Shifting Power, Redefining Expertise
Who is at the table when we are defining the problem, and creating the solution? Who is given the power to catalyze change?
In 2016, the Grassroots Fund crafted a new set of values to guide our work. Of these values, one challenged us to support efforts that are Shifting Power, both through the groups we fund and within our internal processes. Over the last few months, we’ve dug into what that means for us and listened to grassroots groups about what it means to them.
At the core of Shifting Power, we found one key belief: lived experience is expertise. We have begun to ask ourselves how we can live out this value in every corner of our work. Our open call participatory processes for distributing grants and planning events are the places we practice this most intentionally, where anybody (yes, anybody!) can weigh in on how our dollars are being distributed and we work to make sure a plurality of experiences are represented. There is still a great deal of room for growth for us internally as we push to live into this value further.
So many of the groups we work with are redefining expertise and, in the process, strengthening solutions to the social and ecological crises we face. This looks like people who have experienced homelessness weighing in on housing and efficiency policies, refugee communities facing displacement organizing around more inclusive city planning processes, and women of color, long-mistreated by the medical system, taking maternal health into their own hands. It’s farmworkers saying that they will be the ones to create and push forth policy that improves living conditions, wages, and economic viability of the dairy industry in New England. When we value lived experience, we are taking a stand for self-determination and for solutions that put communities first.
Creating groups where all experience is valued can be a challenge, especially when we are feeling the urgency to solve the problems in front of us. But participants don’t start from a level playing field of power, and the same systems we are fighting deliberately hold back marginalized voices.
If we are going to create healthy, just, and sustainable communities, we have to get serious about counteracting these dynamics and developing practices to address barriers to involvement.
Grassroots groups don’t all need our expertise on issue areas such as food or energy: they are increasingly the experts on their communities and the solutions they can create. They have, however, been coming to our virtual and in-person events to grapple with these challenging questions: how do we create an inclusive group culture? How do we reach community members that have previously been left out of the political process?
Today, we are sharing with you our first comprehensive resource to help reflect on some of those questions, our Shifting Power Report.
This report is only a starting point for us to begin an ongoing engagement with our community around these questions. Over the next few months, this resource will continue to inform our grant applications, our resources for grassroots groups, and our in-person events.
There is a lot at stake if we don’t reflect on our ability to shift power wherever we are. The dominant system treats the planet as expendable, tells us certain lives are necessary collateral and therefore has the green light to pollute, destroy and endanger what we love. To create healthy and just communities, we are called upon to counter this idea of expendability with just the opposite: to recognize that lived experience, especially of communities that have been harmed by this system, contains the wisdom we need in order to survive.
This stance is principled, but it’s also practical: tapping into a wide range of experience and expertise will be necessary to build resilient solutions to the crises we face. Over the next few months, we’ll be developing events and online communities of practice around this resource to dig into its complexities and hear how it can serve the needs of grassroots organizers in our region. We hope you’ll read the report as a first step to joining us in ongoing reflection and action over the coming months.
The Grassroots Fund