John C. Richards, Jr.
The 3 A's of Grassroots Organizing
Updated: May 18, 2022
In my work with A Better Glynn, we have found that it takes a particular type of leadership to help mobilize and catalyze social justice policies that lead to community transformation. And I call them the three A’s of Grassroots Leadership.
Every week, we hear from people who want to help. Or people who want to replicate what we’re doing in Glynn County. Many of them are trying to figure out how their abilities and skills can contribute to changing their community. And I tell them all the same thing.
When it comes to grassroots mobilization, your greatest ability is your availability.
Here’s the harsh reality, though. Grassroots organizing/movement making isn’t going to be your full-time job, but it will be your full-time job. People tend to forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a whole pastor of a church. And a whole husband. And a whole father. He couldn’t quit those things to throw himself into social justice work, but he did learn the importance of availability on top of everything else going on in his life.
One of the biggest frustrations we’ve experienced is that there are some people who have the passion but don’t want to put in the time. So we make sure we set expectations early for our team members and volunteers.
If you want to be used to change your community, you need to be available to serve your community.
The primary reason power remains unchecked in many local communities around the state of Georgia is because of the lack of a diverse group of voices at tables of power. From county commissioners to local chambers of commerce, power is generally vested in particular groups: in many instances, White males. So grassroots leadership needs to find ways to get in the room.
But here’s what’s important about this idea. It’s very important to send informed individuals to the table of power.
To quote my daughter’s favorite song from Hamilton, in our work we’ve found that some people want to be in the room where it happens without understanding what happens in the room. You have to educate people before you mobilize them.
There is nothing more dangerous than uninformed activism.
What does accessibility look like? That means you have folks who attend every city and county commission meeting. That means you have folks who sign up regularly for public comment periods at meetings to express the concerns of your organization. When the current leaders around your city start to see your social footprint improve, you’ll discover you start getting unsolicited invitations to the table without having to kick the door down. And, please, if you find yourself at the table, when you sit down, stand by your core convictions. It will be easy to assimilate. But the impact of every grassroots organization shouldn’t be assimilation but transformation.
The most glaring problem with many officials at the local and state level is the lack of accountability. Imagine living in a world where an employee can clock into a job, have tasks and duties to do while clocked in, and get to the end of the day and not one task is complete. Any good employer would either fire that employee or put them on a performance improvement plan.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens with many local and state officials. They make campaign promises without in-office production. They hear from voters in November, but their phones are dead for most of their term in office.
And when re-election rolls around, the electorate votes for the incumbent because of familiarity without looking at their productivity.
So that's it. The three A's of grassroots organizing. Availability, accessibility, and accountability. Start with those three and you'll be well on your way to transforming your local community.