Email #78, Subject: “astroturf”?

I have heard accusations recently regarding anti-Trump protestors across the country. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, for example, said he knew that protestors at his town hall earlier this month were bused in from other districts in “a paid attempt” to influence him. Chaffetz, however, offered no evidence, and no evidence has been reported since.

Press Secretary Spicer made a similar claim: “It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades. The Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid, ‘astroturf’ type movement.”

I’m not familiar with the term “astroturf” in this context, but I assume it means that an apparently spontaneous grassroots movement is actually funded and orchestrated by a larger political organization. It’s perhaps ironic that Mr. Spicer should reference the Tea Party then, since that grassroots movement is so well-funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Mr. Spicer also said that “protesting has become a profession now.” I don’t know whether this is true or not. I certainly haven’t met or even heard of anyone who has been paid to protest anything. Though I have to admit that before November, I wasn’t paying that much attention. My interest in politics was a lot like watching sports on TV. I rooted from the sidelines, but other than showing up on election day, I didn’t participate.

That changed the morning after the election. I now track political news daily, research issues, write and phone my members of Congress and state legislature, write letters-to-the-editor of the Lexington, Staunton, and Roanoke newspapers, and show up in person to my elected officials’ offices. I think I may be an example of an “organic” protestor.

So while I’m disturbed by the unsupported claims made by other members of the Republican party, I am pleased that I have not heard you make similar claims yourself. I’m certainly not being paid to write you a letter every morning, and apparently I’m not alone in contacting you. When I met with your communications director, she acknowledged that you have been receiving significantly more letters and calls since the new year. I read an estimate from Senator’s Kaine’s office that his letters and calls are up 900%.

Unlike other GOP members, you have not made the mistake of disparaging me and others like me as political mercenaries. Many, many of your constituents are part of a very new and very real grassroots movement sprouting in the Shenandoah valley. Astroturf busses and paychecks are not a part of it. I hope you fully recognize that.

Chris Gavaler

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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