The "Occupy Wall Street" movement is providing a real-time case study of the difference between a true grassroots movement and a corporate-backed astroturf movement.
Americans in recent years have been besieged by industry-funded astroturf efforts masquerading as real grassroots movements. One example is the "Hands off my Healthcare" national roadshow, which was backed by the Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity. Another is the Tea Party, which got a corporate-sponsored media boost from the Fox News Channel and benefitted from the the efforts of a Sacramento, California-based Republican PR firm, Russo Marsh & Rogers. Astroturf uses manufactured spin and messaging that requires real money for things like media buys, front groups, mass-broadcast faxes, telemarketing-generated petitions, glossy postcards, form letters and talk radio-inspired phone calls.
Here are a 10 elements that indicate OWS is a genuine grassroots movement:
1) No bus. Phony, corporate-backed "social movements" these days often sport a custom-painted, decked-out motorcoach that travels the country making scheduled appearances at parks and town halls, and urging people to join the "movement."
2) OWS's message benefits a wide segment of the U.S. population. OWS supporters' actions do not conspicuously benefit a certain single industry, group of companies or political candidate. OWS advocates for a broad section of the population, namely the 99 percent of U.S. citizens who are having an increasingly difficult time with the economy and getting their needs represented in Washington.
3) No focus-grouped talking points. Astroturf messages are boiled down to a tight, limited set of talking points or a professionally-designed motivating slogan, like "Hands off my health care!" or "Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom!" -- the slogan Americans for Prosperity used in its national Hot Air Tour, which opposed efforts to educate the public about global warming. OWS's core message protesting an economy rigged for the 1% is broad and diffuse and has been criticized as such by some parties.
4) No coordinated, glitzy national media roll-out or tour. (See #1 -- no bus.)
5) No PR operatives are organizing OWS activities.
6) OWS protesters do not spend time insisting to journalists that the movement is "independent," and its spokespeople are "esteemed" or "credible." In fact, one problem that law enforcement agencies across the country have cited repeatedly is that the OWS movement lacks spokespeople.
7) No backing from a "non-profit" group that refuses to disclose its donors.
8) OWS does not use telephone banks, computer databases, robocalls or hired organizers to gain participants.
9) OWS does not have a webpage featuring IStockPhoto pictures of pleasant-looking, multi-ethnic groups of people smiling at viewers.
10) Significant numbers of non-violent OWS protesters have gotten pepper-sprayed. Astroturf participants are usually not dedicated or passionate enough that they would risk or tolerate getting pepper-sprayed for their cause.
There are doubtless many other factors that distinguish OWS as being a true, grassroots movement. If you think of more, please let us know in the comment section, below this article.