This article started from a conversation with a friend, which I’ve now expanded in the hopes of making it more useful to more people in our community.
So, you’re trying to respond to multiple legislative attacks, some aimed at our community, and some aimed at the people and causes you love. You’ve decided that, for now, your still believe in the democratic process. You still want to partake in legal protest, even as the definition of a legally-sanctioned protest seems to shrink every day. You’re not ready to get arrested or engage in guerilla warfare.
Here’s what I’m doing:
Every Friday, check the social media voices you trust for the latest affronts to our democracy
Why Friday? In the days of actual ink-and-paper newspapers, I remember more than once hearing about a controversial vote being made, a bill being signed, etc… late on some Friday afternoon, after the weekend papers had already gone to press. Of course, because it had happened at that particular time, most people wouldn’t even be aware that anything had happened at all until much later —usually when it was too late to mount a response. Even now, when most newspapers are electronic, the “tradition” seems to continue, perhaps because the last thing on my mind on a Friday night is politics. Fortunately, in the era of social media, we have people and organizations who watch my government representatives more closely than I do, and send out alerts when something awful gets unleashed.
Which social media? For this purpose, it’s not the feed of the otherwise nice guy who reposts memes without any citations. It’s muckraking journalists who show their work. It’s scientists who link to data. It’s the watchdog groups for issues near and dear to your heart.
Be aware that everyone gets it wrong sometimes. Be aware that for events such as natural disasters and terror attacks, the earliest reports will probably contain errors. Be aware of the typical point of view for each source; It could tell what part of a story a source tends to focus on or emphasize.
I tend to trust groups who post corrections when they make mistakes. I also find it helpful to compare how a story is reported in the US with how that same story is reported in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, and Spain. If all else fails, I can sometimes see if elements of a story have been rated on a fact-checking web site.
Does this sound like a lot of work? It was for me in the beginning. Through trial and error, I eventually found good, useful, generally reliable information sources for matters that concern me.
Pick four or five of the issues that could really use your help; Send each of your government representatives a separate message about each issue
Send a separate email message and/or voice message and/or letter about each issue to both of your US senators, your US representative, your state senator, and your state representative, as required by the issue in question. Please note that if one week you pick five issues of both national and state importance, that could mean sending out 25 separate letters, so keep them short and stay on point.
Why separate? Why not just one message that lists everything going bad this week? After seeing the online web forms that most officials use in lieu of receiving direct email, I get the impression that this is how they prefer to get their communications: one issue per message. For all I know, it may be the only way their staff can handle all their messages. If you learn differently, do let me know. For now, I’m not going to take a chance that my message will be ignored or misrouted because I made it too difficult for for an official’s staff to sort out.
This should go without saying, but your message should stay respectful and maintain a civil tone. That means starting with “Honorable Senator / Representative So-and-so”, resisting the urge to curse at him or her regardless of his / her complicity in this week’s affront, and never saying anything that could be misconstrued as a threat. If you’re going to get put on a watch list, let it be for some spectacular defense of our democracy, not for a ranting letter.
Incorporate this routine into your weekly chores
Accept that you may have to give up something (more) to make room for this task in your life. Accept that for this period in our history, this un-sexy regular task both compliments and supports more dramatic actions such as marches, fundraising, boycotts, etc… Do things to make this task more efficient, such as:
Create a “cheat sheet” with the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses / web sites for your neighborhood’s state and national senators and representatives. Keep it in your notebook, phone, wallet, or all of the above.
Create a separate email address just to handle your messages with your government officials. Create separate directories in your email application for these types of messages, and set up rules to automatically redirect responses from government officials into these folders. More often than not, if you communicate electronically with senators and representatives, they will send you back a response. You’ll run the risk of getting demoralized after the 100th response, mixed in with your friends’ messages, that says something to the effect of “Thank you for contacting me, now let me tell you how I’m going to do the complete opposite of what you asked…” Also, count on getting back at least one message during your official’s re-election campaign.
If you ride public transportation and can check social media during your trip, start identifying issues on your Friday night ride home. Depending on the length of your trip, you might even be able to compose and send messages before you arrive.
If you and your friends go out on Friday nights, consider having a quick “letter writing party” before anyone steps out the door. The host just needs a “cheat sheet”, as mentioned earlier. If the host has a WiFi network, even better. Guests can contribute notepads, postcards, pens, stamps, etc… Everyone spends no more than an hour firing off messages. If you composed physical letters, drop them off at the nearest mailbox on your way to the restaurant / bar / movies.
The people arrayed against our community are counting on us to run out of energy, to become demoralized, to fight among ourselves; Don’t let that happen.
Consider doing this task as a group activity; It might even become fun. Consider doing something “extra” (e.g.: calling a Senate committee) when someone in your group can’t do his or her own task some week. Don’t ridicule someone who “hasn’t done enough”; ask how you can help.
Be aware that attempts will be made to get us fighting internally; I’ve lived through plenty of them. If all else fails, and you find yourself in an argument with a potential ally, try to remember that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and see if you can’t at least agree to resume the argument after we’ve survived —and hopefully won.