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Three Ways Grassroots Activists Change the World

We often talk about grassroots activists changing the world. But how do they actually make it happen? Here are three ways they mobilize communities and transform their societies and our world.

1) They Make Sure Marginalized Peoples’ Voices Are Heard

In India, a young woman with glasses and a floral garland stands in a crowd, one arm raised and calling out to show support for women survivors of violence
In India, women created the Dignity March to shine a light on sexual violence and support survivors.

When you think activist, you likely picture someone standing in a crowd holding a protest sign or chanting slogans into a megaphone. You’d be correct. Peaceful protests bringing together people who have experienced injustice and their allies are indispensable elements of activism.

So how do they happen? Mass movements rarely come together overnight. Grassroots activists like those the Fund supports spend years working within their communities—listening, exploring solutions, and bringing people with similar experiences of inequality and injustice together. They often only make headlines or your Twitter feed when they take to the streets, demonstrating that evils like authoritarianism, discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence are not the will of the people.

2) They Change Laws

A group of domestic workers in Mexico stand together, wearing colorful dishwashing gloves, arms raised in celebration.
In Mexico, the domestic workers of CACEH are reforming labor laws.

Human rights activism is often associated with lawyers and the justice system. And for good reason. Grassroots activists play a critical role in overturning discriminatory laws and enacting new legal protections for workers, women, children, LGBTQ+ people, and the environment. These wins involve litigation, providing psychosocial and security to survivors going to court, and large-scale campaigns to rally public support. It can take years or even decades for change to happen.

And once a legal victory is secured, the work isn’t over: Fund grantees help ensure that new labor laws, mining codes, and LGBTQ+ protections are followed. That’s why we invest in emerging and established groups for five or even ten years, helping them build strong, sustainable organizations that are in it for the long haul.

[Stand with Activists: Sign A Letter of Solidarity for A Domestic Worker Changing Labor Laws in Mexico]

3) They Look Out for Each Other—And the Freedoms We All Cherish

In Kenya, a woman with cropped hair, glasses and a colorblock dress stands at forefront of a line of five women, singing and clapping. They are members of an activist collective.
The Fund supports activist networks on Kenya’s coast which help human rights defenders collaborate, develop protective strategies, and stay safe in their work.

It’s never been more dangerous to speak out about climate change, LGBTQ+ equality, or migrants’ rights. From Kenya and Nigeria to Guatemala and Mexico, Fund support is helping local human rights organizations create networks to push back on crackdowns and violence that target anyone who speaks truth to power.

They show up and speak out when an activist is unjustly arrested, threatened, or attacked, making it clear to corrupt authorities that their intimidation tactics won’t silence communities. And they mount legal, advocacy, and other challenges against attacks on freedom of speech and expression, along with the misuse of counterterrorism, COVID-19, or other policies to hamper activism.

This work seems technical but is often the most daring of all. By chipping away at the tactics employed by authoritarians and abusive companies, courageous activists help shift power back to people, and create a freer, safer world for us all.

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