Grassroots and Leadership

Robert Stains

Program Director, Public Conversations Project, Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: I'm wondering, in terms of units of change, even if it's invisible change, in the abortion dialogues were a very interesting example because you started at a grassroots, sort of your neighbor, someone you don't know, you come in and have a conversation and then you shift and it was sort of small units as I recall, four on four, right?

A: Well, it varied between four on four and three on three. 

Q: And then eventually after the violence in 1994, it became three on each side, but whom were all leaders and activists. Is that the goal? Is both the goal? What levels are you hoping to activate change on? Or is it a function of what people come and ask you to do? 

A: It is both, both in terms that we are interested in grassroots, and we are interested in leadership and we are responsive to what's being asked. So there are ways that we've worked with these really high-felutant leaders around the world, but we wouldn't have gotten to these leaders if we hadn't worked with people here in parishes in Massachusetts that were just lay people. We prize both. 

One of the really remarkable things about this work is how the word travels. It's just extraordinary how good work travels. I shouldn't say good work. It is more when people have a deep experience. When they've been personally touched they talk about it and they remember. When another conflict comes up they want to apply the same learning to the conflict. So, we've seen it in our own work, in terms of people coming to us for more work, but now we're seeing it where people read something on the web and they say that they were so inspired by the leaders' dialogue. We got an email from someone in Northern Ireland and she said, "It has inspired me to go out and start Catholic and Protestant dialogues." That kind of thing just blows my mind. So it is at all levels.