Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Grassroots Activism – How?

Last month, one of our readers asked in her comments how we can create an involved grassroots sense of participation? I wanted to find a good answer and it has been troubling me ever since. While the Arab Spring was stimulated by Facebook and Twitter, it was not only spontaneous but quick. For those of us who are not living in extreme conditions where revolution is the answer, we need a more sustainable model.

I think the Obama Presidential campaign 2008 was a good example. It created a sense of a mass movement of empowered everyday folk. When I received the emails asking me to organize for the 2012 run-in, I couldn’t help looking at their strategy to mobilize within the framework of the question that our reader posed. Here are two videos.

The first is a typical call from other supporters:

The second is interesting. On the face of it, Campaign Director Jim Messina could be leading us in a presentation for our work or to sell a product. It is a no-nonsense, Power-Point briefing.

But after watching it and googling Mr. Messina, I realize that this is a serious and deep-lying concept. Glossy TV ads will come and we all realize that they are the ad-man’s expertise. Usually these are condescending – Look what I’ve done for you/This is what I am going to do for you – as if we don’t know what we want, or haven’t been paying attention to what these candidates have been doing while on the taxperson’s payroll.

In this You Tube briefing, Mr. Messina treats us as partners. He declares that “grassroots will run this campaign” and focuses on what we can individually do to make it happen. His no-frills approach is actually a recognition of us as true partners. It shows respect and credibility. This is what makes it sustainable.

I don’t want to belittle in any way the power of Facebook and Twitter as grassroots mobilization during the Arab Spring, but what the Messina approach offers that excites me is creating a sustainable and empowering model to not only get people involved, but to stay involved.

Most successful businesses have embraced a conscientious customer service because they know that it is always easier to sell another product to a satisfied customer than sell to someone new. When you campaign and persuade people to vote in a political candidate, you are responsible to these people to keep that politician true to his/her campaign promises.

This is the way that a grassroots campaign can become not only sustainable but credible.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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2 thoughts on “Grassroots Activism – How?

  1. Alon-
    Great post. The approached outlined by Mr. Messina is much more engaging because it appears transparent, is team or cause-focused and highlights shared responsibility.

    Like Mr. Messina indicated, the Citizens United decision by the conservative Supreme Court Justices will channel millions of dollars to Republicans from corporations. The only real way to combat all the corporate money that will go toward the Repbulican-masked big business agenda is the engaging approached outlined by Mr. Messina…it is strategically correct.

    The Transition Town Movement endorses and documents a very similar approached. Probably because they are up against similar heavy-handed forces–an entrenced economic system favored by big banks.

    I like the post!

  2. Thank you, Roger. I think this is a great approach. I do fear that it will stand in the shade to the kind of dollar amounts that multinational corporations can offer.

    When did we define democracy in dollars?


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