PUMAs versus possums: this is what a grassroots movement looks like

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 · 27 Comments »

A grassroots movement is something that comes from the ground up; hence the name. That should go without saying, but since the phrase has become utterly devalued by the Opossum marketing-campaign-disguised-as-grassroots, I thought I’d better explain it. Especially since we now have a real grassroots movement afoot, a veritable prairie fire called PUMA. And the possums can’t understand it at all. That’s because they’ve never seen anything like it.

The “Obama movement” is not a true grassroots movement. Being popular is not the same as being grassroots. Having a lot of donors is not the same as being grassroots. That’s just market share. The Obama thing is and has always been a top-down, massively-funded, professionally-designed advertising campaign masquerading as a spontaneous grassroots phenomenon. It’s a product. A very slick, carefully packaged product. And, in a deft postmodern move, part of the product is the illusion that people who buy it are creating an actual grassroots movement. You know: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” In truth they’re just unpaid salespeople. They’re Amway distributors, buttonholing everybody to tell them about “the plan,” never realizing that the whole point of the thing is just to make the handful of folks at the top of the pyramid stinking rich.

PUMA, on the other hand, is a genuine grassroots movement: spontaneous, disorganized, and very messy. The name itself was coined by SM in a comment at the Confluence on June 1, but the seeds had already been sown and were germinating weeks before. In my own blogular timeline, I mark this post as a turning point: Why I will not vote for Obama even if he’s the nominee — and why you shouldn’t either. Hillary supporters had been getting angrier and angrier at Obama and at the DNC’s obvious intention to force him on us, and with that post on May 7th I crossed my personal Rubicon. The response was as close to viral as this reclusive little blog ever gets. Other Hillary supporters on other blogs were writing the same kinds of posts, and it soon became clear that we were riding the crest of a wave that was breaking all over the country.

A week later the mainstream media picked up on the phenomenon. Cynthia Ruccia and Kimberly Myers went on O’Reilly, and their appearance sparked an enormous reaction from women all over America. ABC covered the story. A radio jock in Philadelphia started Operation Turndown. If you read through the comment threads from that week on the various Hillary blogs, you can see what would become the PUMA movement taking shape. It was all still speculative at that point, since Hillary was still in the race, but we were gearing up mentally for what lay ahead. The issues we discussed then are the issues we’re still discussing now: how to frame our resistance, what to do between now and the convention, what to do in November.

All of this potential energy was poised and in place by the time the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee held its Unity Square Dance and Jamboree on Saturday, May 31, and proceeded to engage in election fraud right on national TV. That was the moment when SM, in a burst of inspiration, said, “Party Unity My Ass!” A few days later Hillary suspended her campaign, and the potential energy was released. Overnight, it seemed, Hillary’s supporters and fundraisers crystallized into a thousand different ad hoc Yahoo groups and mailing lists and blogs and petition sites, all trying to figure out how to make their voices heard and connect with like-minded souls. SM wrote up a history of those days in Happy PUMA 1-month Birthday! (“Those days” — jeez, it was less than a month ago. I sound like a Latin American revolutionary reminiscing about being in the jungles with Che.)

Riverdaughter did a great job of keeping the “PUMA” coinage up front and center, and it wasn’t long before that became the unofficial name of the whole movement. It’s catchy, it’s funny, and everybody likes seeing the big cat snarl. I know I never get tired of it:

The possums, of course, don’t understand what’s happening at all.

First of all, they really, really don’t grasp the concept of grassroots. They think “grassroots” means downloading a fundraiser widget from MyBarackObama.com to put on their MySpace. The notion of a spontaneous political movement, unled by any leader, arising in outraged reaction to injustice, is beyond them. Somebody, they mutter darkly to each other, must be behind this stupid cat thing. Is it Evil Hillary Herself? Is it the GOP? At the Great Orange Cheeto, possums write indignant posts asking why “somebody” doesn’t stop the PUMAs. They sign petitions to nowhere demanding that “somebody” do something about it. (It reminds me of children writing to Santa Claus, but I suppose that’s cruel.)

Secondly, the possums — as ever — simply cannot comprehend that millions of committed, progressive Democrats look at Barky Opossum and instead of seeing whatever the possums see (the Easter Bunny? Harvey?), they see corruption and sexism and media mendacity and creeping Republicanism. But since the possums cannot, or maybe will not, understand that fact, they’re forced to invent other reasons that Democrats might not want to vote for their hero. “You’re a racist!” is popular, with “you’re a Republican!” rapidly gaining ground. I’ve yet to be called a racist Republican, but perhaps that’s considered redundant.

I do wish the possums would take off the blinders for a moment and try to see what’s happening, because it’s a precious thing. Real grassroots democracy is rare in this country, almost extinct. And after the 18-month-long Pepsi commercial that is the Obama campaign, it’s incredibly refreshing.

Also see:
Archimedes’ Lever
A note on PUMAs and sexism

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27 Responses to “PUMAs versus possums: this is what a grassroots movement looks like”

  1. kenoshaMarge says:

    Great post as usual Violet!

    I think the blinders are slipping just a tad for some Obamacrats. But the majority have invested so much hero worship they will never be able to see Obama for the empty suit he is. If they see that then they are wrong and that just cannot be. If they see that then they have reviled and spewed misogynist vitriol on another Democrat in support of an idol with feet of clay.

    I expect some very interesting corkscrewed Obamacrats in the weeks and months ahead. Unable to abandon their poser they must abandon all pretense at being rational human beings. Welcome to Possum-land and it’s indigenous tribe, the Obamacrat.

  2. Disgusted Beyond Belief says:

    Obama pissed the hell out of me for what he said about the latest FISA surrender by Democrats. And I think the Dems maybe ought to lose Congress for that – why bother having Dems in control of Congress if all they do is pass Republican legislation? But I still can’t, just can’t, reward the pure evil that was the GOP in the White House with four more years of evil GOP in the White House. I just can’t do it. I can’t let the greater of two evils in. I can’t let someone who is far far far far far far worse on so many things, including women’s issues (McCain called his wife a c*** and thinks that this is a funny term of endearment If a pro-life, anti-equal pay, GOP candidate who calls his wife a c*** gets your vote, what does that say about your concern with women’s issues??) But that’s not really why I’m commenting – what I wonder is, what happens to PUMA if, despite all claims to the contrary, Obama wins by a landslide? Doesn’t that just prove that in the future, Democrats can completely ignore people who sound like PUMA? Of course, what else can you do? I wish you luck, even though I still want Obama to win (or more correctly, I want the evil rat bastard GOP to lose lose lose the White House from now until the end of time) it would be nice to see something get the Democratic party out of its battered party narrative and actually see it stand for something other than trying to out Republican the Republicans. I told my Senator I wouldn’t vote for her last election if she voted for FISA surrender – hell, I told her I’d vote Republican just to hurt her chances of re-election if she did that – she ignored me – I got a form letter about some sort of bull and she won reelection anyway, so probably she’ll discount any further threats along those lines I’d ever make. It is so frustrating. Arg.

  3. Janis says:

    Disgusted, I already answered that charge about what kind of feminist votes for a guy who calls his wife a cunt:

    A feminist looks around, sees which candidate is supported by the majority of 20-something young men, and VOTES FOR THE OTHER GUY. Period. Yeah, it’d be nice if we lived in the happy, post-feminist fairyland that allowed us to make our choices based on deeper shit than that. We don’t.

  4. Janis says:

    Besides, don’t start on anti-equal-pay. MaCain pays his female staffers more than his male ones, and there are more of them. Obama pays his female staffers far less, and the vast majority of his campaign staff is WHITE MEN.

    Talking the talk, as usual, while other people are blamed for walking the walk.

