Being a skatepark advocate is not without its challenges. Before you jump in, it’s important to recognize that it’s not always easy and you will run into obstacles or constraints that will disrupt your progress.
Some of the challenges aren’t external, like lack of money or community resistance, but internal, challenges that come from your capabilities as a human being. Things like lack of time, life’s responsibilities, and a feeling that you’re the only one doing anything can erode your confidence and commitment to the skatepark project. Every advocate at times feels like it’s not worth it and is ready to give up. These are common complaints made by skatepark advocates, even the very talented ones.
The advocacy group is rarely a perfectly democratic organization. Through the natural course of development, one advocate emerges to be the most capable of managing the effort. This person becomes the lead advocate, and the other members of the group will look to the lead advocate for direction. It makes the project more efficient and organized, but it also puts incredible demands on the leader. When the lead advocate has everything under control, other people that are interested in helping often don’t see the need to get involved.
Younger advocates will struggle to balance the demands of the skatepark project while going to school, pursuing other interests, and working. Older advocates face similar challenges with marriage, jobs, mortgages, children, and other hobbies. Whatever the case, most advocates will find themselves writing emails, doing research, and other administrative tasks deep into the wee hours. They’ll struggle to make it to important meetings in the middle of the work or school day, and they’ll have to make tough decisions when important skatepark events conflict with other obligations. Family and friends may struggle to understand the willingness to prioritize the skatepark project over other important opportunities, and sometimes relationships can suffer as a result.
Effective advocates develop good organizational practices early in the process. Missing an important meeting, for example, is the good way to damage your group’s reputation and disrupt progress. The organized advocate will have a Plan B in case they can’t make it. The evidence of good organization is, among other things, a schedule for updating the website or Facebook, regular email updates, and a meeting schedule that the whole core group can access as needed. These practices will help the advocate fit the skatepark project into their busy lives.
Being organized takes longer but the time you save in the long run makes it worth it.
When the lead advocate has everything running smoothly, new people that are interested in getting involved will often see a group that has no need. The group has all its bases covered. An organized leader will be efficient, and the “strategic” leader will know how to reveal what skills the group is lacking so that new people can identify a role that may interest them before they make informal promises to the group. For example, the group’s leader may want help keeping its Facebook page updated. This is a great thing to publish to the group’s site under a section, “How To Help.” People that are interested in helping the group can browse tasks and roles, and will contact the group if they see something they are willing to contribute. It’s best to keep these wish-lists updated and in a “sticky” place. (Posting your group’s volunteer opportunities to your Facebook wall will result in people seeing—but dismissing—these temporary messages.)
The lead advocate holds themselves to a high standard, and can easily expect the same level of commitment from other members of the core group. When a member of the group forgets an important task, the lead advocate is often tempted to handle those tasks themselves in the future. Unfortunately, this is a common development in skatepark advocacy groups; one person emerges to “take the reigns” and everyone else just walks away. We’ll talk more about managing the core group later in this chapter.
The high demands put on skatepark advocates has created a deep sense of mutual respect form the advocacy community. Every advocate that visits a skatepark recognizes the thousands of hours of volunteer effort, the late nights and endless meetings, the planning and double-checking, and fundraising. The story is there, in concrete.