We’re not sure there was any ever confusion that the National Organization for Marriage was not, in fact, a grassroots effort. Armed with the mission of protecting “traditional marriage,” NOM is behind that parody-friendly “Gathering Storm” ad and one of the only places media can still reliably turn to for an anti-gay talking head. (Even James Dobson has given up.) But what’s more notable about recognizing NOM’s establishment status is that it exposes a huge void in the anti-gay marriage movement: There’s a shocking lack of substantial grassroots efforts supporting that view.
A quick Google (or is it Bing now?) search reveals NOM’s chief, Maggie Gallagher, has deep roots in social conservatism and has published some five books on “family values.” Indeed, notes CampusProgress.org, other NOM toppers are veteran conservatives as well: “Chuck Stetson is chairman of the board at the Bible Literacy Project; Ken Von Kohorn fills the same role at the Family Institute of Connecticut; Luis Tellez is president of the Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton-based conservative think tank (where George is also a fellow), and is a member of the Advisory Council of George’s Madison Program.” And it even had to hire actors for its ad campaign; gay rights media efforts are overflowing with volunteers, from the famous to the everyday person.
But while NOM may be the most visible conservative effort on marriage, surely there must be other grassroots organizations out there with the same mission. And yes, there are, but the ones we could find are nearly mute, ridiculous, and getting no attention. That’s not to say conservative “grassroots” organizations don’t exist; they do. And just like pro-gay grassroots efforts, it’s hard to measure their effectiveness. Does a successful grassroots organization generate headlines and YouTube views? Or change minds and pass legislation? Does it inspire minds and bring them together?
And just because a group calls themselves “grassroots” does not mean they are. Traditional marriage advocacy group United Families International has a grassroots department; it also lobbies the United Nations with official representatives. Are we splitting hairs over what it means to be grassroots? Maybe, but all the empirical evidence we could find shows conservatives still don’t understand what it means to be grassroots. Even something as large as Barack Obama’s presidential campaign honed in on true grassroots efforts, with local congregations taking the reigns, while the GOP struggled to keep up.
Grassroots efforts are often spearheaded by younger, techno-friendly demographics who understand how to mobilize with mobile devices, how to spread a message virally, and that no one person or hierarchy owns a movement. It also helps explain why progressive groups have mastered the art form, while conservatives are left with The 700 Club.
BONUS: A new video that exposes NOM, yet again, for its falsehoods.