What Does Advocacy Mean?

Definitions of the terms grassroots, advocacy, and lobbying abound. It can seem overwhelming at first but rest assured wherever these terms appear they are generally referring to relatively the same concepts and activities.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, lobbying is the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or policy, with active support.

It is believed that the term lobbying derived from the practice of decision-makers and advocates discussing issues and positions while moving through the halls and lobbies of Congress and other settings. Though the practice of lobbying in politics far pre-dates the American experiment, it is rumored the term was coined during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant who was often approached by those seeking favors in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC.

  • Grassroots: People or society at a local level rather than at the center of major political activity, also the groundwork or source of something.
  • Outside lobbying or indirect lobbying, also called grassroots lobbying, seeks to affect public policy change and positions by influencing public opinion.
  • Grassroots lobbying: Mobilizing the public or people in a community to lobby elected officials or other decision-makers for a particular position or cause.
  • Advocacy is the process, through lobbying and grassroots mobilization, of bringing about change in the attitudes of politicians and the resulting public policies and laws.
  • Effective advocacy is making your case in terms that resonate with your audience.

Why Lobby?

Just like the definition of advocacy, the reasons may vary. However: 

  • It is your right, and, some would argue, your duty, as an American citizen.
  • It can bring about policy change that can make people’s lives better.
  • It is how you make your voice heard and get your piece of the pie.
  • You can help speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
  • It is evidence of our system at work—it helps fulfill checks and balances.

Don't forget:

Politicians and their staffers are people too. Lobbying is a credible and valuable mechanism for sharing key information with policy makers and getting them intimately involved in supporting the work you do. As a constituent, it is your right to speak up for your constitutional rights!

What You Can Do Right Now

  • Keep an open mind about advocacy: Realize that you may already “lobby” in your daily life and that lobbying for your rights is an exercise you can do successfully.
  • Be a sponge: Advocacy is happening all around us all of the time. Watch and learn from your colleagues at other organizations and in other industries for messages and techniques that you can use with your own elected officials.
  • Have fun with advocacy: Think of the brain as a muscle that benefits from a variety of exercises. 
  • Make advocacy a habit: There are a multitude of ways to incorporate lobbying activity into your routine. Use our toolkit for tips.
  • Stay informed throughout the year: Keep up with the ACLU of North Dakota's alerts or become a volunteer. 

Stay informed

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