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Effective Activism and the Feeling of Ineffectiveness

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Message Kathryn Smith

Since the Bush Regime is now coming to a close, it's time for us all to examine the reality of what Rob Kall has aptly pointed out as our "learned helplessness," as a collective.

It's really true. We all get jaded and discouraged as a Congress turns a deaf ear to our petitions, as politicians just plain go ahead and do whatever they darned well want. And therefore, we refrain from writing letters to Congress, signing petitions, and doing what it takes to change the vile situation we all at this point pretty much feel victim to.

So what can we do? And what is effective?

A political strategist who I consulted with, put it this way:

It's not about facts and education. It's about simple wordsmithing. Images stick in peoples' minds, and Republicans in office are very organized in this sense, using that knowledge to their advantage.

Think of phrases such as "The War on Terror". Think of the phrases "Hope" and "Change". No education, no facts. Just words. And they won.

We also need only think back as far as the Clinton and Lewinsky case: Smearing a politician really works. Think of the Senator in Idaho who just so happened to find himself next to an undercover agent in a bathroom, and soon found himself mired in scandal (which I personally suspect was planted). Then there's the resignation from major offices such as Attorney General Gonzales, Karl Rove, etc. as they each found themselves mired in scandal, or as a new one was about to emerge.

Exposing the ills done by politicians in letters to the editor is the way to go. And to do so, we can use wordsmithing to our own advantage. That's where we, as The People, have an indispensable tool in our hands.

Hopefully not at risk of sounding self-congratulatory, but solely for purposes of encouraging readers, let me offer my experience about how effective letters to the editor can be:

A) I submitted one letter to the smallest newspaper in our area, with a readership of 30,000 people ie. one small town.

B) Based on that letter, an election reform activist stepped forward, organizing with a movie maker to film about the election reform idea I had submitted.

C) That same activist also marched the election reform proposal to a house party in which Kucinich was in attendance, dropping the proposal into Kucinich's lap. Kucinich, in turn, liked the idea and wanted to get it penned into law.

The moral of the story is: We never know who we are going to reach when we write letters to the editor. And I repeat that this was based on one letter to the smallest local paper in the county.

So.....I think we all can take heart. We do have the power to effect change.

We can use letters to the editor as a tool for:

A) Proposing positive solutions (the most likely to be printed, in my experience)

B) Writing facts about politicians to either decry or praise them. The power of public image has already been discussed prior: We have a power to do good here, even if by evil means which, by the way, I myself really abhor. I hate gossip. I hate malice. But when it comes to ousting Bush, Rove and Gonzales or Rice, I think the malice of gossip and image-tarnishing is far less when weighed in the balance against what their evil designs are. And I think we all can agree on that. Better to smear a mass murderer with gossip than to let him keep doing his thing. True?

(You should have seen how faces fell when I was at the check-out counter of a grocery store, stating about Bush: "Charles Manson for public office!" Once again, people don't need facts. They don't need to think. They only need to hear words. Again, faces fell. They agreed with me. Simple imaging. Done!)

Praising a politician in letters to the editor, for genuinely good things done, is very important. The reason is that we must get the good news on the public radar, in order to encourage our discouraged masses. Encouragement = proactivity. Discouragement= inactivity. (Why else are politicians deliberately turning a deaf ear to us? Couldn't this be a game they are playing, just to discourage mass proactivity? Let's not let them win. Battle with hope! That's how Obama won, to note).

Praising a politician in a letter to the editor will encourage politicians to do more good. They want public recognition, because they want their seats in office for as long as they can hold on to them.

Further, think how utterly discouraging it is to serve in a Congress which is paid off and/or corrupt, and just try getting an agenda through for the general good when serving in such an environment. Discouraged already, just thinking about it? Tempted to give up? I'll bet many politicians who are actually good, are either discouraged from running for public office in the first place, or else are just plain tempted to quit once they are in office. Praising them is very important for keeping up their morale, and for their continued work of doing good. Let's use letters to the editor for this cause!

C) To those among you who have said "my letter will never be printed", let me offer that the San Francisco Chronicle and another mainstream newspaper printed some pretty controversial things I submitted. I wrote about the Al Zarqawi matter, stating that because of lack of habeas corpus and no burden of proof, I keep an open mind whether or not a terrorist is as accused. The other paper printed a statement I made about open government, drawing a cartoon sketch of a safe with a padlock on it, and Bush/Cheney standing alongside, saying "what's locked in there? Open government." This was a mainstream newspaper, folks.

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This quote summarizes the nature of my concerns and the content of personal experiences which stir my activism: "Necessity is the plea for every infringement on human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves". --Paul (more...)
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