Grassroots action is often thought of as something a few idealistic people do, or something that happens far away in villages and forests. The word ‘grassroots’ for the average city-dwelling student for instance, has rarely figured in school and college, since life revolves around books, class rooms and exams. Cities get a whiff of grassoots action when we find people joining Anna Hazare’s movement or start a cycling group or protest against the cutting of trees. Many, including many NGOs may look at grassroots action as a response to the inefficiencies and injustices of the prevailing system of governance. Let us take a long distance broad over-view of all our activities on Earth. As in a kaleidoscope, different views may crystallize upfront. One pattern is of cities and ‘other
than cities’. Another pattern can be of human activities that are part of a centrally controlled system (such as education and the job market) as against activities of human beings that emerge spontaneously to respond to their own needs: people taking to gardening, people of a village desilting their tank or working for some cause and even many melas and festivals. In other words there is centrally controlled way of life and a locally determined way of life. Today the former is called the ‘mainstream’ and the latter the ‘alternate’. Work at the grassroots has become part of the alternate world-view.
Grassroots Action is Natural Action
A fresh and enlivening way of looking at grassroots action is that it is actually natural action! Any group of people, as communities, groups or individuals getting together to have fun, to look after their interests or their commons, or to create something together is an expression of a natural human need. Students, corporate employees, children, ‘grown-ups’, housewives or the elderly – all human beings in fact, welcome and enjoy activities in the here and now, which concern their immediate surroundings and bring people together. We are living today, more and more in a man-made web, and generally take for granted the web of life woven by Nature. Our thoughts, actions, possessions are elementsof this man-made web – be it the TV and the newspaper, the house and things in it, files and books, roads and vehicles and innumerable other creations of the fantastic human brain and body. As Vaclav Havel says, we are living in the world’s first globalised atheistic civilization – and what is dangerous about it is its unquestioning pride in what it has created.
Grassroots Work is in our Own Interest
There is so much questioning our arrogant modern civilization needs to do, and each one of us need to question ourselves too. How much are we caught up in this man-made web of modern civilization? How many hours of the day are we surrounded only by man made objects? How much are we engaging in Nature’s web of life directly – and not indirectly through man-made food, clothes and things which all have their sources in Nature? How much are we engaging in grassroots activity, in the sense of being in touch directly with nature or other human beings and even the ‘self ’ ?
It is said that depression and a sense of alienation are expected to be the biggest human illnesses after heart disease in the future. We can heal ourselves by being more in touch with Nature, with natural activities with people around us; by engaging in grassroots activities and moving from globalization to localization as Helena Norberg Hodge talks passionately about in her article “Roots of Change”. Satish Kumar in his article “Bottom Up Leadership” says that we need to move away from a dependence on ego-driven, celebrity leaders or power manic managers, to all of us leading the way to show that happiness does not flow from material goods or the amount of money in our bank accounts. Grassroots action actually needs to become ‘mainstream’, as a principle of sustainability, with action through centralized power becoming ‘alternate’, being limited to areas where it may be essential or wholesome.