The political use of the term “grassroots” (or “grass roots") means a political campaign from the bottom (the people) up to the top (the top candidate, such as a presidential candidate). The opposite of a “grassroots” campaign is one driven from the top (the candidate for the highest office) down to the bottom (the people).
The term “grass roots” is cited in a political use from at least 1903 and appears to have originated from the state of Kansas. The Kansas City (MO) Star said on September 12, 1908: “‘Getting down to the grass roots’ is an expression which belongs wholly to the Kansas vernacular.”
An artificial grassroots campaign has been called “Astroturf,” after the name of artificial grass.
A grassroots movement (often referenced in the context of a political movement) is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures. Grassroots movements are often at the local level, as many volunteers in the community give their time to support the local party, which can lead to helping the national party. For instance, a grassroots movement can lead to significant voter registration for a political party, which in turn helps the state and national parties.
Grassroots organize and lobby through procedures including:
. hosting house meetings or parties
. having larger meetings—AGMs
. putting up posters
. talking with pedestrians on the street (often involving informational clipboards)
. gathering signatures for petitions
. setting up information tables
. raising money from many small donors for political advertising or campaigns
. organizing large demonstrations
. asking individuals to submit opinions to media outlets and government officials
. holding get out the vote activities, which include the practices of reminding people to vote and transporting them to polling places.
In the United States, the first use of the phrase “grassroots and boots” is thought to have been coined by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana, who said of the Progressive Party in 1912, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”
Faking a grassroots movement is known as astroturfing. Astroturfing, as the name suggests, is named after AstroTurf, a brand of artificial grass. Astroturfing means to mimic a grassroots movement, with the powerful lobbyists behind the movement hiding their agenda by pretending to be individuals voicing their opinions.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary
Main Entry: grass·roots
Pronunciation: \ˈgras-ˌrüts, -ˌru̇ts\
Variant(s): also grass·root \-ˌrüt, -ˌru̇t\
1 : basic, fundamental “the grassroots factor in deciding to buy a house”
2 : being, originating, or operating in or at the grass roots “a grassroots organization” :grassroots political support”
3 : not adapted from or added to an existing facility or operation : totally new “a grassroots refinery”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
Politics. Used spec. to describe the rank-and-file of the electorate or of a political party. Also attrib. orig. U.S.
1912 McClure’s Mag. July 324/1 From the Roosevelt standpoint, especially, it was a campaign from the ‘grass roots up’. The voter was the thing.
1935 Nation 19 June 697/2 ‘No crisis so grave has confronted our people’ since the Civil War, Mr. Lowden told the grassroots convention at Springfield.
1948 Times Lit. Suppl. 13 Mar. 143/4 The self-governing congregation is a unique element in English ‘grass-root’ democracy.
1955 Times 12 Aug. 9/6 These are the complaints at grass-root level; in more sophisticated circles the N.L.M. politicians talk of disregard of minority rights and incipient dictatorship.
Hence grass-rooted ppl. a., grass rooter.
1935 Harper’s Mag. Sept. 484/1 ‘We believe,’ the embattled Republican Grass Rooters resolved, [etc.]. Ibid. 489/2 Do we hear the Grass Rooters, the financial interests, and the industrialists raising their voices in protest against this usurpation?
1947 Chicago Times 28 June 13/4 Other straw polls in other states indicate that Republican ‘Grass rooters’ quite generally feel the same way.
7 September 1903, Kansas City (MO) Star,"Harmony flees in Kansas,” pg. 5:
His organization in all its ramifications reaches to the very grass roots of the party and he is at work all the time.
(The story is filed from Topeka, KS—ed.)
26 January 1904, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 4:
That the Hoch movement springs from the grass roots is proved by the returns from the primaries so far held.
(The story is filed from Topeka, KS—ed.)
27 July 1905, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 5:
Against these criticisms Governor Ferguson has held steadfastly that if forced to go to “grass roots” for vindication, the people of Oklahoma, regardless of political affiliation, would be found indorsing his administration and the men who compose it.
20 January 1907, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 4:
The reason they will give will be that the schemes and ambitions of individuals threaten the safety of the party to such a degree that the opportunity to win in the coming election will be lost unless something is done to bring about an entirely new deal, and perfect an organization of the party that will come from “grass roots,” in the precincts, and proceed regularly upward to the state committees.
(The story is filed from Guthrie, OK—ed.)
18 August 1908, New York (NY) Times, “Taft will make no set speeches,” pg. 2:
“We want to make a close, hard fight, commencing down at the grass roots of the party, with a determination to win in November.”
(Herbert S. Hadley, who would be Missouri governor from 1909-1913—ed.)
12 September 1908, Kansas City (MO) Star, “Governor Hughes in Kansas,” pg. 8:
“Getting down to the grass roots” is an expression which belongs wholly to the Kansas vernacular, and it is used to convey the idea of being in harmony with public sentiment. To speak the Kansas language, there fore, it may be said that the Republican national committee, in its announcement that Governor Hughes will be sent to Kansas for two campaign speeches, is at last “getting down to the grass roots.”
16 November 1909, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 1:
WHAT THE GRASS ROOTS SAY
Fresh from the grass roots “out there in Kansas,” Henry Allen of Wichita, at breakfast at the Hotel Baltimore this morning told how the Sunflower State is feeling these days.
20 October 1910, Daily Oklahoman (OK), pg. 3:
TAFT GETS EARS
TO GRASS ROOTS
President Learning Work-
ings of Machine in
5 August 1912, Meriden (CT) Morning Record, “Beveridge Hands It To Party Bosses,” pg. 7, col. 3:
Chicago, Aug. 5.—In his speech as temporary chairman of the progressive convention, former Senator Albert J. Beveridge spoke in part, as follows:
For this party comes from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of the people’s hard necessities. It has the vitality of the people’s strong convictions.
Safire’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
grassroots The ultimate source of power, usually patronized, occasionally feared, the rank and file of a party, or voters not normally politically active.
The term (often hyphenated) began with a rural flavor, implying simple virtues of the land as against city-slicker qualities. Recently the anti-big-city connotation has been disappearing, leaving only an anti-boss, up-from-the-people meaning. Accordingly, politicians seek support “from the grassroots and the sidewalks of the nation” to cover everybody.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Monday, December 21, 2009 • Permalink