When the Better Beach Project began in early 2017, a considerable amount of our operation could be summarized as the passionate airing of our frustrations about harmful litter on the beach to anyone who would listen. We had identified a problem and a potential solution, but could not implement that solution alone. Put simply, we believed (and still believe) that communities are improved when the members of a community put forth sustained effort to improve it. To date, we haven’t found anyone who disagrees with this train of thought. Our thought was that if we could get people to apply our idea to the beaches, they might see the simplicity in its application to any other location.
In the first year of our initiative, we partnered with 18 Virginia Beach businesses near our neighborhood and asked them to provide small incentives to people who brought them litter from the beach. 16 ounces at a time, we removed approximately 800 pounds of trash off the beach over the course of one summer, most of which was broken glass, rusty bottle caps, and cigarette butts. Moving into our second year, the number of participating businesses has more than doubled and our geographic footprint has expanded considerably. Along with additional attention from local and social media, the use of the word “grassroots” with respect to the Better Beach Project has increased.
For precisely no good reason at all, I wasn’t initially sure of how I felt about having our initiative labeled as a grassroots movement. Maybe I thought the “G” word was too political, too hipster, or small-time. I couldn’t justify this feeling, and I certainly had no disdain for other grassroots-associated movements. Removed from how I inexplicably felt about the link between our initiative and the grassroots movement label, the Better Beach Project quite literally wants to connect people to the ground. With their eyes, with their hands, and with their hearts, we want to connect anyone who will listen with the idea that we can make our beaches and our communities better by removing the litter that degrades them.
Most grassroots movements begin as ideas that direct attention and support issues that benefit the masses. Grassroots movements are often described as “movements of the people” or a collective of ordinary folks that comprise the engine that drives a larger initiative. What intrigues me the most about grassroots movements is how they grow. Something that we strongly believe about the Better Beach Project is that there’s nothing unique about our initiative, our participating businesses, or the communities where our project has grown roots. Nothing is stopping any business anywhere from doing the sort of things that we are doing, and nothing is stopping any community from practicing a little extra vigilance with regard to the removal of litter.
We don’t see our initiative as a leading-from-the-front movement that requires participating businesses and their customers to fall in line behind us, but rather that our purpose is to facilitate the relationship between businesses and the community, providing an example of how both parties can mutually support the other. It started small, has grown, and will always be focused on localized opportunities for positive change, particularly in ways that affect and benefit ordinary people.
Are we a grassroots organization? You bet we are.