The Case for Grassroots Archives

1) The social transformation we are working for is a long revolution – a process that requires the efforts of generations of activists.

2) Remembering and knowing about previous struggles strengthens us. We learn from past victories and defeats, from mistakes as well as from positive experiences. It is always good to know that we are linked to those who stood up for justice and freedom before us, and to those who will continue the work in the future.

3) Written materials and other physical records are tangible records of the history of social change movements. These materials are people’s history, and they play a valuable role in the “battle of memory.” It is important to preserve as much of this grassroots heritage as we can – and to make it available as widely as possible.

4) Official institutions, for the most part, are not much interested in preserving radical history. Those few which are interested face budget constraints that severely curtail their ability to make acquisitions or provide access to their collections.

5) Preserving the documentary history of grassroots movements has largely fallen to individuals and small organizations who have seen the importance of preventing this history from disappearing “down the memory hole.” Many of these collections are in danger of disappearing over the next few years.

6) We owe it to the future to take steps to secure these grassroots archives, and to make it possible for them to continue as living archives able to continue their work of preserving people’s history and making it available.

What can we do to give our archives a future?

7) The most pressing need for grassroots archives is space. We need space for:
(a) The collections themselves;
(b) Our ongoing work: scanning, digitizing, cataloguing, and indexing materials to make them available in digital formats.

8) Since grassroots archives document challenges and alternatives to the capitalist status quo, they have limited potential for securing government or private funding, especially in the current climate. Securing space likely depends on establishing partnerships with supportive institutions who see a value in having a people’s history archive within their walls, or on support from private individuals or foundations.

9) It is important that physical records be preserved even after they have been digitized. It may be worth pursuing options for donating grassroots collections to institutional archives after the materials in a collection have been digitized. This would allow grassroots archives to function in smaller spaces.

10) Grassroots archives, resource centres, and small independent libraries in various cities face similar problems related to space and survival. It could be fruitful for us to explore ways of co-operating, both within and between cities, for example by sharing space, infrastructure, and resources.

11) Archive locally, share globally. One way in which we could co-operate is co-ordinating and sharing the work of digitizing, cataloguing, and indexing. If our archives and resource centres share information about their collections and priorities, it could help us avoid duplication of effort while making our resources available to more users.

12) Co-operative archiving of each other’s websites and digital materials. While digital media, including the Internet, are valuable for sharing materials with large numbers of people, they are also uniquely fragile and transitory. Digital media, software, and file formats become obsolete or deteriorate very quickly. Websites disappear. One project we could undertake would be to set up a mutual archiving network whereby radical archives and websites archive each others’ websites and digital records in a systematic way so that there are multiple copies.

Create a network?

Can we take some practical steps now to co-operate on sharing information and resources, mutual archiving of each other’s websites, and co-ordinating digitization, cataloguing, and indexing?

Can we create a working group or network to work on ideas and initiatives for securing a future for grassroots archives? Connexions would be happy to help set up a network or working group.

Ulli Diemer

This article is also available in French, Farsi, Italian, and Serbo-Croatian. .

Note: If you have a personal or a group’s collection of social justice materials in your basement/locker, etc., and would like to participate in an exploration of co-operative archiving and/or searching for shared space, on donating them to an archive, please contact us via the Contact page.

About Connexions

Connexions was established in 1975 as a project to connect people working for justice with each other and with resources and information. The Connexions website features a growing online library of more than 40,000 items, including articles, books, and periodicals, plus a systematic Subject Index which cross-links resources and helps users make connections. also offers a directory of activist groups and websites, an event calendar, the Connexipedia social justice encyclopedia, and the ‘Seeds of Fire’ People’s Chronology. The Connexions website receives more than 70,000 visitors a month.

Connexions also maintains the Connexions Archive, a physical archive of more than 150,000 documents spanning more than 50 years of grassroots activism. The materials in the collection are gradually being digitized.

Connexions is searching for a space to house the collection and those who work on it. Because Connexions is a very active project – a place where interns and volunteers come to scan, index, write, research, and translate – it needs a transit-accessible space able to accommodate both the physical collection and those who work on it. Connexions is interested in pursuing partnerships and networks with other grassroots archives and resource groups and supportive institutions.

Connexions welcomes volunteers. Areas of particular need are computer programming and website design, editing, typing, and of course help with securing space and fundraising. See

Connexions Archive

Contact Information

Making a Donation: Donations
Leaving a Bequest: Bequests

Selected Links and Further Reading - #

People’s History, Memory, & Archives Gateway

Five Decades of Connexions

Selected Archive Projects
Some archive projects concerned with grassroots movements for social justice.

Memory as Resistance: Grassroots Archives and the Battle of Memory

Collective Memory, Archives, and the Connexions project: An interview

Is that an archive in your basement... or are you just hoarding?

