Grassroots Action Versus Environmental Fear
By Sherry Kiesling
Much has been written about an experiment conducted recently by Peter Sparber, a Washington, D.C. business lobbyist. Sparber's experiment began with the theory that people can be tricked into believing an environmental crisis exists without any facts whatsoever. To prove this, Sparber sent a mailing from a fictitious group he called "Stop the Silent Killer Foundation". The letter, sent to individuals who support banning pesticides, claimed that dihydrogen oxide poses a significant threat to the environment and to human and animal health.
According to the letter, 4100 Americans, many of them under the age of 10, died from excessive doses of dihydrogen oxide in 1991. The letter reported that dihydrogen oxide is a major contributor to injuries from falls and is a major cause of burns. Recipients were asked to write to The Dihydrogen Oxide Institute in Washington, D.C. demanding an end to the production of dihydrogen oxide. Hundreds of people responded to the perceived threats in the letter, apparently unaware that dihydrogen oxide is nothing more than water.
The results of this experiment are alarming to anyone seeking reasonable reforms in our nations's environmental laws and regulatory structure. The experiment shows that Americans can be easily led by fear. What we also know is that while it's easy to create fear, it's difficult to put those fears to rest or to disprove negative statements.
Agriculture and natural resource organizations rely not on hot air or false rhetoric in their public relations battle. Instead they rely on their grassroots strength. Ed Grefe, who has written and lectured extensively on the topic of grassroots activity, says that agriculture organizations can use their grassroots membership to win support and to bring coalition members to their cause.
Grefe defines potential coalition members in four categories. First are family members who are emotionally committed to the cause. Second are friends, those who have an economic stake. Grefe believes that family and friends represent 5-10 percent of the potential voter base who will support your cause. Foes represent 5-10 percent on the opposite side. The rest of the public is what Grefe defines as "strangers". They have no apparent stake in the outcome of the issue. They represent the battleground.
Grassroots, according to Grefe, is about winning the war for values. Many organizations, like the American Farm Bureau, are well known for their grassroots strength. They rely on individual Americans – not scare tactics and fear – to motivate their members to action. And they're getting better and better at motivating their members to fight back against the skewed, distorted, and often nonexistent evidence of environmental harm presented by politically motivated environmental groups.
Sherry Kiesling is a writer/producer in the broadcast services department of the American Farm Bureau Federation.