Grassroots work as the key to winning minority group support

Faisal Wali

A dedicated grassroots organisation that works with children

Incidents involving penalisation, prosecution, discrimination or provocation of a member of a minority group make good cannon fodder for politicians seeking their support especially if they want to score some political brownie points. This is where such incidents become part and parcel of political rhetoric.

Personal stories of how so and so was insulted by the majority, was provoked by workplace colleagues of a majority ethnic group and others may incite feelings of anger and strong emotion. However, is this sufficient to garner long-term political support?

David Remnick published an interesting account of his shoe-leather reporting efforts of the ground realities at West Bank in a New Yorker article titled The Democracy Game. Hamas scored an overwhelming victory during the January 2006 Palestinian Elections, garnering 76 out of 132 seats with 44% of the national vote that far exceeded the former governing party, Fatah, which won a mere 43 seats.

Yet, according to Remnick, Hamas’ victory was no fluke. Hamas already had an established reputation for grassroots work and charity. Furthermore, he described Hamas as having a civil society presence even before it gained a reputation for suicide bombings.

One morning, I visited the Islamic Charitable Society, in Hebron, a sprawling facility for several thousand children that includes schools, a medical clinic, and an orphanage. The director, a former marketing manager named Khalil Herbawi, said that the society was funded by various Western non-governmental organizations, by Arab groups, and by private donors. Herbawi’s predecessor was in Hamas and had been arrested in 2002 for helping to finance and plan an attack on the nearby settlement of Adora. Herbawi said that he had voted for Hamas in the elections but added, “I am not in Hamas myself.”
– An excerpt from David Remnick’s The Democracy Game published in The New Yorker

Within the context of this piece, the use of Hamas, which is seen as a controversial example due to its label as a terrorist organisation, is not intended as an advocacy of its actions, approaches and philosophy, but rather as a case study of how grassroots work and a strong record of it will bear fruits at the polls. It is equally applicable to a political entity with benign goals and of completely peaceful disposition.

Ultimately, the way to a voter’s heart is about how much support can a political entity provide for his career, family and within his social or communal environment. What matters more to the voter is whether he has access to grassroots assistance to advance his career, his kids can get assistance from grassroots organisation in climbing the education ladder or lastly, whether he and his family have a support network for counselling and other forms of assistance should a crisis arise.

Nitpicking on or witch-hunting for antagonists who prosecute or insult members of such minority groups and playing up such incidents as political rhetoric may whip up sentiments of righteous anger among members and supporters of minority groups, but that’s about it. It may even prove to be counter-productive if votes from the majority do matter in the outcome of the poll.

As such persisting with political rhetoric about the majority prosecuting the minority may result in the majority turning against the political entity. No one is denying the importance of political rhetoric – they capture attention of the masses to pertinent issues – but political entities have to offer more than just righteous anger-inducing political rhetoric.

Too much political rhetoric and too little of grassroots work is like an entity with too much hot air, hot air will cool after some time. Grassroots work is ultimately a more important factor than political rhetoric in winning and maintaining support. The key to winning a minority group support, or any other groups for that matter is a marathon, not a sprint.

Political rhetoric is like sprints. It is a fallacy to assume that political rhetoric is sufficient to win support of targeted groups. What matters is what the political entity can do for members of the group. Certainly, grassroots work is a marathon effort, but it matters a lot in the final outcome.

The author is thankful towards the staff of New Asia Republic for editorial assistance and research. Photo courtesy of The Pulitzer, Flickr Commons.