Thoughts on (campus) advocacy, part 1

Here’s a pretty slick video promoting World Vision‘s new (and curiously-punctuated) campus organization, ACT:S.    ACT:S is a successor to, and a sort of re-vision of, Acting on AIDS, a WV-driven AIDS advocacy network for Christian colleges. 

World Vision has made an interesting choice in shifting away from a more specific AIDS-oriented program to a more overarching focus on “poverty and injustice.”  In my opinion there’s a lot to be said on both sides of the question this change is addressing.  On the one hand, HIV/AIDS is just one relatively small part of — to put it somewhat crudely — what is wrong with the world.  We can and must care about all varieties of injustice, all causes of human suffering.  Further, AIDS is so connected, so mixed up with all sorts of other issues, it may counterproductive to artifically narrow one’s focus.

On the other hand, it’s hard to grapple with issues all at once, without a fairly well defined central focus.  You may want to be able to follow connections to related issues, but when is a connection so tenuous that it’s in your best interest to leave that issue to someone else?  After all, one person (or group) can only be really competent — in terms of knowledge, understanding, resources, etc. — in so many areas.

I think about these issues a lot in the context of this blog.  I don’t always know where I fall on the spectrum, but I try to avoid both poles (vague social-justicey-ness and mono-focus on HIV/AIDS).  I tend to use my interest in and knowledge of AIDS issues as a sort of central jumping-off point to look at global health and related issues.  Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying that I’m kind of stream-of-consciousness about the issues I address.  Then again, it’s a blog…stream-of-consciousness is pretty much the default mode!

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see how ACT:S addresses these questions.  Different people, groups, and organizations have to find their own balance and approach, and I don’t think there’s just one right answer.  In a way, I think it’s sort of inherent in personality types: some people tend to look more at the big picture, while some tend to “zoom in” more.  There are definitely advantages to both.

It’s also interesting to note that ACT:S is putting a lot of emphasis on “creative activism” and political advocacy.  While this may be an oversimplification, this seems like something of a shift from the initial strategy of Acting on AIDS, which focused very heavily on fundraising.  To me, this movement makes a lot of sense.  I’m sure this differs from school to school, but in my experience Acting on AIDS tended to stumble on the fact that most college students don’t have much money to spare. 

During my time at Wheaton College, I was heavily involved in our campus AIDS group, which was technically a member of both Acting on AIDS and the Student Global AIDS Campaign (a campus AIDS advocacy network composed maily of branches at secular universities, and tended to focus on a confrontational style of activism).  We often found ourselves trying to delicately chart our own way between the two groups and their different emphases, which sometimes seemed like extreme points on a spectrum.  I remember having a conversation with another member of the Wheaton group, and expressing our frustration with the fact that it seemed like Acting on AIDS leadership expected us to be able to come up with all kinds of money that neither we nor anyone we hung out with had.  As my friend put it,  it just didn’t seem fair that we were supposed to be focusing on giving money (rather than on other approaches like political advocacy, education initiatives, or service projects), when many of us were accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt just by being in college.  It just didn’t seem like a good use of our resources at that stage in our lives.

Anyway, all that is to say, I think that, by moving some emphasis away from fundraising and toward advocacy for their campus initiatives, World Vision might have hit on a strategy better suited to the college student demographic.  It seems like this shift has been evolving for a while, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.

>> I continued my reflections on the evolution of ACT:S here.


~ by h.e.g. on November 22, 2009.

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