Advocacy and Aging

By Browdie, Richard | Generations, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Advocacy and Aging


Browdie, Richard, Generations


Introduction

The tradition of advocacy remains an essential underpinning of our mission.

Virtually every person who has worked in the field of aging over the past forty years has called him- or herself an advocate at some point, and meant it. And for most, it has been true. I think of myself as a veteran of many years and many battles (some of which were really important and, in the spirit of full disclosure, some of which were not), and I take advocacy to be a very important subject. So, to be asked by the editorial board of Generations to be guest editor of an edition on advocacy was a real honor. It meant that I was going to have the opportunity to ask people who are giants in our field to write pieces that would be guided by my vision. And, I could ask people far more articulate than I to communicate complexities that I would be hard-pressed to elucidate. I had to ask myself, was I up to it, since my primary qualifications rest largely on being an ex-public official. So, after the inevitable failure of good sense to overcome the urges of ego, I accepted.

In thinking through what might be written about advocacy for people in the field of aging, the first task was to decide what to concentrate on. Advocacy means many things to different people. As a result, we could choose a specific kind of advocacy to focus on, and try to treat a number of applications of it, sorting through contexts, why a particular approach was selected, what its success was, and the like. Or, we could try to look at the issue of advocacy at one particular level of government, say, the federal level, and examine advocacy on even one issue from many angles. What are the approaches to advocacy that were tried on an issue? Which ones worked and which ones failed? (It would seem the second category might have more to choose from.) And, how has advocacy in Washington changed over the years and since September 11, 2001?

Perhaps because of my own professional history, and perhaps because so many things that affect the lives of older people are not decided at the federal level, I think it would be a disservice to Generations readers to concentrate exclusively on federal advocacy. Most of them work in the field (with real people), or teach those who will, and most of the actual service rendered to older people, while it might be connected to federal policy, is administered by state governments. Still other services come from purely local resources. In this issue, we needed to touch on them all.

The next consideration was how "intellectual" to be about this. Advocacy is something that is rarely analyzed directly. We think of the work of lawyers, consumer advocates, and the like. There is published material on advocacy processes, usually oriented to the passage of legislation, and various organizations have developed numerous programs to train people in advocacy techniques. But, not a lot has been written about advocacy itself.

The last task, which was both a joy and a challenge, was to recruit authors for this edition. As you all know, the field of aging has some of the most articulate and best-informed advocates and students of the many aspects of advocacy in the United States, and it was a joy to work, albeit briefly, with each of those in our assembled collection. The challenge came from having to choose among so many who would have made great contributions. With all due respect to those who were not able to be involved, our contributors to this issue have donc a wonderful job and, as I had hoped, have taught me a lot. I have learned the humbling lesson that most successful editors must have always known. You look good when you find authors who know a lot more about things and can write about them better than you can.

We tried to strike a balance in some way. First of all, advocacy for older people has many meanings, and it has a historical context. Our authors Elias Cohen and Rob Hudson perfectly set the scene and give us the tools for thinking about the rest of the issue. …

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