Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Grassroots

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 27, 2015

Whenever you hear someone talk about a grassroots movement or a grassroots organization or any other sort of grassroots construct, what they’re talking about is something that wasn’t adapted from an existing situation.  The other part is that whatever is described as being grassroots is basic and fundamental.  In other words, it is something that is from, and involves, everyday people in contrast with those things that are from what is perceived to be from, and involving, the elite whether one is talking what is corporate or what is political.  It’s all about getting back to basics.

That being said, the elite have been known to co-opt the word to push their own agendas without marginalizing the meaning of the expression.  An example of this is from June 10, 2004 as proven by the Boca Raton News about the Test Drive4W program that was run in support of President Bush’s campaign.  The program saw thousands of volunteers across American making phone calls and going door-to-door contacting voters to increase the number of voters who would be casting a ballot that November.  The newspaper ran the article under the heading, “Bush Campaign Testing Its Massive Grass-roots Organization.”

The term, however, isn’t used only in politics.  The Dispatch newspaper published in Lexington, North Carolina on August 5, 1986 published a news article about the National Opera Company that toured with the slogan, “Let’s knock the high hat off of opera.”  The opera company, founded (and financed) in 1948 by the late Raleigh lawyer and businessman, A.J. Fletcher, was one that focused on operas sung in English.

The opera company was known for many things not the least was travelling without a grand orchestra, without grand scenery, and without anything else that could be considered grand.  The snobbishness that many associated with opera was decidedly absent when it came to the National Opera Company, and for this reason, the article was titled, “Company Presents Grass Roots Opera.”

Going back to February 20, 1964 the Palm Beach Post newspaper published an article titled, “Currency Use Proposal Would Help Foreigners.”  The proposal mentioned in the news story was an idea proposed by Tom Hall Miller, president of American Partners, Inc., and it was presented to the House Agriculture Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.  The article read in part:

American Partners, Miller told the committee, is incorporated as a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, former less than 2 years ago, to promote the private enterprise concept at the grassroots level in developing countries by recruiting the interest of U.S. citizens and organizations in giving financial and technical help to establish and expand small businesses in countries requiring such assistance.

The Republican party held a “Grass Roots Conference” in Springfield, Illinois back in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression.  The Milwaukee Journal reported on this in the June 12, 1935 edition in an article entitled, “Grass Roots Conversion” that began with this paragraph:

The only proposals of the Grass Roots convention for reviving and regenerating the Republican party are bodily taken over from the Roosevelt program.  This is the significant, almost sensational, thing in the resolutions adopted at Springfield.  Where they go beyond the Republican platform of 1932, they go with Roosevelt.

The misperception of the term is that its earliest use was by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana in a speech he gave at the Progressive Party Convention of 1912 where he was quoted as saying, “This party has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”  However, there are earlier instances of the idiom being used in its current spirit that dates to before its utterance in 1912.

New York Tribune of September 09, 1907 reported:

In regard to his political views Mr. Perry has issued the following terse platform: “I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment.”

The Mr. Perry mentioned in the article was Adolphus Edward Perry (1867 – 1939) who, at the time, was the vice-chairman of the Oklahoma State Committee.  In political parlance, he was known as “Dynamite Ed.”  He was a man with an interesting past, having been born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada of American parents, and contributing greatly to the state of Oklahoma as an adult.

Jay Elmer House published a collection of short stories in 1905.  In the Foreword to his book, the author stated that “the people of whom I have written I knew intimately and well.  Most of them were, and are, my close friends.  In only one or two instances have I taken the trouble to conceal their identity under assumed names.  In nearly every incident or episode spread upon these pages I had a part.  It always seemed to me that the humble folk I knew in boyhood were as interesting as those of more pretentious circumstances with whom my lot has fallen in later years.”  This clearly explains the reason for entitling the book, “At The Grassroots.”

All that being shared, the term actually is a mining term that dates back to the 1870s, and refers to the soil just beneath the ground’s surface.  During the Gold Rush, advertisers oftentimes teased potential speculators with tales of gold being found “at the grass-roots” with the most basic of tools.  Unfortunately, more often than not, speculators who took these advertisers at their words found nothing but hard rock “at the grass-roots” whether they used basic tools or fancier tools, and came away with no gold at all.

The sense that basic tools could be used “at the grass-roots” grew into the sense that grass-roots meant getting back to basics.  For that reason, the literal sense of the idiom dates back to the mid-1870s while the figurative sense dates back to shortly thereafter.

Advertisements

One Response to “Grassroots”

  1. […] « Grassroots […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: