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Unity08: How Much Grass is in those Roots?

Unity08 proudly proclaims that it is a “grassroots” status, despite its origin as a propped-up instant organization created and operated by a P.R. firm, Peak Communications, run by the pro-Republican political communications insider Jim Jonas. Just how deep do those supposed grass roots go?

An opportunity to find out is presented by Unity08′s recent bragging about its “Unity Petition” effort:

Unity08 Unity Petition Photo from November 7 2006 in Pennsylvania Thank you to everyone who signed and forwarded the Unity Petition.

Thousands of you signed the online version of the petition and thousands more signatures were collected at polling places across the nation by high school students on Election Day.

Stay tuned for more information about the Unity Petition effort in upcoming days.

Let’s start with the online portion. As of today, 3,908 people have signed the Unity Petition online after organizing “for months” Let’s put that in perspective.

So as far as grassroots petitions online go, the Unity08 petition is really pretty small fry.

And what about the offline version? The Unity08 website says that an inexact “thousands more” were collected in person by high school students. This is an underperformance compared to the goal stated by high school petition effort spokesman Kameron Schleifer, who predicted that thousands of high school students would collect millions of petitions. It only takes a few tens of people to collect thousands of petition signatures in person. That’s not grassroots.

And what is conspicuously unstated is the support for these “high school students.” Look at the banner in the picture supplied by Unity08. That’s an awfully nice banner for high school students to create. Awful professional and expensive-looking. Who created it? High school students? Who paid for it? High school students? [Update: Nick Troiano personally contacted me via the comments below to say that he personally designed and printed out the banner using a school printer.]

And notice that these high school students are supposed to be taking a trip to Washington, DC to personally deliver the “thousands more” petitions they collected. Who’s paying for the trip?

Doing a bit more poking, I found this statement:

The Unity Petition movement is separate from Unity08, but Unity08 has been supporting it by providing informal guidance and website development and hosting.

Unity08 has been supporting it? Look at the whois information for unitypetition.com, the Unity Petition website:

Registrant:
Peak Creative Media
1801 California St Suite 5050
Denver, CO 80202
US

Domain name: UNITYPETITION.COM

Administrative Contact:
Jonas, James jimj@peakcreativemedia.com
1801 California St Suite 5050
Denver, CO 80202
US
+1.3032953373 Fax: +1.3032953373

Jim Jonas and Peak Creative Media are supporting the Unity Petition bid.

Look at the 15-member national board for this “grassroots organization” of high school students. This is a “grassroots organization” with a national board, one that supposedly just popped up in the few months since the creation of Unity08 itself? “Grassroots organizations” of high school students with national boards don’t just pop up like this without some adult’s strong hand, especially when the members of the board come from the following places far separated from one another:

Indianapolis, Indiana
Montgomery County, Maryland
Annvile-Cleona, Pennsylvania
Manchester, New Hampshire
Atlanta, Georgia
New York City, New York
Norway, Maine
Chapparal, Kansas
Winter Park, Florida
Lewes, Delaware
Denver, Colorado
Scottsdale, Arizona
Milford, Pennsylvania
Painted Post, New York
Grand Rapids, Michigan

As George K. Zipf demonstrated in his unfortunately neglected book Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort, interaction across large geographic distances becomes highly unlikely unless propped up by something else. What brought these individuals together? Look at their biographic sketches for reports of participation in:

Hoosier Boys State
Boys Nation
Girls Nation
HOBY World Leadership Conference
American Legion Boys Nation
Junior State of America
Dirigo Boys State
Boys Nation
Kansas Boys State
Boys Nation
HOBY World Leadership Conference
American Legion Boys Nation
Colorado American Legion’s Boys State
Boys Nation
Boys Nation
JSA Summer State
Junior State of America

Grassroots, my ass. It’s just my opinion, but it looks to me like these kids were recruited over the summer. Recruited? By whom?

Registrant:
Peak Creative Media
1801 California St Suite 5050
Denver, CO 80202
US

Domain name: UNITYPETITION.COM

Administrative Contact:
Jonas, James jimj@peakcreativemedia.com
1801 California St Suite 5050
Denver, CO 80202
US
+1.3032953373 Fax: +1.3032953373

What does it mean that a political organization — propped up by a well-connected P.R. firm — can, with all its resources and slick expensive banners, only gather a few thousand petition signatures?

I think it means that the organization is not “grassroots.” Not wholly unreal, but not really “grassroots” in the original sense of the word — a movement that springs from the common urgings of everyday people’s hearts. There’s a set of muckety-mucks who are driving this effort, and that makes me highly skeptical of it.

Postscript: In the hour it has taken me to research and write this post, the Michael Moore liberal pledge petition has gained 364 signatures. The stop unlawful government spying petition has gained 90 signatures. The WalMart layaway petition has gained 71 signatures. The online Unity Petition has gained zero signatures.

24 comments to Unity08: How Much Grass is in those Roots?

  • This kind of careful scrutiny is why I return to IrregularTimes over and over and over.

    I’ve sent an e-mail to Unity08 with a link to this article, admonishing them that they should show up at discussions like this one to answer these very important points.

