Advocacy (n) The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support. From the Latin: ad = to; and voc = voice: To add voice.
Advocacy. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. dictionary.com (accessed: July 27, 2009).
For over 150 years, the Ladies of Charity USA have been committed to loving and assisting people who are poor. In the beginning of the 21st century, we seek ways to continue the mission of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac, reweaving the fabric of society by partnering with poor people and others in works of charity and justice. Advocacy is a word used to describe some of the ways we extend our efforts beyond serving the immediate needs of the poor. It is associated with perspectives of justice and human rights.
Advocacy can be defined or described as taking the side of the poor and oppressed. It is active, not passive. It is rooted in our love of God or as St. Vincent said, “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.” Advocacy is a word that describes the ways we can effect change, working with people who live in poverty to change not only their personal situation but the systems that have contributed to their personal situation. Advocacy is how we fulfill our mandate to engage in “social” and “political” charity. Advocacy takes many forms.
- Advocacy is giving a person the opportunity to tell her story to us, helping us understand her situation.
- Advocacy is structuring services so that they protect human dignity and making sure they are adequately funded by philanthropic and governmental sources.
- Advocacy is defending the poor against false allegations and stereotypical innuendos of “blaming the victim.”
- Advocacy is educating ourselves and others about the challenges facing the least, the lost and the left out in society.
- Advocacy is gathering data that can be used by policy makers.
- Advocacy is using our votes and our voices in the public square to help people who are poor to achieve basic social, economic and political rights.
- Advocacy is convening policy makers, legislators, and people who are poor to enable and empower poor people to participate and to build better communities.
- Advocacy is giving bread to a hungry person and not being afraid to ask:
- Why are people poor?
- Why do they need this bread?
- What is the most just way to make sure that people have bread—in advocacy language, the basic human right to food?
Central To Our Mission
St. Vincent de Paul loved the poor and he understood power. His methodology was to reconcile the needs of poor people by enlisting the help of poor themselves, others willing to be trained in their care (Confraternities, Ladies of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity) and the rich and powerful. He was a forceful and creative advocate. He spoke about the needs of poor people to all, he conceptualized creative solutions, and he was zealous in his willingness to take a case or an issue to the highest level of government, Church or society, if it would benefit his beloved poor.
Vincent de Paul said “Charity embraces Justice.” In other words, we can not give in charity what a person is rightfully entitled to in justice. Pope Benedict in his first encyclical identified Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, among others, as saints who exercised charity in an exemplary way. He called them “lasting models of social charity for all people of good will” and “true bearers of light within history”, two of the “men and women of faith, hope and love”. Deus Caritas Est (40) Advocacy is linking our faith with justice.
Advocacy Is Organization
In the regulations for the Charity of Women (Chatillon-les Dombes), it is noted “that the poor suffered more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons.” (CCD 13b, 8) The real key to understanding Vincent as an advocate is that Vincent saw the world from the perspective of vulnerable people, saw Christ in the people who are poor or sick, and believed that their care must be organized. He was concerned about the organization of the society of his time. He strongly believed that persons living in poverty should not receive in charity what was due them in justice. His faith was the core of his sense of justice.
Advocacy Is Empowerment
St. Vincent wrote to the Ladies of Charity, “The liberty and dignity of the person helped must be respected with the greatest sensitivity… the aid contributed should be organized in such a way that beneficiaries are gradually freed from their dependence on others and become self supporting….” (Meeting with the Ladies of Charity: Report of the state of their works. “ July 11, 1657). Some of the ways we can empower people we serve is by including them in conversations and relationship building with their legislators and in the planning of programs and projects. People are empowered helping them to develop skills and to take opportunities to speak for themselves and thus determine their future.