Grassroots Strategies to Elevate Community Expertise

Grassroots approaches to elevating residents’ perspectives on safety and justice have included both community surveys and collaborative vision-building exercises. Each involves soliciting feedback on questions or ideas from a diverse set of residents, while also cultivating a space for respondents to generate their own ideas. Many of these activities occur in partnerships with local groups that organize direct action and campaign for change.

Faithfully Organizing Resources for Community Empowerment (FORCE) Detroit (Detroit, Michigan)

In 2018, FORCE Detroit created an outlet for Detroiters to share their experiences on safety in the city so that those perspectives could drive additional advocacy efforts. Questionnaire responses from more than 600 residents indicated that tackling poor conflict resolution skills, poverty, and substance use were necessary to address the root causes of interpersonal violence in the city. FORCE also contributes to coalition development and builds civic engagement for youth and millennial organizing.

Liberate MKE (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Through a relational organizing campaign to align the city’s budget with the priorities of marginalized residents, Liberate MKE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, surveyed more than 1,000 people across every district in the city to highlight community priorities for justice and safety. Respondents indicated that their top priorities for improving public safety and well-being were funding community-based violence prevention programs that did not involve law enforcement, creating sustainable jobs for young people aged 16–24, and providing affordable quality housing.

Street Roots (Portland, Oregon)

Street Roots works to end the criminalization of homelessness, increase civic engagement among people experiencing poverty, and provide resources for organizing efforts led by unhoused people. In 2019, the City of Portland, Oregon, began considering a new first responder approach for people experiencing homelessness. Street Roots and other local advocates driving the change emphasized the importance of centering the perspectives of people who were unhoused in its development. Through a survey, unhoused respondents indicated that when no criminal matter was involved, responders should not include police; responders should be trained in de-escalation, trauma, and listening; and teams would be more effective if they could make referrals to services and provide transportation. These results informed the $500,000 Portland Street Response pilot program to implement nonpolice mobile crisis responses in Portland.

JustLeadershipUSA (New York City)

JustLeadershipUSA is a power-building movement led by organizers directly impacted by the criminal legal system, working to dismantle systems of oppression in the United States. In 2020, JustLeadershipUSA collaborated with 30 different partner organizations to create the #buildCOMMUNITIES Platform 2.0, a large-scale vision-building exercise conducted in association with the #CLOSErikers campaign. Over three months, the collaborative convened “assemblies” in eight different neighborhoods across New York City that had been heavily impacted by incarceration and divestment. Conveners facilitated sessions for groups of residents to present, discuss, and workshop ideas together. These conversations focused on identifying where investment was needed to improve the safety and well-being of their communities: public health, housing, economic development, education, community programs, conflict management, and restorative processes for accountability. This vision contributed to a multi-campaign effort that generated a $391 million city commitment to noncriminal legal system programming and resources.