  • Jim

    Hey, thanks Bob! Please let me know if you hear back at all. I’ve read a lot of threads over at Unity08 in which someone asks a “Founder” to respond (as the Founders board promises will happen), only for no Founders at all to reply.

    I got a moderator (a Founder, too? I don’t know) to respond to a post of mine asking about financial disclosure, but it took about three weeks.

  • Readers need to keep in mind too what the Boys’ State and Boys’ Nation camps really are – they’re right wing political gatherings at which military recruitment is a primary goal. These are not the people to entrust a political reform movement to.

    Looks like a big sham to me.

  • I think your post is despicable – despicable to undermine the hard efforts of young students to do something to help our ailing, paralyzed country. Go figure, I am the one who made that banner in my school’s media center which has a poster printer. I made it in Adobe Illustrator. Care to challenge that? I can send you the file.
    What an audacity you have to call our efforts a sham. I stood outside my local polling place for thirteen hours in the rain alongside my dedicated friends, including hours in the rain, to pass this petition. Out of the 700 voters who voted that day, 450 signed and said it was the best thing they have ever seen – a movement by young kids who care about the future of this country. Obviously something that can’t be said of you, sir.
    I went to boys nation, where military recuritment was not even mentioned! You ignorance astounds me. There were just as man liberals as conservatives, we were a group of 97 boys from across the country being recognized for our leadership in our respective states. Again, how dare you even challenge that.
    Granted our original expectations were not reached, but that is not to say that we did not work our tails off for months to try to organize this. We, 15 high school students, did this. Perhaps you need to get informed before making such oulandish accusations; I take extreme umbrage at your stupidity.

  • P.S. Bill Clinton is an alumni of Boys Nation.

    I think you owe an apology to the hundreds of high school students who voluteered their time to help end the partisan bickering and blame-game politcs of Washinton – something you are only helping to perpetutate with such a ridiculous article.

  • Jim

    Were you recruited at Boys Nation to join the effort? If so, by whom? If not, how did you join the effort?

    Enlighten me.

  • Jim

    Oh, I’m all for grassroots organizations, Nick. But I’m not for organizations that pose as such but have public relations firms propping them up. Even if they have high school students associated with them. Especially if they recruit high school students to be the face for them.

    So were you recruited? If so, by who? If not, how did so many individuals, all but the daughter of the founder going to a leadership conference, but not all the same one, manage to found this “grassroots organization” that happens to be materially supported by a public relations firm?

    I understand you are upset. But I am asking these questions because I am even more upset at the prospect of political operatives using high school students for their own ends. So the questions have to be asked. I look forward to your answer.

  • Nick

    I met an awesome guy by the name of Mike, whom I’m not comfortable releasing his last name. He told us of the Unity08 effort and shortly after we left the camp he contacted a couple of us who expressed interest in the effort and suggested we do something for the midterm elections. From that point on, it was 8 students in frequent contact brainstorming this effort and organizing it.
    And to make this clear, I’m not speaking on behalf of the group, I can only speak for myself at this point.

  • Nick

    By no means we were the puppets of Unity08. In fact, we had a single conference call with the founders of Unity08 two weeks prior to the election to update them on what we were doing. Other than that, we were completely independent aside from a college student advisor who coordinated things for our website.

  • Jim

    So you were recruited. Does Mike work for Jim Jonas? Did Mike contact the other people at the variety of other student leadership camps as well? Does the “college student advisor” work for Jim Jonas? Who did the slick web design? How did the daughter of cofounder and major contributor Hamilton Jordan come to be on the board? She is the only person listed as not attending a leadership camp.

  • Nick

    I do not know who Jim Jonas is. I cannot speak for Mike. All other recruitment was done by our national board.

  • Jim

    You know, Nick, if you look at the unity08.com website, that a number of college kids were also recruited for the instant unity08 organization. You may want to contact them to compare notes.

    Read this website, and you’ll see I am not a partisan and that I am all for activism. I am not for high school kids being used to put a populist and friendly face on a well-connected inside-the-beltway operation. That’s just more of the same old maneuvering that you say you’re sick of.

  • Nick

    I am confused as to what you are trying to say, and the fact that you can not admit to the erroneous claims your “article” makes.

    Perhaps I was not clear when I stated that we were an independent group of high school students. Why would I make the up? I have nothing to hide but my patriotism.

  • Jim

    And hey, while you’re at it, since you have these people’s phone numbers, and since they aren’t answering questions on their own “Ask the Founders” board, could you ask the Unity08 insiders why we should trust their system for delivering the world’s first national online secure nominating process when they can’t manage to follow through on the donor reports on the timeline they’ve pledged to follow?

  • Jim

    You didn’t say you were independent. You said you printed the banner on your own, and I’ve changed the text of the post to reflect that.

    You did indicate that you were recruited. I’ve asked further questions, and I’d like you to answer them.

  • Nick

    I suggest you stop misinforming your readers Jim and take down the article. I have to go now and am not going to give this any more attention, because you certainly didn’t even deserve a response from me.

