What makes social movement activity “authentic”? Recently in American politics, there has been a lot of discussion about “astroturfing”: protests at and disruptions of town hall meetings held by members of Congress that appear to be grassroots activity, but which are sponsored and organized by corporations and PACs (Political Action Committees). Two of the recent major players in this controversy are FreedomWorks, conservative anti-taxation PAC chaired by former U.S. Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and LarouchePac, organized by controversial fascist/anti-Semitic political figure Lyndon LaRouche. The former group is responsible for the many signs that popped up at town hall meetings of President Obama with a Hitler moustache.
Liberal-leaning political talk show commentators have worked to expose this activity as not grassroots, but coordinated by enemies of the President’s agenda. These critics regard this as not “real” social movement activity. Another interesting development is the usage of stock photos to represent “real” people. FACES of Coal is a pro-coal mining corporate sponsored-group which bought pictures from istockphoto.com to represent its “real” people who are pro-coal. Another example is the usage of a stock photo, purchased from the above site, that appeared on a fake profile on FaceBook of an attractive, young, blonde, Caucasian girl named “Erin Perkins,” in an attempt to promote the agendas of the Republican party and Ron Paul.
Critics of astroturfing (such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in the above clip) argue that the corporations and PACs that sponsor these actions are trying to make up for the fact that the people do not of their own accord support their positions, hence the contrast between the “grassroots” movements and the fake “astroturf.” But as corporations are increasingly given more autonomy, and as de-regulation has increased corporate power, the colonization of social movements by business is a natural development in itself.