North Carolina Ministries Learn Advocacy Skills

Megan Nerz Features

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 60 persons attended training on social justice advocacy facilitated by JPIC animator Russell Testa.  The training which took place from Nov. 11 to Nov. 12  was co-sponsored by the newly-formed Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace and the Holy Name Province Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

Russ presented an overview of the various aspects to advocacy, focusing on coalition building, advocacy skills such as letter writing, media message and outreach, and setting winnable goals.  A consistent theme was the importance of putting a number of different tactics and plans together into a coherent strategy that can pass legislation on a national, state or local level.

“In the end, it comes down to building and projecting enough power so that elected officials will want to agree with us,” Russ said. “For persons wanting to follow a Franciscan spirit, the use of power has a special approach. As ones who approach life from the point of view of the lesser ones, it is incumbent upon us to use the power we build and possess with extra care to enhance all of humanity, even those who might be considered opponents to our efforts.”

On Saturday, attendees were divided into three discussion groups: death penalty moratorium, immigration reform and health care reform in North Carolina.  There were four components that each group worked on and reported on in the process of “learning by doing.”  The morning program, following prayer, began with a look at the elements needed to develop winnable strategies.  In particular, participants had to define specifically what was to be accomplished (e.g., pass a  two-year death penalty moratorium in North Carolina by the end of the legislative session; pass legislation to allow North Carolina high school graduates without citizenship documentation to attend public universities and pay in-state tuition).

Participants looked at what steps were needed to achieve this goal, identifying persons to convince and allies with whom to build coalitions, as well as what additional information would be needed to succeed.  The next component of the program invited the participants to look at with whom and how they might build a robust coalition, both within their ministries and with other partners, to express the power needed to achieve the desired change.

After lunch, the work involved the development of “frames and messages” with which to present the desired change goal to various audiences and through various media.  Each group used a method that invited them to develop a primary message with three supporting statements and data.

According to Russ, “this ‘message triangle’ provides a way to consistently talk about what you want to achieve with a flexibility that can be used in varied audiences.  Next to a coherent and complete strategy, it is one of the most important aspects to being successful in advocacy.”

The final part of the program discussed ways to help participants to get their messages into various media, as well as how to get their desired change to the attention of your elected officials. “Each of these involves specific tactics done at the best, strategic time,” Russ said. “To demonstrate that you are an organized coalition of people with enough power so that they, the elected officials, will see that your interests are their interests.”

He added: “Advocacy is a fine dance, of showing that you are people who are agents of your own history,” Testa said, “But for us, our goals for advocacy as Franciscans, Christians and Catholics, is the transformation of the world in the way that God wants all humans to enjoy, especially persons who are poor or marginalized.”

Participants came from St. Francis of Assisi Church and their new Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace in Raleigh, St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Greensboro, N.C., two other non-Franciscan parishes, and a Baptist Church in the area.

Two of the three issues chosen for the program came out of a process used by the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace to identify issue areas that could inaugurate the Coalition’s efforts in advocacy for this year and next.  The death penalty and immigration have been central issues for the Franciscan church in the past, so it made sense for the parish to move these forward there.

The efforts of this advocacy training also present another example of how Franciscan ministries of Holy Name Province can work regionally to increase their effectiveness in promoting JPIC.

In the photo above, Carol Dellenbacher and Pat Mcllmoyle, parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi Church, discuss their group’s strategy for advocacy action.

Megan Nerz is director of the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C.