It must be easy to run an astroturf campaign. Because all your activists are actually your employees, they’ll do exactly what you want them to do. There’s no dissent, no mixed messages.
However, astroturf campaigns often fail because people can tell something’s not right. They can see that those campaigners don’t actually believe what they’re saying, and the whole thing looks too much like a pretty façade with nothing behind it. Also, unless you’ve got endless supplies of money, it’s difficult to hire enough staff to create enough activity on the ground.
A real grassroots campaign is very different. It’s full of different people with their own ideas, hopes and goals. You can make suggestions to them, but if they don’t see the point, they’re unlikely to follow your lead.
The Yes campaign has over the past couple of years developed into one of the most impressive grassroots movements of recent years. Lots of real people — often with no previous political engagement — are now spending many hours every week campaigning for a Yes vote. For a long time, formal guidance from Yes Scotland was minimal, so people found their own ways of doing things — they created their own events and their own campaign materials.
Recently, however, there have been signs that some people at Yes Scotland HQ have started to worry about their lack of control. For instance, they’ve been distancing themselves from Wings over Scotland and yesterday’s BBC bias demonstration, and too many people seem to spend half their time telling other people off on Twitter for tweeting the wrongs links or attending the wrong events.
It’s almost as if some people have got a bit fed up with their real grassroots campaigners. Perhaps they had hoped they’d suddenly start behaving like astroturf employees during the regulated campaign. Perhaps cautious campaigners just want everybody to be cautious — Wee Ginger Dug pointed out that “the more cautious in any campaign for civil rights often criticise those who are fearless.”
Such cautious advice is likely to backfire, however. Activists have spent the past two years building their own networks and campaigns, and they’re not likely to take kindly to orders from above (at let’s not forget that when Hope Street was the focus of negative media stories in the past, activists didn’t take to Twitter to criticise their actions).
Also, to many activists, blogs such as Wings provide a very important service. As Robin McAlpine put it:
[Wings over Scotland] has lifted our spirits throughout the campaign. When we wake up in the morning and Yes Scotland isn’t in the papers (why?) and the SNP is being timid and talking like an accountant, it is often Wings that is the primary source of commentary that doesn’t seem always to accept the premise set by the mainstream media as the only possible frame for discussing independence. It makes it OK to be both angry and excited while becoming informed at the same time.
I completely understand why Yes Scotland HQ might feel at times that they need to lead things a bit more. However, I don’t think they’re going about it the right way.
I’m a father, and here’s some parental advice: If your kids are having fun baking a cake while making a complete mess, but you’d rather they were out cutting the lawn, don’t just storm into the kitchen and shout at them. If you do, they’re likely to storm up to their room and slam the door, and you’ll be left with a messy kitchen and an uncut lawn. It’s much better to join them in the kitchen, give them hints about how to tidy up as you go along, and try to talk them into cutting the lawn while the cake is in the oven. In this way, you’re likely to end up with a slightly messy kitchen, a nice cake and a beautiful lawn.
In the same way, if some campaigners spend their time criticising other campaigners for their campaigning style, the inevitable result is that everybody ends up doing less campaigning. It’s much better to make positive suggestions and just be open about the fact that it’s a grassroots campaign where the HQ isn’t always in charge of everything. Diversity is our strength, so we shouldn’t suddenly start saying it’s a problem.
Of course you sometimes cringe at other people’s actions. That’s life. Nobody’s perfect, but we all have something to contribute. Altering the well-known adage live and let live ever so slightly, may I suggest that we all simply campaign and let campaign?