Op-eds: A Powerful Advocacy Tool

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Op-eds: A Powerful Advocacy Tool

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As a family caregiver for the last 25 years and a long-term care advocate for nearly as long, I live with a simmering resentment that there aren’t more policies in place that help the 53 million adult family caregivers in the U.S. who provide $470 billion worth of care each year. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and so tributes to family caregivers abound online. However, in general, despite being called “the backbone of our national health care system”, we remain invisible, especially to policy makers. 

The way that family caregiving is being publicly acknowledged by President Biden is unprecedented and historic. Family caregivers must seize this moment and engage in advocacy efforts to move the issues that impact us forward at state and federal levels. An active and engaged citizenry is important for a thriving democracy. Our voices need to be loud and clear on the importance of legislation that will benefit us.

One impactful way to engage in the public conversation and help shape public views related to caregiving is through writing op-eds. Storytelling is a valuable tool for persuading policymakers to recognize the importance of the issues related to family caregiving in relation to legislative solutions. The minutiae of caregivers’ daily lives are abundant with issues that must be addressed by social policy. Op-eds provide a public arena for us to bring others into our daily lives, even if only momentarily, so they can begin to see things that would otherwise remain invisible.  

What is an op-ed?

Op-eds are opinion pieces that are written by members of the public in order to bring attention to important issues and can be thought of as conversations between a media source and its readers. Historically, and as the name indicates, op-eds appeared opposite the editorial page in newspapers. Today, some publications, such at The New York Times, are renaming these pieces to keep pace with digital publishing where there is no longer an editorial page for an op-ed piece to be opposite to. For example, The New York Times now calls these articles guest essays. These short essays can contribute new framings of issues you care about and get others to consider their importance and solutions through the recommendation of specific policies. 

The best op-eds have a personal connection to a timely topic and are written in response to a community issue or another article in the current news cycle. They can also bring attention to some aspect of a public conversation that is being left out. Timeliness makes op-ed writing during National Family Caregiver Month especially relevant, and perhaps more likely to be published. Op-eds provide an opportunity for family caregivers to convey information that may not otherwise be covered or picked up in the media. This is especially true of long-term home care, the majority of which happens behind closed doors and is incorrectly considered a personal issue.

Elected officials track op-eds to stay up-to-date on relevant issues. They can help shape the public discourse about topics of importance and create a perception of support for issues and the policies that can help. The more people who share their personal stories, the more visible family caregiving will become, and the more urgent we can make our need for support.  

If I were to write an op-ed today, I’d write about the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act, an unfamiliar piece of proposed legislation that would be game-changing for families, helping people who have had to leave the workforce to provide care avoid poverty in their old age. While this legislation has been introduced in Congress for decades, it receives very little attention in the media.   

Getting an op-ed published

There’s a lot of competition for big media outlets, so starting with smaller local media or online outlets may increase your chances of getting published. Earlier this year, I had an op-ed about COVID-19 vaccinations for family caregivers published. It received a lot of attention despite being published in a smaller online outlet.

Op-ed guidelines limit word count and are often quite short so your piece must be clear and concise with a specific ask. To increase your odds of being accepted for publication, it is important to stay within word limits. Sometimes publications will put their own title on an accepted piece, but you should suggest a title that will grab the attention of your first reader — the editorial staff who reads your submission and decides whether to publish or pass on it.

Your cause will get more attention and influence policymakers if you join forces with others. If you are willing to write about your personal caregiving story, there are many groups to reach out to for help. It is important to join and work with advocacy groups that are working toward legislation that you support. For example, the NY Caring Majority’s Fair Pay for Home Care campaign recently held an advocacy workshop, which included op-ed writing. Members were encouraged to write with the full support of others in the organization. Importantly, organizations and their members may be connected to editors which can help with identifying sources for publication, such as Caregiving.com. However, when aligning yourself with groups make sure to do your own research to make sure they haven’t overlooked a key point or one you feel is important. 

Op-eds are challenging to write, especially if you haven’t written anything like this before. There are many sources available online to help you successfully craft one. The Berkeley Media Studies Group has a helpful worksheet to get you started. 

Have readers you trust read and give you feedback, but don’t get discouraged with comments that may seem critical that intended to be helpful. After you’ve been published, send your op-ed to everyone in your network as well as to organizations that have newsletters for caregivers. They may include a link to your op-ed. 

I’m off to write my next opinion piece. I hope you are too!

Listen to this interview with Tina Tchen for more ways to advocate for family caregivers.

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