Friday, April 21, 2006

Grassroots Activism: It's Time to Catch Up

Gore Vidal said in a radio interview with Marc Cooper on KPFK's "The Nation," that Richard Viguerie had changed his methods when he got frustrated with the ineffectiveness of national politics. Viguerie decided that he could exert more Conservative influence by sharpening his focus: grassroots is his new credo and local elections are his domain.

In this one-minute audio excerpt from that broadcast, Vidal demonstrates just how powerful this tactic has been.
Click the arrow to listen.      

School and other local boards and commissions, city and county offices, and non-partisan offices like mayor, sheriff, council members, judges, DA’s, are the fodder for his programs. These offices comprise the worker-bees of real-action government and very often take less than 1,000 votes to win.

Viguerie's process isn’t just a to provide voter information. It also involves targeted recruitment. Recruitment? Yes – and that’s where the infection begins. From the pulpits and from his database of activists, they find like-minded people and encourage and help them to take on these jobs.

It's not been on the Democratic radar screen for a very long time. Our attentions have been on President Bush ever since 9/11. Our focus has been national and global. We've been too afraid to look elsewhere. The more we gather and process global information, the more fearful our world and our lives become.

That’s where psychology kicks in. Fear and other reminders of death increase the need for psychological security and causes a focus on (and appeal for) leaders who emphasize the greatness of the nation and participation in a heroic victory over evil. Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski in their book "In The Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror" developed an experiment that proved their point. Students were asked to think about their own death or a non-fearful control topic and then read campaign statements purportedly written by three political candidates. The candidates varied in leadership style. The charismatic leader stated: "You are not just an ordinary citizen, you are part of a special state and a special nation." The task-oriented leader stated: "I can accomplish all the goals that I set out to do. I am very careful in laying out a detailed blueprint of what needs to be done so that there is no ambiguity." The relationship-oriented leader stated: "I encourage all citizens to take an active role in improving their state. I know that each individual can make a difference."

After reading these statements, participants selected their candidate and voted. Results were striking. After thinking about a non-fearful control topic, only four of 95 participants voted for the charismatic candidate, with the rest of the votes split evenly between the task and relationship oriented leaders. However, following a reminder of death, there was almost an 800 percent increase in votes for the charismatic leader (31); votes for the task-oriented leader were unaffected, and the relationship-oriented leader's votes significantly declined.

Regardless how often Carl Rove stokes the flames of terror, we need to look past our fears and keep close watch on the neighborhood. Municipal, county and state elections happen throughout this year and next. Become informed and vote. Don't let your kids grow up under Conservative tutorage.