You’ve Got Mail-How Would You Like it?


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

An Opinion Editorial

by T.J. Johnston

Got an email last week from someone in the SF Town Hall Committee to Stop Hate and War (more like a posting from an ongoing dialogue, but that’s another column). The sender suggested contacting George W. Bush and asking him to stop the bombing so humanitarian efforts could safely proceed. You grabbed my interest, I thought, how can I do that?

All I had to do was highlight a paragraph from the email and cut and post it onto a new message and address it to president@whitehouse.gov. Whoa, it sounded a little too high-tech for me. Instead, I just jotted it down on my notepad and logged directly onto the White House website and transcribed my plea. Of course, I got a prompt to enter my email address and an uneasy feeling came over me (I wished it were just a bad burrito).

Did I really want to give W my email address? I might have been a youngster then, but I had Nixon-era flashbacks at that moment and feared getting on a new “enemies” list. George II could get my address without my help, so why should I make it easy for him? Make him work for it.

I clicked on print and fished for envelopes in my bag and resolved to address it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Again, I deliberated. Will it ever be delivered, much less opened? I planned on signing my name and including my return address. (Jesus, I’m not that paranoid; the G-men already have it because I worked for the Census last year). I surely haven’t enclosed any mysterious powder in my letter.

Now, I was envisioning special dead-letter offices (or worse, landfills or even incinerators) where unopened mail is deposited because the letter-openers are too afraid of anthrax to break them open. Bush would never see my humanitarian plea and be impressed by the quote from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with which I opened my missive. How could anyone construe the words of a Nobel Prize winner as a security threat?

Suddenly, it occurred to me that physical or editorial content wouldn’t matter. Pre-9/11, I could have counted on acknowledgement by form letter. Now, the US Government would used this minute amount of postal-bioterror amongst tons of mail as a pretext to avoid just one more tedious duty. I’m not naïve; they already delete numerous emails upon receipt. I could have faxed it (as a friend later suggested) if such technology were readily available.

In the end, I signed and sealed my letter for the postman to deliver and did so with a heavy heart.

We’re playing by new rules. There’s a whole new twist to the cliché “write your congressman.” For all the hype surrounding the information age, I felt the frustration of those who don’t have ready computer access, those at the wrong end of the digital divide. If pen, paper and other stationery have become obsolete, so has the last medium for the disadvantaged or quasi-Luddites among us. The implication would be that only budding Unabombers send hard copy or write in longhand. If they don’t ignore you, they eye you with suspicion.

But don’t let my experience discourage you from compelling elected and appointed officials to hear your voice. Aside from faxing, a viable alternative would be postcards for brief messages (it also requires less postage). POOR provides Tips for Letter Writing in this section. If you feel like writing a “proper letter,” the Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides salutations to “the Honorable So-and-so” and distinctions for addressing local offices from those in capitals. Some officials have district offices, which are only a phone call away (anybody have 50 cents?).

Contact information for US Government officials can be found at firstgov.gov and vote-smart.org. The Yellow Pages also list this information in the blue-bordered section in the beginning of the directory.

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