Presence is Everything
By Amina Donna Kruck
I got into advocacy just by showing up.
I had recently been hired by Ability360 (ABIL at that time) to help coordinate the home modification and peer mentor programs. My supervisor sent me down to a Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) hearing to testify about the need for and value of peer mentoring for people with disabilities. I did not consider myself an advocate and I had little trust in government at the time. After growing up very patriotic in the San Francisco Bay area, in the 60s, I became disillusioned after the riots at San Francisco State and the assassination of Martin Luther King, President John and his brother Bobby Kennedy. I had moved to Washington state without electricity and running water to “live off the land.” I was not that good at doing so. After my daughter was born, I moved back to mainstream society, completed a couple of college degrees, worked my way off Social Security disability benefits and landed at Ability360.
I testified at that MAG hearing and as a result, they changed the Social Service budget and allocated funds to support our peer mentor program. That was 27 years ago! I have been advocating ever since.
There are many ways to advocate, and advocates come with a variety of personalities and styles.
I was always the person that spoke up if I heard others saying they wanted to do something but wouldn’t ask. One of the best advocates I ever knew was the soft-spoken Pam Allen. She often sounded unsure or confused, but would always do her homework on an advocacy issue and would work on legislative candidate campaigns. As a result, she had the ear of several legislators who knew her by name. Back in 2001 when we were trying to pass the bill to create the AHCCCS Freedom to Work healthcare program for working Arizonans with disabilities, Pam had the ear of the Speaker of the House at the legislature and was able to help him understand the benefits to our economy. He was key in helping us pass that bill.
I get calls from people wanting to be advocates. Where do they start?
My answer: “Start by taking action on what matters to you.” Get linked in to social media like Facebook or Ability360’s Empower Advocacy Email Alerts to find out about current issues and advocacy opportunities. Get involved with an interest group that matters to you. Join the Arizona Disability Coalition, for instance.
There are some traits that are important for effective advocacy:
- Honesty and the ability to acknowledge what you know and don’t know;
- Willingness to do research;
- Good listening skills;
- Willingness to ask questions;
- Ability to stay focused– keeping to the message;
- Persistence and practice;
- Willingness to take action – to show up at town halls or hearings to testify; show up by making a phone call or an email or by using the Request to Speak system at the Arizona Legislature.
One thing about me is that I am a show-up girl.
You would be surprised at the amazing things that happen if you just show up! I woke up at four something a.m. this morning and turned on the radio and heard myself being quoted on KJZZ about a bad accessible parking bill. I wasn’t interviewed for the piece. They had used part of my recent public testimony at the legislature.
I love advocates and people who take action, who show up whether they are soft-spoken, scared or self-confident and articulate. I love you all! Want to join us? Presence is everything.