grăs′roo͞ts″, -roo͝ts″

noun plural

1. People at a local or low level rather than at the center or upper levels of an organization or movement. Often used with the.

2. The lowest or most basic level of an organization or movement.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

The above is a dictionary definition of grassroots. It’s pretty clear that it’s about bringing power over our lives right down to the lowest level which to all intents and purposes, are our neighbourhoods. That’s bringing power down to the level where we collectively exercise it and are accountable to each other. Accountable in a way that neither local authorities or national governments ever can be. Accountable because unlike local or national government who serve a range of unaccountable corporate interests, we’re working for each other in our communities.

You don’t need us to tell you that trust in government at both a local and national level is in decline. A breakdown in trust can be seen as something negative in that cynicism has replaced any sense of hope for the future. On the other hand, it can be seen as a liberating step as it dawns on a growing number of people that our interests are best served by working for each other in our communities rather than relying on increasingly unaccountable forms of governance. Once that realisation grows, then we can start on the serious work of taking power at the grassroots.

However, it could be argued that the seeds for that have already been planted. It could even be argued that they’ve always been there, it’s just that they have not had the right conditions to germinate, grow and flourish. Despite what some people may tell you, by and large, humans are a co-operative species. Working and co-operating with each other is the best way of meeting our needs, material and spiritual. You only have to look at the Links page on this blog to see the array of projects and initiatives people willingly volunteer their time and effort for in order to make their communities better places to live.

If you took all of the voluntary groups out of the equation, society would be very much diminished in the process. In fact, it could be argued that it would barely be able to function. Let’s look at a few examples… Firstly, if it wasn’t for this group of residents in Stanford-le-Hope – Passionate about Hardie Park – the local town park would have stayed as a neglected no go area instead of the thriving community asset it is today. If it wasn’t for the Southend BeachCare Group, the beaches in Southend would be in such a state that a number of them would be unusable. If it wasn’t for the Laindon School Uniform Bank, there would be families in Laindon and Basildon struggling to pay for their kids’ school uniforms. There are many more examples of how residents have got together to meet a need in their communities.

By doing this, not only is an immediate need met, by involvement in the project, people are empowering themselves by learning new skills. Also by working on a grassroots project, people are forming bonds with each other and building the community solidarity we need in these increasingly troubled times. Empowerment and community solidarity have the potential to be a potent combination. A combination that as the system slowly crumbles and becomes more dysfunctional, will increasingly become vital, not just to get us through whatever crises are coming our way, but also to lay the foundations for the new world we want to see.

That’s what the Grassroots Alternatives project is about. It’s about empowering people to bring about fundamental change and build a better world in the process. When you start talking about bringing power back down to the level of the neighbourhood where we can all be accountable to each other and take it away from the elites, you’re making a fundamental challenge to the status quo. Challenging the status quo is a serious business. That is why Grassroots Alternatives is NOT a fluffy project in any way, shape or form!