I mentioned in the previous post that I would speak a little more about why NAGR does not have a workable strategy for the movement, even if “NAGR had the resources of the NRA (literally hundreds of millions of dollars).” To understand why, you have to think a bit about human nature, and go back to the root definition of politics, which my dictionary says is:
The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.
Power for what? To make policy. Politics, at least in a republic such as ours, acts as an alternative to achieving power by waging war and violence against those you resist your policies. Our alternative is our ability to elect those who make policy on our behalf, and to force them, from time to time, to stand in judgement of the people through regular elections.
So what are grassroots? They are groups of voters who act either independently, or through some sort of organization, either formal (NRA, AFP, ACU, etc) or spontaneous (Tea Party), to channel their votes toward making certain policy in an area of concern. Because we are not a direct democracy, grassroots only have an opportunity to exercise their power every few years.
During the periods between elections, policy is made without the chance for voters to stand in judgement of the people who make it. In that period, you need negotiators, called lobbyists in our system. What gives a negotiator the power to negotiate is what resources that person can bring to bear. In violent politics, it would be the ability to wage war. In republican politics, it’s the number of votes that can be marshaled either for, or against a policy maker, or proxies for votes such as money.
Grassroots are a blunt instrument of power. They are a clubÂ a lobbyist wields when in negotiation with policy makers, threatening to either to protect that policy maker, or knock him off his seat. When a grassroots organization asks you to call contact a policy maker, what they are essentially doing is helping negotiators (i.e. lobbyists) raise the club, to show the policy maker how large it is, and how well the negotiator’s organization wields it. The message intended to be delivered is “You really don’t want us to hit you over the head with this, do you? Now, let’s talk about what you are going to do for us (not going to do against us) shall we?”
The problem is, a policy maker sees a lot of clubs, and survives quite a lot of clubbing each election. He may not be very scared of yours. He may negotiate with other people who have bigger clubs, and want him to do something else. He might think you make your club seem much bigger than it really is, and doubts you can actually wield it that effectively in combat.Â “Sure,” he might say, “that thing looks like it would hurt, but I’ve survived worse. I’ve even survived being hit by your club before many years ago. Take your best shot.”Â In this context, you are going to do a lot of posturing, and let’s be honest, bluffing. The policymaker might want to do X, which you oppose. He offers to do Y, which isn’t as bad, but you still oppose. He does not understand why. The negotiator explains, and holds up the club again.Â “OK, so lets talk about Z then, and you’re going to want to take Z, because I can tell that club is heavy, and you’re getting tired of wielding it over my head,” says the policymaker, “I continue to have my doubts you’ll be able to knock me off my seat.”
The club is heavy, and obviously the bigger it is, the harder it is to wield. Â Every time and organization threatens it, it doesn’t look quite as frightening as it did the first time. Groups like NAGR and GOA seem to want to wave it around based on half baked rumors. NAGR seems to even doubt the benefit of having a lobbyist, which means even if you could muster your grassroots to oppose X, when the politician moves on Y, you’re probably going to get that shoved down your throat, due to policymakers not understanding your issue, and not being able to react fast enough. These things happen too quickly to be able to get the right amount of information to large number of people, in the hopes they can and will coherently communicate the problem to lawmakers.
A pure grassroots strategy could work, but only if your grassroots is large and motivated enough to be able to knock policymakers out of their offices in election, after election, after election, in a majority of districts around the country, and in a super majority of states. In order to accomplish that, we’d need every gun owner being a single issue voter, not just a motivated minority of a few million people. A pure grassroots strategy is fantasy land in our current situation. When your core base is composed of only a few million people, you have to negotiate, you have to posture, you have to bluff, and yes, sometimes you have to cut deals and compromise when the choice is between bad and worse.
Groups like NAGR and GOA sell us on a world where if we’re pure enough, we’ll never lose, or will at least lose being able to revel in our own purity, knowing we did not “sell out.”Â This is not the real world. It’s an emotionally appealing delusion that comforts people with notions that there is an easy, satisfying way out. Winning takes hard work and dedication, and a willingness to set aside your own wants and desires for the greater progress of the movement; something our founding fathers would have called civic virtue.