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Who Is Our Grassroots Constituency?

Our social justice constituents are those who explicitly support the advocacy cause, and work together to achieve justice in regards to this cause. A constituent usually refers to an individual people. A whole constituency is the group of individuals who support our cause.

Constituents come from two different groups, the affected (those who are affected by the problem/issue), and the concerned (who are not directly affected, but care much about the problem/issue and are heavily involved in addressing it.) Most of the time, the affected are those who are not in a power position or even marginalized groups. The concerned, on the other hand, are those who are not affected, but are very passionate about the issue and are willing to provide significant support to the cause. The support of the concerned is one of the indicators that this cause is a just one.

Tips for Identifying and Developing a Grassroots Constituency

1)

Navigating through identifying and involving a grassroots constituency could be tricky. Here are some tips to consider when working on this process:

  • Since we are seeking to restore people’s power in the process of our social justice work, it is important that the concerned are careful not to fall in the trap of working on behalf of the affected and thus emphasizing the powerlessness pattern of that usually characterize the affected.
  • Claiming that we speak on behalf of all the affected is a grave mistake that affects our credibility. We cannot just assume that we speak on their behalf unless we earn their explicit support for our position. In fact, many affected people, especially those who are marginalized and oppressed, will resist the efforts to bring justice to them. Many of those affected people feel threatened and exposed if they explicitly get involved in our activities. Making such an unsupported claim will affect our credibility and make our efforts sound elitist.
  • We, as social justice leaders, need to respect the wish of the affected people who do not agree with us, and refuse to be involved in our activities. Furthermore, this respect of people’s wish should provide another good reason for us to work hard on earning the trust of those people and receive guidance from them on the best way and pace at which we should handle the issue.
  • Work with your colleagues to brainstorm all possible constituents including the affected and the concerned. Do not exclude any such groups.
  • Develop some initial assumptions about each potential constituent. You have to test these assumptions. You will be surprised that many of your initial assumptions have changed after your testing them.
  • One pitfall we all run into is that we assume that all the members of one category or group of people think alike. In every group you can find people with big variation of opinions and positions about a given issue. You have to test your assumptions with individuals rather than with groups.

Exercise: Scanning Your Existing and Potential Grassroots Constituency

Assignment

Work with your colleagues on the following:

  • Brainstorm all possible constituent individuals and groups
  • List those who have already declared their positions towards your issue
  • Develop initial assumptions on the position of each constituent or group of constituents which you are not yet sure of their positions
  • Identify means of verifying/testing your assumptions with each of the above constituent
1) Adapted from “Characteristics of Community Mobilization”, Transforming Communities; www.transformingcommunities.org.

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