Youth Perspectives on Social Justice: Allyship and Advocacy
September 18, 2022
Allyship and advocacy are two words that are often used interchangeably but they have very different meanings. While both concepts refer to individuals becoming civically engaged by supporting initiatives that align with their values, they differ in terms of the type and amount of support they expect an individual to provide. It is therefore important that young people learn the difference between the two concepts so that they can identify the nature of their actions as well as those of others.
In an article by the global non-profit Catalyst allyship is defined as the process of actively supporting people from marginalized groups. An example of an initiative that has many allies is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. This is demonstrated by the fact that on June 2nd, 2020, following the brutal murders of black individuals such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor many people chose to post black squares on social media to demonstrate their support for the BLM movement.
When distinguishing advocacy from allyship Catalyst discusses how the former involves proactively taking action and building relationships within and across groups to drive positive, structural change on a systemic issue. When looking for societal examples of advocacy, we can look to the BLM movement again. This is because, while millions of people were posting black squares on social media platforms, a smaller yet powerful force of individuals were taking to the streets and protesting in an attempt to change the ways that government and law enforcement treat black individuals. For example, an article from the New York Times discusses how the protests peaked on June 6th, 2020, when half a million people turned out at just short of 550 places across the U.S.
While allyship is an excellent way to provide a basic level of support to marginalized groups, advocacy takes this support to a new level and facilitates the possibility for significant, positive change. Although being an advocate often requires more time and effort than being an ally, it is a rewarding experience and a great way for young people to ensure their voices are heard. I would therefore encourage every young person to find a cause they are truly passionate about and start taking steps toward becoming an advocate. Below are two of my top tips for doing so:
Find a bill you support then call your congressional leaders
Upon first glance, contacting the offices of your senators and representatives can seem daunting, but a phone call can take as little as two minutes and is extremely effective at prompting your leaders to support the bill you care about. This is because congressional offices keep track of how many people in their district support a bill, and senators and representatives are more likely to back it themselves if a number of their constituents do. You can explore legislation by going to the bills introduced section of Congress.gov and finding bills you support. From here, the next step is to find out who your leaders are. Each state has two senators, and, alongside this, you will have one representative for the congressional district in which you reside. You can then look for your leader's phone numbers, which can typically be found on their official websites. The final step is then to call your leaders and let them know that you would like them to support the bill you have chosen.
Join a club or organization that will help support you in your journey to becoming an advocate
Joining a club can be a great way to meet like-minded people as well as find opportunities to support an initiative you are passionate about. Many communities have organizations that allow members to become an advocate, though, if you are a high school or college student, you can also explore clubs at your school and see if any organizations will help you become an advocate for a cause you support. During my sophomore year of college, I joined the Amnesty International Club. This aided me on my journey to becoming an advocate for those facing human rights abuses across the globe. Before joining the club, I followed the work of Amnesty International on my social media platforms and occasionally shared their content. However, within a few months of joining the club, I found myself writing letters to national governments about human rights abuses within their borders, as well as organizing and participating in tabling events at my school. In this short space of time, I transformed myself from an ally to an advocate thanks to the support of those around me. With the help of a nurturing group that supports an initiative you believe in you could make this transition too!
"Allyship and Advocacy at Work: 5 Key Questions Answered (Blog Post)". (2021, October 14th). Catalyst. https://www.catalyst.org/2021/10/14/allyship-advocacy-questions-answered/
Buchanan, L., Qouctrung, B. & Patel, J. (2020, July 3rd). Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest movement in U.S. History. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html
Legislation. (n.d.). Congess.gov. Retrieved September 2nd, 2022 from