October 18, 2017 | By David Lazere
This summer, I had the chance to lead the lesson I developed as an Emerson Fellow for MAZON. This lesson took the form of a simulation game and each student was assigned a role to play in a fictional statewide advocacy campaign around using food stamp matching vouchers at farmers’ markets.
My main goal for the lesson was to make advocacy less mysterious and give students a better understanding of different organizational models and approaches to change-making. Students learned about direct service non-profits, research organizations, government agencies and advocacy groups. Each of these groups has the potential to strengthen each other while working toward a collective goal. I especially wanted to highlight the role that the Jewish community can play in effecting change. And I wanted to emphasize MAZON’s message: food banks alone cannot solve hunger and targeted advocacy is necessary to strengthen and protect our nation’s vital nutrition programs.
During the simulation, students on a Jewish teen leadership retreat acted out their varied roles – a state senator, a farmers’ market owner, a policy analyst, a reporter, a nonprofit representative, a researcher. Each character has distinct reasons for supporting or not supporting the sample bill, getting at the diversity of interests and motives that come into play around a single issue. The lesson includes the possibility of amendments to encourage the students to make choices about where they can compromise.
During the session, the students participated in advocacy and coalition building. Afterwards, everybody came back together for a mock town hall, which gave each student a chance to make his/her character’s case to the group. The senators then voted on each of the three amendments, and the reporter shared what they’ve written.
After the Senators deliberate and announce the results of the vote, I congratulated everybody on a successful advocacy campaign (even if the vote didn’t go their way) and opened the floor for students to step out of their character and reflect.
The students came away with valuable insights and action steps for getting involved in real advocacy through MAZON. They reflected on the excitement of feeling involved in the campaign, the frustration of losing the vote and ways that their personal beliefs might (or might not) have changed as a result of a conversation with others. They reflected on how the simulation represented the different organizational models discussed at the beginning of the lesson, the roles these organizations each filled, and how the various groups worked together or against each other. Overall, the students expressed their appreciation for the complexity, and importance, of advocacy work and the value of standing up and speaking out for what you believe in.
While it was tough crafting a lesson with so many elements and points to get across without being convoluted, it was rewarding to see the curriculum I made come to life.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to merge my love of teaching with my passion for anti-poverty and anti-racism work. Writing and teaching these lessons helped me to see education and engagement as ways to create a stronger stake in issues and ideally inspire people to advocate for change. I hope MAZON can continue using these educational materials to further their mission of empowering people to put pressure on their lawmakers to support smart public policy to help those who are hungry in their communities.