Friday, February 24, 2017

How to spot left-wing Astroturf at town-hall meetings

When the tea party movement began in 2009, Democratic politicians and their news-media allies famously referred to it as right-wing "Astroturfing," or a fake grass-roots movement funded by big donors. My own interaction with north state tea party members and seeing how vibrant and active they were -- and still are -- quickly convinced me that the Astroturf label was a slander. But now that Republicans are in charge, it's their turn to accuse the other side of "Astroturfing" town-hall meetings, and they're offering some proof.

As CNS News reports, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told a radio program that "protesters attending his raucous town hall 'self-identified' as being from a group called Indivisible, which offers a 'practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.'"

From the news service:
The detailed guide was written by "former congressional staffers" who "reveal best practices for making Congress listen."

And what's happening at so many congressional town halls is clearly laid out in Chapter 4, which advises Trump opponents to:

-- Get there early: "Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar."

-- Get seated and spread out: "Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus."

-- Demand real answers: Lawmakers are "very good at deflecting or dodging questions," the guide says. "If they aren't giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the MoC (Member of Congress) or applauding you."

-- Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer.

-- Keep the pressure on. "After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one."

-- Support the group and reinforce the message. "After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience."

-- Record everything! "Assign someone in the group to use their smart phone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media."

-- Reach out to media, during and after the town hall. "If there’s media at the town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterward and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected."

-- "Ensure that the members of your group who are directly affected by specific threats are the ones whose voices are elevated when you reach out to media."
Erin Ryan, a field representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa and a former Redding Tea Party leader, says she's encountered these activists in the north state. She distributed the guide to people on her email list and urged supporters not to get complacent. She wrote:
For those who have been working with the tea parties over the past 8 years it’s interesting to hear the left say that we were small self-funding and very effective groups when all we heard for years was that we were front groups for the Koch brothers. Be aware of what these guys plan to do because now is the time to defend our towns and cities from their anarchy. It’s also time to defend your elected officials from them.

Our offices have been bombarded with calls and walk-ins “demanding”, yes DEMANDING, that Doug hold a town hall so they can reenact a Jerry Springer episode for the cameras. They don’t want to discuss issues. They want to scream and yell and name call and DEMAND that he vote their way. They use that word a lot. Almost as though it has some secret meaning. Hmmm, in reading their Indivisible Guide I see they encourage them to go to the office or call us and DEMAND a town hall or an in-person meeting. Who does this besides 5 year-olds? It’s bizarre and exhausting.
One thing to keep in mind is that the media are a BIG part of this group's plan. You might have 50 people at a town-hall meeting and if two or three of them start yelling and cause a scene, that's what you'll see reported. In some cases, news outlets will find out ahead of time that these activists are going and cover a meeting they'd otherwise skip thinking it was routine. And in many cases, the outlets will be all too happy to champion these activists' cause.

Whatever your point of view is, perhaps it's best to attend these meetings yourself to give your valid feedback, listen to everything that's said and maybe report on social media what you saw and heard. If you can't attend, you could try to find a video stream of the entire event if one is available; hopefully these leaders will offer more of these raw streams considering how popular they've become on a national level. And barring all of that, try to read as many perspectives on the meetings as you can, including news reports as well as blog and social media posts from people who attended. Remember, you're in charge of your own information-gathering.

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