Grassroots – Not the Beginning

Deborah Venable



Oh boy, where to begin on this one, huh?  Well, let’s just put it this way; where there are roots, there were first seeds.  While the term, “grassroots” has become part of most political junkies’ lexicon over the last few years, I must wonder who planted the seeds that grew the roots in the first place.  Here’s the deal.  I think it is high time we all realized from where this seemingly revolutionary idea about political influence via grassroots efforts originates.  I’m going to stick my neck out here and maintain that these efforts have been in use for a very long time – like say, at least the beginnings of our republic.  Many of our Founding Fathers were, after all, farmers and certainly knew how to plant the seeds that would grow these grassroots.


The simple answer is, of course, that grassroots defines political and social influence from the bottom up.  The “bottom” of any society is not definitive of the poor, as many would have us believe, but rather the individual.  The single individual who chooses to join with other like-minded individuals, therefore, instigates a “grassroots movement” to exercise social and political influence.  We could think of this as a “bottom up” growth of an idea or set of ideas, but more accurately I would like to think of it as a “bottom out” phenomenon.  Grass does grow up, of course, but it also spreads out, and therein lies the real value. 


In doing research for this piece, I found that the term, “grassroots” is said to have originated in a speech by Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana to the Bull Moose Convention in 1912.  For those who are unaware, the Bull Moose Party was just the nickname for the Progressive Party of that time, brought about by Teddy Roosevelt’s claim of being as strong as a Bull Moose.  The party didn’t get very far at the time, but their ideas certainly did.  Anyway, in his speech Senator Beveridge said something to the effect that “theirs was the party of grassroots” . . . grown from the soil of the people’s hard necessities.”  Both Roosevelt and Beveridge had split from the Republican Party and attempted to expand their political aspirations via the vehicle of “Progressive” ideas.


Both of them failed, probably because they were simply washed up political has-beens that turned their backs on the party that had facilitated their previous political power.  Even today, parties just don’t like that sort of thing.  Progressivism, however, had wormed its way into both major parties by that time and the ideology succeeded in wrecking havoc in American lives for generations to come.  Think income tax, Federal Reserve, social programs, and more and more government regulation – all ideology of the Progressive Party.


So, I guess it is fair to say that progressives planted the seeds of a grassroots movement that turned out to grow far more weeds than grass – and boy did they ever spread out!


Fast forward another hundred years and American politicians have still not found an effective weed killer – or have they?  There are types of grasses out there that will effectively “choke out” weeds as they spread out from everywhere they are planted.  Want a beautiful, weed-free lawn?  Just plant the right seeds and be prepared to live with what you get, but keep those lawnmowers handy.


Politicians like to play around with the top-down kind of “grassroots” though.  That is called, “Astroturfing.”  Fake grass works pretty well on weeds and real grass if you lay enough of it on.  These days, politicians have invested in those ever-resourceful “gardeners” known as the “mainstream media” to help them lay on the Astroturf good and thick.  These guys wouldn’t know a real grass seed if their lives depended on it, but they surely know how to suffocate real grassroots with a layer of Astroturf. 


Okay, so all this modern language is cute enough, but let’s cut to the real meaning, shall we?  Lies.  That’s what it’s all about in media reporting on grassroots movements.  I’m sure it was a grassroots movement that started all the alarmist attitudes about environmentalism, which quickly splintered into man’s effect on the climate.  How better to control every aspect of human life than make humans the slaves of imagined environmental catastrophes?  Well-meaning individuals buy into this Astroturf movement and viola!  The seeds of common sense are forever choked out. 


But what about the tea parties, you might ask? 


Well, considering that this seemingly grassroots movement has grown up in the space of a few months and has the support of seemingly common sense type folks of all the various political persuasions, (even Nazis if you listen to the likes of Nancy Pelosi) it must be legitimate, eh?  I’d like to think so, but it remains to be seen, doesn’t it?  While they have certainly enjoyed their victories, we must remember that each of those victories had a big R behind their names.  We must also remember that the label does not necessarily accurately describe the politics any more.  It certainly doesn’t “weed out” (forgive the pun) the progressive ideology, which can end up being more like a snake in the grass, if you will, than anything else. 


Personally, I’d like to see politicians get back to a well defined platform to describe their belief systems instead of this sounds good, independent idea of one foot on one plank and the other foot on another.  The waters around state houses and D.C. are all raging torrents – not peaceful little brooks, and navigating them requires well built crafts and not rotten planks from failed left-over political philosophies. 


Tea partiers are already fraught with bitter in-fighting and the endless bombardment of media Astroturf, so they need to remember that grassroots are not the beginning.  They simply spread from the seeds planted by each individual involved.  Being part of a movement is not the most important thing, but nurturing the idea of individual freedom will always place you on the winning side.  The weeds of political corruption can be choked out, but the right seeds have to be planted first. 


The Founders already did that a long time ago, and look how we have trampled their efforts.  Individual freedom is the sine qua non, (without which, not) of any positive grassroots movement.  Let’s hope it is the seed of the new tea partiers.             



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