By Sarah Huang, Co-Director, Grassroots Fund
The Grassroots Fund Guiding Practices - Shifting Power in Decision Making, Rooted Innovation, Equity in Participation, and Centering a Just Transition - serve as the grounding that underpins the work we strive to see taking place throughout New England. They offer a space for our grant applicants, Community Grant Readers, and other community partners to reflect on the values that underlie the Environmental Justice movement. It’s these values of bottom-up organizing, centering the voices of those most impacted, and shared community leadership that we believe are necessary to truly build just and resilient communities.
We hope that the Guiding Practices can create a space for reflection and learning because we know that this type of work, work that centers and empowers the voices of those most impacted by today’s most pressing issues, is never truly done. Whether it’s community organizing, responding to a state’s climate action plan, or mutual aid, we are only going to build a better future by working together.
Below you’ll find reflections and prompts to consider for each Grassroots Fund Guiding Practice based on years of learning directly from grassroots groups who are doing it best in their own communities. We encourage you to engage with these questions in relation to any work you’re undertaking and to also challenge our understanding. Please reach out to us with any questions, thoughts, concerns, or what have you. In the meantime, we’ll see you in the community.
Rooted Innovation focuses on understanding how a project is grounded in a community. This means understanding not only what the needs are in the community, but also how you aim to understand these needs and will continue to update and maintain feedback about your work.
- What are the needs of the folks who live in our community?
- What existing partnerships and collaborations do we have? Are there any new connections that can be made to make sure that we are working in solidarity with our community?
- How can we make sure that our community can provide active feedback on this work?
Shifting Power in Decision Making
Shifting Power in Decision Making focuses on how decisions are made, how those with diverse lived experiences can meaningfully weigh in, and what protocols are in place to navigate tension and conflict. Some additional questions that you can ask include:
- Are the folks who are intended to benefit from this project also a core part of priority setting and decision making?
- Is the group’s composition diversely representative across race, ability, gender, class, and other self-identifiers or demographics?
- Do our decision making processes ensure that all voices are heard? How are we navigating tension and conflict?
Equity in Participation
Equity in Participation focuses on understanding the barriers to participating and creating opportunities to collectively respond to those barriers. There are many types of barriers to participating that include tangible and intangible practices. An example of a tangible barrier, might be lacking access to transportation to a meeting. An intangible barrier to participation might be a culture of unawareness or attention to equity and care. Some questions to help you think about this practice include:
- How do group members voice their concerns about participation? Is this an explicit process that all members are aware of and are able to engage with?
- Do you understand the complexity of your community’s identity? How do intersectional identities influence how members show up to each meeting?
- How do you assess barriers to participation? Who was included in those assessments? When was the last time you asked these questions?
Centering a Just Transition
We reference Climate Justice Alliance’s understanding of Just Transition, which has roots within labor organizing and Environmental Justice. In order to move towards a Just Transition, the solutions and ideas of what is needed for community well-being must come from the bottom-up, thus it requires having a foundation in Rooted Innovation and Shifting Power in Decision Making. It also means creating a culture of problem-solving that trusts people’s lived experiences and trusting that community members know best the complexity and the diversity of their needs. It requires asking questions like how are we working towards relationship building and connecting? This includes between people, between organizations, between food and health and housing issues.
When we’re looking at Just Transition, we see grassroots groups who embody this Guiding Practice are reflecting deeply upon:
- What intersections exist within our work? For example, is hunger a result of lack of food access or are there other societal issues at play?
- How is our work leading towards greater systems change?
- How have we assessed our community’s needs? What are the gaps and opportunities in our resources (including, but not limited to lived experiences, knowledge, skills)?
- How are we centering regenerative or relationship-based practices? Who are the non-traditional partners needed in our work? How can we move towards living well, but not at the expense of others living poorly?
This is one of the Guiding Practices where we often look to see how groups are addressing the other Guiding Practices - how are they rooted in community, how are they shifting power in decision making, and who is participating? Once these practices are in place, then our theory of change believes that groups are able to move towards a Just Transition. We see this as work that is deeply intersectional, has a systemic analysis, AND is built upon community needs, community relationships, and shifting power.
Centering a Just Transition is also at the core of how we talk about what “counts” as environmental work. Oftentimes, we hear feedback from readers that applications might not be in the scope of how the Grassroots Fund thinks about Environmental Justice or environmental work. However, a Just Transition points specifically to the need for our actions and our organizing to be intersectional and systems-based. Thus, this means that work addressing toxic dumping in local water systems is as “environmental” as work focusing on economic empowerment of community members living in poverty.
We know that through bottom-up organizing, centering the voices of those most impacted, and shared community leadership the grassroots will continue to build resiliency through their communities. That is why these insights into the Grassroots Fund Guiding Practices - Shifting Power in Decision Making, Rooted Innovation, Equity in Participation, and Centering a Just Transition - are always being adapted and updated based off of the learnings derived from the work taking place directly throughout our New England communities. If you have any questions, thoughts, or insights you’d like to share, please reach out to us and let us know!