So what is "Astroturf" anyway?
What is astroturf? Well, it is an artificial surface primarily used in sports complexes in place of grass.
It is touted as a more easily managed, consistent and a safer alternative to dirt and the real stuff. Some athletes like the stuff because it is a faster surface to run on, others dislike it because it is less “forgiving” making injuries more likely.
In political circles astroturf describes political groups or parties “manufacturing” grass roots participation (generally considered bottom up) to give the appearance of broad public favor/disfavor for a topic/policy/candidate.
Recent examples of events labeled as astroturf would be the Democrat group Organizing America blasting an email to its members asking them to show up at a town hall in Longview with signs and talking points or when Americans for Prosperity called its members to show up at a town hall in Oregon with the same agenda.
The problem with the astro-turf label in these examples is that this activity really IS grass roots activism. Like minded individuals tend to join together in groups and communicate information about things that matter to them.
This type of “community” organization is less like astroturf and more like a mowed and fertilized lawn. The grass may be watered, but the individual blades are real. These citizens are showing up because they care. The grass may not be wild and “free range”, it may be a little too manicured when a Presidential campaign team has to “remind” supporters to show up, but it is not “fake”.
Real astro-turf is when President Obama called on what was presented as a “random” citizen with a question during the recent Portsmouth town hall who turned out to be the daughter of a presidential campaign aide, from another state.
Or when an Obama delegate claimed to be a physician in support of ObamaCare at Congresswoman Lee’s town hall and it turned out she really just plays one at town hall meetings.
Astroturf is not a bunch of seniors emailing each other to show up at a town hall to get their voice heard; it is when unions pay “protesters” or “supporters” to show up at an event and the union handles the transportation and sign construction.
To be sure astroturf does exist, but it is usually much more deceptive and underhanded than sending out an email to a list of “members”.
So before labeling a bunch of your fellow citizen’s as astroturf, look for people getting paid to show up or lying about who they are, that type of “organization” is the foundation on which astroturf is truly built.