    I just hope you recognize the valient effort of hundreds of high school students in this unprecedented effort to help our nation. I could not even vote in this last election Jim, but I nonetheless dedicated my time to a cause I truly believe in. If you see something wrong in that, then I’m glad you don’t agree with our efforts.

  • Jim

    I’m saying all this because I was myself involved in high school activism, and I’ve seen lots of high school activism, and Unitypetition.com does not look like high school activism. A group with the same central word as Unity08, and hyperlinked to unity08.com, and registered to the same public relations firm as unity08.com, containing a 15-person national board of people who never before all met in the same place, all but one of whom (who is a co-founder’s daughter) went to various leadership conferences, but not all the same ones, springing up just like that? Sorry, high school activism does not work like this, unless it is not “grassroots.” It works like this when there is someone else behind the scenes setting it up, doing the recruiting, getting the nice geographically-diverse (hello, Kansas) lineup, all to support a non-grassroots “grassroots” organization that announced its very existence in MAY of this year?

    No. Real grassroots organizations that aren’t set up by insiders take years to grow nationally.

    This is NOT to say that you and the other 14 high school students are insincere. This is NOT to say that you do not mean well. This is NOT to say that you don’t mean exactly what you say.

    But it is to say that I put my opinion down (and stated it as just my opinion) that this operation was put together through the recruitment efforts of a public relations firm. And what you’ve said backs that up.

    That means, even if what you’re doing is sincere, that you’ve been used, because your effort is putting a populist patina on an insider operation, unity08.com. Look at how their website is citing what you do!

    You should be more upset than I.

    Now, if what I’ve said here in any fashion, beyond the banner, is factually incorrect, please tell me exactly how.

    Who is Mike?

    Who does he work for?

    Who is the “college student advisor”?

    Who does he (or she) work for?

    Who did the web design?

    How did so many of you, attending different leadership conferences in different locations across the nation, come to know of each other?

    If you all are connected through a common friend, or if you all went to some further, uncited leadership camp where you all met, or if something else innocuous explains it all, then I would certainly like to know.

    Because what it looks like right now is that you were recruited by a mystery guy named Mike who hooked you up with a P.R. operation already in gear. It looks like they used you. Which really would suck.

  • Nick

    That the original 8 national coordinators have all met in the same place, that all 14 of us were in regular contact, that there was no outside involvement by anyone other than the college advisor, that no recruitment was done by anyone else besides high school students, that the only “setting up” that occured was a phone call asking 8 of us to discuss what we want to do for the midterm elections. Those are facts Jim.

    In fact, I recorded our 50 state conference call which took place two months ago in which the national board briefed all 50 state STUDENT coordinators. It was an hour conference call which anyone can hear the independent student leadership of this effort. Id be glad to send it to you.

    Again, these are the facts. Perhaps concern yourself with them instead of these unfounded assumtions you assert Jim.

  • Jim

    So Mike is a high school student, and he doesn’t work for anyone?

    And the college student advisor?

    And the web design, with registration to the same P.R. firm that set up Unity08.com?

    And how did Hamilton Jordan’s daughter happen to get on the board?

    Setting up a 50-state organization with the infrastructure for a 50-person conference call takes funding. Where did that funding come from?

    I see you’re talking about things beyond the “original eight.” Were “the eight” recruited by Mike? How did “the eight” find out about the other seven, including Hamilton Jordan’s daughter?

    I hope you can see why I’m skeptical.

  • Jim

    By the way, since I’m asking these questions, I should be willing to over-volunteer myself:

    My name is Jim Cook.
    I live at 1287 Hunter Avenue, Columbus OH 43201
    I’d give you my phone number, but the telemarketers visiting this site would eat me alive.
    I make money off this site with the others here by selling bumper stickers, buttons, magnets, shirts and posters, both through CafePress (previous link) and via our own production (see here).
    It’s enough to live on; the idea is for it to be enough to write on and feed the kids while maintaining my independence.
    I do not receive money or assistance from any political operative or economic operative with a political agenda.
    I am not registered as either a Republican or a Democrat.
    I have never been registered with either party.
    I believe in the Constitution (see free bill of rights poster project).
    I believe in a government uncaptured by big corporations, big unions, big religion… big anything. If peanut farmers grab control of the government tomorrow, I’ll rail against the peanut farmers.

    There you go, Nick: full disclosure.

    I hope that engenders some trust that at least my motivation is sincere, and not itself engendered by any secret funders or illuminati or anything like that.

    I still have those questions, and a whole lot of skepticism.

  • [...] change in the practices of the Unity 12 Task Force: while Unity08 made the mistake of registering its domain names to Republican operatives, the unity12.com and unity12taskforce.com domain names have been registered using proxies making it [...]

  • [...] for Republican political campaigns. Until registrations were changed to hide this information, Unity08 websites listed Jim Jonas as the [...]

  • [...] a double relationship with Unity08; after being recruited as a high school student to sit on the National Board of the Unity Petition group, he eventually became Unity08′s College [...]

  • [...] rollout in December 2010. Troiano was involved in Americans Elect’s predecessor Unity08 from high school through [...]

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