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What Does A Grassroots Organization Need To Affect Change?

Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis fast food workers rally at the McDonald's on South Broadway as they demand better wages. July 29, 2013

To people who feel powerless in the face of today's political structure, Princeton University religion professor Jeffrey Stout has this advice: organize.  He delivers a lecture, "Struggle for a Just Society - Grassroots Democracy in America," as part of the Lee Institute's Speaker Series on Monday, October 28, 2013.

He points to the great social movements of the past two centuries as examples of grassroots organization that affected real change in America -  abolitionists, civil rights and women's suffrage.

And there are positive signs of grassroots movement today, said Stout, but there is a gap between the level of activity present and the level of activity needed to have a lasting impact on the national stage. He recently published a book on the topic called Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America.

What a grassroots organization needs most, said Stout, is just that - organization. They need a plan with structure and strong leadership to back it up, as well as a system of accountability for that leadership. And, of course, a grassroots organization needs to be a voice of the people, not of the few.

For those reasons, Stout doesn't hold out much hope for either of the big name grassroots organizations of today - the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. According to Stout, the Occupy Movement lacks the strong leadership and clear organization it needs to affect change. And the Tea Party isn't really  a grassroots organization.

“It’s having influence but it’s also surprisingly top-down," said Stout. "It’s funded by a few billionaires."

The truly grassroots organizations that Stout researched throughout the country all tend to have one thing in common - a sense that the political power is dominated by those with the wealth to back it up.

"If the basic problem in our society right now is one of domination, which is to say some people and groups are in a position to act as they wish, arbitrarily exercise power over others, the antidote to that is accountability," said Stout. "We already have a good start given our system of government...but it doesn't really happen unless people organize and exert pressure on the political system."

Related Event

Lee Institute Speaker Series Presents a Lecture by Jeffrey, “Struggle for a Just Society – Grassroots Democracy in America”

Monday, October 28, 2013

7:30 p.m.

Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church, 9450 Clayton Road, Ladue , MO 63124

Note: The 45-minute presentation will be followed by a 15-minute Q&A, book signing, and a reception. The event is free and open to all.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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