Is Your Grassroots Advocacy Program Authentic or Astroturf?

This summer's controversial healthcare town hall meetings triggered an age old debate: Is there a genuine grassroots rebellion underway or is the turnout artificially generated "Astroturf?" A recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicated that a majority of Americans felt that "Individuals making angry attacks against a health care bill and what it might do" was "Democracy in action." The same poll showed that Americans were more likely to agree that the protests reflected existing concerns about the health care bills, versus efforts by political activists to create organized opposition to the bills.

While antagonists often label their opponent's campaign as orchestrated or "astroturf," mere organization often matters less than the fact that people care enough about an issue to voluntarily take time out of their busy days to show up and make their voices heard. Gone are the days when lobbyists could bring bags of pre-written postcards up to Capitol Hill that were signed by "arm chair activists" and expect to have an impact.

While quantity still matters, the more time and effort a constituent takes to express their views, the more likely they are to be heard. So what can you do to help avoid the "astroturf" label and ensure your grassroots advocacy efforts are effective?

Here are a few tips:

  • Educate your activists. A website and social network tools are great for communicating information, but make sure that the information provided is easy to understand, well organized, and includes third party and objective points of view.

  • Help demystify the policymaking process. Helping people understand what to expect at a town hall meeting or when they call their elected official will help instill confidence to take action.

  • Encourage activists to "show up." Politicians are driven by what their voting constituents act upon. If your activists feel passionately about your issue, help channel those passions into visible actions.

  • Don't try to (overly) control the message. Remember - the value in grassroots activism is that it enables policymakers to hear from their constituents about how an issue will personally impact them. Encourage your activists to tell their story. The more genuine and sincere they are, the more impactful they will be.

  • Encourage civil behavior. While a majority of Americans saw debating the issue as Democracy in action, most also thought that booing members of Congress or shouting down supporters was an "abuse of democracy." Encourage your activists to be firm but respectful.

For more information on how to launch a successful grassroots advocacy campaign, e-mail or call us at 212-554-2155.