Regardless of the form or cause, grassroots groups are the principal mechanism for changing societal systems that no longer work for its citizens. Don’t like being outpriced from your own island? Organize to help elect officials who are the voice of the people (not large land owners and developers) like the Maui Pono Network. Want to raise money for your kid’s school? Get together with the parents from your school and organize an event/fund raiser. See plastic and trash on the beach? Organize a clean up and make it fun for others to join in like Surfrider Foundation.
There are three aspects to any successful grassroots venture: alignment, collaboration, and culture. These three components give power, resources, stability, and strength to group endeavors.
Alignment for grassroots development refers to the relation between a community’s need, and your group’s beliefs and intention. Take healthy, affordable, organic food for example. I personally have a belief that healthy food is our right and that we should all have fresh produce available. Several of my friends were similarly aligned and we began the Food Net. The initiative has resulted in delivering up to 21,000 pounds of produce per year to local pantries and meal sites, all free.
Needs vary from one location to the next, but it is through the grassroots venture that the alignment of our hearts connects with what the community needs and provides an avenue for effective action.
Collaboration ideally is integral to any grassroots venture. From the inception of any initiative, it is important to network. You want to form a community of support and respect before you launch an initiative. Avoid the mistake of not including those who have been proactively working on the same issue. The intention is cohesion and inclusion. Through collaboration a new possibility and resource becomes available. Instead of focusing on fueling it with money, fuel it with community power.
For example, when I lived in Pittsfield, the homeless of our community were sheltered under bridges, abandoned cars, and condemned buildings. Addressing a twenty-five year old unmeet need was not an easy challenge. The mayor and his friends from the housing department had declared there was no problem. So, I put together a forum of the housing inspector, park ranger, homeless people, social service agency directors serving the population, and the local paper.
We pooled our knowledge and with the media’s help reached out to find a temporary winter shelter. The Salvation Army came forward offering their unused heated gym for the overnight shelter. Then nine local churches supported a drive that enabled the purchase of forty-five high quality, foldable cots, insurance and a stipend for the nightly social service crew, while the hospital and two resorts donated blankets, pillows and sheets. The County Jail provided weekly laundry service. Over twenty-five volunteers offered to take night shifts to staff the shelter and other operational needs. Several social service agencies volunteered case workers for morning coverage, as needed. The $6,800 raised also afforded some food and hot drinks, while the Salvation Army provided breakfast. That winter we housed 131 individuals at a cost of $1.87 per person including social worker support, evening snack and breakfast.
Culture is integral in the formation of an effective community or initiative. It is formed by integrating core values. Aligning to values replaces rules. Culture creates a unique cohesion among a group. The more this cohesive element is uplifting and supportive, the more attracting the group endeavor becomes.
Grassroots organizing is on the rise. It takes on many forms like co-operatives, grassroots political campaigns, non-profits, or just getting together with neighbors to resolve a local need. Developing grassroots groups is a way to empower local change. It is a resource to accomplish great things and has the power to liberate and inspire us all.
Image Credit: Women's March Maui 2018 Facebook Page