Thoughts on (campus) advocacy, part 2

Here is 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. 

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 started as a chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (a AIDS advocacy network composed maily of branches at secular universities), and called itself SGAC, but was technically a member of Acting on AIDS as well.  We often found ourselves trying to delicately chart our own way, attempting to avoid the pitfalls we saw in one or both groups.  I remember having a conversation with another member of the Wheaton group, and expressing our frustration with the fact that the Acting on AIDS leadership wanted us to focus on fundraising — or, as it seemed to us, to come up with all kinds of money that we just didn’t have. 

Our group had a lot of success with many of our initiatives, from political advocacy, to education, to service projects,  but fundraising was consistently difficult.  As my friend put it,  it just didn’t seem fair that we were supposed to be focusing on giving money when many of us were accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt just by being in college.  We had time, passion, and access to outstanding educational and institutional resources…it sometimes seemed like we were being asked for the one thing we didn’t have.  It just didn’t seem like a good use of resources at that stage in our lives. 

When engaging an issue, I think it’s extremely important to consider what your best contribution can be.  You have to consider what is feasible for you (as an individual or a group), and where you can shine.  You won’t be able to do everything that could or should be done.  You have to focus your efforts in a way that makes sense.  Your focus — your style of advocacy — might change as your life changes. 

Say you want to make a difference for a cause. One option is raising money for an organization that provides related services.  When you’re a college student who has to keep a nervous eye on a growing pile of student loans, fundraising might not be the most practical approach. But say that twenty years later you’ve got a well-paying job, lots of friends and connections who also make decent money, and a career that has taught you how to sell an idea.  Now you’re in a great position to jump into fundraising.  The same type of logic could work for all sorts of other approaches to advocacy and social involvement. 

All that is to say, I think World Vision might have hit on a strategy better suited to the college student demographic by moving some of its focus to political advocacy from fundraising.  It seems like this shift has been evolving for a while, and it will be interesting to see how it works out.  Hopefully this new group will excel in whatever they decide to do, and make a real difference for people dealing with poverty and injustice around the world, and bring God glory as they do so.

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

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

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