What is GrassRoots? Or Is It Grass Roots?


For your issue, you know more than the elected officials. You probably know more than the professional lobbyist. Your elected officials want to benefit from your knowledge and experience. You can also make the story come alive with personal experiences and specific stories that put a face on the issue and make it memorable.

Your ability to win in the California legislature turns more on your ability to make the issue come alive with true stories than any other single factor. Every time I ask a politician to give an example of being influenced, they tell about someone who put a face on the issue with a personal anecdote. Like soap opera fans, they love a good story.


What is Grass Roots Politics?

If you search the Internet for “grassroots” or “grass roots,” you will get a lot of lawn companies, florists and political organizations of all kinds.

“Grassroots” in a political sense means organized at the most basic level-individual people. Rudyard Kipling used “grass roots” in his 1901 novel Kim to mean the origin or source (“Not till I came to Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Course of Things, or trace the running grass-roots of Evil.”).

In the United States, the first use of the word “grassroots” in a political sense is usually attributed to Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana. He said of the Progressive Party in 1912 that “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”

I use the term to describe the most powerful moment in politics: constituents talking, writing, phoning and meeting with the person for whom they can vote.


Some will argue that the real source of political power, for most people, is their right to vote. Certainly after the disputed and close Presidential elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008, we know voting is important. I urge my clients to get their people registered. It’s the entry-level act to achieve political clout. It’s important and I hope you will vote. I emphasize this because what I say next is hard for people to understand, and I want you to know that I believe in voting.

Voting is the least influential weapon in your political arsenal. It makes a difference by default. Bad things may happen if you don’t vote. Voting seldom makes good things happen.

Of all actions, voting is least likely to enable you to affect policy or legislation.

Voting is the most difficult and costly weapon to mobilize. You can only vote every two, four, or six years depending on the office.

You can only vote for a few people. They may not be the ones who determine your fate. Your own member of Congress or the legislature may not be in a position to help you because he or she isn’t in leadership (those who control the House and Senate, the governor and the president) or because they just don’t have the clout.

Your vote only determines who gets elected, if that, and only affects the district in which you live.

Even if your candidate wins, you haven’t told them what to do and they may not agree with you on your issue.

I know, just a few votes more in Florida and Al Gore would have been president. Just a few more in Ohio and John Kerry would have been president.

Sometimes   it’s   close   and   every   vote   really   counts. Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington State was elected in 2004 by 129 votes out of 2.6 million cast. After the state supreme court ruled that “one or more” votes were invalid in a Montana race, the Democrats gained control of the State House of Representatives. The 2006 U.S. Senate race in Virginia was very close and determined which party would be in control of the U.S. Senate. Cathleen Galgiani won a seat in the California Senate in 2012 by less than 7,000 votes out of 281,927 cast, a 1 percent squeaker. In the 2014 statewide

California   primary to decide the top two candidates   for controller who would be on the ballot in November, No. 2 won by 481 votes out of 4,039,375. Sometimes just a few votes matter. I always vote, and I hope you will.

But in fact, outcomes of district and state elections are rarely in doubt and the close races cited here are exceptional and rare.


Even so, remember that in 2006, 93 percent of House seats did not change party hands. In the Senate it was 94 percent. Put another way, the incumbent or the incumbent’s party was returned to office in 432 of 468 races (435 in the House and 33 in the Senate).

In 2012 there were 63 U.S. House seats where the margin of victory was less than 10 percent. That was a presidential year of high political interest.

Since   1996   more   than   98   percent   of   incumbents   in Congress have been re-elected and it’s about the same in California assembly elections except for those who are term- limited out of office. Here is a key to success in achieving your legislative goals: 95+ percent of people in office will stay in office as long as they want and legally can and there is nothing you can do about it. Even if you back a candidate who wins, your person may never have significant influence and may never be a player in the issues that are important to you.

NEXT (To come)

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