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davidswanson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 07:58 PM
Original message
Astroturfing on the Left
We've grown accustomed to recognizing astroturfing on the right. A corporate lobbyist sends letters to congress members forging the signatures and letterhead of local grassroots groups. Oil corporations create front groups to generate town-hall presence against legislation that could slow climate change. Health insurance companies fund "grassroots" activists to speak for them. Fox News encourages and exaggerates support for whatever the Republican Party tells it is needed. Astroturf is a good name for all of this because it is grassroots flipped upside down. It's people being organized to rally in demand of exactly what Republican congress members want them to demand.

But what about astroturfing on the left? How do we feel about that? Here's an example.

Last week AFSCME, the national labor union which has no presence in my town, contacted me about helping to organize a rally for healthcare. I knew that AFSCME would only want to rally for the "public option" but I also knew that coalitions can create larger rallies if they include all appropriate allies. So I drafted the following announcement with three demands in it for the event and asked AFSCME to approve it:

***

We need you! Health Care Reform rally, Monday August 24th, Charlottesville, VA at the Downtown Mall, 12 pm to 2 pm.

Join us at the pavilion near City Hall with three demands:

-Vote Yes on the Weiner amendment for single-payer healthcare.
-Keep the Kucinich amendment for states' right to single-payer in the bill.
-Include a strong immediate public option.

Who: YOU and hundreds of community organizers, grassroots activists, and local politicians will gather to demand REAL health care reform. . .now!
What: Highway to Health Care RV Tour Stop: A Rally in Charlottesville, VA
When: Monday, August 24th, 2009, 12 pm - 2 pm
Where: Downtown Mall, Across from City Hall, at the Pavilion (605 E. Main Street)
Why: Americans need comprehensive health care reform. . .now! Therefore AFSCME's been driving an RV cross country, creating dozens of rallies for comprehensive health care reform
How: We intend to pull off this last minute rally with a little help from our friends like you

***

AFSCME approved this, and I sent it out to local lists of activists. I asked a number of local and national organizations to send it to their local lists, and they did so. I agreed to speak at the rally, as did some other good speakers from this area. But come Sunday night we were all disinvited: anyone who had ever been a supporter of single-payer. We were told that single-payer could not be mentioned at the rally, and that only the public option could be discussed. Or, rather, this was the new list of demands: "public option, no taxation of benefits (especially for the middle class), and shared responsibility." No joke. "Shared responsibility." Can I get a side of earmarks with that?

I told the AFSCME staffer that I was disappointed by her procedure of approving of a more inclusive message as a means to bait people to come, and then switching to a policy of self-censorship for the event itself. I told her that I thought we should all unite against the insurance companies, which would only delight in our divided and weakened movement. I told her that a labor union must know that the push for single-payer makes the public option a compromise, whereas demanding only the public option makes something less than that the compromise. I told her that there was not any conflict between passing a public option and leaving states their constitutional right to do better if they choose to. She told me she agreed "110 percent" with everything but that she was following her instructions. I said that I understood, but that she undoubtedly had known AFSCME's policies last week when she approved my announcements, and she had no reply. In fact, I had discussed the three demands with a more senior colleague of hers on the phone last week, and he hadn't raised any concern either.

What makes this more than a silly mistake is the fact that those at AFSCME giving this staffer her orders were almost certainly themselves taking their orders from Democrats in Congress. It's not as if they surveyed AFSCME's membership and came up with the ban on mentioning single-payer healthcare. AFSCME nationally "endorses" HR 676 (a bill to create single-payer) as do at least 22 AFSCME locals that I know of. I'm willing to bet that AFSCME's membership would be outraged at the tactics funded by its money. These are union members. They know that people who want single-payer and people who want a baby step in that direction are united against the insurance companies and the corporate media and the party leadership. And they know that you don't begin a negotiation asking for the least you'll take. No, the orders come down from the Democrats. So people are being organized to rally Democrats in Congress to do what the Democrats in Congress have already approved being asked to do. How is this not astroturfing? How is this different from what the right does (I mean other than the absence of guns and outright lunatics)?

