Grassroots activism often lacks funding & support but the Global Grassroots Support Network (GGSN) has brought together organizers to tackle common challenges and share resources.
Anyone involved in grassroots activism over the last 20-odd years will be able to confirm that this is often the last kind of advocacy to be funded and supported in any structured way.
And yet, during this same span of time, some of the biggest tipping points in public discourse and social change have largely been driven by grassroots organizing.
Whether it’s the 900+ public spaces occupied to protest economic injustice during the 2011–2012 Occupy Wall Street wave, the transformative and righteous anger of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2014 and 2020, or the global youth-led climate strikes and demos of 2019, grassroots people power has shown itself to be a formidable force that very often exceeds the scale and impact of the best-laid and best-funded plans led by large progressive campaigning institutions.
Thankfully in the last two years, some important funders have stepped up to support pockets of grassroots activism in a handful of global locations, usually as an outgrowth of their climate action programs. The resulting grassroots support projects, like the Climate Justice Organizing HUB which I co-founded in 2020, are exploring brand new territory when it comes to coaching, training and knowledge-transfer, that is specifically directed at grassroots activists and groups, rather than serving campaigners in established organizations. Being in touch with similar nascent projects in a few different countries, I can confirm that basically, we’re all toddlers learning to walk here .
Building a community of practice
I’ve always been a huge fan of open knowledge-sharing among aligned projects, which among other things, drove me to start Blueprints for Change in 2018. These “communities of practice” help all of us get better at the work we do and as a bonus, meeting folks around the world facing similar challenges is validating and fun! Funders have their peer communities, fundraisers have them too and digital campaigners have had the Online Progressive Engagement Network for the last 10 years now. So why not one for those of us who have taken on the job of building structured support for grassroots activists?
In the spring of 2022, thanks to the trust and support of UMI Fund, I started building such a network with fab colleague Kenzie Harris. Bringing together projects in multiple regions and continents and widening the scope beyond climate, Kenzie and I wanted to include any project supporting “grassroots justice-oriented” [i] activist groups.
This intersectional approach aligns with our values and brings a richness to our community through diversity, but maintains enough unity of purpose to strongly motivate sharing.
Our hunch was that grassroots groups generally aligned on their anti-oppressive vision of the world will also have alignment around their advocacy approaches and will therefore face similar challenges. This assumption was rooted in experience gained during the years I worked with global projects Mobilisation Lab and Blueprints for Change.
With the promise that we would share knowledge around common challenges that all groups face, and share the resources each project has created to solve for them, we began drawing people into this Global Grassroots Support Network. At the end of a full year of outreach, we have gathered together some 84 seasoned grassroots organizers, campaigners, coaches and more, that support struggles for climate justice, reproductive justice, LGBTQIAS+ rights, housing justice and workers’ rights.
These members currently come from: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, the U.S., UK and Zimbabwe. To widen our circle and get outside the usual circles of privilege and geography, we have started work with Regional Coordinators to bring even more folks in from Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Nigeria and Kenya.
Hearing from grassroots organizers worldwide
One of the big lifts in GGSN’s first year was getting a sense of what top challenges justice-oriented grassroots groups were facing around the world and also what types of skill and support material those supporting these groups were looking for help with.
Kenzie, our Principal Coordinator, spent countless hours in 1 to 1 intake/info gathering calls with new members to record needs, challenges and all manner of wishlists from participants. We onboarded most folks to a dedicated Slack channel and an email list to get more organic exchanges going and facilitated a good number of global video calls, which required a lot of timezone juggling!
Based on Kenzie’s intake sessions as well as exchanges with members during group calls, the emerging picture of the most-often cited challenges grassroots groups are facing currently includes:
- Help with building intersectional narratives and coalitions to link struggles together
- Activist safety & security in repressive environments
- Maintaining activist engagement and working together efficiently in groups
- How to secure funding for grassroots organizing and how to report impact
- How to build effective strategy within non-hierarchical structures
- Managing burnout among activist communities & collective care
Swapping tools and resources among ourselves
The draw of joining the GGSN for participants, our answer to the “why should I bother?” question, was always the promise of getting access to tools and resources developed by other projects facing similar challenges.
In other words, that this network would prevent some ‘reinventing of the wheel’ because each member could copy shared resources created by peers and adapt them to their own local contexts instead of starting from scratch.
So far, thanks to the generosity of early members, we have written up and published a good number of publicly-shared resources that are made available to justice-oriented activists everywhere, through our partnerships with the Commons Library and our home base, Blueprints for Change. And to make all of this more accessible across borders, we’re actively working on getting all resources translated into Spanish and French in the coming months!
While long-form guides and workshops are great, we found throughout this first year that a lot more knowledge exchange happened informally in answer to questions asked on Slack and during group calls. To document all the great answers to these questions that came up organically in exchanges with members, we put together the collective knowledge contributed by our network in “knowledge round up” docs, covering issues such as: How folks are organizing against the far right?, resources for connecting with, uplifting, and supporting people in highly marginalized communities, advice on how to build a wider constituency/coalition… We’re now working on getting these written up for public sharing on the Commons Library and BFC.
Going wider and deeper in Year 2
After a first year out there, the GGSN is just hitting its stride and is now ambitiously aiming to double or even triple its member community, while bringing in a more geographically-diverse membership. To help with this, our Regional Coordinators will move to more active recruitment and facilitation of new member cohorts from the regions they are working in.
While we will keep adding all kinds of new shared tools and informal knowledge swaps between members, we will also be working on creating a user-friendly knowledge base platform that will allow GGSN members to easily search and find content in answer to their own questions and challenges.
We will continue to spark all kinds of gatherings and opportunities for exchange between members, so that everyone can benefit from the community’s collective intelligence and also gain hope and motivation by meeting folks from around the world involved in the most vital anti-oppressive struggles of our time.
Want to join the GGSN?
If you’re excited by the mission of supporting grassroots justice-oriented activists as we are, we have lots of room for new members and you can commit the amount of time that is accessible to you, and the input that supports your mission.
The Global Grassroots Support Network (GGSN) is an initiative building upon the Blueprints for Change project. The GGSN is a community of practice that brings together people and projects supporting “grassroots justice-oriented” activist groups in multiple regions and continents. Our objective is to share knowledge around common challenges that these groups face, and how each project has solved for them. Folks in this network can learn from each others’ experience and swap ideas for trainings, coaching and resource materials (i.e. guides, workshops, media) they created in their own part of the world.
If you’ve looked into it and are convinced you want to join us:
i] How the GGSN defines “justice-oriented” activist groups
We have used the term ‘justice-oriented groups’ to contain the many intersecting fights for justice that unite us.
Communities are affected differently and unequally by oppressive conditions based on race, socio-economic status, class, gender, age, dis(ability), sexuality, and other social identities. The characteristics of one aspect of injustice and its intersections with other identities cannot exist separately.
Structural inequities cause power imbalances within society, and differing exposure to forms of injustice, suggests all fights are interconnected.
Many groups that are included in the network are focused on a particular issue and are fighting for rights/justice related to it. These groups may use terms such as, “social justice”, “climate justice”, “racial justice”, “human rights”, “reproductive rights”, “gender and sexual rights”, “anti-racism”, “decolonization” etc. The GGSN understands all of these as falling within our definition of “justice-oriented” groups.
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