Intentional Invitations, Looking at Illusions, and Inclusive Community
Citizen advocacy is a way of intentionally inviting people to become more important to one another. It allows people to face several illusions and work toward a more inclusive community.
We invite people who live comfortable lives in Savannah to enter into a personal relationship with one person with a developmental disability who is living a hard life.
Citizen advocacy is not about joining our organization, or about being part of an organized project. Nothing wrong with those things, but citizen advocacy is personally entering into relationship and solidarity with one other person. There is no bureaucracy in this, only your willingness to consider an invitation to enter into a personal relationship as an advocate for one other person.
The invitation to become a citizen advocate is made face to face, usually over a lunch table, a desk in your office, or a coffee table in your home. The invitation is always framed by 4 key ideas:
1. People are asked to step forward voluntarily
2. People are asked to act with independence and integrity
3. People are asked to enhance and defend the other person’s life
4. People are asked to aspire to create a long lasting relationship
Intentionally inviting local people to become a citizen advocates is the one tool that a citizen advocacy office has to offer protection, advocacy, and opportunity to a person with a developmental disability.
Looking at Illusions…
Many people avoid thinking about the hard lives some people are expected to live. We want to think that our community and its helping systems and agencies are right-minded, work well, and keep people from living hard lives. Just like we want to think that our banking, finance, and regulatory systems are right-minded, work well, and lead us away from hard times. Maybe it’s time to look a little closer at what we mean by hard lives now that most of us are facing the prospects of harder times for ourselves.
A person is living a hard life when:
• they are at risk of being abused, neglected, or treated with indifference.
• they are forced into special educational and human service programs that continue to segregate and congregate people in disability based groups, which tend to amplify difference and distance people from the good things in community life.
• they are not seen as someone who has something to offer other people and our community
We know that many people reading this will not like or feel comfortable with this description of what makes life hard for some other people. We can only ask that your discomfort lead to a deeper discussion rather than comfortable dismissal.
When a person accepts an intentional invitation to become a citizen advocate, they are often forced to look at some of the illusions they hold about how people are expected to live their lives. Some things that are “okay” for strangers are not okay for people you know. Questioning these illusions often leads to action that can build a more inclusive community for all of us. This is a community where people find more and more ways to help each other and be present to one another.