“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” - The Declaration of Independence
Rhizome is a grassroots nonprofit created by 90 young people across the country. We run a high school Organizing Fellowship and pay high school and college-age students to increase civic engagement in their communities.
“Rhizome offers free, research-based, quality civic education communities to promote student leadership and student voice. At a time when many teachers are exhausted, Rhizome lightens the load for educators and fortifies the habits we all must develop to sustain a functioning democracy. Rhizome has created an inspiring, student-led, and high-impact approach to civic engagement.”
- Peter Levine; Associate Dean of Tufts; Former Director of CIRCLE
“Who asks the question: am I altering your aura, your ideas, your dreams, or am I merely moving you to temporary and reactive action? And even though the latter is no mean task, it is one that must be seen within the context of a need for true alteration of the very foundation of our lives... Experience has taught us that action in the now is necessary, always.” - Audre Lorde
The first part of our mission statement is to activate young people's identities into action.
We mean that people only take action - whether voting, organizing, donating, canvassing, etc - in connection with who they think they are. Since there is no such thing as non-identity politics, we ask young people to engage with us based on who they are and want to become. By inviting personal reflection within close-knit communities, we equip students with the confidence, community, and freedom to more fully shape their future selves. Our theory of change is based on the idea that we transform the world by transforming how young people see themselves.
This is why the culmination of our mission statement is to create process-oriented civic spaces that help young people treat service as a lifetime. By reshaping students' ideas of what they’re capable of and creating pipelines to leadership, we help students identify themselves with the lifelong search for collective freedom and personal responsibility.
From its earliest origins, identity politics was a way of centering the lived experiences of marginalized people. The idea was introduced by the Combahee River Collective as a lens to help Black women establish common experiences as the basis of their action. In a country of vast inequality, they rejected the idea that inequality should - or could - not be a source of civic desire.
Systems that deny the universality of civic identity force a false choice between impersonal action and inaction. Yet there is a middle way: personalized action. At Rhizome, we encourage students to take refuge in their common humanity and recognize differences as a source of strength. We aim to deal with each other at a point beyond fault or virtue, to build civic spaces that are inclusive of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and points of view.
Connecting with our deeper desires - what we want to want, who we want to become - is an act of reclaiming identitarian space. Our peer-mentorship model lets us meet students where they are.
Rather than divide respectable identity politics from dangerous identity politics, we recognize that all civic life is rooted in identity. The vital questions are not whether identities influence actions, but which identities are affirmed as valid sources of civic desire and how each of our identities shape our actions. We give emerging leaders at the beginning of their careers the tools needed to relfect on who they want to become and what actions they can take to practice becoming that kind of person. We give students the freedom and motivation to shape their own processes of identitarian transformation.
As you can tell, we are passionate about helping emerging leaders become the best versions of themselves. For more on how our theory of change is rooted in the search for common ground, you can read our CEO’s dissertation on the language used by Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Diane Nash to activate people’s identities into action.
“Freedom and love go together. Love is not a reaction. If I love you because you love me, that is mere trade, a thing to be bought in the market; it is not love. To love is not to ask anything in return, not even to feel you are giving something - and it is only such love that can know freedom.” - Jiddu Krishnamurti
Culture is self-replicating, so we wanted to establish a healthy culture from the very beginning. We co-created a set of values and norms to tie the threads of our work together. These values and norms were drafted by all 90 Co-Founders, and they show how we want to move.
Or as we like to say, normalize “mom energy.” This can be during meetings, during check-ins, or randomly throughout the week. Just let people know that you see all the work they're putting in and appreciate them.
Take care of yourself -- drink water, get sleep, set boundaries, dance, finish writing that paper, hang with your friends. Do whatever you need to do to feel your best.
We have to listen to other peoples' experiences and perspectives and lead with empathy in order to connect with each other (and ourselves). If we do this well, results will follow.
Admit you don't understand or know something. We're a big group with a lot of different talents, someone is always around to help.
By aiming to be the best version of yourself and believing that you can shape the future in fundamental ways, we have the chance to empower the next generation… and the one after that… and the one after that.
Our best work comes within community, and each of us can only ever leave a legacy through the relationships we build with others. Share your journey with your team so we can learn with you.