PeoplesHub to help local organizing

September 13, 2017

Sarah VanGelder, Yes! Magazine PeoplesHub: Coming Soon to Your Community

ANNOUNCING: A start-up venture to bring skills and mentoring to communities all over the country who are making change where they live. PeoplesHub will build on the kinds of stories featured in “The Revolution Where You Live,” and YES! Magazine. But we’ll take it one step further by teaching the skills and strategies for making powerful change.

Have you wondered how to go about making change where you live? Where do you start? And how can you be most effective and inclusive and build the local power to get things done?

In late 2015, I took a four-month road trip around the United States that resulted in the book, “The Revolution Where You Live.” I visited places on the margins of society, many of them in red states—rust belt cities, Indian reservation, southern communities, and the mountain west.  My take away? The changes that are profound enough for these times of crisis are coming from place-based communities. Big government, big business, and even big nonprofits aren’t going to do it for us.

The election of Donald Trump made this idea even more urgent. Millions of people have been mobilized, and many are looking for ways to make change where they live. Local power is poised to take off.  For this movement to succeed, though, we need to spread the skills of community change—and with online learning platforms, we can now do that quickly and at low cost. 

What’s the idea?

An online training program for people who want to learn together the skills of making profound change in their communities and for those who are prepared to teach others about building local power.

Who will teach?

People who have made change in communities, especially front line communities. People skilled at some of the key strategies needed to make change where you live.

What will they teach?

  • Skills for opposition—stopping police brutality, a big box store, or fracking, for example.
  • Skills for building the kind of community we want, with cooperatives, community energy, relationships that are anti-racist and supportive.
  • Skills needed to do both—resolving conflicts, and holding excellent and energizing meetings, for example.

Isn’t this already happening?

We couldn’t find other places where people can learn online, together, in their own communities, from their peers in other communities.

We think that the group that learns together is best able to organize together. And we think it’s in our communities where we are most powerful.

Why online?

The trainings will happen live, via webinar, so the process can scale up at low cost. The trainer will interact with trainees on line, so they don’t incur expenses for travel and time. Multiple groups in various locations could learn at the same time, and trade insights and experiences as they gain skills. The process will be interactive and hands on, not a boring lecture, so all learning styles are engaged.

Why learn as a group?

The trainees will take the class together so they can interact with each other, connecting with the trainer via an internet link (Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom, or another similar platform). Learning together allows participants to practice together, discuss how the trainings apply to their local situation, and build cohesion. The trainings will include group discussions and exercises to build skills, strengthen relationships, and counter isolation.

By training teams, rather than individuals, groups can avoid the lone-wolf syndrome in which one person risks burn-out by doing too much of the work. A group that studies together can reinforce the learnings, giving local organizing a jump start.

Ideally, there may be multiple groups logging on to any one training, and they can inspire one another with their experiences in various locations.

Who will pay for this?

Those who take classes will be asked to make a small donation, but no one will be turned away. The training fees will go directly to the trainer. The infrastructure, website, staff time, set up work, etc, will be funded by donations and grants.

Course List (some sample ideas)

