According to the definition from Webster's dictionary a grassroots movement in the political context refers to a political or economic movement with people in a given district as members. Through collective action on a local level grassroots organizations manage to drive change up to an international level. They are characterized by bottom-up, rather than top-down decision-making and are known as natural versus traditional power structures.
Grassroots organizations employ various strategies that range from fundraising and registering voters to calling for political conversation. Goals of particular movements are different but what all they have in common is their focus on mass participation in politics. The notion of grassroots is often confused with participatory democracy. The difference is that grassroots movement usually means a particular movement or organization while participatory democracy is associated with a larger system of governance. The former utilize tactics that draw power from local and community movements. They are usually nonprofit organizations established with the goal to raise fund, encourage awareness or win campaigns. They are empowered by the people so their principal strategy is to encourage ordinary people to get involved in political discourse. The most commonly used strategies used by grassroots movements include hosting house meetings, letter writing, going door-to-door, setting up information tables, gathering signatures for petitions, putting up posters, organizing large demonstrations, phone calling and emailing, raising money and holding get out the vote activities.
For example, the refugee crisis of 2015 spawned the grass roots aid movement in the UK. Thousands of private individuals selforganized to take aid to areas of displaced persons. This aid helped save lives of many people as it filled in gaps in the aid provided by the governments and charity organizations.
In the USA the term" grassroots and boots" is believed to have been coined by Sen. Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana who said it about the progressive party in 1912. It was then mentioned by Theodore Roosevelt and his running mate Eli Torrance in the early 1900s. Since the beginning of the 20th century grassroots movements have sprung up in the U.S. and many other countries, including Germany, Brazil, China, and many others. The first grassroots movement in the U.S. was the American civil rights movement. William Van Til brought blacks and whites together to discuss the issues of race discrimination.
There is another term that is close to grassroots movement in meaning. This is Astroturfing that refers to political action disguised as grassroots, but in fact it is initiated by an outside organization, a corporation or think tank, for example. The term is named after Astroturf, the popular brand of artificial grass. Astroturfing is actually pretending to be a grassroots movement, when in fact it is the strategy controlled by a hidden, non-grassroots organization or company. It is achieved by conducting a faux show where employed individuals pretend to express their own opinions. For example, the Exxon Mobil corporations used Astroturfing to spread false information about climate change. They've successfully disseminated the information through think tanks and were real experts in concealing the true nature of think tanks.
An interesting fact is that some examples have characteristics of both a real grassroots organization and Astroturf. Many of Pres. Obama's efforts, for instance, have been considered grassroots. But his critics claim that some of these methods are Astroturfing with fake grassroots support. According to the Reason Foundation, Obama had planted Astroturf supporters in town hall meetings. The Tea Party founded in the USA in 2009 is another controversial example of Astroturfing. President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that the Tea Party was Astroturf initiated by several billionaires who were pushing policies favorable to themselves. Critics point out the corporate impact on the Tea Party, which can indicate that the movement is more top-down. So the Tea Party can be called grassroots because it comes from the people but is also considered Astroturfing because it is shaped by corporations and rich individuals. Various sporting organizational bodies also use the term grassroots to refer to the fundamentals of the game meaning that anyone can play it.