Real Change Through Advocacy

— by Deirdre Sommerlad-Rogers, Ph.D.

Not to change and grow is to begin our decline, whether that is on an individual or a societal level. And the only way that we can effectively make real change in society is by organizing and advocating for that change. Advocacy starts with understanding power and the power structures in our communities. Changing systems includes understanding the history of those, how the current systems work, what methods will get results, and how to bring people together over making that change. We must examine how it impacts those who it targets and how does it impact those it benefits. We must unpack the hidden and the uncomfortable, shin the light on them and make them known to all rather than just residing in the back of our psyche to not be considered and critiqued.

For example, if we look at race, racism, and racial structures we need to talk about what is white, what is the history of whiteness, who is white and who is not and when and how do you become white. In the 1600s, dominate land owning white males began the process of excluding blacks and natives through the legal system. They decided what percentage of “colored blood” one must have in order to be white. This kind of thinking set the stage for social inequalities along racial line that impact us today!

We can look at the history of Paganism in the US as a sort of case study. We have been hesitant to talk about our Paganism. What do we need to do in order to finish coming out of our broom closet and being considered an equal spiritual path in our country? Why aren’t we claiming our rights? Why are we afraid? What are the reasons for our remaining hidden? Why is it that Pagans are not as accepted as Christians are in America? What are the consequences if we are open and out about our spiritual path? What institutional and social obstacles help keep us in this position?

We self-regulate, buying into the idea that we must stay in our place. We have seen the same thing with women and other groups which have experienced discrimination. What better way to ensure that a population stays submissive than to get them to regulate themselves. Why would a marginalized religion like Paganism be any different. The mythos of burning times can be even more powerful than the reality.

If you want to change someone’s understanding of your spiritual path or religion, you must first understand their history, how your spirituality and difference from them fits into their whole world. This is very daunting. An individual is shaped by their institutions, society and history. Meaningful change begins when we have begun the journey of understanding these issues on that broader scale. I like to start advocacy teaching by talking about the basic principles of how to engage and think about this whole process. I have students interview folks in their community who are doing advocacy and change work in their community, a powerful experience just in itself. Before going out there in a leadership or even chaplaincy role, I believe that understanding how to engage in advocacy is crucial.

Deirdre Sommerlad-Rogers holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees Psychology and Sociology, and her Ph.D. in Sociology with minors in Women’s Studies and Social Psychology.  Her areas of focus and teaching have included criminal justice, inequalities, and social construction