A quiet crowd doesn’t make for a successful campaign rally. Every political candidate and special interest group dreams about engaging the public’s interest to the point of sparking a full-fledged grassroots movement. With a significant following to back their efforts, movement leaders have the capability to enact change on the local, regional, and even national level. However, inspiring such interest is often easier imagined than enacted, given that truly vitalizing a base takes more than a few snappy slogans and a decent media presence. A grassroot’s numerical power is also its greatest organizational difficulty: to have any hope of success, organizers need to inspire citizens to be engaged activists, rather than passive followers.
Part of the grassroots recruiting process lies in reminding people of the decision-making power they already possess. Disengaged voters tend to express feelings of helplessness and disillusionments, believing that their single voice doesn’t make a different in the broad scheme of political action – but they couldn’t be more wrong. A report published by the Congressional Management Foundation found that constituent input has a significant impact on representative decisions; in 2015, a full 94% of surveyed congressional staff members noted “in-person visits from constituents” has “some” or “a lot” of sway with undecided legislators. The report further concluded that: “Direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers’ decisions than other advocacy strategies.” Constituent interactions humanize a cause and put faces to on-paper issues; while a legislator may not remember the number of retweets an issue received, they will remember the emotion behind a constituent’s personal story.
Moreover, there’s something to be said for a grassroot’s campaign ability to vitalize discussion and spread the issues, rather than interest in a single person or organization. As contributors Joshua Habursky and Mike Fulton write in an article for The Hill: “Grassroots advocacy itself has the power to sway hearts and minds of elected officials, regulators and the media, tapping into public sentiment to both feed itself and refresh its ranks with new activists who are unafraid to participate and anxious to contribute their time and treasure to a cause in which they believe.” For real-life illustration of their points, we need only turn to advocacy successes at FWD.us, a Silicon Valley initiative that intends to both reform US immigration policies and improve science education. Led by Mark Zuckerberg, FWD.us sought to spark change by leveraging tech companies’ considerable political influence, inspiring bipartisan grassroots efforts via social media, and facilitating constituent-legislator communication. The group also worked to emotionally engage potential activists by sharing real DREAMer stories on their website and social platforms. By the end of its first five months of operation, the organization had driven over 33,500 calls to Congress and sparked a total of 125,000 actions (including social media shares). An article from TechCrunch reported that as of September 2013, a total of 110,00 total people had taken some form of action for the group, including but not limited to: making calls, emailing or tweeting at Congress, or sharing information resources via social media.
In our age of political polarization and controversy, it has become increasingly important for us to hold our issues over tabloid gossip; to remain engaged and open-minded despite media sensationalization. We need to remember that grassroots efforts can have an effect, and that our individual voices truly do matter. If you have a cause that you champion, don’t settle for social media activism; get involved!