Monday, October 8, 2007

Democracy, commando style

Hidden somewhat in the celebrity glare of the Armchair Activism panel at last weekend's Oregon Democratic Party summit, but mentioned then and at other times during the summit as well, was the importance of those indispensable low-tech/high-touch tools of democracy: Contacting your representative, and writing a letter to the editor (LTE).

Handy, then, to come home and learn that Christy at Firedoglake has posted the second of her useful "Correspondence School" pieces on the ABCs of these basic front-line skills for citizen participation. The first, on contacting your rep, is here. The second, on LTEs, is here.

There's actually a bit of synergy between LTEs and calls/letters/faxes to your rep:

The kernel message in both cases is that there's one person out there--that would be you--who's paying attention on the topic in question. Editors and reps (and their staffers) earn their keep by tracking indications of who's interested in what.

Not sure how to formulate a message for maximum effect (and perhaps minimum effort)? Check these two posts out.

Know why a postcard might actually be a better strategy for contacting your rep in DC than a letter? Find out.

Think that interest organizations who contact reps on behalf of their members, like TrueMajority, are the easy way to go? Find out why they may not be worth the bother.

Think the point of writing a letter to the editor is to get published? Actually, much of the real work of your LTE gets done before, and regardless of whether, it sees the light of published day. Find out why.

Ditto with contacting your rep: It's not about triggering that "V-8 moment" when your senator or representative finally realizes they've been wrong on your issue. Find out what a to-the-point message from you really can accomplish.

For those who don't do much of this sort of thing, these are a primer on the fundamentals. (And for those of you who've been on the receiving end of these calls and letters and emails and faxes--and perhaps cut-and-pasted notes tied to bricks--as editor or staffers, your reactions are welcome too. What's only partly right? What's missing? What's absolutely right or dead wrong?)

Taking the time and energy and thought to personally contact your paper's editor, or your elected representative, on a topic you care about is a force multiplier. Every editor, and every representative, carries an equation in their head: For every person who writes or calls there are X number of constituents who feel much the same way but didn't speak up.

(Cross-posted at Loaded Orygun.)

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