Friday, August 21, 2009

Town-Hall Protests and Populist Rage: As AstroTurf Is to Grass

You know how those raucous town-hall meetings are supposed to be all about populist furor rising up among a people who feel left out of the political process? And who are showing up at these meetings to re-enfranchise themselves and claim a voice in deliberations that have shut them out?

Well, if you think that’s what these tempests in a teapot have been all about, I have news for you. I had lunch yesterday with a friend who is working hard to organize a national convention to take place in Little Rock later in the year.

One of her many tasks is to verify conference registrants who are also staying at the conference hotel, one of our grand local downtown hotels. On a regular basis, the hotel photocopies documents showing who has registered at the hotel and is also a conference attendant. Those folks will get a special conference discount at the hotel.

As my friend was going through her latest list earlier this week, a name and address stood out. She couldn’t place the name, though the hotel thought this person had signed up for the conference discount.

My friend googled the name and the address, and discovered the following interesting bit of information: he belongs to a right-wing think tank in northern Virginia. In fact, he had already visited Little Rock a few weeks back, from that Virginia address. He's not attending the conference, and his documents had gotten mixed into the conference bunch by mistake.

And the activist group for which he works has been tracked to a cluster of organizations known to be staging the faux populist astroturf demonstrations at town-hall meetings.

The date of his visit to Little Rock? The day before the town-hall meeting about which I wrote in early August, one of those featured in national television coverage of these teabagging events. That was the meeting at which a “local” stood up and shook and cried about losing her country and how afraid it made her to lose control.

From Virginia to Little Rock to organize and script “local” “populist” discontent, at a hefty price: these astroturf protests are about as close to real populism as, well, Astro Turf is to grass.