The Power of the People! What the past can teach grassroots about the Present and Future

The Power of the People! What the past can teach grassroots about the Present and Future


What can our past teach us? Well if you do not know your past it’s hard to build your future. The grassroots of today can learn and build on the progress/ideals of the past. Many early grassroots are either defunct or have forgot their humble beginnings. In my opinion, if any organization wants to remain relevant and not repeat some of the prior mistakes, the main focus of every grassroots organization shall be the issues and the people, and should also follow the practice of “Participatory Democracy”. The three main tenants:

  • An appeal for grassroots involvement of people throughout society, while making their own decisions.
  • The minimization of bureaucratic hierarchy and the associated emphasis on expertise and professionalism as a basis for leadership.
  • A call for direct action as an answer to fear, isolation and intellectual detachment.

Some actions and tactics on how to pressure our government officials can be taken from earlier movements such as The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) or Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The strategies that they used included getting people registered to vote, pressuring Lyndon B Johnson, his administration, and Congress to pass laws on Civil Rights. Antiwar protesters such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War. They used tactics such as marching and using the media to broadcast the brutality of the war and get the attention of the rest of the country. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was an African-American group that formed to protest policed brutality, racial and economic injustice. They used their resources wisely within the Community Outreach Project. They distributed free breakfast, coat and shoe giveaways, bussing to prisons, sickle cell anemia testing, and ambulance services in underserved areas.

As you can see the time period and organization being discussed take place in the 60s and 70s. These are turbulent times that are parallel to our own. Some significant progress was made in certain areas, but in many areas we are still fighting. We are fighting for criminal justice reform, attacks on voting rights, industrial war complex, gender, racial and income inequality and corporate greed and control that we haven’t seen since the Teddy Roosevelt Administration. Then add in recent challenges, especially our biggest, climate change.

However, I believe that we failed in keeping the pressure on our Government Officials consistency. If we had enough people that were as engaged as they were in the 60s and 70s we would be a forced to be reckoned with. We would honestly have real progress in the fight against climate change, Universal Healthcare, affordable college education and a livable wage. The movement of today can actually start making dents in the shield that big money interest has between the people and the government by voting in every election, and getting people engaged. This will keep us from having one of the worst voter turnouts in the world. When enough of us get out there and get active and start voting those do-nothing politicians out of office, then and only then will other politicians take notice.

Progressives such as ourselves can take a page out of the Tea Party’s book by running and electing people for local school councils and boards, and other local, state and federal offices so that we can get our agenda passed. We should also focus on joining forces and partnering up. Not to stay that there shouldn’t be organizations focusing on different problems, because some people have more expertise or passion towards certain issues. However, as a whole the strength in numbers and maximum amount of resources can bring about a movement that has not been seen. There isn’t a better time than right now to get progressives involved. People are tired of the status quo and politics as usual. They want real genuine change, not what was promised in 2008 and never delivered.

Hopefully with this piece it will reach someone who has an idea on how to change the world. They either do not have the wherewithal or have convinced themselves that they couldn’t possibly be the change. They believe it takes a certain type of person with orator skills or certain educational background, but that is total utter nonsense. For example, Huey P. Newton was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party – he was a shy and didn’t consider himself to be charismatic, and look what he accomplished. Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and vice-chair Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who started out from humble beginnings. She came from a family of sharecroppers and was a high school drop out. Fannie was instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being passed and had LBJ fearing her. Now look at what individuals can do when they join with other passionate people and step out of their comfort zone. I truly believe being an activist/organizer is in us all. Whether that means simply talking with family/friends, registering people to vote, volunteering for candidates, being an election judge on election day or joining organizations we can all serve in a better tomorrow. Now that is a hell of a lot better than standing on the sideline throwing stones and having absolutely no solution in fixing the problem.

Now as I stated before this will take a mass movement of people from all backgrounds to wake up and get engaged. To sum up the message from this article, here is a quote that is truly fitting:

“Democracy is not a spectator sport. Get out there, get active, tag you’re it”. – Thom Hartmann






  1. I believe more groups focusing on where people can agree versus disagreeing. Bernie brought a lot of people together, winning a overwhelming majority of people 45 and under no matter race,gender, etc.On those principles, telling everyone the raw deal we are all getting worked. So a focus on that would be a start and everyone not quick to judge people because they agree with us 100% of the time.

  2. There’s a great exhibit on several of these groups that were a part of the original Rainbow Coalition (Black Panthers, Young Patriots, Young Lords, SNCC, et. al.) at the Uri-Eichen Gallery in Pilsen through 10/7/16 –

    The Young Patriots ( and some of the original groups are still active and doing great work – it is truly inspiring what they did then and is great to see their influence carrying on today!

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