Avoiding the Traps That End Your Advocacy

I have dealt with multiple multiple different government departments through lots of different advocacy trails. Here is a list of dirty parlor tricks that they will use on you, to cut you off your path. These come from experience, case law examples, and stories from other parents. If you get any of these as a response, you know you have hit a sensitive nerve. You are onto something, keep going!

Their overarching goal is to have you lose your shit, so that they can then use your reaction as way to stop communicating with you and therefore stop your advocacy. They want to tire you out and focus not on the issue, but you.

NOTE: This is not how everyone in a position of power responds. However, if your situation exposes a lot of systemic issues, or a human rights issue, or is a hot topic, get ready. The more you know, the more you can be prepared and not respond in an emotional but in a strategic planned way.

  1. They will use silence and just ignore your emails, or respond really really really late. Like months and months late. Time is on their side. They feel no urgency. They will use your urgency against you to heighten your anxiety.
  2. They will request extensions for everything, or cancel meetings or just make dates for things that extend everything. The point is for this to constantly be out of reach and go on and on, hoping you give up.
  3. They will tell you they have another meeting at a certain time, say 45 min or 1 hour after yours starts in order to cap the conversation and then again extend the unresolved issue. The point is to extend, limit and contain.
  4. They will give you tasks or homework assignments to keep you busy and make you feel like something is happening, when in fact it is not. The homework assignments will be impossible to complete unless you know a lot of law, or are able to analyze a lawyers process. Not kidding. I had to analyze the process in which someone arrived at their decision, and why their process was incorrect. What they didn’t know was that I have a degree in human relations (human systems – how people function in groups) and currently at SFU for criminology, so I can absolutely do that. Which means, apparently you need to have almost 2 degrees in order to meet their criteria for intervention and support and this specific organization supports people who are need of help and are vulnerable in their situation. Not joking.
  5. Anything connected to procedural fairness, and they will make it seem like you are demanding, unreasonable, or inappropriate. This can be connected to having specific advocates in the room, or making sure your voice is heard, or even understanding the process so you can be prepared.
  6. They will use your emails, or your emotions as a way to try and embarrass you or shame you, and focus the attention on your behaviour.
  7. They will start to mirror your communication if they are wanting you to comply. Look at how they address you, and how they sign off on emails. Look at the language they are using.
  8. They will use similar subject headings in emails as a way to easily track communication. If you start seeing the same subject headings, it’s a flag. Other people are tracking your emails. It’s for a reason.
  9. They will interpret your advocacy as a personal attack and attempt to make you feel like you are being aggressive. Focus on the process, and the ability to highlight the oppression you are experiencing. Look at Rule of Law, Procedural Fairness, and Charter of Rights.
  10. They will change the rules as you move along, essentially creating a “moving target”. This is procedural unfairness that you can argue with case law.
  11. They will state facts, and then say…. “Well it is our understanding that…..” and then make up whatever they want.
  12. Some days you feel like you are having a sword fight with the English dictionary. Analyze everything. Counting aspects and turning your data into quantitative data, can be helpful. How many emails? How much time in meeting minutes? How much repetitive data? How many times did they use those power words or accuse you of…?
  13. They will play within the rules, so if there is a page limit for a response for a certain written court process, they have used small font and widen the margins. They will use whatever advantage they can gather.
  14. If they ask for an extension of pages, you need to also ask for the same extension of pages.
  15. They will pretend they are innocent or unaware, and purposefully make mistakes with dates, or other information, hoping you will speak to them in a demeaning way or insult them. Then they know that they can stop you in the your tracks, and they will be supported by any system process. You need to communicate with them as if you are talking with your grandmother. It will piss them off. They are always looking for a hook.
  16. If what you are saying is true, they will attack the process at what you arrived at those facts. For example, my child was assessed by this person, at this level. Then they will attack/undermine the person who assessed your child, and try and make them invalid.
  17. They will tell you that you can email them your thoughts and feelings and that they will read everything, but they will not be able to respond to everything. DO NOT DO THIS. They are essentially not closing the door on you, and wanting to gather info on how you think and feel. They are collecting evidence to use against you.
  18. They will want to have phone conversations with you, and not be willing to document or email any conclusions or actions that they are committing to.
  19. They will want to limit the number of advocates in the room, or use “student confidentiality” as an excuse to take away other professional expertise or support persons that will benefit you or end meetings with joint parents.
  20. They will keep sending you to different people to have meetings with over and over and over again.
  21. They will try and make your arguments look weak and theirs are stronger in actual fake law – they will take a real concept and kind up…. smudge it up. Generally, they will bend the rules and smudge the lines. They can be very subtle by dropping “knowledge bombs” of information to heighten your anxiety.
  22. They will do things in a way… that you start to question yourself. Am I really seeing this? Is this really happening? Am I overreacting? We always assume that everyone has the best intentions….maybe they aren’t aware…. That could be true. However. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Many good people hold up a sick system. It makes sense in their head, and they may not really understand why. It’s just the culture. It’s normalized.

I leave you with quotes that hit home this week.

  1. “There are times when you must speak, not because you are going to change the other person, but because if you don’t speak, they have changed you.”—Mary Quinn, aka Maud http://www.shakesville.com/2011/08/for-maud.html
  2. “You are what you tolerate.”