Inclusion and fairness are the fundamental values that guide Viola's thinking, never more so than in difficult economic times.
Lessons and advice
- Politics are directed by public pressure, so don't complain, do something!
- Listen a lot, and listen critically, to how others are thinking about the issue.
- Explain the issue and your goals for change in ways that help people understand how it's important to them.
- Be fully prepared for any meetings.
- Speak for the record; get your opinions noted in the meeting minutes.
- Organize public support for your issue: "You can have the best speaker, the best lawyer, or the best professional writing of the best speeches, but if you're standing there by yourself and you've got nobody behind you, it doesn't mean much."
- Establish the issue precisely: is it discrimination? Racism? Inequality? Violence? Is it substance abuse? No matter what it might be, if you have no prior experience or knowledge, research the issue to find out what happened, how it happened, who is behind it, who is responsible for changing it, and key players involved.
- For delivering messages about an issue or its solution, choose a messenger who has some clout, and choose sensitively because you can create animosity by selecting someone who is either not well-versed, or not a well-liked person.
- When negotiating with government officials, try to get information from them that would give you the advantage—and get it without them necessarily knowing what you're doing.
- Be well briefed, but avoid taking an adversarial position. "You need to feel people out and try to get all you can get from the other side, see where they're coming from, and where they're going. Try to dig deeply into their minds—that's what it's all about. Being adversarial doesn't produce that knowledge because you burn out, you throw all your cards on the table and you're seen as challenging others which is not a good thing to do in negotiation. I do a lot of listening."
- There are times, however, when being adversarial is necessary, but be cautious about the timing. There is a time when you have to speak up and say, "Look, enough is enough. Let's call a spade a spade here. You said this and you said that, and that's not the way it is". It is a tactic good for certain times and certain places.
Qualities of a social advocate
A social advocate needs to be a very articulate person. They should be not afraid of public speaking. They should be a person who really does their research before taking something on. They know what they're doing and they make sure they have a good support group behind them. Nothing is any worse than standing out there and looking behind you and you've got nobody to support you!
I'm an advocate for social well-being and justice for the Mi'kmaq people in this province, for justice and equality and fairness. I keep all those things in mind when I'm talking about, or doing, something.