By self-censoring, we don't just shrink our crowds at rallies. We don't just divide people (I've heard single-payer supporters say they are going to protest this rally, when they should have been invited to be there in support of better healthcare.) By self-censoring we risk short-term and long-term failure. Our local right-leaning Democratic congress member here in Charlottesville has told me that he approves of leaving in the bill the language to permit states to create single-payer. He opposes national single-payer and probably the public option - depending on the details. So what are we doing? We're banning any mention of the one demand we might be able to get him to act on. Is he likely to put in a word with the Rules Committee or the leadership about states' rights to single-payer if we don't even mention it? And we're turning the public option into the extreme-left position, making it exceedingly unlikely he'll support that. If the progressives in Congress stand firm for the public option, but we have not pressured other congress members to come around, we'll end up with no bill at all. This will be much better than a counter-productive bill. And it will set a very useful precedent for the progressives to have taken a stand for the first time. But then what?

We could then build a strong movement for single-payer healthcare, for healthcare as a basic human right. We could build it very well at this moment and force a better bill through Congress in the near future. After all, allowing everyone to have Medicare is simple and easy and clear. It saves money over the current wasteful system. And it does not create new entities that can be falsely labeled "death panels" or anything else. Of course, the reaction from the right will be exactly the same, but that's the point. If you're going to be attacked as murderers of old people when you propose a bailout for health insurance companies with a teeny bit of reform tacked on, why not get attacked as murderers of old people for insisting on healthcare for all?

I asked Tim Carpenter, the National Director of Progressive Democrats of America, one of the national groups that was generous enough to send my event announcement out last week, what he thought of the latest development, and he said, "This is a time when we need more honest discussions and debate, not censorship."
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Eric J in MN Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:02 PM
Response to Original message
1. An organization asking its members to promote its message...
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 08:03 PM by Eric J in MN
...and not a different message (even if it would be a better message) isn't astroturf.
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berni_mccoy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:05 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. +1
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davidswanson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:36 PM
Response to Reply #1
7. yes it is
an organization asking its members what message they want is grassroots
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Touchdown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 03:27 PM
Response to Reply #7
26. They probably did.
Did you lose your ballot?
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mopinko Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 09:20 AM
Response to Reply #1
14. +1
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Orsino Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 10:18 AM
Response to Reply #1
17. Right! When the organization isn't hiding its activities...
...and it's lobbying for the actual benefit of its grassroots members, that's not astroturfing.
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berni_mccoy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:06 PM
Response to Original message
3. Why are you not helping to get a Public Option through Congress?
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davidswanson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:38 PM
Response to Reply #3
8. it was one of 3 things i proposed
i consulted with AFSCME on what speakers would not be willing -- as I was -- to promote the public option

pushing three things that in no way conflict with each other is not an occasion to demand to know why I'm not supporting one of the three
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autorank Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:23 PM
Response to Original message
4. k*r Brave truth. You will pay for this honesty
I say that only because it's true. The left has considerable astroturfing, just as the right does. The effort to
quiet the debate on election fraud didn't come from the right. The dismissal of real evidence of fraud in the
Iranian election didn't arise from the right. Freedomworks is not synonymous with astroturfing per se, but rather the right wing version. Managing the agenda means managing opposition. We're annoying and a distraction right now. We'll be managed, you more so than most.
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Pharaoh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:25 PM
Response to Original message
5. Semantics~
single payer

public option, whatever you want to call it. It is about taking care of each other, caring for the sick and, a for profit system is not about that.

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Juche Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:36 PM
Response to Original message
6. The censorship is bothersome
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 08:38 PM by Juche
They shouldn't have done that, and they should support single payer since the public option is a compromise, like you said. I would probably be protesting the AFSCME in that situation if they tried to control and manipulate the grassroots like that. Sadly censorship on the left is common and happens all the time with election fraud or 9/11. It isn't as big a deal with things like torture or being lied into war anymore, but the left seems like it used to censor itself about those issues back in 2003/2004.

