One of the most defeating aspects of advocacy that I have experienced during my college career is the moment when you see a problem, recognize the need for change, but no one seems to care. People grow tired of your rants, and people do not want to be preached to on the issues. So how is anyone supposed to enact any sort of positive change on both small and large scales? This daunting task is what scares many people away from advocacy and activism in the first place. I’ll admit, most of my qualms about entering a semester dedicated to the study of genocide was the sheer scope of the issue and how horrifying and heartbreaking it is. Who am I to change this global humanitarian crisis? While it is beneficial to have this large gestalt view of the problem in the back of your mind, it is important to realize that change does not occur overnight. It doesn’t even occur over years. But by breaking activism down into bites that you can chew, you can become a piece of the movement that leads to larger systemic and policy changes that will eliminate the gross persecution of others by genocide and displacement.

Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard is considered the new “bible” of implementing organizational change. The book outlines an eight step model that helps organizations create lasting and powerful change in culture and outcomes. While the authors Chip and Dan Heath may not have intended their literature to be used in the world of advocacy, their model becomes a very useful tool in creating advocacy that works and persuades people to change. The model is as follows:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create the guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Communicate the change vision
  5. Empower employees for broad based action
  6. Generate short term wins
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture

The first step of this model becomes very important in creating advocacy. For many Americans, genocide and refugee issues are worlds away from their frame of reference and everyday experiences. This is not something that we should make our peers and community members feel guilty about, but rather we should educate them that this is an issue that is happening now. There are multiple ways we can instill that sense of urgency in our communities. Our culture is governed by the clock, and time is a cruel master. By assigning time specific data (for example, data about how many lives are lost in one minute, how many days a person has been in a refugee camp, how much longer a person has to live), people may begin to wrap their head around the severity of the issue and understand that it is not an issue that is only seen in history books. Creating a guiding coalition and establishing a vision and strategy are crucial for organizations and people who wish to be involved in refugee advocacy. Creating a community, or a home base, of invested individuals who are passionate about change is key. These people will be able to share the vision and strategy out with the world, multiplying the amount of involvement. This communication of the change vision is so challenging, as our class has witnessed in our attempts to blog and tweet and insta and share the issues across the web to our circles of influence. Unfortunately, as students we are in a stage of our life where everyone wants everyone to donate to their gofundme, come to their proceeds night, and read their blog about xyz social issue. It is amazing that we are immersed in a college community that embraces civic duty, but this can mean many of the “unpopular” issues, such as genocide, are pushed to the wayside. The sixth element of the model also stands out as effective in an advocacy setting. Short term wins make people feel good when the battle for justice feels like an uphill hike both ways through the snow. We can broadcast and celebrate the victories, communicating that there is hope! We are getting closer to putting ourselves out of a job! The last element also presents an interesting way to think of change. Have we been going about advocacy in ways that are counter-productive? What would really make people listen? What works? What doesn’t work? How can we change the culture of the advocacy experience in order to help those we are trying to empower?

These are all great issues to consider as our class moves forward with our small pieces of community outreach and advocacy. As stated in other posts, the wonderful JANY DENG will travel across the country to talk to JMU students about the Lost Boys of Sudan, his journey from Sudan, to Ethiopia, to Phoenix, and the current state of South Sudan and possible solutions to civil war and humanitarian crises. Check it out! April 23rd at 5:00pm!



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