We see people out on the streets every day holding picket signs or marching for a cause. The question is really whether any of this does a bit of good. If not, what’s the point? Nobody wants to yell and scream for no reason. So, can grassroots activism make a difference?
The answer, from what we can tell, is yes. Obviously not all activists will be heard, and not all causes take off. However, when they do, change happens.
A good example of this is the change in police policy after many people complained about aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics. It didn’t change overnight, but took grassroots efforts to get people to understand why these tactics were racist and discriminatory. The New York City police officers were allowed to stop and frisk anyone they believed looked suspicious. That led directly to racial profiling.
This past summer, the New York City Council and a federal judge made changes to rectify the situation. “Crowds of people rallied every day outside the courthouse and let their voices be heard as legislators passed bills creating an inspector general to oversee the police department and a legal path for New Yorkers to challenge discriminatory policing,” according to “The Chronicle of Philanthropy.”
The fact that actual changes occurred based on a grassroots movement shows that it really can work. However, it involves a lot of planning, organizing, rallying and hard work. In this case, many different small organizations were brought together to form a larger coalition. Together their voices were stronger and louder.
One of the things philanthropists need to keep in mind is that they should not give up once the media moves on to the next big thing. The fight is never totally over. Stopping one type of discriminatory practice does not end discrimination. There is always more work to do. That may sound daunting, but it’s the truth.
The good news is that we are seeing more young people get involved in trying to effect social change. They are joining the movement via social media and in person. With all the new support, perhaps big changes are on the horizon.