Grassroots activism happens through organizations. On this page, I first provide a list of relevant organizations with descriptions, and then offer a brief synthesis of the movement as a whole.
Links and Descriptions
The Black Organizing Project seeks to change systematic discrimination in Oakland, California, through reducing the presence of police in schools, ending the criminalization of minorities, facilitating leadership and critical thinking among young people and improving educational opportunities.
The Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children provides advocacy and support for children affected by the school-to-prison pipeline. These efforts are incredibly valuable, since many children encounter stigma and marginalization in their schools and communities when they return from incarceration.
The Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline operates in Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Atlanta, and addresses issues surround zero-tolerance policies, school push-out caused by high-stakes testing, criminalization and racial discrimination.
Cadre seeks encourages and organizes parent activists in Los Angeles, particularly around issues having to do with the push-out of minorities from schools and parent involvement in school decision-making. The organization tends to structure its demands and rhetoric around human rights.
The Labor/Community Strategy Center is an L.A. based organization that addresses the school-to-prison pipeline in the context of immigration rights, racial equality and economic opportunity. It considers itself a “Think Tank/Act Tank,” meaning a group that simultaneously spurs critical thought and socially conscious action.
Californians for Justice organizes to promote racial equality, including fair disciplinary practices, and to increase the role students have in determining educational policy that affects them. The group has chapters in four cities: Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland and San Jose.
Save the Kids seeks to end the incarceration of children and the school-to-prison pipeline. It has a presence in many American cities including New York City, L.A., Buffalo, Boston and the Twin Cities but is structured around organizing local communities and especially young people.
The Harriet Tubman Center is an advocacy group in Michigan which encourages participation in the democratic process, particularly on issues that affect the safety, health and opportunity of ordinary people. Changing zero-tolerance policies, which are a major factor in criminalization and the school-to-prison pipeline, is a major goal of the Center.
Some grassroots groups are focused in both topic and region, such as Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. Others are concentrated in a city, but address a variety of topics, such as Cadre and the Labor/Community Strategy Center. Others, such as Californians for Justice and the Harriet Tubman Center, orient themselves around a state and whatever issue arise in that state. Still others, such as Save the Kids, focus on a specific issue but use chapters in a variety of places.
There is no single right answer. As long as the groups maintain their autonomy, spirit and focus, they can accomplish much. In fact, some groups may eventually convert into grass tops and, though following outside of the purview of this project, could easily continue to have a very significant impact on policy and communities.
Still, several themes emerge from researching these organizations. For one thing, many of these organizations emphasized both an awareness of the present situation and set of goals for the future. This balance seems important: without discussing the issues of the present, groups can seem out of touch with the people they represent, but without discussing a clear agenda, groups can appear rudderless or reactionary. Another theme I noticed was a sense of urgency. Since grassroots groups operate either entirely or primarily through volunteers, they need to communicate the importance of what they do to anyone who reads their information in order to recruit members. After all, no one will want to volunteer their valuable time doing something that isn’t a pressing issue.
Overall, these organizations seemed resourceful and driven. However, many of them face uphill battles in changing the status quo. For example, some of them, such the Black Organizing Project and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, seek to address policies determined by police and prison bureaucracies; since these bureaucracies are somewhat independent from elected officials, it can be difficult to use democratic means to force changes. Additionally, some of these organizations lack the funding to wage the expensive legal battles sometimes necessary to get justice in cases of police brutality and bias. In contrast, organizations like Cadre have been successful in lobbying the school system in Los Angeles, since the school board there reports directly to the voters.