By Jack Levine
Here is my new favorite quote from Judy Blume, the famous children’s book author…
Our finger prints don’t fade from the lives we touch.
My 38 years of family policy advocacy have given me the opportunity to learn the power of persuasion. I am compelled to share my thoughts about the building blocks of effective advocacy.
My experience points to this reality….Influencing someone you’ve never met, don’t have a connection to, and have not made the effort to research their background, motivations and methods of leadership often leads to frustration.
Shouting out to a stranger just doesn’t work…..If you are not personally familiar with your elected officials, relating to someone who is connected (directly or indirectly) to your target decision-maker is the key to effective advocacy.
I know what you’re thinking..Jack is telling me that I will be listened to if I make the effort to learn advocacy, but he’s ignoring the fact that “special interests” have already flooded the political field and my one voice is drowned out by those with big bucks and clout.
Let me assure you I understand…but here’s the key question. Are we willing to learn the skills and develop the strategies necessary to be effective….or is giving up to self-defeat our only recourse?
Please don’t let pessimism prevail. Have confidence and be optimistic about your potential. This is a nation in which the right to speak is a cherished value, but only if it’s exercised and protected.
I assure you that you can make a difference if you unite with others, join organizations whose mission aligns with yours, and develop your voice as a persuasive and passionate advocate.
Trust me…..it takes work and courage….but every one of us has the potential to be a powerful voice for a cause we sincerely believe in.
In the heat of an election year, what a wonderful time to resolve to strengthen our resolve to make our community and world a better place for all by exercising our freedoms of speech.
A Family Legacy of Advocacy
Our nation’s experience with great challenges forces us to pose one basic question: “What is really important – to ourselves, to our families, and to our collective community?”
Let’s remember to learn the lessons of our family historians, our tour guides to another time and to places we have never been.
When my Grandma Minnie would raise her eyebrows and begin telling tales of her childhood “in the old country” I knew it was time to lean in and listen. Her vivid images of the people and events captured my attention like a powerful magnet. I was stuck to her every word.
“I never knew my mother or father,” she began, with a wistful shaking of her head. “In those days people would catch a fever and die in a few weeks. That’s what happened. After they died, my mother’s father and mother took care of my brother and me.”
“When I was a girl, there were maybe 75 or 80 people in my village, and everyone I knew was poor,” Minnie said.
“We lived in one room shacks of wood with a hard dirt floor. There was an iron wood stove to one side with a pipe for the smoke to go out through the roof, and a few pieces of handmade furniture grouped together on the other side. My brother and I slept in one small bed, and my grandparents were in the other bed. There was a table, four chairs, and some open boxes for clothes, pots, pans and plates.”
“The cooking was done in another shack, used by women from other families, too. And there was a well for clean water and a stream for washing and bathing. We all worked, growing vegetables and feeding the chickens, one cow, and a few other animals.”
“The boys sat with a man we called Rebbe, who was wasn’t a real rabbi, but he knew the prayers and could read and write. He around to many other villages, eating with different families, and staying a week or so to give lessons. The girls didn’t learn the prayers from Rebbe, but the boys would tell us the parts they remembered. This was my first taste of discrimination.”
“When I was 12, everything changed. In 1905, there was a failed revolution in Moscow, an attempt to kill the Czar and take over the palaces. We didn’t know where Moscow was, we had only heard of the Czar from traveling peddlers. We didn’t care about any talk of revolution, but our lives were never the same.”
“The Czar believed the trouble in Moscow was being bred in the countryside. In a few months’ time, bands of soldiers on horses, the Cossacks, swept through the villages, burning the shacks, killing the animals, violating the girls, torturing the boys and forcing us all to run for our lives. And run we did.”
As Minnie told her history, I’d wonder how people could just move around from place to place, carrying what they owned in burlap sacks, and live to tell the tale.
I was astonished that the words coming from her lips were not made up stories, but real life struggles and tragedies. How could this be? As a child of comfort and contentment, all of this was so different from anything I could ever imagine.
Minnie’s stories of her immigrant experience are among my most cherished family treasures. I have no photographs of the people or scenes she left behind, only her vivid word pictures. This small woman’s story, in an almost matter-of-fact narrative, was eloquent testimony to courage and survival.
Hearing her history created for me a core belief that I needed to appreciate who she was and what she went through. She didn’t ask for this adoration, but certainly deserved it from my perspective as a child.
I am not alone in receiving the gift from my elders’ life treasury. Family history is a living legacy. It’s not only the story of who our elders were, but it defines in many ways who we are.
The history of forced emigration is so pervasive among people from diverse lands. Over the centuries, this nation has been, and continues to be populated by those whose life’s story is worth telling. Whether they came for freedom or by force in slavery, the values our grandparents brought with them are heirlooms which our children deserve to inherit.
Those who survived became advocates for causes and people who needed them…..their life’s mission was to make the world a bit better than the one they experienced.
In Minnie’s case, women’s suffrage was her cause, rooted in the discrimination she experienced as an immigrant teen who resolved to become a citizen and an active participant in what American democracy offered.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 our nation’s women won the right to vote….at least those of European heritage.
Minnie cast her first vote in November of that year…and never missed a vote in her life. In 1982, at age 91, she had to be helped into the voting booth, but found the energy to do so, casting her last vote. Her pride of achieving justice was a life-long mission.
Never hesitate to exercise your advocacy voice…in respect for those who paved our path to a better future….our valiant veterans, ardent activists and champions for causes which deserved passion.
While I’m not yet a grandparent, my appreciation of family history is translated to our sons, and perhaps someday, they will in turn have the opportunity to pass along the gift.
Please consider recording your family history, share the stories with your children and grandchildren, and make sure that treasured family photos are duplicated and records are kept safe and out of harm’s way.
If you wish, I will send you a document that guides you to ways to capture your family history….Just e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org with Family History in the subject line and I pledge to send it your way…..a gift for recording your family’s unique heritage.