You’ve probably heard the word “grassroots” a lot in recent years.
You may have only the most general sense of what it means, even if you’ve used the word yourself or have participated in grassroots engagement. Essentially, grassroots engagement is a way of influencing public policy that bypasses the government and goes straight to the general public. People involved in grassroots engagement will communicate with ordinary citizens, encouraging them to become involved in the political process.
This can take a number of forms:
- Getting people to sign a petition. Increasingly, these petitions take the form of an email linking to a website, and repeat visitors often can use a prefilled form to submit many petitions in a short amount of time. Often these emails include a detailed description of the issue at hand, allowing those who are uninvolved in politics to quickly catch up on the issue.
- Encouraging people to contact their local representatives regarding a piece of legislation, whether by phone, email, or a written letter. This, too, is changing as technology becomes more integrated into our political lives, and many groups will provide form letters for you to send. Many young people do not send letters by mail anymore, and some will not make phone calls.
- Organizing a rally or protest. This often comes to mind when people think of grassroots engagement or activism, and some violent or chaotic protests have made the practice controversial in many people’s minds. However, it is still a popular form of political engagement, and has been used by all age groups and political affiliations.
- Spreading a message via the internet or print. Increasingly, grassroots engagement is using social media. This has a number of advantages, such as low or minimal cost, rapid spread, and opportunity for people to respond. Most of all, it is highly effective at reaching younger generations, who tend to be passionate about social issues but less likely to vote.
A successful public affairs campaign should utilize as many channels as possible, and grassroots engagement is just one of many. Still, grassroots engagement can be highly effective, and a strong, determined effort to reach ordinary citizens will certainly go further than one that ignores the impact of public opinion.