Roots Rising . . .October 8, 2009 Leave a comment
Today’s post is inspired in part by a story I heard recently about a foundation that was paying consultants to work with grassroots community initiatives at a lower rate than it was for them to work with “more formal” organizations. It is also fueled by last week’s work with some amazing community activists in Holyoke, MA at the Food and Fitness Policy Council and from around New England at this year’s Grassroots Retreat convened by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and Toxics Action Center (TAC). It both blew me away and fired me up to learn about all of the initiatives that are under way from Hartford, CT to Hardwick, VT, Great Barrington, MA to Little Compton, RI, focused on local food and energy production, the preservation of local water rights, smart growth promotion, healthy lifestyles for our children . . .
Many of these efforts are being run with very few resources beyond the passionate people who have other full-time jobs or who in some cases are unemployed and still working as volunteers (this is not to overlook the financial support and wonderful technical assistance offered by the likes of NEGEF and TAC). Often these change agents are in the work because they cannot not be in it. This is about their lives, their families, their homes. And yet, what seems to get lost is that it really isn’t just about their lives and communities, it’s about all of us and wherever we live. We always live downstream or upwind from someone. We are all connected.
And so I have been engaging in a bit of a thought experiment, provoked by the civic engagement approach of A Small Group in Cincinnati. This initiative invites people to consider shifting or inverting their typical thinking about cause and effect to see what this lifts up as possibility (for example, “the child makes the parent” or “the listener creates the speaker”). My inversion experiment asks, “What if we really truly believed that the grasstops are only as good as the roots, that grassroots communities are where the real action is in our country?” What if we really thought it true that effective and lasting action springs from deep connections to the communities in which we live and the land at our doorsteps? And while “formal organizations” certainly play a vital role in promoting just and sustainable ethics and policies, what if it were our conviction that it is ultimately people who must bring these to life? In what ways would this make a difference? Help me out!