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A Preface to Advocacy

Below is an excerpt from A Preface to Advocacy: What You Should Know as an Advocate, a guide by Erin Gilmer. You can read the entire document here as a Google doc. Many thanks to Erin for sharing this resource with the Disability Visibility Project!

A Preface to Advocacy: What You Should Know as an Advocate


Erin Gilmer


There are a lot of amazing advocacy toolkits out there that teach people how to advocate. They include tools to help you form your advocacy goals, advice on how to contact legislators and convey your story, tips on how to testify, and more. But there isn’t a lot of guidance on what it really means to be an advocate – the challenges you’ll face, the ups and downs you’ll experience, the realities of the commitment involved, the people skills that will impact your work, and the toll it advocacy can take. 

What follows are insights from advocates from every walk of life who shared what they wish they knew going into advocacy and what advice they’d give to other advocates. They are based on responses to a tweet I sent out on August 18, 2019 asking:

“What is something you wish you knew before getting into advocacy? And what is a tip you’d give to someone who wants to start advocating?”

Over 100 people responded and I’ve done my best to include all voices. Please note that including the responses here are not an endorsement of any person or their advocacy. Additionally, know that I purposefully am identifying people by their Twitter handles with any “name” put in parentheses. This is how people self-identify and I felt it was the most important way to convey their experiences.

This preface to advocacy has been divided into sections including:

  • Committing to Advocacy
      1. Before you Decide to Commit
      2. Seeing the Bigger Picture
      3. Coming Prepared
      4. Committing to Those You Work With and Following Through
  • Advocacy Takes Time
  • The Emotional Side of Advocacy
  • Presenting Your Advocacy Issue
      1. Your Voice Matters
      2. No Right Way to Advocate
      3. Authenticity in Telling Your Story
      4. Your Story’s Impact
      5. Using Evidence and Data
      6. Knowing It’s Okay Not to Know
      7. Mistakes
      8. Work Harder and Smarter, Not Louder
  • Political Realities
      1. Know Your Opponent
      2. You May Be Used
  • Talking to People in Power
      1. Meetings and “One-Pagers”
      2. Connecting in Person
  • Personalities
      1. Not Everyone Will Welcome You or Agree With You
      2. Advocating Can Get Ugly
      3. Allies
      4. Play to Your Strengths
      5. Mentorship
  • Credit Others, Pass the Mic, Bring Others With You
  • Privilege, Intersectionality, and Marginalization
      1. Confronting Privilege
      2. Color/Race/Ethnicity
  • What it Means to “Win”
      1. Incremental and Unexpected “Wins”
      2. Victories and Losses and the Fruits of Your Labor
      3. Moving on When You Aren’t Making Progress
      4. Following Through After a “Win”
      5. Share the Wins
  • Personal Rewards
  • Burnout and Keeping Your Strength Up
      1. Take Breaks
      2. Self-Care
      3. Find Outside Support
  • Miscellaneous Advocacy Tips
    1. Advocacy Expenses
    2. Employers and Advocacy
    3. Advocating as a Parent
    4. Other Legislative Advocacy Tips

The hope is this preface will empower any person entering the advocacy space to have the knowledge they need to make the biggest impact. The preface is also for seasoned advocates who will find commonality in their experiences, gather new perspectives, and help mentor those who join their efforts.



Erin Gilmer is a health law and policy attorney. She has extensive experience in analyzing and crafting legislation in a vast array of issues and has worked with advocates worldwide to increase their effectiveness. She writes at

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