What is Grass Roots Organizing?

In a political year fraught with dissatisfaction over the candidates and with racial unrest and the anger over police shootings, there has been a lot of Grass Roots Organizing. Some of it has been effective in bringing public attention to the issues. Others, like the movements to find alternate candidates have not. What is this type of organizing, and how does it work? In fact, does it work at all?

Simple definition of the Term

Janis Foster defined the movement in her blog as “people who are drawn together by something that they have in common that has both personal and community consequences, and grant themselves the authority to solve the problem they are facing or create the future they desire.” The movement may start with two or three people who canvas an area and speak out, gaining support from like-minded individuals.

Characteristics of the Group

These groups are locally based. They start in a neighborhood, a church , a school or other local organization, and develop from needs or experiences shared by the people in that locale. They are centered on the needs of people and respond to the people in the group. In fact, the tasks of the group are done by the people in it who usually volunteer. The website grassrootgrantmakers.org says there is generally a lack of expertise, little or no budget and a lack of available resources. In addition, there is no defined form to the group. There is usually a leader or a group of leaders, but no elected officers. Membership is based on being one of those affected by the cause. There could be a few or a few hundred. Grassroots movements only exist as long as the issue is unresolved.

How A Grassroots Movement is Organized

The organization begins with someone identifying a problem or issue. Then that person finds out who else is affected by the problem or cares about the issue and gets them together in a group that is preferably small. In the meeting, the group leader talks about his ideas and points out a solution. The members then make a working plan. They think about who has the authority to help them and how they might contact that person. They also identify anyone of influence who might advocate for them. The group members then reach out to others to get them involved. Communication is vital. The group uses media, especially social media to get in contact with like-minded individuals.

Grassroots Movements are Successful

Perhaps the best-known modern incident of grassroots success is the Love Canal episode. Love Canal was a partially-dug trench in a neighborhood , used by a chemical company as a waste dump. There were several tons of waste containing many chemicals that were toxins known to cause illness. When the company ceased using the canal they simply covered it in clay and sold it to a neighborhood school district. Because they had included a waiver of responsibility in the contract, there was little legal recourse when people began seeing increased occurrence of some diseases in the community. A grassroots organization went door-to-door documenting birth defects and illness like asthma and epilepsy that occurred with alarming frequency in the area. Eventually the information they found reached then-President Jimmy Carter who, through two “state of emergency” declarations, eventually relocated all 739 families from the area at a cost of $17 million. Grass Roots Organizing moved a government to respond.

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