  5. Nadai says:

    Doesn’t that just prove that in the future, Democrats can completely ignore people who sound like PUMA?

    The Democratic Party is already ignoring what we want – how is more of the same any worse? Either we fight or we crawl into a hole and pretend it doesn’t matter. Those are the choices.

    I may lose, but I won’t crawl.

  6. Sis says:


  7. grayslady says:

    Well said, Violet. Since when has the “netroots” automatically been equated with “grassroots”? Since the traditional media, which is generally clueless about political blogs, decided that the two were equivalent. The Madison Avenue development of a quasi-religious cult is hardly a grassroots movement. I think it’s this deliberate, quasi-religious aspect of the Obama campaign that makes it so difficult to talk sense into many Obama supporters, because you’re questioning their “faith”. It really is similar to the growth of these mega-churches that seem to attract so many young people desperately looking for something to believe in beyond material values. They want a spiritual leader who does all their thinking for them.

    One of the things that I’ve realized about the blogosphere during this campaign is how shallow the “reality community” turned out to be. In an era of social isolationism, far too many of the participants on these blogs seem anxious to “belong” rather than simply finding a group where existing values and views are already shared, and where they can work together. People like Markos, who began their blogging careers out of frustration with the hypocritical and unhelpful political structure, quickly came to enjoy their elevated status as cult leaders. Instead of acting as the voice of rational analysis in a world of entertainment journalism, they quickly succumbed to the cult of celebrity and “incumbency”. What a waste of talent.

  8. vbonnaire says:


    “racist Republican!” — now that is RICH!

    but wait! That’s them! Oh Violet! stupendous piece o’ writing….you know, V, it’s those lil 3rd wavers… how glossyfest can they get, or, is it medicated braindeath? My sense the latter.

    No, they have never seen grassroots, but we have…

  9. Annie Oakley says:

    Damn, you are good!

    We are witnessing a grassroots movement. I’ve long been uneasy with the netroots, starting with watching how television flattered it with guest appearance on shows like KO’s and turned their gullible heads. Groups like Move-on came from nowhere and channeled our voice into someone else’s. It was pretty sad. I hope the 2.0 blogosphere lives long and prospers.


  10. myiq2xu says:

    Dear disgusted:

    The “Obama is better than McCain” meme is a false choice. Whether you pick door #1 or door #2 there is a Republican behind the door.

    Before we can take back our country from the rich elites that are in control, we need to take back our party (or start a new one)

    We keep getting told that Dems are too weak to stand up to the GOP, but that’s not true. The Dem leadership isn’t weak, they’re corrupt. They make stirring speeches and then do nothing. It’s just a dog-and-pony show.

    The Dem establishment hates the Clintons because they won’t sell out.

  11. In which the pumasphere decides to really flip it the finger, bigly! « Valentine Bonnaire says:

    [...] Our Pal, Reclusive Leftist has a read up! Re: PUMA & FEMINISM and what all you little glossy lipped numbskulls are about to learn! [...]

  12. zella says:

    Yes, it was the RBC which really got me thinking-and donating.

    I could never really understand why a far left progressive candidate should be the MSM’s darling, but when I saw the RBC on TV, I realised it was a put up job. Obama was a FRONT for the Deans, Pelosi, Brazile, Kerry-more of the SAME.

    Hillary had to put up with shit every inch of the way. It was obvious that the Establishment feared her most. Why she might even have managed to get something done… something called CHANGE.

  13. lorelynn says:

    there is one other important reason for the top down rhetoric – the ever abusive Brooklyn Bad Boy at Daily Kos was always proud to explain that the Obama camp had empowered Obama’s supporters to chose how Obama would be represented to the community. This had the impact of freeing them to be abusive. It’s clear that what BBB took from that conversation was that he was free to trash Clinton and her supporters in any ole’ way he wanted without fear of rebuke from the campaign.

    And of course, there never was any rebuke from the campaign. If Randi Rhodes didn’t earn one, then no one else would.

  14. sassysenora says:


    thank you so much for this. we are a grassroots movement. that is why we will never agree on something as basic as our goals. we are here for different reasons. some of us are here because we were appalled at how the Democratic Party betrayed its core values. we thought the Democrats were the party of the people, the party that wanted every vote and every voter to count until the DNC disenfranchised voters in FL and MI and then allowed Obama to quash its proposals to hold new elections there. we were horrified at the backroom deal presented at the Rules and Bylaws Committee hearing on May 31st; it undermined every principle that we thought the Democratic Party stood for: one person, one vote; equality; the importance of everyone, including the powerless, to our country and our party; inclusiveness; openness and transparency; justice; and fundamental fairness. we were sickened by the corruption that was sanctioned and encouraged during the primaries: the amoral cheating; the bullying; the intimidation of honest people who tried to participate in caucuses; the threatening of leaders who were brave enough to support Clinton; the glib destruction of the Clintons and their decades-long service to America and the Democratic Party; the cavalier disenfranchisement of millions of dedicated voters. we are here to fight against this corruption and this hatred.

    some of us are here because we were estranged by the contempt that the Democrats manifested toward large segments of their base. we were appalled at how they disregarded, vilified, and disparaged women, the poor, the uneducated, the elderly, the gay community, and minorities. some of us want to reform the Democratic Party. others want to form a new party or to try to reform the Republicans. some want to be Independents who are not beholden to any party.

    some of us are here because we are disgusted at the machine-style politics that Obama used in the primaries. we believe that if we vote for Obama, we’re endorsing the corruption that pervaded his campaign. if those corrupt tactics win, they will become the norm in future elections. they will be used widely by both the Democrats and the Republicans. then our vote won’t mean anything. we will have no way to influence our leaders or make our voices heard. for some of us, it is more important to protect our right to vote in a fair election than to sacrifice it for any party, issue, or candidate. if our party and our electoral processes are corrupt, we will lose all power over all future candidates and all issues. we will never let that happen. we will do whatever we can to fight back.

    some of us are here because of the pervasive misogyny in the media, among many of Obama’s supporters, and by Obama himself. we were horrified at the deep and widespread animosity expressed on some of the blogs and on the Obama web site. we are frightened for women and for our country because much of Obama’s support is built on hatred of women, the less educated, the poor, older voters, whites, and rural voters. any dissent or questioning of Obama is met with venomous condemnation and efforts to silence those who disagree. Obama could have renounced the misogyny and animosity but he didn’t. he instead fueled the flames of misogyny and hatred because they were driving his supporters. he could have tried to unite America instead of encouraging his supporters to hate and attack anyone not like themselves. some of us will never support a candidate who inspires such loathing, and then pretends that he is the one to unite us. we will continue to work together for full equality for women and other marginalized groups. we demand that the Democrats respect us and work hard to represent us and our concerns. if they don’t, we will go elsewhere.

    some of us are here because we believe that Obama is unqualified. his lack of experience and lack of knowledge about key issues concerns us. his seeming inability to speak without a script makes us uneasy. his vagueness and abrupt policy changes frighten us, especially when he says he will betray our fundamental liberties. we have serious misgivings about his associates and concerns about his character.

    we will not vote for Obama but some of us are not sure who we will vote for. some will vote for McCain. others will vote for a 3rd party candidate like McKinney or Nader. others will not vote for a presidential candidate.

    i’m sure that others are here for other reasons. no one can speak for us all.

    i’m glad that we’re all here for our own reasons. i’m glad that we won’t agree on everything. that’s what makes our movement powerful, adaptable, responsive, and interesting.

    thank you again for your eloquent post.

    (please excuse my typos and lack of editing. i keep getting interrupted.)

  15. Shane says:

    I could never really understand why a far left progressive candidate should be the MSM’s darling, but when I saw the RBC on TV, I realised it was a put up job. Obama was a FRONT for the Deans, Pelosi, Brazile, Kerry-more of the SAME. Hillary had to put up with shit every inch of the way. It was obvious that the Establishment feared her most. Why she might even have managed to get something done… something called CHANGE.”

    That pretty much covers it Zella. The cleverest part of it all was convincing so many people that the opposite was happening, that Clinton was just a sold out corporate politician and that Obama was the brave outsider who would really change the system. And no matter what actually happened or was actually said (rather than imagined) the image stood until it was almost too late. Violet’s original post also nicely articulates how this process worked in the ‘progressive’ community, by people buying the belief that they were in the middle of a real grassroots movement fighting a hideous political machine–which is of course an offshoot of 1990s conservative conspiracies about the Clintons and their evil. I actually find it quite sad that people’s ideals could be so carefully manipulated and then sold out so cheaply. Its as if they believed they were really riding on the crest of a high and beautiful wave* when all along they were coasting on a movement made of astroturf.

    I’d also suggest that artificial nostalgia is playing a big part in why people are going along with it all. They want the feeling of being in a movement without any radical or challenging politics to accompany it, as if feminists or civil rights supporters or Vietnam protesters just gathered for no reason. Being able to be in the movement is enough for them now. Believing in the movement means they don’t have to believe in anything else. And of course, it makes perfect sense for an artificial movement to be built upon artificial history. What’s going on now is as much about selling out progressive history as it is selling out progressives.

    *(*respectful nod to Hunter S Thompson*)

  16. Fixie says:

    Paragraph #2 says everything I’ve been trying to articulate, in one beautiful package. Thank you for finally laying the finger on the issue I’ve been finding so problematic – the marketing campaign whose whole product is the buyer’s identity as being part of a grassroots movement that is new, different, and bigger than themselves. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the other half was that “you” are the most important person to “Him” – that “He” needs your help so any victory is yours as well.

    I’ve been stunned at how many of my creative-class friends joyously gulped down what was so obviously a branding experience of the kind (though far beyond the caliber) they are paid to create. Maybe it was hero-worship for the branders (one person even crowed about the typefaces the campaign was using), but it’s been transformed into actual support of the candidate. Style over substance, indeed.

  17. sakel says:

    The media misogynist frat-boys pushed the Precious Chosen Candidate to a fraudulent ‘finish-line’ of superdels to accommodate the Establishment interests of Bush-Cheney Corp. The only true anti-Establishment candidate was HIllary!

    The unprecedented Sexism exhibited by the Obmabotic minions and His Own Preciousness was incredible. His “claws are coming out” and “Periodically, she feels down moody and starts launching attacks” and his infamous YuTube’s mega-hit:

    “Obama Gives Hillary the F!nger”–an amazingly well-orchestrated misogynist performance a la Jay-Z-rapper where Obama goes on stage in N.C. the day after his pathetically inept Pa. Debate peformance, and “flip-offs” in full view of his followers his fellow female Senator! Get a ‘teenage pundit’ to interpret this! Incredible! Then this immature highschooler of a Presidential Canadidate (!) goes on to ‘dust off’ Hillary off his shoulders and “scrape” her off his shoes. Has anyone wondered about his ability to understand the limits of acceptable behaviour let alone ability to lead? Do women care about his documented lack of social-skills credentials as they would affect more than half of his voters?

    Come November the 18 million cracks will make the DNC ceiling shake and shatter exposing Light unbounded on ObaMyopia and curing the afflicted of their dreadful anti-Democratic affliction! And the Invisible Demographic will be delivering to this Prince of Regression and Misogyny the bitter cure….via PUMAs Express!

    We are PUMAs, Hear Us Roar in Nos. Too Great to Ignore!


  18. sakel says:

    Dear Dr. Violet Socks:

    You Rock, Dr. Socks!

    Your post is the absolute antidote to Obamyopia and delivers just the rigt dose of common sense and visionary insightfulness. Go give ‘em hell!

    And happy belated birthday to the little (growing by the hour!) ferocious Puma. Her growl makes me so…HOPEfully democratic….Grrr

    P.S. Ordered Hillary posters, T-shirts, caps, buttons, from the “HillarygearStore.com” and, hopefully, her campaign debt will be helped somewhat….

  19. sassysenora says:


    well said. Obama ran a masterful marketing campaign. like you, i’m stunned that so many seemingly sophisticated people bought it.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that the other half was that “you” are the most important person to “Him” – that “He” needs your help so any victory is yours as well.

    i hadn’t thought of that but i think it’s true. as much as i don’t like Stephen Colbert lately, i think his equating Obama to the iphone was spot on. people buy Obama to create and reinforce a desired self-identity and to be a part of a phenomenon probably more than for political or policy reasons. add in Obama’s message that you are the most important part of my candidacy and you have unquestioning loyalty to his brand.

  20. Mary O'Bryan says:

    I haven’t given up yet for 2008 and I am with you all the way. So everybody go to http://www.hillaryclinton.com and donate $20.44 or $20.08 today,July 4, 2008, to retire her debt and allow her to take it to the convention with the ground swelling voice of PUMA. It is Clinton for “US” or McCain as our last resort in 2008. No Obama, no way and no how. True Democrats are awake and fighting for our rights to the “bitter” end. That is HRC- President 44.

  21. Mark says:

    I love this analysis! Very few people get it like you do! I have spotlighted The Reclusive Leftist over at my blog, http://www.DemocratInExile.

    Back on May 12, I posted Obama’s Excellent Marketing Adventure — Gleefully Exploiting GenerationMe.

    In it I say Only a generation that is so “stuck on themselves” could possibly be so gullible as buy that such a “top-down” marketing style constitutes a “bottom up” campaign. Just because someone tells you it is about “you,” doesn’t mean that it really is about “you.” I mean, honestly! A true “bottom-up” campaign would be one where a bunch of folks get together and draft or nominate someone who has not even yet offered themselves as a possible presidential candidate. That is the true definition of “bottom up.” Anything else is a false claim, or an unreasonable facsimile.

    I am in the process of writing a lengthy post about the forces of absolution, scapegoating, atonement, and mobbing as major variables in creating the Perfect Primary Storm — a storm that Axelrod and Obama exploited perfectly for their “McHope Campaign.”

    I think we have seen a huge decline in self-examination and self-understanding as consumerism has triumphed over thoughtfulness and contemplation, and impulse buying has become the norm.

    Keep the PUMA fires burning bright!

  22. How PUMA got started « Not Your Sweetie says:

    [...] if this wil have anything to do with PUMA history, it’ll have to refer this post be Reclusive Leftist [...]

  23. Not Your sweetie says:

    I just updates my puma history link to include this http://edgeoforever.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/how-puma-got-started/
    other than that, it’s the comments that make my entry

  24. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » The New Yorker was just messin’ with you, man says:

    [...] Not Your sweetie: ……posted to PUMAs versus possums: this is what a grassroots movement looks like at 4:54 am EST on July 12, 2008 [...]

  25. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » Who are the PUMAs? says:

    [...] It’s not about Obama vs. McCain Archimedes’ Lever Why I will not vote for Obama even if he’s the nominee — and why you shouldn’t either The Democrats really, really don’t deserve our votes PUMAs and Sexism Pumas vs. Possums: this is what a grassroots movement looks like [...]

  26. And you thought the sexism wasn’t intentional? : The New Agenda says:

    [...] expect from a top-drawer corporate marketing effort. Which, of course, is what the Obama campaign actually was. As Romano put it: “Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, [...]

  27. Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » And you thought the sexism wasn’t intentional? says:

    [...] expect from a top-drawer corporate marketing effort. Which, of course, is what the Obama campaign actually was. As Romano put it: “Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, [...]