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Presentation for Advocacy 101: My Personal Journey

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On March 5th, my friend Shawna Murphy, co-hosted a roundtable discussion on advocacy. I was invited to participate on the panel. These are my opening remarks. 

My name is Carolyn Leith and I write for the Seattle Education blog. However, I think the real reason why I’m sitting at this table is because I’m a gifted trouble maker. 

I want to share with you what I believe are the three ingredients to advocacy.

First, by being here, you’re demonstrated the first ingredient: A willingness to act on your passion to make a difference.

I started out sitting in the same place you are now. I wanted to do something, but couldn’t see how I could fit into the organizations that were doing the work.

One day, it hit me.

I didn’t need to join a group to work on the things I cared about. I could do it myself, with friends who were worried about the same things.

That’s when I started to write for the blog.

Writing led to making a connection with other people who were concerned about the brand new Smarter Balanced Assessment. Together we formed the Seattle Opt Out Facebook Group.

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Through Seattle Opt Out, I met Shawna Murphy and we decided to create the tongue-in-cheek group, Teacher Retention Advocate Parents or TRAP.

Together we threw a half-baked bake sale at district headquarters to protest school level staff cuts and draw attention to the absurdity of trying to fund basic education with bake sales.

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After that, we asked parents in the district the Thirteen Thousand Dollar Question when Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Dr Larry Nyland, said his scheduled $13,000 dollar raise couldn’t solve any of the district’s problems.

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We also held the McCleary Crime Scene Coloring Contest to bring attention to the state’s criminal underfunding of our public school system.

So back to the ingredients of activism. We have the first ingredient: action combined with the second ingredient: fearless friends.

The third ingredient, which I think is essential, is framing your advocacy in a way that’s both funny and leaves a mark.

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Humor is the twist that disarms your audience and allows the more serious information the opportunity to seep in.

But how do you do this?

This question led to my latest advocacy project: The Typist Union.

Why a union?  Because I always wanted to be in a union and I thought it would be funny if I started my own.

Once a month we meet and do art together based on an artist or group which blended politics and art.

We’ve made union cards based on the Wobblies. Masks inspired by Bread and Puppets and protest posters inspired by Act Up’s design arm Grand Fury.

In closing, I’m not waiting for any leader to save me or the public school system that I love. I’m doing it myself. I hope you do the same.

-Carolyn Leith, card carrying member of the Typist Union

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