To me, astroturfing is when the people who truly run the grassroots organizations have a different, hidden motive than those who are protesting. On the right you have the insurance and pharma companies who want to protect their profits leading the movement, and the people on the ground are misinformed people who are motivated by fear of change and hatred of liberalism. The protesters and the people leading the protests have differing motives, and the people leading the protests are intentionally misleading the protesters.

With left wing movements funded by unions for example, I think most of us know what the unions stand for, and we are not protesting or organizing because we are misinformed about the issues.

The big difference to me is that the people who fund the right wing (corporations, wealthy individuals) generally have a different agenda than the people on the ground. People on the ground fear change and believe in a litany of lies and misinformation whereas the funders want libertarian economic policies. The people who fund the left wing (the netroots, unions, wealthy liberals) tend to have the same agenda as the grassroots.

If people on the right know who is funding their grassroots movements, they agree with what they stand for and they are informed about the issues then that is not astroturfing, even if corporations fund it.

On the other hand if dems and unions try to control and cajoole the opinions of the grassroots to serve their own interests w/o their knowledge, that is astroturfing.

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Motown_Johnny Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:39 PM
Response to Original message
9. Is anyone trying to hide that AFSCME is behind this and passing it off as grass roots?
If they are up front about it then it isn't astroturf
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KittyWampus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:42 PM
Response to Original message
10. Does AFSCME have and spend millions while ensuring that a tiny fraction of its members receive
millions?
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pilsner Donating Member (227 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 09:21 PM
Response to Original message
11. How to pass Single-Payer through Congress
David,

You are so right about about Astroturfing from the left.

Progressive Dems in the House should introduce a bill a Medicare for All bill which promises that the reduced premiums the government pays to insure federal workers by switching from private insurance to Medicare for All would be returned in the form of a check to all taxpayers. The promise of a $250 check to every taxpayer would sky-rocket public support. (this is the kind of gimmick that Repubs would use to pass a controversial bill).

Would you pass along this idea to Representative Kucinich or other progressives in Congress if you think it has merit?

And, Medicare for All would be a godsend to school districts and state and local governments during a time of cutbacks and tight budgets. So why aren't Governors and Mayors speaking out in force for Medicare for All?
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patrice Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 09:09 AM
Response to Original message
12. It's not astroturfing when you are so clearly the under-dog in re means, i.e. Media, Lobbyists, Reli
gious Propagandists, Corporate decision makers, Financial Strangle-Holds, Systemic Inertia, Emotional Manipulation . . .

I could go on, but you get the idea.

When you are in such a minority position against all of that, each response requires sooooooo much more information, soooooo much more personal commitment to principle, sooooooo much more understanding that each response is

Exactly the Opposite of Astroturfing.

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Joanne98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 09:12 AM
Response to Original message
13. No wonder we lose the message battle! Fucking WIMPS!
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drm604 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 09:51 AM
Response to Original message
15. The left isn't being directly sponsored by corporate interests.
That's the difference. I'm not defending AFSCME's suppression of certain ideas. You have a legitimate beef about that. But it's not the same as insurance companies spreading disinformation in order to rally people to go out and work against their own interests.
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John Q. Citizen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 09:52 AM
Response to Original message
16. I saw simular left astroturfing all through this health care struggle. Here in Missoula
Organizing for America, the Obama group, called a meeting to work on health care reform. About 40 people showed up. The organizer showed the Obama video and we started talking in our groups. It quickly became apparent that at least 3/4 (30 people) were interested in single payer, and they couldn't understand why we were being directed by the organizers instead to push for a market based alternative to non-profit health insurance.

It almost turned ugly with members of the audience who had been contacted through the Obama website demanding to know why the conversation was being managed and why we weren't allowed to talk about single payer.

The other interesting phenomena I've noticed is that the supporters of what is being called "The Public Option" steadfastly refuse to discuss what is in House's HR3200 and in the Senate's HELP bill in terms of the "public option."

They call it "The Public Option," but if I attempt to engage them about what these so -called public options actually do, they don't want to talk about it. It's as if calling them "The Public Optioon" is the entire goal, end of conversation.

It's weird and a little bit scary.
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caseymoz Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 01:01 PM
Response to Original message
18. First, I don't know that this is astroturfing-- because it was pretty transparent.

