I am writing this because I was once a confused and concerned member of the Rice student body, wondering what I could possibly do to help the social injustice happening both in my city but also hundreds of miles away — like in Charlottesville. Graduating and leaving Rice hasn’t enlightened me completely, but working in nonprofit on the Hill has helped. After attending various advocacy trainings, I’ve gathered some steps I’d like to pass on.
- It’s hard to host collaborative events — this is understandable. However, it would be more effective if any sort of solution brainstorming session and/or discussions about difficult topics are recorded in some manner and published. This way, there are not three different events over the course of a semester focusing on finding solutions to the SAME set of issues. There is no progress here.
- Protests/sit-ins at Willy's Statue, vigils or participating in city-wide marches may seem overdone. I’ve heard many say they feel this doesn't do much besides make a statement, but it is precisely because you NEED to make a statement that these things are important. Do not discount voicing your opinion by a show of numbers as support. Of course, don't burn yourself out or skip studying for that biochem exam the next morning to attend something, but try to make it out if you can. A certain statement is made when only a handful of people show up for a die-in while hundreds show up to protest credit limits.
- The City of Houston has public comment sessions, when you can call in and reserve a one, two or three-minute time slot to speak about a concern regarding what the City Council is voting on, or just any type of complaint (e.g. street lights or immigrant policies). This has been a forum used by groups like United We Dream to speak out to protect DACA and support sanctuary city policies. To show up in a significantly large group and advocate for something in front of City Council is to also make another notable statement. Look for more details here.
- Advocate by educating!
- Census 2020 is coming up, and we need to make sure everyone takes the survey. The push for this is to make sure marginalized populations are accounted for — this will affect redistricting and policies that use data from the Census. There are also rumors about adding questions on legal and citizenship statuses, which would deter people from completing the survey and hinder data collection. More details can be found online, but Census Day is April 1, 2020, so make sure you and everyone you know has it on your calendars (it’s a digital survey this year, for round one)!
- Keep yourself up to speed with the next local election. Policy changes occurring even at just a school district level can affect many people — Houston Independent School District alone has over 200,000 students enrolled. Continue to Get Out The Vote (GOTV) by registering, reminding and educating people on what elections are happening. Or even just for yourself!
- There are probably more things to educate on, but the point is, you can reach out to the Rice community and make sure every single one of your peers is in the loop and/or go out into the community and join voter registration drives, census trainings and other events centered on educating the general public about these things!
- Engage with others, especially your peers. I’m a strong believer in changing policy and people simultaneously. People have told me that they wished there were more academic or socio-political discussions during meals. There’s nothing stopping you from having these discussions except your own willingness to be vulnerable, which could also help others open up. This requires everyone participating in the conversation to reciprocate respect and vulnerability but … post O-Week, I am sure we don’t need to go over this again.
Nguyen (Wiess '17) is a Communications Associate at OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates.