Though news channels and social media might fixate on issues on the national stage, one of the most important ways you can support your immigrant and refugee neighbors is by advocating for them on the local level. Advocating for action in your own community is one of the best ways to make a difference for the people around you – by tackling issues in your neighborhood, city, and state!
What is Community Advocacy?
First, we can define “advocacy” as seeking to influence those in positions of power, including elected officials, to enact change for those affected by a specific issue. Advocates use their own voices, positions, and knowledge to speak up and intercede on behalf of those who are suffering, in poverty, or need protection.
At World Relief, we think of advocacy as putting love into action for our immigrant and refugee neighbors, especially those who are in the most vulnerable positions. This means that we want to:
- Address structural inequality and violence
- Increase awareness of issues impacting immigrants and refugees
- Deepen empathy and understanding
- Catalyze engagement
- And ultimately, build a movement for justice!
On a local level, like in the neighborhoods of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, advocacy can mean that you become a bridge. You have the power to share with your local representatives about the issues impacting immigrants and refugees in the community – facts, stories, and needs that they might not know otherwise! And you have the ability to ask them to take action to make life better for immigrants and refugees.
Why Advocate for Immigrants and Refugees?
If you believe that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and has God-given value and rights, then you have the opportunity to be a strong voice for justice! There are millions of immigrants and refugees around the world and in our communities who are suffering and in vulnerable situations that put them and their families at risk.
Individuals, churches, and community groups have an important role to play. But we also know that our elected officials have the power to make decisions. They can create change on a much broader scale. And when we speak up, we can help them understand why it is important to help immigrants and refugees around the world and in the United States – and that it’s something we care about!
How Can I Be an Advocate?
Becoming an advocate for immigrants and refugees in your local community can take so many different forms! And at World Relief Chicagoland, we are here to help you take action in lots of different ways. We want you to know you are not alone, but part of a bigger movement. A community of advocates!
Ways to Get Started
1. Look Up Your Elected Officials
First, you can start by learning about your elected officials. Who are they? What are the issues they care about? If you are in Illinois, you can click here to search for your elected officials and use your address to find a list of people at a local, state, and federal level. In Chicago, you may also want to click here to find your ward’s alderman. Or if you are outside of Illinois, visit this page on USA.gov for help identifying your elected officials in other states.
Because these are the people you will call to share your perspective, write letters to, and reach out to for meetings, it’s a good idea to know who they are, what their focus areas are, and how you can engage.
2. Learn About the Issues Impacting Immigrants and Refugees in Your Neighborhood
If you are not an immigrant or refugee yourself, one of your first actions should be to learn more about the experience of immigrants in your community. Talking with your neighbors or others in your church or school communities can provide all kinds of insight! Ask them questions based on their own experience and what they think would make their lives better. And try talking to lots of different people to identify common themes. Don’t assume that there is only one “right” answer.
Reading and watching videos is another great way to learn! You can find all kinds of stories and helpful information from reading the World Relief Chicagoland blog. But don’t stop there! In addition to learning about the experiences specific to immigrants and refugees, (many of the biggest issues that impact them affect a broader group of people…such as people of color, religious or ethnic minorities, or low-income families), consider looking up issues like:
- Does your town have enough affordable housing?
- Are there sufficient healthcare and mental health resources?
- Do the schools in your area have enough teachers and educational supplies?
3. Take Note
As you learn, pay attention to the solutions that trusted leaders share. Organizations like World Relief are part of community coalitions and networks that share information and work to identify good solutions together. But there are plenty of experts in your community too. Take the time to ask your immigrant neighbors, organization leaders, and others what they think needs to change. And take note of what they say!
There are so many different ways you can mobilize your community to take action. Here are just a few ideas!
- Join Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Advocacy Days. World Relief is part of RCUSA, which hosts advocacy days each year. These advocacy days bring together community members and organizations in support of refugee issues. When you sign up, you get to participate in training opportunities and meetings with members of Congress! You will get to join a facilitator and others in your community who care about refugees. Invite your friends and neighbors to join too by posting about these opportunities on social media.
- Attend city council meetings, school board meetings, and neighborhood council meetings in your area. Show up and pay attention to meetings where big decisions impacting your community are made. Additionally, you can use the information you have learned to inform your questions and bring refugee and immigrant issues to the forefront of the conversation.
- Lastly, learn more about World Relief Chicagoland’s advocacy efforts and how you can get involved!