Monday, May 4, 2009

Grassroots vs Astroturf - How to Tell The Movements Apart

I was browsing through some of my protest posts (http://www.bermanpost.com/search/label/Protest) trying to figure out a way to tell Grassroots protests apart from the so called Astroturf. The two answer I came up with are relatively simple.

The first is to show up 15 minutes early. The slightly more difficulty, read the signs, works almost as well.

Lets play a game. What is the difference between these three pictures (from Berman Post: NYC Tax Day Tea Party):

From 4-15-2009 NYC Tea Party Protest


From 4-15-2009 NYC Tea Party Protest


From 4-15-2009 NYC Tea Party Protest



And these three pictures (from Berman Post: Anti-Israel Protest in Union Square (NYC)):

From 1-19-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


From 1-19-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


From 1-19-2009 Anti-Israel Protest



Give up? The second set have multiple duplicate signs. The first set does not. Thus the first way to spot a potential Astroturf protest is to see how many duplicate signs their are. It is exact duplicates that you are looking for. Two hand made signs with the same message should not be counted. The duplicates to take note of are the ones that look professionally made, that is identical prints of signs. Those that have the mark of an organization are especially noteworthy.

Showing up 15 minutes early can give you the same information without all that pesky reading. Observe pictures taken at a few protests before they really began:

Berman Post: Anti-Israel Protest inTime Square NYC

From 1-11-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


From 1-11-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


Berman Post: Anti-Israel Protest in Union Square (NYC)

From 1-19-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


From 1-19-2009 Anti-Israel Protest


Berman Post: May Day Immigration Rally in Union Square (NYC)

From 5-1-2009 May Day Protest


From 5-1-2009 May Day Protest



By showing up early, you can see if groups brought bunches of signs. This method is more effective because some groups are smart enough not to bring so many identical signs. As you can see, that was not the case in the protests shown above.

On to method two. Look for signs of captive groups. They are not always easy to spot. Unions and students are good places to start, as are certain companies. It can also be hard to tell the difference between captive audiences and regular interest groups.

Here are some examples (from Berman Post: May Day Immigration Rally in Union Square (NYC)):

From 5-1-2009 May Day Protest


From 5-1-2009 May Day Protest


From 5-1-2009 May Day Protest



Of course, neither of these signs are a guaranty of an Astroturf protest. Indeed the presence of both does not necessarily indicate an Astroturf protest. Bringing stacks of signs could just be a sign of good preparation. Just because a group is captive does not mean that the members present do not agree with message.

The opposite is less true. That is to say that if neither of these factors is present, it is fairly unlikely that is is an Astroturf protest. People deciding to show up with their own home made signs that are not part of any captive audience represents a ground swell that is classic Grassroots. The only way something like that could happen without it being a true Grassroots protest is if someone was going door to door promising to give people money to people that showed up. It would be impossible to promise 10,000+ people money in secret (or even 100 for that matter), then to pay them in secret. Trust me on this one, if people were promised money and did not get it they would make a lot of noise. It is also virtually statistically impossible to have only offered money to people who at least do not disagree with you. Offer money to the wrong person and that would be front page news.

Clearly the Tea Party movement is not Astroturf, and I would wager that deep down Pelosi knows that too.

Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts/methods in telling Grassroots and Astroturf protests apart.

5 comments:

  1. You might also note the preponderance of hand made signs versus professionally printed signs. Someone has to pay for the printing and the grassroots people usually don't have some organization to foot the bill.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bird of Paradise5/05/2009 10:23 AM

    Notice how orderly and peacful the tea parties were unlike the antiWTO riots in SEATTLE with all the rioting looting and vandalism by a bunch of dirty stinkin maggot infested liberal hoods

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Choey - I was hesitant to say that 'professionally printed signs' in general are a sign of Astroturf. That is because there are people out their who are either good enough to make signs like that themselves (or have friends/family that can and will for them), or spend the time and money to have their sign professionally made. Once you start seeing duplicates of professionally made signs, especially duplicates of different professionally made signs, that is much different. That cuts against the notion of an individualized outpouring and indicates something more is going on.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post. I've always wondered why, when the media shows an anti-american protest overseas, most of the signs are in English. Even when it is in some poverty stricken 3rd world hell-hole, they have wood, poster sized cardboard, and markers or paint. Unlike the rent-a-mob type protest in the US that leaves the protest area in a total mess of refuse, I like to imagine that a family may be living in the hut they have fashioned from the refuse left at the overseas rent-a-mob protest.

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  5. I can tell the "tea Party" is "astroturf", the issues they protest about are mindless superfluous right wing noise,these so call are just people drunk on the republican "cool aid " and stated by the Koch brothers, no middle class sane people would never stand for this crazy principals.
    Remember "trickle down economics" "starving the beast" ""I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." ""Job creators(capitalist)"
    Who run the bigest deficits? who got us into two wars? who caused the current crisis? who deregulated industry and banking? who caused the demised of savings and loans? Remember, Remember,Remember...

    ReplyDelete

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