Don’t Expect Grassroots Movement to Exit

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

Following some successes in the general election of 2010, tea parties, Patriots organizations, constitutional and similar groups, cumulatively described as the grassroots, are again facing disapprobation.

The competence of grassroots members to govern has been questioned by unfriendly critics since the grassroots found a voice, began to coalesce and started to influence elections. It’s a fair question. After all, gathering and shouting has little relevance to governance. Most grassroots organizations supporters understand that.

Few members expected the last election to be a one-off event fixing everything wrong with government. But grassroots organizers first understood that, without the attention of the political class, they could not make a difference in politics.

In fact, until large groups began to gather and protest, relatively few elected officials of any political persuasion were paying attention to the concerns of normal Americans — Republicans, Democrats or the unaffiliated voters who comprise the grassroots groups. Though lip service is always paid and promises made to voters in election years, from a practical standpoint, the political elite in capitals such as Harrisburg and Washington have had their way with governance for a long time.

An unsympathetic national media did its best to ignore the grassroots phenomenon even after millions of Americans had demonstrated to make known their fears about the direction of government. When grassroots news coverage did begin, the media’s first instinct was to attempt to discredit the groups as cranks, racists and fools. At large tea party rallies, as much or more media exposure was given to fringe groups that turned out in tiny numbers to malign the protesters.

As a more accurate profile of grassroots members emerged and the negative labels were discredited, the question of their suitability to govern was employed to discount the grassroots.

The grassroots’ objective is good governance. To achieve it, they don’t have to govern. They can accomplish their goals by influencing those who do.

Politicians who question the competence of these groups do so from self-interest, often overlooking their own backgrounds. In fact, to both major parties, the "best" candidate often is the one considered most "electable," not the most competent.

Most current elected officials sought office with little or no governing experience. Many were government employees before seeking elective office. Contrary to what officeholders would have us believe, working in government doesn’t necessarily prepare people to govern. Of what value is the knowledge of how to move legislation without knowing what, if any, legislation is needed or will work? Prior real world experience in business, for example, can prepare officeholders to face problems in government, too.

It’s a mistake to view grassroots groups simply as political action vigilantes that select and elect candidates or target incumbents for removal. The better organized and led groups are educating their members and getting involved in their communities.

Members are attending school board meetings, city council and township supervisors meetings and other open gatherings of local officials. They are judging the quality of their representation firsthand and deciding how governmental organizations can be improved. Sometimes, the means of improvement might be to advance well-trained and informed grassroots members as candidates.

Through their electoral efforts, grassroots groups have already had an impact on offices and officeholders. Some successful candidates in the last general election came from grassroots groups, but most who received grassroots assistance were candidates and incumbents who speak the language of the grassroots, acknowledge their concerns and accept their values.

Successful grassroots-supported candidates must understand that their advocates are involved and energized — and they’re not going away. Elected officials will break their promises at the risk of electoral remediation. The vigilance of grassroots organizations will influence the governance of their various jurisdictions as surely as will electing their own members to office.

Through time, grassroots’ influence and involvement will be greater as members assume seats in local committees, local governments, school boards and county offices, and, eventually, move up to state and national offices.

It is generally understood among grassroots supporters that their work has just begun. Success might take time, but they’re in it to stay. Incumbents will ignore them at their own political peril.