America was founded on protest and civil disobedience. But few Americans, whether they are politically engaged or cynical about the entire political process, realize that the efforts of grassroots movements are still making huge waves. These grassroots organizations amount to more than just marches, protests and social disruption — they’re getting candidates elected to public office and making real, measurable, legislative achievements.
In 2009, the Tea Party emerged as a libertarian-right wing populist. Its members and affiliates have achieved prominent political offices. In 2011, Rand Paul was elected to the Senate. Ted Cruz followed suit in Texas in 2013. In 2012, when Donald Trump considered making a run for president, he became a popular figure within the Tea Party movement. Four years later, the Tea Party got their man in the White House.
The Tea Party has been effective because, rather than running their own candidates like the Reform Party or the Green Party does against the establishment parties, the Tea Party effectively carved out its own voting bloc within the Republican Party. Rather than try to make changes from the outside in, as a Third Party, the Tea Party has introduced right wing populism to Washington DC from the inside out.
In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement sparked a new wave of far-left wing activism.
In 2016, self-proclaimed Democratic-Socialist Bernie Sanders ran for president. In 2017, at the local level, 15 candidates who were members of the DSA were elected to public office across 13 states, and many others ran. In 2014, the Democratic Socialists of America had 6,500 members. Since Bernie’s two runs for president, the DSA’s membership now stands at 70,000 as of August 2020.
The far-left has also been effective for the same reasons that the Tea Party has. Rather than running Democratic-Socialist candidates to challenge Democratic Party incumbents in blue states, far-left wing candidates have run themselves as Democrats, and some, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, have even been elected to Congress.
Some of the most effective grassroots movements are ultimately the ones that stick to a single issue and hit it over and over again repeatedly. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has also been effectively employing this strategy by sticking to the central message of police brutality.
This year, BLM has been characterized in the media by violent riots, but BLM as an organization has made significant legislative achievements including the Right to Know Senate Bill 1421 in California, which requires state and local agencies to make public records available for inspection. Additionally, in Louisville, Kentucky, the newly passed Breonna’s Law makes “no-knock warrants” unlawful. In response to BLM activist pressures, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus statues have been removed across the country and NASCAR has banned the usage of the confederate flag.
BLM has also been effective because it knows how to make headlines. BLM understands that the first step in any successful political campaign is that one must first establish a brand recognition. Once you have become a household name, then collecting manpower and financial resources to get laws passed becomes a lot easier.
There is no way to change the minds of non-politically minded people who are too lazy or cynical about the political process to take part in it. But for the people who do care and want to make a difference in this country, it is important for Americans to constantly remind themselves that when this country was founded it was a very different place, and it is the job of every new generation to leave this country better then they found it. Just like every individual person, America is a work in progress. The Founding Fathers built within the system opportunity for growth, change and progress. If they didn’t want it that way, they would not have designed the system in the way that they had.