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A recent article in a major North Carolina newspaper highlighted the development of grassroots support for special interests in North Carolina. Groups such as the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), the State Employees Association (SEA), and even the North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association (NCBWWA) were praised in the article for taking their messages directly to the people.
All of these organizations are special interest groups. That is noted in the article, as the author points out that "even special interests with plentiful resources and political experience are taking a populist approach to reaching their goals." While appealing to the people is a positive thing, the article neglects to mention the efforts of public interest groups such as North Carolina Citizens for a Sound Economy.
Individuals associated with special interest groups typically receive special benefits if their lobbying efforts are successful. For example, NCAE and SEA would work to increase the salaries and benefits for teachers and other state workers, while members of the NCBWWA would likely benefit financially from a lower alcohol tax. Unfortunately, appealing to individuals who have a stake in specific legislation does not necessarily produce the best outcome from government.
In the case of the NCAE and SEA, both represent government employees. If their lobbying efforts are successful, members of these groups will receive the benefits while the people of North Carolina pay for these increased benefits and income in the form of higher taxes. These groups only reflect the voice of those individuals associated with the special interest group.
Conversely, public interest organizations such as NC CSE, try to give a voice back to average North Carolinians. The apathy that surrounds politics today is due mostly to the feeling that one person cannot make a difference. Average citizens feel that elected officials ignore their opinions because they do not have the financial resources, time, or skills to lobby the government that special interest groups do. They simply throw their hands up in the air and hope for the best.
NC CSE is restoring confidence in the system by lobbying the government with the most effective interest group in the country: the people. With more than 18,000 member activists, NC CSE forces legislators to see the faces of the people who are affected by their votes in the legislature by giving the people the skills and confidence to make their voice heard.
Sadly, special interest groups have distorted the true meaning of the term "grassroots." True grassroots efforts are supported by the common man’s interest in making whatever contribution he can to a cause larger than his own. There are no "special interests" in a true grass-roots effort because members of a successful movement do not receive more benefits than others who haven’t participated in the movement.
Grassroots activism is one of the cornerstones of American culture. It cannot be diminished by the posturing of special interest organizations. It was grassroots activism that paved the way for the birth of our great country. The actions of our forefathers, who were willing to mobilize at the grassroots level and fight for our freedoms, gave us the freedom that is so dear to us today.