Firstly, I would be very interested in your examples.
Second, it seems to me that cap-and-trade might have passed fairly easily if it were not for the supermajority requirements in the Senate (Pelosi cracked skulls to C/T through in the House). But with the 60-vote requirement, cap-and-trade was nowhere near popular enough to even get a vote on the Senate floor. So whatever mechanism got the bill to the Senate in the first place, elites or grassroots, it's important to recognize the institutional barriers.
Even if you are right and the failure to pass the APA last summer was a result of relying on Beltway elites instead of grassroots organizing, it wouldn't have mattered. At its most ambitious, APA would have placed a price on CO2 to the tune of roughly $8-15/ton, if my memory serves. Meanwhile, the gasoline price spike of 2009 was the equivalent of several hundred dollars per ton, and while this did precipitate a measureable decrease in vehicle miles driven, it was nowhere near significant enough to drive the type of technological innovation needed to secure a clean energy future.
IMO, grassroots organizing will be most effective when there is a relatively simple policy goal. Voting rights, anti-war demonstrations, gay marriage...while neither logistically or politically EASY, these protests demand, respectively, the right to vote, the end to the war, and the right to marry. Simple demands that can be achieved by a growing grassroots movement.Then there are more complex policy goals, such as health care. The economics and policy of health care are quite complex and difficult to get your head around. However, people really care about health insurance, and are thus willing to take the time to educate themselves and organize rallies around the public option, high-risk pools and regional exchanges.
People don't care about energy. They don't even think of themselves as using energy. They use light for illumination, they use heat, they use their car or their computer. As such, there is much less education about the policy fixes that can achieve a clean energy future. Grassroots organizing keeps bringing a carbon price or gloabl treaty to the table, when these are really weak policy fixes. Even worse, since the failure of cap-and-trade, the goal of grassroots organizing appears to have morphed into determined self-perpetuation: they simply want to grow the movement and spread awareness, without any real policy goals in mind. Considering how complicated the technology innovation pipeline is, and the massive challenge of replacing fossil infrastructure, we need a team of elites who understands the scope of the task and can effect change.