Throughout a semester’s worth of illuminating readings and stimulating class discussions in Education 2272 and through the process of creating this website, I’ve learned much about grassroots organizing and the diverse challenges facing urban education. Organizing for educational outcomes is manifested uniquely in different places throughout the country, thus making a blanket statement about the universal truths of organizing foolhardy. However, here are themes that have emerged throughout my research on grassroots organizing in Detroit. These themes are the intrinsic ties between the processes of organizing and education, the importance of an online presence, the intersectionality of educational issues, and the ways in which grassroots organizations redefine success in order to avoid discouragement.
Organizing and Education
A theme woven throughout the course of the semester that has become especially apparent through the process of researching grassroots organizations is the interconnectedness of the processes of organizing and education. We are considering groups that organize to achieve educational outcomes, yet also recognize the inherent educational value of the very process of organizing. These groups train parents, youth, and community members to become leaders and learn how to enact change in their neighborhood schools. The projects to lobby politicians, improve local schools, and fix broken systems are valuable and important, but so too is the very process of learning to take on these projects and recognizing the voice that each and every one of us can have.
Online Presence Matters
In our digital world, the online impression of different organizations, both through their websites and social media accounts, is a crucial element of their success. While evaluating grassroots organizations, I looked to their Twitter and Facebook activity to determine how active they were in the community and what types of projects they promoted or emphasized. The most influential organizations had thousands of followers or likes, leaving them poised to make an impact through re-tweeting or sharing people’s ideas. They act as a platform so that an ordinary person’s ideas can be heard, helping to empower community members and teach them to believe in their potential. Through social media, it is apparent how huge networks of people can become connected and learn from each other, redefining the concept of a local community.
However, a potential downfall of catchy websites and popular social media accounts is a blurred line between actual grassroots organizations and astroturf groups that are simply posing as community-based. As a researcher, it was difficult to determine when to trust an organization’s stated objectives, a concern that might not even be on the radar of many people. Thus, I learned the importance of utilizing the plethora of information available on the Internet and always cross checking organizations that claimed to be grassroots on other platforms.
Intersectionality of Issues
Educational issues are inherently intertwined and thus grassroots organizations find success by encompassing a broad range of issues within their mission statements and working to build coalitions. This echoes the ideas of Alinsky (1971) and Dewey (1927) from earlier in the semester, who asserted the absurdity of considering ideas in isolation and encouraged a holistic mindset in order to accomplish broader goals. An acceptance of intersectionality is apparent in the informational pages of many of the grassroots organizations considered in this website, as they discuss their work on a wide spectrum of issues all connected to a larger goal of improving educational outcomes.
Considering a broad spectrum of types and sizes of grassroots organizations, it is interesting and uplifting to see how these organizations redefine success in order to avoid discouragement. In a city like Detroit hit hard by poverty and its associated issues, it is easy to only see the long, uphill battle to enact change from a grassroots level, and to become disheartened about the ability to make a difference. However, the mission statements of many of these grassroots organizations subvert this sentiment by defining the success of organizing as the empowerment of people within communities. Most of these organizations list a modest number of proud successes and have a long list of overarching goals, but emphasize that their real objective is teaching parents and community members how to advocate for themselves in order to enact change. In this way, hope persists.
Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for Radicals. New York: Random House.
Dewey, J. (1927). The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882-1953: The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953: Volume 2: 1925-1927, Essays: The Public and Its Problems. Electronic Edition. Retrieved from http://pm.nlx.com/.