Why the Activist Community of Kansas City Must Be Dismantled...and Replaced with Radical Democracy, Part 2

Cecil E. Wattree, LCSW, LSCSW - Guest Columnist

File photo of 2021 protests in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo by Brynn Fitzsimmons

Confusion Regarding Types of Advocacy

9/1/2021 - Kansas City, Missouri

By Guest Columnist Cecil E. Wattree, LCSW, LSCSW

Note: This post is part of a series reflecting on the current activist and organizing work happening in Kansas City. The goal of these posts is to provide constructive feedback and frameworks for more effective organizing and activist work. You can read part one here.

Activists tend to confuse or create confusion for others regarding advocacy. There are three types of advocacy: self advocacy (micro-level advocacy), individual advocacy (mezzo-level advocacy) and systems advocacy (macro-level advocacy).

Van Reusen states that self-advocacy refers to an individual's ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights (1994). In individual advocacy a person or group of people concentrate their efforts on just one or two individuals. According to the group Advocacy for Inclusion, "Advocacy is having someone to stand beside you if you think something is unfair or that someone is treating you badly and you would like to do something to change it."

There are two common forms of individual advocacy: informal and formal advocacy. When people like parents, friends, family members or agencies speak out and advocate for vulnerable people this is termed informal advocacy. Formal advocacy more frequently involves organizations that pay their staff to advocate for someone or for a group of individuals. Systems advocacy is about changing policies, laws or rules that impact how someone lives their life. These efforts can be targeted at a local, state, or national agency. The focus can be changing laws, or simply written or unwritten policy. What is targeted depends on the type of problem and who has authority over the problem (Brain Injury Resource Center, 1998).

These types of advocacy separates the defining terms of the activist and the organizer. Activists only work in self advocacy and individual advocacy. An organizer however, works in systemic advocacy, they must plan and organize the change or dismantlement of systemic oppression.

Without insight to history, or the practice of systemic oppression or simply not “playing the tape through” regarding calls to action, the local activists have proven themselves to promote triangulation between themselves, the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressed do have power and a voice but struggle to use them. The oppressor is the one who oppresses the oppressed. It could include allowing the oppressed to experience the natural consequences of the oppressor's choices or behaviors.

Within triangulation, the activists swoop in and take care of the problem of the oppressed – but at the same time ensures the oppressed never finds their own voice or personal power as they become more concerned about their own comfortability with action rather than that of the oppressed or the problem of the oppressed.

An example of this would be planning an action without adhering or establishing boundaries around the action with those you are in solidarity with, and ending up advocating for understanding regarding the behaviors of others as well as yourself rather than the families and the community that you are supposed to be advocating for.

In short, the activist acts. The activist is in movement space but often gives or follows directions of a collective often not understanding the ramifications and strategy of their actions related to having a politic (ideology or their ‘why’ regarding advocacy).They struggle to operate from a scientific mindset, settling with attempting to convince others that they are justified in their actions and are willing to sacrifice transparency and accountability for their own comfort.

On the other hand, the organizer has a scientific mindset. The organizer understands that no innovative act ever happens without failure, and they acknowledge failure to ensure effective action. That the debriefing and acknowledgement of relapse in the stages of change trying to be addressed cannot be addressed with ego but centering direction on changing policies, laws or rules that impact the oppressed as the overall goal with SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific) objectives.

The more definite difference is that the organizer analyses actions, both positive and negative, to move more efficiently.

The activist currently operates from zero sum, with a preacher, politician, and/or prosecutor mindset: trying to simply tell others they are right or convince others what is right.

It's not about being right, but getting it right.

That is the difference. The individual who is both activist and organizer is the true revolutionary regardless of role or position. Most of all, they understand the why, the how, and the what, in that order.

In order for the activists to transition to organizer, they must first be self aware. In the next part of this series, I will discuss how the inability to be self aware causes transference and countertransference with the advocate and the oppressed.