The Unapologetic Advocate: Know Your Roots

The word grassroots gets thrown around a lot these days. Whether speaking about advocacy or political campaigns, it’s important to know what grassroots means for TESOL advocates and how you can get involved at the local, state, and federal levels.

What Is Grassroots Advocacy?

Now, the last time I grew a plant, it was in a Styrofoam cup and I was in the third grade—but if memory serves, I put seeds in that cup, added some water, put it in the sunlight, and after a few weeks, voila! I was halfway toward a degree in botany at the tender age of 8. When we talk about grassroots advocacy, the idea is the same, just with slightly less Styrofoam. Issues of concern are planted within the general public, we engage them, spread messaging and information throughout communities, and watch as actions are taken at various levels of government.

When thinking about scope, sometimes advocates hear “grassroots” and automatically think of a small group of people advocating for local change. While that can be the case, grassroots issues and campaigns can vary wildly. Some address issues at a very local level and might only affect a select few, while other grassroots campaigns address national issues impacting millions. Some are over within a few weeks or months, while others can take years, or even decades to be successful at creating change. One other key aspect of grassroots advocacy to remember is that advocates are not paid to speak with their representatives, like professional lobbyists are, although resources are sometimes spent on materials, travel, and so on.

How Can You Get Involved?

Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably already taken part in grassroots advocacy efforts. If you’ve ever promoted an issue you care about on social media, followed my expertly crafted advice and met with your members of Congress, or simply sent an email in support of an issue to your lawmakers, you’ve taken part in grassroots advocacy. Overall, there is a wide variety of actions you can take as a grassroots advocate, which generally depends on the size of the issue you’re addressing and your time commitment.

Some smaller grassroots efforts include social media posts, emails, and phone calls, while some more time-consuming efforts include writing an opinion piece for your local newspaper on issues impacting TESOL or setting up a site-visit to your program or school by a member of Congress. Regardless of the issue and your availability, the most important thing to remember is that all grassroots advocacy efforts are important and can create real, meaningful change.

Why You Should Get Involved in Grassroots Advocacy

If you don’t know the answer to this one, you clearly glanced over my first blog post. It’s okay, though; it can never be said enough that TESOL professionals have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their students and the issues that impact the field. Perhaps the strongest and most powerful method of advocacy that TESOL professionals can take part in is at the grassroots level, where advocates have the greatest number of opportunities and variety of means to influence change.

About David Cutler

David Cutler
David Cutler is the policy and communications manager at TESOL International Association. He received his bachelor’s in social studies education from Ithaca College and his master’s degree in public administration from Cornell University. His work at TESOL includes monitoring and responding to policies that impact English language teachers and learners, organizing the annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, and managing the association’s communications initiatives. David’s previous work experiences have included the District of Columbia Public Schools, American Federation of Teachers, and New York State Assembly. Be sure to follow David on Twitter @TESOLpolicyguy.
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