either. Especially after I approached them at the beginning of the legislative session, pointed my finger and instructed “no unfunded mandates this year”! Imagine my surprise (and I say that facetiously) when that didn’t work!
But the real truth was they didn’t really know me or my community as well as I thought. And that was a wake-up call. I had to start over and redefine the relationships I had with those I wanted to influence, and admit they weren’t as strong as I thought.
And here’s another truth. Advocacy takes commitment and the belief that it will make a difference. If you don’t have both, it’s going to be a difficult path to follow. But if you’re at the point where you know you need to get involved but are ready to give up…hang in there. You can get that focus and commitment back to where it needs to be so you can be a successful advocate.
So here’s to advocacy and to your success…may they go hand in hand so you can be the leader who’s making a difference in your community.
Your partner in advocacy…Kathy