Cookie Cutter Correspondence

“When a person takes time to write you a letter, you’ve got to pay attention to that person.” — My grandfather in The Morning Call, January 26th, 1985

I care deeply about many issues, and I have the email log to prove it. I think Harrisburg and Washington have had to upgrade their email servers just to handle my correspondence. In fact, my state representative’s chief of staff, who sadly passed away almost two years ago, once offered to make me a certificate for being the constituent who sends the most frequent email communication. In retrospect, I wish I had not succumbed to false modesty so that I could have something from him. I would have loved to have it, but could not publicly acknowledge my vanity. I have since learned that it is selfish to not accept gifts offered by others, and I truly regret if I hurt him in any way.

More recently, I was at a workshop about lobbying at which a state senator, not from my district, audaciously told us to not even bother sending email form letters to his office because they don’t read them. They don’t count.

When I receive a call to action by email, I often use the online systems created to generate email correspondence to legislators as this is an efficiency that saves me time. While it may be able to send my emails with ease, my intentions for doing so are anything but casual.

I thought deeply about what this senator said, and possible ways that I could change my behavior to be a more effective advocate. I considered limiting my areas of interest and focusing on just a few critical issues. But then I realized that doing so would result in poor citizenship, as a legislator doing so would result in poor public service. I considered going to the legislators’ website and submitting my letters directly there, and I sometimes do this. I now pay more attention to the content of the suggested language provided by organizers to make sure it is aligned with my values and intentions. I don’t demand, I educate.

While I am grateful that he provoked this line of thought within me, I still kind of think he was too brazen about it. Elected officials should welcome correspondence from constituents, in whatever form they are able to produce. Many people do not have the ability to write effective letters or the time to do so because they are raising families and working multiple jobs. They still need to have the opportunity to genuinely and clearly express their opinion. How dare someone being paid by taxpayer dollars denounce the good intentions and engaged citizenship of those whom she or he was elected to serve.

I also spoke to a friend who works for one of my U.S. senators. She told me that many senators use a computerized system to categorize letters and tabulate the wishes of constituents. Perhaps state legislators do not have the resources or capacity to organize correspondence in this way.

Yet, I am reminded of the sincere kindness and dedicated service of my friend Leon. I wish all other offices had the same respect for constituents that he did. I am grateful to have known him, and will remember his example as a model of public service and leadership.

(Not) Dressed to Impressed

I served our local League of Women Voters as the Voters Guide editor for two years. It was a volunteer position for which I was ill suited, but I did my best.

My volunteer service in this capacity had a tumultuous ending. With a bundle of at least 100 Voters Guides in my arms, I could not see the stairs below (not to mention I was probably a bit high on a newly prescribed cocktail of Elavil + Lamictal + Lexapro + Neurontin) . Down I went, and a nine month recovery followed.

Toward the end of my recovery, I was able to drive and walk with a brace on my leg. In order to accommodate the brace, I wore long skirts or stretchy pants with sneakers. This also helped to accommodate the forty fresh pounds on my frame which resulted from a deadly combination of daily ice cream and the inability to walk.

This did not stop me from participating in a lobbying day at our state capital.  When I arrived at the PA Bar Association office for the pre-meeting meeting, I saw the convener stop mid-sentence as I walked into the room and look me up and down as if to say, ‘didn’t you read my email which specifically stated that you should be professionally dressed.’ I felt humiliated. Of course, it may have just been a projection of my insecurity.

There were many times during my recovery that I felt as though my appearance was scrutinized. Especially during those months that I was not able to walk, I developed a strong compassion for people who have permanent disabilities.

At the time of the lobbying day, I was an experienced advocate who could find my way around the capitol building with my eyes closed. I am certain that my fantabulous state representative and others (who, by the way, were elected in no small part because of the great work of the League of Women Voters and my Voters Guide – thank you, very much) were more interested in what I had to say than in my appearance.

I’ll talk a bit more about the staging of legislative visits and other forms of activism in one of December’s workshops, Theatre of Change.