Professor Skeleton, here. Today I'd like to explain to you the concepts behind the practice of AstroTurfing.
You'll find, if you just look hard enough around you these days, in the political and public sphere, that an awful lot of AstroTurf is springing up about the place.
What is this 'AstroTurf' of which I speak, I hear you ask? Well, if you check out this link
you will get a better idea than any number of words I can spout out at you.
After perusing the information you may mistakenly conclude that AstroTurfing only refers to US groups that are fronts for shadowy corporate interests, but it is my belief that we are seeing/have seen, similar groupings in Australia.
I specifically remember Frank Lowy's Westfield company being caught out a few years ago funding so-called 'Residents Action Groups' who were supposedly opposed to a DFO outlet being built in their neighbourhood, when in fact it was really Mr Lowy, who objected to the competition to his own Shopping Centre in the area, but who had had no legal basis upon which to mount a challenge to it and who was found out to be the funder behind the RAG.
He was found out to be clandestinely fomenting the opposition due to some first class investigative journalism, and the action fizzled. The RAG dried up and blew away. But he almost got away with it, as politicians, who ultimately make the decisions about issues such as this, generally run away from a fight with a vocal local group, as they are also their constituents and they don't want to lose their votes. This is especially so in countries where voting is not compulsory and you have to motivate people to like you enough to get up out of their lounge chairs to go to the polling booth and put a tick beside your name, as in America.
Thus, it's been obvious to corporate types for a long while now how they can successfully affect outcomes, govern by proxy from the shadows, manipulate and influence the political debate by using this very methodology.
This Guardian article
outlines how the American Tea Party 'Movement' is just such an outfit at its core. In this article you will notice the name of a crusading young Australian, Taki Oldham, who was recently presented with an RMIT Business Arts Foundation Fellowship. Here he is
. This courageous young man has taken his Fellowship money and talent and taken off from our shores and gone to the US and produced a film about the evil designs of the billionaires behind the American Tea Parties and their AstroTurfing pursuits. You can read about it and see trailers for the movie in the this Huffington Post article
. The video is about the political subterfuge that is AstroTurfing.
Why is it important to read about the American Tea Party and their AstroTurfing pursuits?
Because what comes about in American Conservative politics eventually finds its way to the Australian Conservative political movement, now being led by Tony Abbott.
Not only that, but I have also noticed that recently a new political ginger group called 'CANdo
', with its links to Tony Abbott's protege, Senator Cory Bernardi, has been formed. Ostensibly, it has been formed to counter 'Get Up' from a conservative perspective and run campaigns promoting their causes and ideology.
Actually, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the campaigns they run and whether it inspires the sort of vocal grassroots uprising that has characterised the Tea Party movement in the US.
To the extent that it would not surprise me to find a shadowy conservative group of backers behind the raucous protests which we are now seeing in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan 'Consultation' meetings. The reactions of the people there are eerily reminiscent of those that we saw in the US recently over the changes to their Health Care provisions, which made their system more equitable and affordable, but less profitable for the Health Management Organisations (who had lots of profit money to fund the dissent).
Also, I read recently that the Victorian Farmers Federation
is planning on more formal organised protests to the MDB Draft Plan, in order to try to influence the outcomes. They have declared, 'War!', and whilst they are not your normal sinister multinational concern, they do represent vested interests, and they too have realised that organised grassroots action, performed aggressively, is a sure-fire way of getting results for your cause.
Finally, I have decided to save the worst till last.
Yes, Australia has its very own version of AstroTurf Inc., otherwise known as The Australian Tea Party
'. (Please note the little purple box on the right hand side of the website: 'Tea Party Training - Develop your organising skills'). That is, a prime motivation is organised disruption.
And a very nasty bunch of avid conservatives, Libertarians, in the worst possible sense, and 'Free Market' (as in, free to keep as much of their own money as they can con the rest of us into allowing them to, plus ultimately accreting enough power unto themselves to tell the rest of us to go jump, when to jump, and how high), goons they are.
They have their nifty little slogan: 'Taxed Enough Already', which simplistically appeals to the Greed-head in all hard-working types that don't have the time, or the inclination, to think about what the corollary of drastically-reduced government revenues is. They aim to angrily agitate their way to some other rather nasty goals too. Such that I heard Tony Abbott advocating for the repeal of John Howard's Gun Control Laws the other day. Which is of a piece with the American Tea Party's aim of a fully armed citizenry. This again ties them to the Australian Tea Party, who also advocate relaxation of gun laws, and who seem to have as one of their major movers and shakers a zealous individual called Dean Bertram, who has a PhD from Sydney University in American Cultural History (and you don't need to be Einstein to guess which side of the political divide in America he supports), who wrote his thesis on American UFO Cults(!), and who started the Australian Horror Film Festival.
He epitomises the nastier aspects of this Laissez Faire Libertarian, Dog Eat Dog mindset, where, as in the Horror Movies he reveres, it is the guy with the Chain Saw, or the Mediaeval Instruments of Torture, who wins at the end of the day.
His mindset espouses 'No Room at the Inn' for the weak, the poor and the downtrodden, merely a survival and prospering of the meanest and nastiest.
Also, in a further worrying development, I have noticed a resurgence of the 'One Nation' ethos and mentality in South Australia around the issue of the housing of harmless Asylum Seeker families in an abandoned Defence Forces Housing Estate in Inverbrachie.
A vocal mob of over 500 turned up to a Town Hall meeting with the Immigration Department to 'voice their concerns' about the move.
As has become noticeable since the Tea Party movement started in the US, decorum went out the door to be replaced by jeering, overblown negative rhetoric and an overt intolerance of change and preference for the status quo, which looked very white and very conservative to my eyes.
Also, I'll just make the side point that these are the exact same subset of people who loudly proclaim their patriotism at every turn and support for 'our boys' in the Armed Forces fighting the wars that lead to the displaced people who come to our shores as migrants and refugees and who need to be settled here away from the conflict causing their flight.
However, rationalism and intellectual consistency have never been the strong suits of community knee-jerk responses and agitators like Pauline Hanson and her 'One Nation' political party, or the Tea Party.
Opportunism by the shadowy forces behind the scenes of these movements, who stoke fear and resentment, is the motivating factor. Because if you can foster a sense of naked self-interest in the population as a general raison d'être
, then you can use it as a Trojan Horse to advance your own agenda, and you will have cultivated willing foot soldiers angry enough to mount the battlements subsequently, on your behalf.
Which is what it's all about at the end of the day really, this AstroTurfing business. With the emphasis on 'Business'.