The Connexions Archive: securing a future for the past

Archives & People’s History News - #

A Museum Dedicated to Stalin: An Example of How to Deal With Historical Memory (2021)

The “Red Light” of Yugoslav Partisan Photography (2020)

How To Change The Meaning Of Monuments Without Removing Them (2021)

The Silencing the past: reflections on remembering and forgetting (2020)

Workers Have a Birthright to Tell Our Own Stories (2020)

The LAWG Library and Archives: A personal reflection by Caese Levo, LAWG’s Librarian (2015)

Eric Marshall ‘Disturbed’ by Dismantling of Namesake Science Library (2014)

Canada’s Science Library Closures Mirror Bush’s Playbook (2014)

Activist Archiving in Toronto (2013)

Armed gunmen raid salvadoran human rights organization, burn archives (2013)

Burning History in San Salvador (2013)

The CIA’s Memory Prison: A Perverse Logic (2013)

Librarians and Palestine (2013)

Mali: Timbuktu’s literary gems face Islamists and decay in fight for survival (2013)

Harper’s Seven-Year War on Science (2013)

Dismantling of Fishery Library 'Like a Book Burning,' Say Scientists (2013)

What’s Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada’s Science Libraries? (2013)

Secret Memo Casts Doubt on Feds’ Claims for Science Library Closures (2013)

Archiving With May Day Rooms (2014)

The Great Book Robbery (2012)

Whose Archive? Whose History? Destruction of Archives (2012)

Save the feature before it explodes: The race to save silent films. (2011)

Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) (2010)

South Sudan: Saving past is first step to the future (2010)

What is distinctive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and it Means of Access to Them (2009)

In Timbuktu the race is on to preserve papers that document a west African golden age (2007)

Archives under siege: Ottawa gathering calls for national action (2006)

The Prosecution of War Crimes for the Destruction of Libraries and Archives during Times of Armed Conflict (2005)

Chile After 30 Years: The “battle of memory” in post-Pinochet Chile (2004)

Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (2001)

Lost Memory: Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the Twentieth Century (UNESCO Report)

(Partial) List of destroyed libraries

Archives: Overview article

Web archiving: Overview article

Pages that have disappeared

Archives under siege: Ottawa gathering calls for national action

Related topics and resources in the Connexions Subject Index

People’s History, Memory, & Archives GatewayHistory Focus pageOral History and Memoirs Focus pageRadical & Left History Focus pagePeople’s History, Memory, & Archives

Archives/NationalBook BurningBook PreservationCanadian History
Cultural PreservationDestruction of Libraries and ArchivesDigital ArchivingDigital LibrariesHeritage ConservationHistorical RecordsHistoryHistory/ArchivesHistory of Political ThoughtIllustration ArchivesImmigrant HistoryInformation DestructionLabour HistoryLeft HistoryLibraries/ArchivesLocal HistoryMemoryOnline ArchivesOral HistoryPeople’s HistoryPreservationWomen’s HistoryWorkers’ History

William Faulker: The past is never dead, it

Utah Phillips: Time is an enormous, long river, and I'm standing in it, just as you're standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me - and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.

George Orwell: Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

Joni Mitchell: Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.

Nelson Mandela: Anyone who has explored the world of archives will know that it is a treasure house, one that is full of surprises, crossing paths, dead ends, painful reminders and unanswered questions.

Ulli Diemer: The social transformation we are working for is a long revolution - a process that requires the efforts of generations of activists.

Seamus Milne: The battle over history is never really about the past - it's about the future.

Michael Riordon: Each life will never come again, and a whole range of knowledge passes with each person.

Mumia abu Jamal: Before this generation goes on to its ancestors, we should, we must, do our level best to pass on our lessons, so that they live in our people's minds and lives.

Ulli Diemer: One of the problems with our society is that we believe everything has to be new and different. I don't apologize for having ideas that are

Wangari Maathai: Before anything happens to me I want to know that the seeds have really been planted, that things will carry on changing.

Oscar Wilde: Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

William Least Heat Moon: We can't select our ancestors, but they, often in ways never to be guessed, can select pieces of our future.

Pia Barros: The memory of the vanquished is dangerous for the conquerors.

When an old man dies a library burns to the ground

William Morris: Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes, turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.

Utah Phillips: The long memory is the most radical idea in America. That long memory has been taken away from us. You haven't gotten it in your schools. You're not getting it on your television. You're being leapfrogged from one crisis to the next. Mass media contributed to that by taking the great movements that we've been through and trivializing important events. No, our people's history is like one long river. It flows down from way over there. And everything that those people did and everything they lived flows down to me, and I can reach down and take out what I need, if I have the courage to go out and ask questions.

Ulli Diemer: We are part of a movement for justice that stretches across continents and across generations. People have always resisted injustice, and always sought to create a world based on values of community, sharing, freedom and justice. We are part of a continuum.

Milan Kundera: The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Christopher Lasch: There is history that remembers and history that arises from a need to forget.

William Least Heat Moon: Memory, that force which our humanity, our humanness, our civilization, our lives and lives, proceed. We can survive without morality or arithmetic or logic, but without memory, we haven't a chance. We are who we are and where we are in no insignificant measure because of immaterial memories.

George Orwell: Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.

Heinrich Heine: Wherever they burn books they will also end up burning people.

William Least Heat Moon: A human's best chance for something approximating life everlasting lies in the memory of others.

Ulli Diemer: We need all the help we can get in overthrowing capitalism, including the help of people who are dead.

You are not expected to complete the work in your lifetime. Neither must you refuse to do your part.

Ulli Diemer: We're not going to stop working for justice just because we're dead.

Memory Resistance Grassroots Archives People’s History