They’re old-fashioned, I know, but letters to the editor of your local newspaper are important for a couple of reasons. First, they initiate public conversation among the most active members of your community. People who read newspapers tend to be more educated, more inclined toward participation in civic events, and more likely to show up to town halls, council meetings and Congress-on-your-Corner events. Second, members of Congress and their staffs read letters to the editors of their districts’ newspapers as one way to understand the zeitgeist — the spirit of the time.
If you are concerned about an issue, the first step is to call your member of Congress directly, as J. Clifford noted this morning (We have a list of phone numbers for the House and Senate to help you get started). But that’s a private act invisible to your neighbors. It’s essential that you follow through with a public act. Step two: write a letter to the editor.
Here’s the letter to the editor I just submitted to the Bangor Daily News:
The federal government has been rightly criticized for its sneak-and-peek searches and warrantless wiretapping of law-abiding Americans under the auspices of the 2001 USA Patriot Act. These practices violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, our supreme law of the land. That’s why presidential candidate Barack Obama reasonably pledged in 2008 to reform the Patriot Act once in office. But in office, he has done the opposite, pushing against reform bills in 2009 and working to further expand his surveillance authorities in 2010. The Congress has done no better. Democratic leadership in the House and Senate pledged to write and pass Patriot Act reform bills when the Act was renewed in February of 2010, but failed to even hold a hearing on the subject last year.
In the new Congress, a movement is afoot to reauthorize the Patriot Act next month without any significant debate and without reforms to protect Americans’ freedoms. I urge Maine’s congressional delegation of Chellie Pingree, Mike Michaud, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to resist the push for Patriot Act renewal and to insist on full debate with the introduction of civil liberties reforms. If you care about the Constitution and the preservation of liberty, I urge you to call our members of Congress at (202) 224-3121 and let your voice for reform be heard.
Are you willing to do the same? Share your letter to the editor in the comments section below.
Are you willing to ask your friends and family to join you? There is no corporate constituency against Patriot Act surveillance that will create an astroturf movement for us — it’s up to you and me and a lot of other people who care to make something happen.