Education Intelligence Agency

Public education research, analysis and investigations

The Grassroots Grow From The Top Down

Written By: Mike Antonucci   – Apr• 25•16

April 25, 2016

The Grassroots Grow From The Top Down. If ever a term has been abused in modern America, it is “grassroots.” In the political context, it is supposed to mean a movement or advocacy that originates at the local level. The Wikipedia entry states, “Grassroots movements are associated with bottom-up, rather than top-down decision making, and are sometimes considered more natural or spontaneous than more traditional power structures.”

It was with this in mind that I read the California Teachers Association’s remarkable description of its “Grassroots Lobbying Program.” Who knew that being a grassroots activist required filling out an application form, then getting direction from a state organization as to whom you would lobby, what you would lobby about, and when, where and how you would do it?

Evidently this is practiced in other NEA state affiliates, but the breakdown in California is the first I’ve seen. CTA’s board approves the statewide lobbying plan, and regional divisions of the union create regional plans based on it. Then the state Governmental Relations team identifies legislators, manages the required information, trains the lobbyists and coordinates lobbying days.

The plans the regional committees create must be “in accordance with the Grassroots Lobbying Program and CTA and NEA policy positions.” Grassroots lobbyist teams are assigned to specific legislators and are designated individually as either “activists,” “advocates” or “organizers.” They have to “know the political landscape” and practice “message discipline.” They also have to agree to a two-year commitment.

These committees have to develop a selection and removal process for grassroots lobbyists. (This makes me wonder if a dismissed lobbyist has due process protections, a right to appeal and access to an attorney.) Committee members are advised to “consider selecting grassroots lobbyists who are constituents and/or have a professional/personal relationship with the legislator.”

CTA provides a handy flow chart so you can see how it all works.


For a grassroots operation, the arrows point in a mostly southerly direction.

All advocacy groups want substantial grassroots activism, but what if those activists aren’t content to be pawns, and instead want to be kings and queens? A program designed to influence public policy decision-making doesn’t seem to want to surrender control over internal union decision-making.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics April 19-25:

* Only Terrorists Are Terrorists. Sorry, cutting budgets is not the same as cutting off heads.

* The Comedy of Terrors. “This is the kind of politics that we should all reject.” Unless people I agree with do it. Then it’s OK.

* Story Most Likely To Be Ignored. Shortage.

* Teachers Unions Still Underperform in Clinton’s Biggest Victory. Others will have a seat at that proverbial table.

* Ohio Education Association’s Finances. Former employees cost a lot.

Quote of the Week. “CTA coordinated charter school teacher blitzes in Oakland, San Diego and Sacramento where educators visited the homes of charter members and talked to them about the importance of belonging to a union. All total they knocked on about 400 doors and completed 60 visits.” – Joe Nunez, executive director of the California Teachers Association, addressing members of the union’s State Council on April 10.

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