From the Ground Up

At Electric City Magazine, we have an affection for grassroots movements, for, I think, understandable reasons. The magazine itself was something that was started by myself, Gabe Pollock, and my co-founder David Tough, on our own. We saw a need for it in the community, and we decided to do something about it.

But of course it’s not just us. Peterborough is full of stories like this: of movements, businesses, events, and artistic expressions created by people who saw a need, and decided to do something about it. Indeed, in a city where industry is falling away and the local government often seems two steps behind, but where the people are creative and engaged, it’s fertile ground for grassroots movements.

You can see this, for example, in the efforts to build the Working Place in Peterborough, in the growing movement to nurture a bike culture in town, and even in the small poetry presses of Peterborough and beyond.

There is something uniquely powerful about the grassroots. It’s the people on the ground who can see the problems that surround them, because they are the ones being directly affected. They are passionate about improving their situation, and their knowledge about the situation is profound and uniquely specific. Separated from the bureaucracy of corporations, governments, or non-profits, grassroots movements also have the ability to be blisteringly direct, side-stepping politics and going straight to finding solutions that work for the people.

Indeed, what inspired this whole editorial is an unusual, but strangely perfect, example of a grassroots movement: the renaissance of roller derby, the topic of our cover story. A group of people took a sport that was floundering and controlled by corporations, and turned it into something vibrant, accessible, creative, and fun—something far more powerful than it had ever been or could ever be in its previous form.

Our new partners at the Resonance Centre are also passionate about grassroots movements: with Peterborough Dialogues, they’ve spent years bringing people together to discuss the issues that are important to them, and to encourage them to collectively work towards solutions.

That process can be strange and sometimes halting. We are so programmed by the structures of our society to feel powerless, to leave our problems to those with authority to fix them. But when you get people talking, you quickly realize that you and the people around you understand what needs to be done, and, more often than not, have the skills to start making real change.

We’ve been experimenting with this in our monthly All Citizens Meetings (the next one is July 14 at the Mount Community Centre, btw), where we gather citizens and politicians to address what’s happening in the world around us.

Our other feature this month is the result of an exercise that took place at our first All Citizens Meeting in May. Together, we tried to imagine our ideal version of the news headlines of 2021. Responses ranged from simple and grounded to wildly impractical, but they provide a striking picture of what’s important to the people of Peterborough.

We will continue to help clarify that picture, in future meetings and in these pages, and we’ll shine a light on the citizen groups and organizations working to make that future a reality.

We do this to celebrate the good works being done, but also, admittedly, as a bit of a challenge. After all, if people just like you are getting engaged and acting, why aren’t you?

We need the participation of everyone to make our ideal future a reality. That includes bringing on board governments, corporations, and non-profits; but it also means we need you too. Instead of waiting on large organizations to fix our problems for us, let’s get involved.

Peterborough, it’s time to get busy.

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