Creating Change from the Bottom Up

March 8, 2012 | IndyStar | Link to Article 

Something is happening in the grassroots of this city that is exciting, inspiring, even cool.

Increasingly, a lot of ordinary people are coming together to think about and plan how to make Indy a better place to live. The latest example of that happened Tuesday night at Light of the World Christian Church, where about 2,000 people gathered for the Founding Convention of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network.

Called IndyCAN, the group represents about 30 local congregations of divergent religious traditions. They're united around a couple of overarching goals: improving the quality of life and raising the standard of living of people in the urban core.

IndyCAN's leaders started their effort -- imagine this -- by engaging with and listening to the people they want to help.

What they heard shouldn't be all that startling to anyone who's paid attention to the everyday struggles of hundreds of thousands of people in this city. A broken bus system makes it incredibly difficult for the working poor to get to places of employment. Ex-offenders face huge obstacles in landing legitimate jobs and reintegrating into the community. The lack of a good education is crippling the potential of tens of thousands of young people.

One aspect of IndyCAN's work that is especially encouraging is that the group's leaders and everyday members aren't content to talk only among themselves. They plan, for example, to actively advocate for a mass transit plan at the Statehouse next year. They're also talking to local government leaders about the barriers to employment that ex-offenders face.

The grass-roots efforts that IndyCAN and other emerging organizations are engaged in are encouraging on multiple levels. The issues themselves -- transit, jobs, education -- highlight problems that have long plagued the city. Also, the bottom-up rather than the traditional top-down approach may well be more successful in the current culture. And the depth and diversity of the organizations that have come together to tackle these issues make it more likely that the broad community will buy in their efforts.

Indy has been blessed for decades by strong leaders at the top. Now, the grass roots are thriving.