Our “I’m An Advocate” blog series introduces you to people who are speaking up for an end to homelessness in different ways. Today we introduce you to Denise Miller, a co-founder of ChangeStream Media, a nonprofit organization that uses digital storytelling to advocate for social justice worldwide. She also happens to be our new Firesteel Advocacy Coordinator and we are so excited to have her on our team!
Denise has produced digital content spurring education reform in Cambodia, encouraging indigenous women to vote in Guatemala, and promoting solidarity among the LGBTQ community in Haiti. She has also taught digital storytelling skills to activists in Central America and the Puget Sound region. Prior to launching ChangeStream Media, Denise worked as a journalist with the Snoqualmie Valley Record and Los Angeles Times Magazine, and taught English in Madrid, Spain and Seoul, Korea. She studied journalism at the University of Southern California.
Denise shared her motivation for speaking up for housing issues, along with her thoughts on how digital storytelling can spark change.
How do you define advocacy?
To me, advocacy is simply showing support for something I believe in.
Why are you a housing advocate?
While I have always believed that everybody has the right to a safe and stable home, homelessness has become an increasingly important issue to me as poverty and housing uncertainty have recently affected my family. The latest recession cost a close relative of mine her job, her home and her stability. In helping her navigate social services and find safe places to sleep, I’ve learned about some of the challenges homelessness presents: frustrating interactions with overburdened public assistance agencies; strained relationships with family and friends; disempowerment and depression.
My relative’s situation has been difficult, but I know that many people in our community face even more challenging struggles. I’m a housing advocate because I believe we need to speak up to help lift up our neighbors who are having a hard time. Homelessness is not a hopeless problem; with compassion and activism, we can prevent and reverse it.
What methods do you use to advocate for housing?
A major component of Firesteel’s advocacy involves using digital media to engage our community. I create online content – blog posts, videos and (soon) podcasts – that help develop an understanding of homelessness, housing and related policies. Often, this content is paired with a call to action, something the reader can do in that moment to help the cause. These actions can range from signing up for a lobby day to sharing a Facebook post. Social media has created amazing opportunities to quickly bring issues to many people’s attention and rally their activism. Online networks, combined with traditional methods like writing and calling elected officials, can help us all make our voices heard.
What’s your favorite advocacy success story?
Prior to joining Firesteel a few months ago, I spent two years on the road with ChangeStream Media, a nonprofit organization I co-founded. Our volunteers produce digital content aimed at sparking social change around the world. Among dozens of international projects, we created videos advocating for education reform in Cambodia.
A lingering effect of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide against educated Cambodians in the 1970s is a crippled educational system. Classroom lessons are often rote and memorization-based. However, leaders at one college in Cambodia recently launched an ambitious program to train teachers to engage children and foster an active learning environment. They needed both a cultural shift and policy changes to realize their vision of a nationwide shift to child-friendly learning.
ChangeStream Media worked with these education activists on their advocacy campaign. We created Khmer-language video to encourage teachers to create and use child-friendly resources; this piece is now shown to all training teachers. Another video explaining to the public at large why child-centered learning is important was broadcasted on Cambodian national television, and helped persuade the ministry of education to adopt reforms.
This experience reinforced my belief that video is a powerful tool for creating positive change. I hope the content I create at Firesteel will be just as successful at bringing important issues to light and advancing social causes.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in advocating but doesn’t know where to begin?
I would encourage people in our state interested in advocating for an end to homelessness to follow Firesteel and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance using their communication platform of choice, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or email. These are good springboards for learning about important issues and ways to make a difference.
Want to read other advocates’ stories? Check out “I’m An Advocate” posts featuring Kim Herman, Executive Director of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and Kay Field, founder of the free family law clinic at YWCA Pathways for Women.
Have suggestions for our next featured advocate? Post a comment below!