Legitimacy is one of the most crucial concepts in doing advocacy work. If CSOs are asking officials and power holders to be accountable to them, they must prove their legitimacy to those officials and power holders. Advocacy groups need to always work on establishing and strengthening their legitimacy. There are two pillars for legitimacy: cause-based legitimacy and people-based legitimacy.
In social justice advocacy, legitimacy is not only based on a valid representation of a group of people or organizations. It also assumes having a legitimate and just cause. Kumi Naidoo, CIVICUS Secretary-General and CEO, often gives the shocking example of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a civil society organization with a broad and strong constituency. Of course, the KKK is a violent white supremacist group that has committed many horrific crimes, including murder and arson, against black and other non-white minorities in the United States. The question here is, “is the KKK mission and the cause it fights for a just one?” We must always examine the causes we fight for through a critical test of the values that guide us, including those established by many declarations and conventions. Cohen et al. (2001 Cohen, David in Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 7-10. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA. ) identifies (p. 7-10). Not that civil society causes are worth our struggle. In fact, some of these 1 causes are ones we must fight hard against.
In contrast to the above example, some causes might be unpopular but just. Many widely accepted social phenomena and values were not popular in our communities at a point in history. History is full of stories about how a person or group who raised concerns about such issues for the first time was subject to suspicion and moral or even physical assault. Rejection of some values does not necessarily mean that they are not good values in and by themselves. Ignorance or rejection of some values might mean that we need to work hard to challenge the deeply rooted existing values and build strong constituencies around them.
Establishing the legitimacy of your cause is one part of establishing the legitimacy for your advocacy work. The other pillar of our advocacy legitimacy is to build a strong constituency for your cause and fully rely on people to drive the campaign Around it. In her valuable book, Miller argues that legitimacy 2 is simply about the question of who has the right to speak in the name of a group or an issue. She talks of this representation dilemma that NGOs and CSOs need to address. The same difficult question applies to other groups such as the donors speaking in the name of the beneficiaries, international organizations speaking in the name of national or local ones, etc.
Following are some questions that Miller advises advocacy groups to examine their people-based legitimacy
|Cohen, David in Cohen, David; de la Vega, Rosa, and Watson, 2001. Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection Guide, P. 7-10. Kumarian Press, Inc., Connecticut, USA.