Can Grassroots Activism Make a Difference?

Grassroot Activism
Bocman1973 /

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.

Profiles Resources

Olivia Newton-John Profile

oliva newton john
IMG: Featureflash /

Most people know Olivia Newton-John for her voice and her role opposite John Travolta in Grease. But since her Hollywood days, Olivia has connected with some of the more important things in life—like staying alive. A breast cancer survivor, Olivia Newton-John has spent much of her time in recent years supporting the cause.

“I am committed and excited about educating and encouraging women to take a positive role in their breast health,” the UK-born, Australian-raised singer says on her website. Though she’s won several awards for her incredible musical talent, performance is taking a back seat to philanthropy these days.

In the 90s, Olivia was diagnosed with and overcame breast cancer. After that battle, she produced GAIA, an album both self-penned and produced. It reflected upon her personal experiences with cancer and was the beginning of her openness with the public about her bout with cancer. Since then, she has been one of the most transparent celebrities promoting public awareness, education, and early detection.

Olivia Newton-John eventually partnered with Austin Health to create the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) in Melbourne, Australia. The ONJCWC includes facilities for treatment, education, training, and research and opened in June of 2012.

In order to fundraise for the center, “Olivia led a team of fellow cancer survivors, celebrities and Olympians on a trek along the Great Wall of China,” which raised over $2 million. She has fundraised on a global scale and has been recognized by the American Red Cross, the Environmental Media Association, the Women’s Guild of Cedar’s Sinai Medical Center, the Rainforest Alliance and Concept Cure for her philanthropic involvement.

Most recently, Olivia Newton-John launched the Liv Aid, which is a breast self-examination aid that helps women complete self-exams correctly. In doing so, she helps to catch more cases of breast cancer early and encourage women to take an active role in their breast health.

“I think when you go through an experience like cancer, it makes you really aware of vulnerability and your humanity,” she says. “And I think, as you get older, it’s a natural part of life to want to give back and help. And I’ve been so blessed in my life, and I’m so grateful for all I do have, giving back is just natural. It seems natural, don’t you think?”