Why does the grassroots matter? What does “grassroots” even mean? It means We the People—everyday Texans standing up to demand change in our local communities. And it has made all the difference in my city.
It’s no coincidence that “We the People” are the first words in the preamble to the Constitution. We are where power was meant to ultimately reside. Does this mean that those with money and connections wield no influence? Of course not; we deal in reality. But the Constitution gave us a playing field in which the grassroots have more power than in any other nation on earth.
But as the late Stan Lee immortalized with the Peter Parker Principle: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Do we use that power with great responsibility? Do we use it at all? I submit that increasingly over the last century, most Americans have abdicated their responsibility, and with it, their power. Most people don’t vote outside of presidential elections every four years.
Those who do often don’t know anything about most of the candidates for whom they pull the lever, even if they think they know about the party under which those candidates run. Some vote for entirely superficial reasons, such as who has better hair (I’m not kidding, this was actually overheard). And in Texas, fewer than 10 percent of registered voters typically vote in city, school board, and other local elections, despite these officials dictating our property tax bills!
But not all of you are disengaged. A small ember of the dedicated electorate remains; those who remember that all politics is local and that We the People are meant to have the final say. True, we are very few, but we are incredibly powerful. For an example of grassroots muscle, you needn’t look any further than last year’s Plano municipal elections.
Plano is the ninth-largest city in Texas, with more than 286,000 residents.
Before I ran for local office, I had zero name recognition and no money, was up against a well-known, well-funded incumbent, faced a media which was dismissive at best and hostile at worst, and was ultimately outspent nearly 6-to-1. But we won, thanks to the help of hundreds of fellow citizens who stepped up to volunteer.
I received a huge boon when Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed me, but he endorsed me more than a month before the May 4 election. On May 4, I finished down 2.5 points—behind, but in my three-way race, enough to deny the incumbent the 50.1 percent he needed to claim outright victory, forcing a runoff election five weeks later.
During that time, I gained 9 points to win the June 8 runoff by 6.5 points. What made the difference? The grassroots did. Gov. Abbott’s endorsement was already known and already baked into the cake. There were no revelations between the general election and the runoff—no bombshells. Nothing changed except for grassroots engagement.
I know (because several people told me afterward) that I was considered a relatively hopeless candidate—I had never run for anything before, and the uphill battle presented too many obstacles, too great to overcome. A number of dedicated people supported me early on, but in this landscape, my support was limited.
Then, on May 4, we came within striking distance. With the runoff election in a mere five weeks, the grassroots smelled victory. Not only could we win, but my friend Lily Bao and I were both in runoff elections, and if we didn’t both win our races, the status quo remained. The urgency—and the prospect for victory—was palpable, and the grassroots mobilized in a phenomenal way.
People block walked, they made phone calls, and they just plain got the word out. Our campaign raised more money in the five weeks of the runoff campaign than in the 18 weeks prior to the general election, and more people voted in the runoff than in the general.
That was the grassroots, and it made all the difference. It led to a whole new dynamic on the Plano City Council, allowing us to keep city property taxes flat for the first time in 24 years and starting us on the path toward creating a new city comprehensive plan which the overwhelming majority of our people can get behind.
If the grassroots stayed home, the outside moneyed interests fueled by local real estate developers would have won. In how many races do the grassroots stay home? In how many more races will they? Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of the grassroots, money rules the roost.
There are elections going on right now in the run-up to the March 3 primaries, then many municipal elections in May, then the big one in November. The grassroots can rule the roost if we have the will and claim the power given us by the Constitution. Will we? It’s there for the taking.
There are those who see the grassroots as a problem—they see We the People as a problem. A couple of pesky weeds are easy to get rid of if you pull them out by the roots. But with the grassroots, once the sod has set, it’s impossible.
So, are a couple of pesky folks going to make some electoral noise? Or are the grassroots going to claim the power that by right belongs to We the People? It belongs to you.
Go and Take It.
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