To be or not to be (advocates), and National Conference for Media Reform

For the last few weeks, as it’s been a topic of discussion in overlapping forums within our program, I’ve been crystallizing some thoughts on our role of pushing for change within public health practice (as others have brought up previously in the blog, very eloquently!). On the one hand, we operate within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser and many of us identify as researchers; objectivity is lauded, and adhering to some semblance of this is, of course, key for the purpose of receiving research funding. However, in the Communication4Health space alone (not to mention discussions in classes, etc.) we’ve certainly thoroughly revealed that our cohorts of budding public health practitioners are truly impassioned by a wide variety of health and social issues and inequities. Can we ever truly be impartial; and if we recognize that we cannot, do we use our place in the system and relative amount of privilege to advocate for the things we care about, that we perceive will make positive change? This may be one of the most integral take-home questions from this course in Advocacy & Communication.

Personally, my academic background is in the humanities, and professional foundation is in community-based organizations – so it’s a bit of a luxury to be able to admit that I don’t ever hope to be able to achieve objectivity in practice; on the contrary, I strive to call myself an advocate for public health and social justice. Surely for many of us, when we see injustice and inequities being (re)inforced in the scope of our lives and our work, it only further galvanizes us, prepares us to rally for change. For instance, I recently read this stunning article by Akiba Solomon of Colorlines, “Collateral Damage in the War on Women” (2012 October [access it here: http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/10/collateral_damage_in_the_war_on_women.html]). Solomon outlines how anti-choice policymakers have attacked public health resources that low-income, often immigrant and uninsured women access in Texas. I connected this immediately to some of the skills that we’re gaining in our public health education and the Advocacy & Communication course in particular, thinking that if such systematic and powerful forces are at play impeding public health, then we as the future practitioners in this field need to be ready to “suit up for battle,” to be efficient and effective in delivering our messages regarding social determinants of health, community interests, productive policy, the basis of evidence and more (here is where I will tip my hat to my colleagues, the objective health researchers, who have a huge role in the mechanism of advocacy, too!).

The last important point that I’d like to acknowledge in brandishing this (maybe overly idealistic) concept of advocacy as fundamental to public health practice is that supportive, alternative media outlets make all the difference. Some excellent discussion on progressive motion and advocacy in the media will be happening this weekend at the National Conference for Media Reform: http://conference.freepress.net/ncmr-2013/. To be held April 5-7, 2013, the conference will feature a bevy of engaging, experienced presenters, workshops, film screenings, live music, and more. For those of us not in Denver, Colorado, we can benefit from the livestream and sharing of information that will be happening all weekend. I, personally, will be watching out for some of my idols, Amy Goodman (who many of us know as the host of Democracy Now!), and Favianna Rodriguez (an artist, social mobilizer, and co-founder of Presente.org, another great media and advocacy source largely focused on immigration). I wanted to mention this conference as a resource for those that are interested, and perhaps as encouragement to take heart; there are forces for social justice out there in all arenas – will we take up the post as the next ones?

– L. Miramontes

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