The Globalization of Grassroots

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By Joshua Habursky

The interconnectivity of society at a global scale has proliferated in recent years. Spurred by technology, trade, and commerce people interact and communicate across borders, natural barriers, and physical walls. International globalization is not limited to government to government interaction. In fact, grassroots movements that begin at the local level can spread from country to country and continent to continent. It is a political reality that grassroots momentum is growing at a global scale with great diversity in the selection of tools, tactics, and technology to spur this action.

Many trade association and corporations now have a dedicated grassroots or advocacy staff person that has a central role in the government relations department to encourage member and employee engagement in communicating with elected officials. If your company is headquartered in Brussels, Buenos Aires, or Beirut you may still have an office in Boston or Baltimore and want to effect local or state policy. Conversely, US companies may wish to effect satellite offices across the globe. As globalization continues to shape and effect society many questions about the legality of international “grassroots lobbying” persist.

The 2016 Presidential Election has shed light on watch dog groups looking to take on foreign influence of elections and financing behind selected activities. H.R. 1 For the People Act of 2019 is a standing piece of legislation in the US House of Representatives that seeks to regulate and define some of these grassroots tactics especially around voting access and electoral politics. Funding and disclosure requirements have been commonplace in US elections, but loopholes and enforcement issues are just as prevalent.

It is intriguing to see the development of policy and regulation around grassroots activities beyond the ballot box unrelated to electoral politics, but more so influencing elected officials already in office through proxies. In the United States, grassroots advocacy by a citizen or non-citizen is largely protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution as the “right to petition government”, but several questions persist. Does a foreign company have the right to leverage local stakeholders to influence policy outcomes beneficial to the parent company? Can an international association spend money creating communications portals and advertisements to influence the passage or defeat of legislation? What data and software protocols must grassroots advocacy entities of associations and corporations follow in regards to data security and privacy? Globalization and the growth of grassroots presents these questions and many more that are unanswered.

Policy and even procedural guidance is scarce global regarding grassroots advocacy and the spurring of political movements. International trade associations and companies will have to grabble with new standards and policy guidance as the complexity of the global grassroots system develops and innovates. Grassroots is globalizing, but so is a counter-movement to put this type of activity under greater scrutiny or even outright banning this activity from taking place.

Joshua Habursky is the Chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, and Contributing Editor to Campaigns Elections. Josh is a frequent writer and speaker on grassroots and advocacy communications topics.