The Loneliness of the Long Distance Advocate

I was asked to present at two different events recently which were organized to discuss major policy reform. Ironically the individuals responsible for ‘encouraging’ the discussion were not in attendance. In answer to ‘why?’ the response was, “They would be too disruptive.” Well well. This would be amusing if it wasn’t so unfortunate. Among many things, it reveals how isolating advocacy can be. And how misunderstood. Even, dare I suggest, among the advocate’s colleagues.

By its very nature advocacy is a burr in the saddle to many because it seeks a disruption of the status quo. Yet where would we be without its practitioners? Substantive change depends on those brave souls who are prepared to be described as irritable, pompous, righteous, disrespectful, strident… Sure advocates cross the line occasionally but not as often as people suggest. And no more than anyone else.

It takes courage to speak out. You must summon reserves of love to publicly stand by your heart. To speak the truth. To go against the grain. To be at the centre of a tiny imperfect storm.

All your senses must be on high alert. You must be fully engaged.

It’s a rough ride from which there is little respite. Sometimes you can feel so alone. Sometimes you are all alone.

The dark silences after midnight can be tough.

Doubts. Recriminations. Suspicions.

“I could have done better.”

“I shouldn’t have let my guard down. Can I really trust them?”

“I don’t know what to do next.”

I’m afraid I’m letting people down.

You wake up ready for action not nearly as rested as you would like.

The best advocates I know are actually introverts. Still they push on.

Proposing. Defending. Exposing. Loving.

Many play at it. Few embrace it wholeheartedly.

Take good care. We need you.

The heart may not break but it does get weary.


“Courage, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to build a better world.”

–Tommy Douglas

The accompanying song for this post is “Secret Heart” by Ron Sexsmith. Listen. Purchase.

Sad News: Guy Clark the finest Texas troubador/poet ever, has just died. What a loss. He wrote so many memorable songs, usually covered by other better known performers. I remember him singing his classic, Desperados Waiting for a Train at Stanfest in Canso, Nova Scotia as if it was last night.

Here is Ron Sexsmith performing another one of Guy Clark’s tunes, Broken Hearted People.


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Never Underestimate the Power of Air Miles in the Hands of an Accidental Activist

Recipe for ‘Unlaunches’ and Other Unlikely Gatherings

Transformation Starts with a Resurrection of the Ordinary

A Robust Society is a Feminist Society


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  1. Linda Perry

    I think Advocacy is so often misunderstood. Like you say “many play at it”. I think the feeling of isolation is part of what truly defines Advocacy. I have so much admiration for people I see that are willing to get out there and stand with their conviction regardless of hostility or ridicule that may be visited on them. And I take heart in the energy that youth in this role are displaying. It’s so exciting to witness. Thanks for this Al.

    • Al Etmanski

      thanks, Linda – you are a shining example. I’d put Faith Bodnar of Inclusion BC in that category too.

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