  1. Meetings 101: How to have meetings that access the creativity and wisdom of participants, liberate energy, galvanize power, and make people want to come back for more. (Single workshop)
  2. Conflict resolution: How to diffuse conflicts among would-be collaborators, deal with drama, find agreement or consensus, or to at least move forward. (Series of workshops)
  3. Participatory research: How to find out what is happening in your community. Get access to information from government and corporations. Find out what toxins are in your water, food, soil, or air. Access expertise at local schools or universities. Knowledge is power. Here’s how to get access. (short series)
  4. Grassroots fundraising: How to get the funding resources you need from within your own community or the next ring out. Online tools, fundraising approaches, in-kind contributions.  (single workshop or series).
  5. Decolonize yourself: Find out where you are oppressed by others’ assumptions about who you are, and where you are participating in oppressing yourself (internalized oppression) or others. How to begin liberating yourself. How to be an effective ally, understand power and privilege, and learn to be a skillful collaborator and ally (series).
  6. Oppositional nonviolence: How to take on the police, a recalcitrant politician, or a bank executive to have an impact without creating harm. How to de-escalate when conflict threatens to spiral into violence (series of workshops).
  7. Reaching beyond divides: What are respectful and effective ways to reach out to others who are of a different race, class, generation, or sexual orientation? How do you become a life-long learner about the other people you live with? How do you understand power differences and do your own homework (series).
  8. Resilience in the face of catastrophe: What if the “big one” hits (whether that’s earthquake, wildfire, tornado, or tsunami). What should your community do now to prepare? And what if it is a slow-moving crisis, like climate change, unemployment, or foreclosures? Or an everyday crisis, like a neighbor who is isolated and sick. How to build resilience for whatever hardships might come (series).
  9. Self care: How to recharge, build personal resilience, heal, ask for support: a starting place (series).
  10. Finding and engaging others: How do you recruit others to work with? How do you engage them, and keep them engaged? How to make it fun and rewarding, and enjoy yourself (single workshop).
  11. Crossing generations. How do you best hear what young people need, guide them, and be guided by them? If you are a youth-led group, how do you engage elders and share what you know? How to make space for both to lead and contribute (single workshop).
  12. Counter gentrification: As your community gets stronger, more beautiful, more livable, how do you prevent people from getting displaced, especially those who are most vulnerable? How do you create (or keep) affordable housing, locally owned businesses, diverse neighborhoods? (single workshop)
  13. Create your own economy. Don’t like what Wal Mart and other big corporations are offering? Here’s how to create cooperatives, support existing local businesses, start sharing networks, swaps, and other infrastructure of a new economy (series).
  14. Local food: Here’s how to build/enhance your local food system through growing, processing, distributing, sharing, cooking, and composting (series).
  15. Water: How to find out where your water comes from, how pure it is, and how to protect it from over-use or pollution and how to prevent it from being taken away by a corporation. Ideas for rain gardens, water harvesting, xeriscaping, etc. (single or series).
  16. Community based IT: What platforms should you use to organize locally? Pros and cons of various social media platforms, listserv platforms, text, real time conversations, etc. (single workshop).
  17. Celebrations and rituals: how to bring soulfulness, spirit and meaning into your work when you are crossing religious boundaries. Creating non-denominational rituals and collaborative arts projects (single workshop).

Trainings are based on these principles

  • Change is most powerful, profound, and democratic when it starts at the community level.
  • People in communities know best what they want to change or create. But they may need specific know-how and skills to do it, and examples of success.
  • People are emboldened and energized when they work in groups. Isolation is the enemy of empowerment.
  • The people who know best how to teach people to do community change are people who have a track record of making change in communities.
  • Community-based trainers deserve to be respected for their knowledge and paid for what they know and share.
  • The school should have an explicit anti-oppression theory and practice that informs all the work.
  • Trainings should offer skills for making change, opportunities to build cohesion in local group, insights into local solutions that work, and resources for personal healing, transformation, and empowerment.
  • Big picture conversations are also energizing and empowering when coupled with action.
  • Trainees can also be or become trainers. A goal is to de-professionalize and decolonize social change leadership, making it something that is accessible to all communities, and culturally relevant.

The training will be offered to locally based groups of all sorts that are inclusive of all regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, and that value equity and environmental stewardship.

Strategic considerations

The school is designed to scale. Just as Air BnB allows people to define themselves as hosts or guests, this platform will eventually allow trainers and trainees to post profiles and easily find each other. Vetting of trainers will be needed at the outset, until a robust reputation system can be established.

Trainers will be encouraged to build in participation and local exercises and discussion so the trainings don’t devolve into lectures. Report backs could include people in other locations.

Trainers will be offered access to trainings and information on best practices.

Variations on this approach could include:

  • Thought leaders and visionaries who grapple together about big ideas, and engage local groups in the conversation. They might address questions of the sort that Grace Boggs would have asked: What time is it in the clock of the world? Where we are in human history? How we can make change? What does the “next system” look like, and how do we get there?
  • Coaches could offer ongoing help to community groups on specific campaigns or dilemmas.


This concept is still in development. We hope to launch the first trainings in the fall. Help us with your ideas and tell us how you’d like to be involved by answering a few questions here.


It’s in our communities that we can bring about transformation deep enough to address emergencies like the demise of a middle class economy, the climate crisis, racial injustice, and exclusion. In communities, we can create a new society.

Authentic leadership is rooted in communities where we connect to one another, to the local ecosystem, and to our own power.

This local transformation is powerful, and we can accelerate it by connecting experienced community-based trainers with people who want to build their skills.