Grassroots Activism: a world
on fire!
(en español)

this, the opening page of the Grassroots activism folder, is at
the website homepage is at

The "failure" of governments, and grassroots activism

      Throughout the world governments of most nation-states do not serve the needs of the majority of people. Sometimes this is (mistakenly) seen as failure to meet their responsibilities. But in reality governmments are not "failing" to do what they were set up to do. They were established by wealthy and powerful elements of the society. These privileged elites wanted to preserve their own privileges. By and large the governments of nation-states do just that. And most people know it. We know that "our" government — in truth the government of the wealthy elites — of "our" country are acting against the well-being of ordinary people.

      In response citizens are assuming initiatives to reorganize our social lives. Those initiatives that are neither connected with the government nor corporate-based but which usually arise spontaneously in response to unmet local needs are often called grassroot activities, usually done by groups formed for that purpose. Generally such "grassroots groups" respond to local needs, but they may be involved in local, regional or global activities. The term "grassroots groups" has a more specialized meaning in Mexico.

Grassroots Groups

      I think it makes sense to include in the category "grassroots groups" all manner of groups formed for grassroots activism, whether they are very broad-based with large
Demonstration in Oaxaca, Mexico on February 15, 2003 against the imminent U.S. attack on Iraq. Participating Americans hold a placard that says GRINGOS DON'T WANT WAR. One of many globe-wide grassroots actions that day
membership or small, and whether they are mainly volunteer-staffed or rely substantially on paid positions. With this definition of grassroots groups, the economic classes of people involved in such groups extend over a large range, from very poor to very rich. Clearly the wealth or poverty of the individuals will be important in determining the kinds of groups to which they belong and their priorities for grassroots activism.

      Among the many existing varieties of grassroots groups, I'm specially interested in those organized for constructive social change, that is, for the development of social institutions directed towards humane survival for all peoples in an ecologically sustainable world.

      Grassroots groups are by definition non-governmental organizations (NGO's). Generally they stand apart from organizations whose goals are financial gain, such as corporations, but this separation is not as clearcut as the NGO category.

      For example, the group Grassroots Economic Organizing promotes profitable enterprises outside of the corporate model, such as cooperatives and worker-owned manufacturing plants.

      In my view the very idea of promoting profitable enterprise is itself potentially destructive because it encourages the development of organizations, even cooperatives and worker-owned manufacturing plants, set up for the private profit of one group as opposed to the rest of society. The problem may arise because it is easy for that group to become enamored with the idea of making more profit, and more and more, and becoming similar, in its overall economic impact, to corporate or private businesses. Nevertheless, I don't disparage the efforts of these grassroots groups. But they need to be mindful of their original goals and to avoid becoming profit-mongers.

      A completely different category of grassroots groups are those set up for highly destructive purposes, for example to promote ideas of so-called racial purity. Some of them advocate race war, and induce acts of violence against darker-skinned people. Such grassroots efforts have nothing to commend them, deserving only condemnation.

Contents of this folder

1. Various grassroots groups, most of them in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

2. Various grassroots groups, most of them in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico.

3. Subfolder, Building the global grassroots infrastructure, an ongoing series of essays, ten of which are completed. The process of constructing a truly corporate- and nation-state-independent grassroots infrastructure is basic to the revolutionary strategy I advocate. These essays deal with both global and local aspects of the effort to build that infrastructure.

4. Subfolder, The Local Grassroots Infrastructure Trust, account of an effort I initiated in Cambridge, Massachusettss, to build a part of the grassroots infrastructure.

5. Subfolder, Local conflict in the town of Tanetze de Zaragosa, context and documents showing the connection between local conflicts and the global grassroots solidarity network.

6. Subfolder, Local-state conflict in San Agustín Loxicha, a town in the Southern Sierra of Oaxaca. (in preparation).

7. Subfolder, Communal land in Cerro Tepezcuintle, a small Mazateca town in northern Oaxaca.

8. Subfolder, San Sebastian Totontepec, a local initiative for an indigenous university as the basis for integrated development, in this Mixe town in the northern Sierra of Oaxaca.