A handbook for ‘do it yourself’ advocacy

By Deborah Mebude

The Art of the Possible: A handbook for political activism
By Amanda Sussman
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2007

Reviewed by Chandra Pasma

Recently, I turned to the internet for research only to find the organization dealing with my husband’s medical condition no longer existed. A little more googling, and I discovered an advocacy campaign waged last year by the now defunct organization. It targeted Members of Parliament, requesting funding for medical research and to support the organization. Obviously, the campaign was not a success.

As someone who works in policy, the reasons for the failure were immediately clear to me: the group had asked the wrong things of the wrong people! Individual MPs have very little say over what goes into a federal budget, and once that budget is passed, they can’t start handing out funds to new causes and organizations. Requesting assistance by applying for grants, approaching department officials, and raising awareness about this particular condition might have led to a different outcome for this organization.

Amanda Sussman’s book, The Art of the Possible: A Handbook for Political Activism is a good primer for anyone interested in avoiding similar mistakes. It is a step-by-step guide to understanding how our political system works, who makes decisions how and when, and how you can contribute to those decisions. Sussman starts at the very beginning – finding and defining your issues – and works her way through the process, including a chapter on understanding why your issue might get stuck. In easy, accessible terms, Sussman manages to break down advocacy so that anyone can understand and engage in it.

The one thing Sussman does not do, however, is address how government priorities can be changed. She notes that if your proposed change does not fit within the government’s values, this is not the time to expect to advocate successfully for it. Those seeking to change the values on which a government bases its decisions and actions will need to look elsewhere for advice.

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