The Citizens Handbook
Creating a local citizen's group

Begin by answering key questions

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What size of area are we going to organize?
    (The smaller the area, the easier the task.)
  • Who will support our efforts?
  • Who will oppose our efforts?
  • What is a good idea for our first action?
    (It should be simple, local, and increase the group's visibility.)
  • How are we going to engage others?

Begin with research
Although professionals often start with research, you don't have to start here. On the other hand, you might be wise to begin with research if you intend to tackle an issue you do not fully understand.

Begin by convening people
The "Community Project Examples" section of the Handbook lists many informal opportunities for neighbours to meet one another. If your focus is a public interest issue, you will need to figure out a way of to bring together people with the same focus.

Begin by joining an existing group
Most neighbourhoods have many different kinds of active organizations, that welcome newcomers. If you wish to address an issue that transcends the neighbourhood, you might consider joining an existing group that is trying to address the issue. Here it is better to join a small grassroots organization. Organizations with paid staff often sideline volunteers, treating them as mere sources of unpaid labour.

Begin by starting a new group
If there is no group addressing your issue, or none you willing or able to join, you might have to start a new group. See Forming a Core Group. Keep in mind, there is natural tendency to want to start your own group. This creates a proliferation of similar groups, most with few resources, all competing for attention (and sometimes funding).

Co-operate with similar publics
Every place has well-informed publics with the same focus.The grassroots is often weakened because these small groups do not cooperate with one another. This phenomenon benefits corporations, and self-serving members of the "governing class". So if you create your own public interest group, make a special effort to cooperate with groups with similar goals. This requires regular face-to-face contact, cultivating friendly personal relationships between people belonging to different groups, and spending time to sort out differences in tactics. Inter-group cooperation is the engine of real progress at the grassroots.

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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of the handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots wilt, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from Amazon or from New Society Publishers.