You Be The Judge

Published on 1st September 2009

Addressing the grassroots opposition to healthcare reform sprouting up at town hall meetings, in an interview on August 5 Nancy Pelosi challenged us all with this comment: “I think they are Astroturf, you be the judge.”
“Astroturf” has become the term for formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns—often funded by corporate interests—that hope to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior.
In order to “be the judge,” one has to attend both types of events: grassroots and Astroturf. Once that is accomplished, it is easy to discern the spontaneous from the organized. I’ve participated in both.
On August 21, I attended a rally for “Energy Citizens” in Farmington , NM . (Similar events have been or are being held in several cities in many states.) I received a couple notices about the events and passed them on to CARE members in the area. I supported and agreed with the cause and I made the trek. The promotional literature stated that lunch, drinks, and tee-shirts would be provided. This was going to be a corporate campaign.
I selected the tee-shirt with the slogan “Create American Jobs, Don’t Export Them” as it most closely aligns with my personal and professional view regarding cap and trade—the focus of the rally. I signed an oversized document that would be sent to our elected officials. More than 1000 of us donned our bright yellow tee shirts and ate lunch while a band played on the stage.
Then speakers presented messages regarding the potential impact on jobs if cap and trade is passed and tried to rally the audience to angry protest with the repeated chant. “Save our jobs.” While everyone present was, or should be, truly worried about the impact of cap and trade on America , future energy supplies, and their personal job security the “energy” in the room wasn’t what I’d hoped to see. News reports about other Energy Citizen Rallies have likened them to a company picnic which is probably a more accurate description as the auditorium was filled with energy industry employees eating lunch.
The Energy Citizen rallies are an attempt to get heard. America ’s energy producers, like America ’s citizens, are trying to get the message out to a congress that is ignoring constituents’ wishes. Some are even vowing to vote how they want, regardless of the will of the people.
In contrast, colleagues and I have participated in town hall meetings. There true grassroots activism takes place and the energy in the room is palpable—increasing with each passing minute. Referencing my Congressman’s town hall, a peer told me that the first half was fairly tame but by second half it had grown to a fervor. Another descried the event as “raucous.” At one town hall, an attendee who repeatedly attempted to ask about cap and trade, was cut off.
Apparently, our elected officials do not want to hear from us or answer our questions, they just want to stay “on message.”
I attempted to attend my congressman’s town hall. It was over-full and many left in disgust.  Instead I took pictures of, and talked to, the people on the street. Almost Most people holding signs for healthcare reform held uniform, professionally done signs. One woman with a homemade sign was asked about where the data quoted on her sign came from, “I do not know, I was just given the sign.” Astroturf. When the doors were closed, the event started, and the news media went inside most of the healthcare reform proponents wandered off.
Meanwhile, those who opposed the government takeover stood firm. Many acknowledged that they’d just met the person standing with them and had formed an instant bond as they held their homemade signs and waved at the honking cars that passed. They’d been standing on the curb for hours in the hot sun and planned to stay until the event let out. Grassroots.
Nancy, Martin (my congressman), Barney, or Arlen, this is real! This is about so much more than healthcare. It is about cap and trade—even though you do not want to discuss it. It is about out-of-control spending. It is about taxes. It is about government takeover.
The people at these town hall meetings don’t want to hear your talking points. They want you to hear them! They really want you to hear!
Centuries of Americans before us have fought for freedom and won. We do not intend to give up now! In November 2010, we will “be the judge.” 
By Marita Noon

Executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), a nonprofit organization advocating for citizen rights to energy freedom. She can be reached at [email protected]

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