Sharing Your Voice: Constructive Advocacy

A couple of years ago, I would’ve never thought that I, a twenty-something-year-old, would be standing in front of city councils and state legislatures speaking on behalf of environmental issues and being a part of the political process. But when I joined the Charleston Surfrider Foundation chapter a year ago, I quickly learned how important it is to learn about and speak up for what we value.

Being a part of an organization that supports your values and gives back to your community is a key ingredient to having a real impact on local- and state-level issues. Becoming a member of Surfrider, a non-profit grassroots ocean conservation group, has given me the resources and networking ability to stand up for the health of our waterways through education, outreach, research and advocacy.

Alongside other members, I organize various programs and campaigns such as running beach, marsh, and city sweeps and helping grow the Ocean Friendly Restaurant campaign. Importantly, all of these activities engage, educate, and benefit the public. My experience with the Surfrider Foundation has led me to encourage others to find and work with local non-profits that are meaningful on a personal level. Whether the mission revolves around environmental stewardship or aiding the homeless, giving back to your community builds character, helps others, and provides an opportunity to help real changes be made.

When it comes to advocacy work on behalf of your issue, you can’t expect elected officials to jump through hoops to change or create a law when you haven’t personally worked hard to educate the community and other officials about your case. Although some people have trouble putting their words into action, the next step is also critical and I find it equally important for your actions to be relayed to public officials and decision-makers by attending meetings and testifying on issues.

You don’t have to be a fellow politician or a credentialed expert in a certain field to be taken seriously by your elected representatives; you just need to be well-informed about the various facets of your issue. As a first step, you can get involved at local meetings in your municipality; a quick internet search for the calendar of the town council in your area will provide town council meeting dates and a contact phone number for questions on testifying. Testifying simply involves presenting research and solutions that are achievable and sustainable, and sharing your determination and passion is also beneficial.

Whether you are testifying against a bill or proposing a new law, we the people have the right to address and engage our elected officials. And while I never thought I’d be the one doing it, I’ve seen first-hand that engaging on this level can create meaningful change in our communities.

Contributed by Olivia Bueno, Surfrider Foundation Charleston Chapter