Grassroots Movements Examples working for political change

August 21, 2017 - 12 minutes read

Grassroots movements are being touted as the future of politics – movements that are harnessing the power of the masses to bring about political change. By tapping into public sentiment, these movements can create community engagement and scale up without relying on large donor funding.

While political activism has always involved grassroots strategies, the role of a grassroots approach has drawn much more attention of late. Small donor fundraising, text messaging, phone calls, social media posts, petitions, protests, and rallies all form a part of this approach.

Here we list the top four grassroots movements that captured our attention and offer a takeaway for other movements to emulate.

grassroots movement examples

INDIVISIBLE

Who are they?

The Indivisible movement began with a 23 page guide posted on Google Docs by a group of current and former Congressional staffers. The guide outlined ways citizens could lobby their representatives, which included attending town halls, calling congressional officials, visiting their offices, and showing up at public events. The guide has expanded to form the Indivisible Movement with a website that holds further resources on using the guide and setting up local branches.

Indivisible works to ensure that voters are aware about the actions of their representatives throughout their time in office. It offers resources and guidelines to voters on how to engage with their representatives and ensure that reps abide by the collective interests of the constituency.

What they’ve achieved

The Indivisible movement outlined a way for ordinary citizens to partake in the political process and make sure that their voices were heard. Thousands of Indivisible local branches have sprouted in congressional districts across the country, and empowered tens of thousands of liberals and progressives to take action. Indivisible celebrated their most recent victory on July 28, 2017 with the US Senate rejection of the bill to repeal Obamacare. Indivisible groups across the nation had worked together with other grassroots movements and organizations to put constituent pressure on representatives to vote against the repeal of Obamacare.

Campaigning takeaway

Often times, voters are left unaware about how their representatives stand on issues, how they vote, and their role in the larger picture. By breaking down each important event in the US, or vote taking place in congress, and outlining specific guidelines for how voters can hold their reps accountable, Indivisible is moving the political process from the realm of special interests to the will of the people.

The campaigning approach takes into account that people are unfamiliar with the political process. It doesn’t just barrage voters with the latest information, but details out specific actions to be taken, questions to be asked, phone calls to be made, town halls to attend and every other specific on how individuals can effect change in politics.

Like Indivisible, your campaign or cause should be built on top of an underlying pain-point for the voter. In this case, it was the lack of guidance for how to engage with reps.

KNOCK EVERY DOOR

Who  are they?

Knock Every Door is a volunteer led organization created in the wake of the 2016 US presidential elections. It was formed by a group of Bernie Sanders campaign alums and led by Becky Bond, former Senior Advisor for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. The movement organizes and trains volunteers for door-to-door canvasses across the US. Rather than prioritizing the the conversion of voters to favor a specific candidate, Knock Every Door encourages its volunteers to have open ended conversations with voters with the goal to understand how they are thinking about current politics. Research suggests that long, open-ended conversations like these can actually change people’s minds. All volunteer scripts are based on the “deep canvassing” methodology piloted by the Leadership Lab of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

What they’ve achieved

Knock Every Door has helped organize volunteers across 37 states. They’ve also partnered with grassroots organization, Swing Left, to educate Swing Left volunteers on employing deep canvassing techniques across marginal states.

Campaigning takeaway

Rather than follow the adage of knocking on doors to convince people to vote for your candidate, Knock Every Door takes heed of results from studies on deep canvassing to engage voters in open ended conversations.

Most campaign tout large “knock” numbers to highlight the effectiveness of their ground game. But often times, this involves volunteers rushing through neighbourhoods to rack up the number of doors knocked. This leaves voters feeling like they’ve just viewed a campaign ad rather than having had an honest conversation.

Campaigns have to continue to reinvent themselves to adopt new (read: effective) strategies to engage the constituency. At a time when more people are feeling alienated from the political process, it is essential to experiment with new ways to get people to voice their opinions and get out to vote.

SWING LEFT

Who are they?

Swing Left was started by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, Miriam Stone, and Josh Krafchin, a group of friends coming from diverse industries with little political background. They organize progressive volunteers from safe congressional districts and connects them to the closest swing districts to support progressive candidates.

(Swing districts are places where the winner of the last House of Representative elections was determined by a thin margin.)

“Voters in “safe” districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions. At the same time, House midterm elections, including in Swing Districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of Swing Districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races.”

What they’ve achieved

Swing Left has organized more than 300,000 volunteers in swing districts. It has raised $2.9 million dollars from 41,096 individual donors to support Democratic candidates.

Campaigning takeaway

Swing Left successfully used the recent bump up the progressive cause received following the results of the 2016 US presidential elections. In normal circumstances, a cause that doesn’t directly affect constituent lives has a hard time creating empathy with them. But due to the surge of popularity for the progressive movement, Swing Left was able to organize people from safe districts (Safe districts are legislative districts where voters support one political party by an overwhelmingly large margin.) to work on behalf of swing districts to advance the progressive cause.

Like Swing Left, your campaign doesn’t always have to build up rapport from the ground up. If your cause fits into an overall cause that has already garnered public support, you can harness that energy to advance your movement.

PEOPLES MOMENTUM

Who are they?

Momentum is a grassroots political advocacy group which grew out of the Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party leadership campaign of 2015. The group has a grassroots campaigning network of over 24,000 members, 150 local groups, and 200,000 supporters. The movement focuses on mass mobilization of activists across UK to support the Labour Party.

What they’ve achieved

Momentum mobilized more than 24,000 members on a shoestring budget for the 2017 UK general elections. Over the course of the elections, Momentum ran 50 campaign weekends that mobilized tens of thousands of activists to knock on doors in key marginal districts. The movement took the help of organizers from the Bernie Sanders campaign to provide assistance in the form of lessons and the introduction of new digital tools. The new tools include:

The phone-banking app, Calling for Corbyn, that allowed volunteers to sign in and make contact with other Labour members from the comfort of their home.

Peer to peer texting to organize volunteers and drum up support

My Nearest Marginal, a website which allowed members to find their nearest marginal seat and collaborate with others to canvass there.

Campaigning takeaway

Momentum stayed ahead of the Tory campaign by making canvassing more accessible to thousands of people, connecting with those who were new to the Labour party, new to campaigning and often new to politics.

The movement also implemented technology that had never before been used in the UK general elections, that includes a phone-banking app, peer to peer texting, and a tool to find the nearest marginal seat.

Their get-out-the-vote efforts had 35-40% of volunteers coming from outside the state to help out, with volunteers knocking on more than 1.2m doors on election day to make sure Labour voters cast  their ballot.

The volunteer skill matching employed by Momentum also helped with their campaign. Momentum’s Digital Hub brought together people working as analysts, developers or designers on their day jobs, to volunteer a couple of hours during the week. With very few paid staff, Momentum relied on volunteer numbers and their skills to scale up campaign efforts.

Momentum shows us that the effectiveness of a campaign needn’t rely on the amount of funds raised, but it in fact depends more on how passionate your volunteers are about the cause and how effectively the campaign organizes and uses those volunteers.

 

We’ll be updating this list with more grassroots movements. Stay tuned for more examples and campaign takeaways!

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