At the beginning of this month, frustrated that newspapers were not covering the significant Patriot Act reauthorization meetings in the U.S. Senate, I decided to do what I could to get the message out myself. I already do my bit online, writing articles that I hope people will search for and choose to read. I also do my bit offline, writing and calling my members of Congress and more than occasionally taking to the street for some protest demonstrations.
Straddling the line between the virtual and the physical is the newspaper, an object delivering information and opinion to people every day. Nearly every newspaper has a letters section, and with persistence and luck it isn’t that hard to get your two cents in. The beauty of the newspaper is that it tends to reach people who are informed enough to understand the general context of what you say, but who may not know much about the particular issue you raise. Nevertheless, they’ll come across it in that breakfast-table browsing of the columns. There’s your chance to change someone’s mind, and not just any old someone; newspaper readers tend to be more engaged in their communities, more liable to participate in politics, more likely to be one of the game-changers where you live.
So I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper, the Portland Press Herald, on surveillance reform. I wrote particularly about the large majority of sneak-and-peek operations that, surprisingly enough for a counter-terrorism program, have nothing to do with terrorism.
Today, my letter got published, with an accompanying cartoon to boot:
Look, this isn’t going to change the world, but it is a pretty nifty multiplier. Consider that the daily circulation of the Portland Press Herald is 58,000 papers. Now, if each newspaper has only one reader, and if just one out of 10 of those readers flips through to the Editorials section, 5,800 people read my letter. That’s pretty good for one person’s effort.
I can hear the voices already telling me that getting 5,800 people in a nation of 300 million to think about an issue is insufficient, not enough, a drop in the bucket of despair and futility. Well, by itself, yeah, that’s true. So it comes down to other people being willing to do this. A thousand letters to the editor of similarly sized newspapers, and all of a sudden there’s a national impact, an agenda changer. Are you willing to be one of the thousand to write a letter? Are you going to do it?
All we need is 999 more, kid. Knock it down a digit.