Activism

versus

Advocacy

by Tommy O’Connor

“To be an activist is to speak. To be an advocate is to listen. Society cannot move forward without both”

These were the words of then 18-year-old social activist Eva Lewis at her TEDxTeen talk in December of 2017. These words raised the important distinction between activism and advocacy.

Activism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. Throughout this issue of Pulse Magazine, one can find profiles of many activists. These are the people who are actively working to correct injustices they see in the world. Advocacy, on the other hand, is more passive in nature. Being an advocate is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as being one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group.  

Larry Ork, a crew leader for The Food Project, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching youth about activism and social justice based out of Boston, agrees that action is the differentiating factor between activism and advocacy:

“Becoming an activist is the being and performing of what you are advocating for. Being an activist kind of gives this title of leadership, and brings a sense of ownership to the cause; it is being able to own up to what you believe in and being able to stand up for your beliefs.”

Advocates use their voice to speak for those who may not be able to speak for themselves. The titular character of the Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax” is a good example of what an advocate looks like. In the book, the Lorax says he, “speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” By publicly voicing the concerns of those who are unable to, the Lorax demonstrates what it means to be an advocate

To be an advocate means to use your voice and position (whatever that may manifest itself as) to raise awareness for a cause, like the Lorax does. Advocates use their voices even if the cause is not one they are directly affected by.

Ork says in teaching youth about being advocates, it is important to remind them that they are a part of a community and have a responsibility to that community.  

“Advocacy is the act of a collective supporting a common goal for the betterment of a community.”

An important thing to note is that a good advocate restates the goals of the marginalized group, making sure to listen to this group and not try to speak over them.

Activists and advocates need each other. Without activists, advocates would end up like the Lorax, ultimately failing to create any change because their words were easy to ignore. Without advocates, movements would be limited to only those who can take the time to be on the frontlines. There would also be a lack of conversation between sides, and as a result, a lack of understanding where each group is coming from.  

In teaching the next generation of advocates and activists, Ork shows them the quote from Lewis, where he believes that going forward with this advice in mind, activists and advocates can work together to push society forward to a more positive future.

So What’s The Difference?

Activism

  • Takes actions
  • Leads public campaigns to bring about change
  • Visible, you can see people protesting and fighting for their specific concern or cause
  • Famous Examples: Martin Luther King Jr. – 1960s civil rights movement, Malala Yousafzai – female education rights, Rosa Parks – civil rights, Muhammad Ali – civil rights

Advocacy

  • Listens
  • Publicly supports different causes or movements
  • Uses platform to repeat the messages of the particular movement to a wider audience
  • Celebrities/Scientists/Politicians often fall under this category (Ex: Fiona Apple – animal rights, Steven Colbert – immigrants rights, Al Gore – Environmental rights, The Lorax)