Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should I write a letter to My Congressman?…

by Michael Dymmoch

Each Congressman has got two ends,
a sitting and a thinking end,
But since his whole success depends upon his seat,
Why bother friend?

E.Y. Harburg

When I was little, my mom had me and my siblings write letters whenever we had a complaint about something. It was a clever way to end the whining and to get her kids to write. Occasionally it had other benefits.

One of my sisters wrote to complain about a cereal box toy when she cut her finger. The company sent her coupons for more cereal.

Another sister wrote to complain about about the difficult cork-like cap on a bottle of shoe polish. Polish spilled all over when the cap stuck, then let go suddenly. The company sent the family a box of their products.

My mom, herself, wrote to complain about the anti-sprouting chemical on potatoes. The company sent her a brochure about the product’s safety. And a bag of potatoes.

When I was fourteen, I wrote to offer $25 and a good home for a donkey advertised for sale for $100. I didn’t work too hard to make my letter seem professional—it looked like it was written by a ten-year-old. The company accepted the offer. Maybe they felt sorry for the “kid.” (Or they could just have been anxious to unload the jackass.)

As I grew older, I continued writing letters—to congressmen, company CEOs, experts—with mixed results. Mostly I just got position statements vaguely related to the topic of my letter, although I once convinced the Cook County States Attorney not to sue me for property damage caused by someone else.

I still write letters, with increasingly poorer results. CC:-ing CEOs doesn’t help much. People only seem to pay attention if the letter arrives by certified mail. It took a certified letter threatening unspecified legal and regulatory action to get one company to stop sending me junk mail—four or five pieces a week. When they got my letter, they called me. To apologize. And the junk mail stopped.

Writing to elected officials isn’t particularly useful unless a million other constituents do the same. The best way to influence politicians seems to be writing “X” on a ballot—for the other candidate.

I’ve recently written to the USPS Postmaster General—about the lack of postal service; to the U.S. Postal Service Office of Strategic Planning—about my plan for ending unwanted junk mail; and to a junk mailing company headquartered in Germany—trying to convince them to stop sending junk mail to a person who doesn't and never did live at my address. Wish me luck.

Should I write a letter…?

What do you think?

20 comments:

Barbara D'Amato said...

Wow. I really admire you for this. I have written a couple of times about services, with some result, but now that I see this I think I will start it with my grandchildren.

I would guess that email doesn't work well. They get too many of them. But maybe a real letter, on paper, correctly spelled and punctuated, is unusual enough to get attention.

Sara Paretsky said...

Michael, I love it--it reminds me of Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as reported in Century of Struggle:
Stanton and Anthony would get together as Stanton said they often did "to set some convocation of the sons of Adam by the ears." Their concerns were wide-ranging, she reported, including:
false interpretations of Bible texts, the statistics of women robbed of their property, shut out of some college, half paid for their work, [fighting against] some disgraceful trial. ... Then, [she adds,] we would get out our pens and write articles for the papers or a petition to the legislature; indite letters to the faithful. ...

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