Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Letter is Mightier Than the Mouse Click

As the initial shock of the electon wears off, and  Trump and  Pence pack the Cabinet with anti-government, science denying, anti-worker knuckle-draggers, it's time for us all to take some action.

But not all "actions" are created equal. Here is a handy cheat sheet. 100 points is the best thing a citizen activist can possibly hope to do with one single action, and 1 is the worst. Based on that scale, let's look at some actions:

   POINTS: 2 out of 100
   GRADE: G, because sometimes an F is not bad enough.
Our Facebook feeds are  full of standard online petitions, where you enter your name and an email address and (maybe) if they are on the vaguely sophisticated side, a Zip Code. Then, you click your mouse to send and call it a night.

Dirty little secret: These petitions are the single most ineffective thing you can do as an activist. Since the Internet is the provenance of memes, I'll give you a meme:


The progressive movement has done a fantastic job using online petitions for fundraising, but their impact on lobbying Congress or elected officials is severely limited. Most of the time, online petitions are essentially a front for fundraising. The environmental or choice or other activist group is collecting your email so they can ask for money later ("later" generally commences milliseconds after you sign the petition and you see the gigantic, easy eye "donate" button on your screen). There is nothing at all wrong with this. Those groups need money, but don't assume that signing the petition moves either lawmakers or legislation. It moves neither.


And, there are some dirty little secrets. petitions are often NOT EVEN DELIVERED to Congress. Non profits use the service to enhance their email lists. A non-profit pays to use the site; any new emails that come in on that petition are given to the non-profit, at a price per email. It's great for list building, and it's somewhat effective at corporate lobbiyng (spooking a business by showing them customers are angry). At the Congressional level, it brings us back to our meme:


Sites like Credo and MoveOn are also more effective at corporate lobbying than lobbying Congress. They are simply too ideological. Consider: Speaker Paul Ryan full well understands that anyone signing a liberal group's petition is highly unlikely to vote for a Republican, at least not until they are 90, dementia laden, and can no  longer read the party labels on their ballot. So, Ryan and his Congressional colleagues will simply wholesale ignore a couple hundred printed pages of "signatures" delivered to their staff. And before you pillory the GOP on this, put the shoe on the Donkey: Neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren are likely to be swayed by an online petition circulated by the NRA, a Koch brother PAC, Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart. Remember the meme:


EFFECTIVELY lobbying Congress takes a LOT more time and effort.

So, since the online petition doesn't work, try this:

2) A personalized email or letter.
   POINTS: 85 out of 100
   GRADE: B+

This only works, however, if you DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

CHOOSE YOUR TARGET: Before you write, call the Representative's or Senator's office and ask them for the name of the person who handles the issue you would like to write about and get their email address. If you are addressing climate change ask for the environmental staffer; if it's education, ask for the education staffer. Don't just use the office's main email address, it's an electronic data dumpster; get the staff person's email and send it directly to them. Even if the receptionist won't give you their email over the phone once you have a name you can generally Google them to find it.

WRITE CAREFULLY. THEY GO LOW, WE GO HIGH:  Check your anger and your partisanship at the door. You are trying to convince someone you are right, and they are wrong. You won't get there with all caps, or profanity, or worse yet, a four paragraph electronic version of the Harry Potter Howler. Keep your missive professional. For an example of a letter on Gun Control, click here:

Research your issue, and write armed with real facts.Tell the official your concerns and that his or her opinion on your issue means a great deal to you and will influence your vote. But don't wear your partisanship on your sleeve. If Speaker Ryan's staffer senses "hard core liberal" your missive carries less weight. You don't need to hide anything, just advocate cleverly. THEY GO DUMB, WE GO SMART.

If you want to fight for Medicare, look at how Senator Al Franken from Minnesota chose his words in a missive criticizing the incoming Trump Administration:

"More than 55 million Americans depend on Medicare’s guaranteed access to medical care. Nearly a million of those people are Minnesotans [find the number for your state and insert that in this sentence]. All of them paid into the system during their careers, and all of them retired with the understanding that the next generation would care for them when they needed it most. Donald Trump did not run on a promise to end Medicare as we know it. In fact, he promised that he was “not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.” But that’s not what he’s saying anymore. He's already shown that he's comfortable with breaking his campaign promises."

Or, look at a paragraph from the Democratic Senators' letter to Trump on Medicare:

" Low-income children and families and people with disabilities are the primary beneficiaries of Medicaid.  Millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities have earned and rely on their Medicare benefits.  Medicaid is the only assistance available to millions of low and middle-income families who have a loved one requiring nursing home care.  As you noted when you extolled their benefits on your campaign website, cutting these programs would be devastating."

We might add a final paragraph, deftly avoiding partisanship:

"Understand, Mr. Trump, voters are no longer interested in the same old tired GOP rhetoric. You were right to oppose old school Republicans on trade, and you were right to oppose them on Medicare. America did not vote for more of the same, and it's morally repellent for you to back off your promises, even before you take the oath of office. Are you for change, or for more of the same? If you think tossing your campaign promises into the first trash can you pass is leadership, don't bother accepting the oath of office on January 20. Shame on you, Sir. Shame. I am respectfully requesting the favor of a reply from your Administration, and I'd like you to answer this question: how is breaking your campaign promise 'Making America Great Again'?"

No need to be disingenuous. Just make your reader at the White House who reads your letter (and it will be an impressionable aide, not Trump), come away with an uneasy question "Are we annoying one of OUR voters here?".

If you don't get a reply within a week, follow up, re-posting your original message. And keep doing it until you do get a reply.

This will be more effective than including any of the following quotes from petition and news site comments on Medicare:


"Trump is larding up his cabinet with so many despicable scumbags"

"It was only a matter of time before the most selfish nation in the world did something like this. The US is totally isolated and reviled."

Or these comments online regarding  Trump's choice for EPA Secretary:

"The good news is that you'll get a dead otter with every fillup, you can eat it or mount it on your wall."

"Trump's billionaire cabinet picks and pay to play what's in it for me appointees and the orange turd hasn't even been sworn in yet."

In blog posts to follow, I'll be posting sample letters and fact sheets. Want to fight Bannon? Argue for renewable energy? Fight for fair funding in education? Stay tuned.

BE INFORMED and put TIME into your activism. You'll get out of it what you put into it. If  you rely on the one mouse click petition, you get what you invested: nothing.

And, yes, I'll give you the meme one last time.


You can do better than clicking a button. And given we are facing a Trump Administration, you are going to need to step up your game, and quickly.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a well thought out plan of attack. I quit signing petitions some time ago, as even an old fat like me could figure out they were going no where, or served as a mail dump for fund raisers.