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Have you ever been passionate about wanting to make a difference in your community but didn’t know where to start? Or, maybe you simply want to ensure your rights are protected, that you aren’t treated unfairly because of discrimination. While there are many opportunities to stand up for others, fight for a specific cause and become an advocate, what exactly does being an advocate mean?

When thinking of the word “advocate,” some may conjure up images of Mahatma Gandhi leading a peaceful resistance in India or of Martin Luther King Jr. championing the United States’ civil rights movement. Is this what advocacy looks like? Yes and no. A broad term, advocacy comes in many different flavors. And it’s not always delivering magnificent speeches to huge crowds or inspiring millions to take action.

Whether it’s volunteering and playing games with children at St. Jude Children’s Cancer Research Hospital or telling the federal government and insurance companies to stop discriminating against chronic disease patients, what’s the one thing all advocates have in common?

They take action.

As an advocate, you decide exactly what that action looks like. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or someone looking to make a difference, here are five tips to help you along your advocacy journey:

1. Find your passion

    No matter the cause, it should be something that you truly believe in. Perhaps you or someone that you know has been personally affected by the issue. Oftentimes, personal experiences – whether lived or shared – are some of the best motivators, serving as inspiration to take on a life of advocacy and be part of a bigger cause.

2. Stay informed on what matters to you most

    After finding a cause that inspires you, it’s just as important to get and stay informed on the issue and why it matters. While you can certainly be an advocate without knowing every single detail about your cause, the more knowledgeable you are on the subject the more prepared you will be to engage in debates and ultimately increase awareness to your cause. Do your research, follow current events and seek out opportunities to join an organizational newsletter, such as the Chronic Disease Coalition’s monthly newsletter list. (Get involved by clicking here.)

3. Find your advocacy style

    You’re passionate, you’re informed, but what type of advocate do you want to become? While there are certainly many different forms of advocacy, it’s important to find out a style that fits best with your personality and goals. Do you enjoy writing blogs? Are you a natural people person? Does storming the White House sound fun to you? No one knows you better than yourself.

4. Get involved and meet with others

    At the center of every advocacy effort is a core group of people and organizations united for a common cause. As cliché as it sounds, many hands truly do make light work, allowing groups to do much more than a single person could ever do alone. Moreover, by working alongside other like-minded individuals, you learn more about yourself, join a growing cause and make great new friends along the journey.

5. Use your voice

    The last and probably most important tip to being an advocate is simple: Take action. Action is the cornerstone of any advocate, whether it’s speaking up for yourself or your peers. No matter your advocacy style, the key is to use your voice and share your story.

Though advocacy comes in many forms, you ultimately define what it means to be an advocate. But at its core, advocacy involves taking action and taking a stand for a cause you believe in.

Still looking for a worthy cause?

Join the Chronic Disease Coalition and hundreds of other patient advocates as we stand together to protect chronic disease patients from discriminatory policies, practices and attitudes. Each and every day, we work with the chronic disease community and advocates to fight for patients’ rights.