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What Does Grassroots Mean Anymore?

Maybe it’s because the publishers come from New York City, where they don’t really understand how grass grows. The headlines there read “Liberals Steer Outside Money to Grass-Roots Organizing” from the New York Times and “George Soros and Other Rich Guys to Infuse Democrats With $100 Million for Grass-Roots Efforts” from New York Magazine.

“Grass-Roots” is a strange term for what the articles describe, which is an organized effort to channel money from a few extremely wealthy individuals into centrally-controlled organizations that will then attempt to manipulate people into voting a certain way. The idea of grassroots organizing is that it’s supposed to be supported from the lowest levels first, like the way that grass grows, without reliance on centralized organizations or large sources of support. In grassroots organizing, people who have little power individually can form networks together that cannot be easily defeated because even when one part of the organization is attacked, new shoots can rise up to fill in, just as grass roots run in a complex weave of long thin contributions from many different plants to occupy a large space. In a piece of genuine turf, individual roots aren’t growing to create some kind of predetermined shape. The strong mat of green that results from their work is a result of unpredictable growth that doesn’t have a pattern that’s easy to pick apart. Its strength is that it is a jumbled mess.

many blades many sourcesWhat George Soros and his wealthy fellows are doing is giving a big load of fertilizer to a group of organizations that grow more like trees. These organizations have a centralized trunk and root system, and without those centralized systems, the organizations will die. Cut them back from the top, and they won’t regrow. They haven’t grown spontaneously from a network of small individuals. They’re the results of single seeds that have grown individually large and powerful.

The New York Times articles writes that the big donations to support the Democratic Party will fund “‘get-out-the-vote efforts’ directed toward young voters, single women, black voters and Latinos”. If the donations truly supported grassroots efforts, these get-out-the-vote campaigns would be directed by young voters, single women, black voters and Latinos, not directed toward them.

Big media organizations such as the New York Times have lost touch with what genuine grassroots organizations look like. What these corporate news operations describe with the the term “grassroots” nowadays is rather like their own organizations: Designed for consumption by individuals, but only though a system of distribution controlled from the top down, powered by large payments from a few sources with a lot of money. What’s supposed to make these efforts “grassroots” in this newspeak is that people of low and moderate income are supposed to be enticed to volunteer, but their efforts as volunteers are controlled from central offices. These supposedly “grassroots” volunteers don’t get to contribute ideas to influence the central organization’s mission. They’re more like members of The Borg than they are like real grass roots.

The contributions of George Soros and other wealthy individuals to these political organizations is being characterized as “liberal”. I’m a liberal, and so I may be expected to clap at this big infusion of cash. However, the money’s focus is actually more to support the Democratic Party, which is increasingly opposed to the implementation liberal ideas.

Organizations more deserving of the terms “liberal” and “grassroots” have been unpalatable to the Democratic Party. They’re the locally-created, loosely interconnected but independent organizations of the Occupy Movement.

4 comments to What Does Grassroots Mean Anymore?

  • Bill

    Thanks for the nice analysis. The consistent use nowadays of the word ‘grassroots’ to describe imperious top-down schemes drives me nuts.

  • Kristen

    I’ve been trying to figure out my take on Matthew Bishop’s “Philanthro-capitalism” (close to creating funds for not-for-profits that the ‘big timers’ can invest big chunks of money into). You should check out what he has talked about, it will probably make you cringe. http://www.philanthrocapitalism.net/about/about-the-authors/matthew-bishop/

    But yeah, this idea of using these backers seem, all around to get in the way of the point of what we may be advocating for, there are still people to please there. The ‘power of the people’ is completely being undermined.

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