What was missing here, to me, is the element of deception about whose interests it is serving, that is, funding or guiding people with a front organization, like "Citizens for Responsible Health Care" (a made up name just for a "for instance") which turns out to be neither made up of citizens, nor is it for responsible health care, but its run by Corporations in the health care industry. If anybody runs the group, it's a conservative operative hired from the staff of a think-tank. Now, this wouldn't be the organization that actually does the protests, no, but it is but one of the dummy organizations that funds and organizes the protest. It will put a few of its operatives among the protesters for some "Guerrilla Marketing" of its sponsor's opinions. The people themselves never know who is drawing them together for this cause, and perhaps never ask. When applicable, they perhaps don't even know why dues are never asked for to fund these events.

Now, that is astroturfing.

The AFCME funding it is pretty straightforward.

At this point, it is in the interest of health care reform to get people on-message, and counter the myths upon which reform in general is being attacked. I don't like "the public option" as well, I think we must ultimately go to universal health care. At most, it is already a compromise with industry. However, a public option, provided it's not sabotaged, will be a marked improvement to what we have now. In this recession, we are reaching a health care crisis. Half-measures are far better than no measures right now, and provided the public option isn't made a total failure, we could continue to agitate for further reform.

So, no it's not what I would call astrotufing, and you have to make a choice about whether, for now, you are willing to stay on-message. At this point, though, we are desperately trying to save what is really the best chance we have, and help Obama get this message out.





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grantcart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:23 PM
Response to Original message
19. What an idiotic move - If we start at Public Option then we will be pressured to give that
up as a 'compromise'.

We should always include Single payer in rallies because it shows that Public Option is the compromise - and from that line in the sand we will not move.
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Cleita Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:28 PM
Response to Reply #19
20. Agreed. Anyone who ever has had to buy a car knows how it works.
The seller sets a high price. The buyer asks for a very low price. Somewhere after offers and haggling on both sides, a price is settled that is satisfactory to both parties. But if the seller sets the price he will settle for, he will end up with less than he should get or no sale.
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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:29 PM
Response to Original message
21. You might be confused David
Not in the central point of your piece which I will gladly rec but in your categorization of the left. If you just wish to add a qualifier, "liberal left" e.g., you might be a bit more accurate however you might also consider the distinct possibility that what passes for the left in this country is in the center of the status quo maelstrom and by using the term "left" in the context of your piece continues the misinterpretation of who is the left and what they stand for politically and economically.

If you eliminate that confusion you can see clearly how it is that many on the purported left consistently support policies that empower the status quo.
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grantcart Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:44 PM
Response to Reply #21
22. The Democratic Party is essentially a centrist party - when compared to
politics in other developed country. The Republican Party would be a splinter far right party by the same comparison.

Although much to my surprise even far right parties outside the US support single payer health care leaving the Republicans in a 'party' of one.

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/grantcart/188
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fascisthunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 03:40 PM
Response to Reply #22
27. this is very true...
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Hansel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:45 PM
Response to Original message
23. AFSCME is a non-profit org advocating for working people
It is not advocating on behalf of a corporation or industry while hiding behind a facade of a spontaneous grassroots movement that they have manufactured.

It is a union of people have banded together to get fair wages and benefits. Health Care for all has been their cause for a very long time and they are not hiding it.

Astroturf is hidden corporate backing of a particular political cause solely for the benefit of the corporation or industry and not necessarily for the benefit of the people it is manipulating into advocating their on their behalf. In fact, most astroturf manipulated individuals do not even realize they are being manipulated by corporations or industries that really do not have their best interest in mind.

I don't think the comparison between the two is apt and it doesn't bother me at all that AFSCME is doing what it is openly chartered to do.

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Romulox Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 03:20 PM
Response to Original message
24. There is no grass roots support for mandatory, for profit healthcare.
Any rally for same is likely astroturfing.
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Touchdown Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 03:24 PM
Response to Original message
25. Unions are not astroturfers, by definition.
Corporate interest and pro biz legislation is the goal of astroturfing. Corporations are kingdoms. Unions are democracies. Apples and crescent wrenches.
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