An Open Letter: Why writing letters matters to me, and to all of us

18 March 2011

Dear everyone, and especially friends and others who've been following my rantings on what's happening,

I couldn't write to Scott Walker yesterday. Couldn't find the right tone, for one thing. Because sometimes it's hard to be funny when you're too mad, and I'm trying to keep my letters at least partly funny, so that people will read them and maybe feel a tiny bit better to know that someone out there is being honest, and frank, and a little mean, to someone who deserves it. But also because I was having a hard time getting started without swearing, and I'm trying to keep a veneer of civility on my correspondence so that I'm not outright rejected or dismissed, considering the validity and moral rectitude of my arguments against the governor and his proposed legislation. But sometimes it's hard to be honest and civil at the same time.

I was disappointed not to get a letter out. I really wanted to write to him about how frustrated I am with how he continues to lie in the face of evidence from experts about how disastrous his bill will be to education and the economy. I'm sick of his buzzwords - "jobs" and "tools" (even as I love their tea-baggy lack of ironic awareness. Job. Tool. Sigh). And I wanted to write to him about how frustrated I am with how stubborn he is, and how one of his main lies (that "negotiations have been going on for weeks") is just so painfully offensive to all of us he is actively ignoring, and contradicts the promise he made to us at the start that he's yet to break: "I will not negotiate...because there's nothing to negotiate."  I'm tired of hearing him publicly disrespect public schools and educators, and education in general. I'm tired of hearing him lie about how Wisconsin is "broke" and the only solution is to make life easier for the rich and harder for the poor.  But mostly I'm tired of him not listening.  I'm tired of writing letters that I know he'll never read, or that maybe one of his staff will snicker over before deleting it or doing whatever other trick they do to pretend the great majority of their feedback is positive. And I worry that the people who ARE reading these letters are people with whom I already agree, which makes them seem pretty useless, even if they satisfy my own need to shout into the void.

So I was forced to do a little meta-epistolary thinking, about why I'm writing these letters at all, and to whom, and why they matter. Obviously, I want Scott Walker to read them. He's what we call my Primary Audience. He is the literal recipient of every single letter - I am really sending these to his office, and  most of them to the Fitzes, too. What you see is what they get.  But the secondary, and actual, audience is much more abstract for me. Am I just preaching to the choir, trying to get a laugh out of a few of my friends, or am I really trying to persuade the people who need persuading most?  Or both? Or am I just writing out of a need to hear the sound of my own voice, and convince myself that this isn't a total waste of time?  What kind of "action" is this? How, if at all, is it effective?

The rallies are effective: the world cannot ignore a screaming mob.  The recall efforts are effective: we have a legal right to depose unfit officials.  The boycotts are effective. The local efforts are effective: when we talk to parents, talk to teachers, talk to neighbors, talk to local administrators, we spread the word and our solidarity grows, and the movement grows stronger as people realize that we ARE the majority, and they cannot dupe us into silence by claiming we "don't represent the majority of taxpayers of Wisconsin" (another of Walker's favorite lies...insinuating that anyone opposed to him doesn't pay taxes and claiming we're a minority in one swoop. Clever). But how much difference can writing an letter - even an open letter - make?

I don't know. But I know there's a Snail Mail the Governor movement that's encouraging people to let their voices be heard by flooding the Capitol with letters.  And I know that the Attorney General's office has stated that it only takes seriously complaints in writing, indicating that they care little to nothing about public protests. And I know that writing a letter forces you to make choices about what issues are most important to you, and to educate yourself, and present a defensible argument. And it allows you to tell your story in a way no one else can. One of the most poignant examples of this is in a blog by Dorinne Green, in which she presents an open letter to anyone who will listen about the direct - and potentially fatal - effects of Scott Walker's budget bill on her own life. I have links to other powerful open letters on the right column of my blog, and am happy to post any that are sent my way.

Writing open letters is both an expression of solidarity and an attempt to make sure that every voice is heard. Letters to public officials are open records, and they tell not only your officials but the larger community that you have taken a stance. Governor Walker settled a lawsuit this week before he could be found guilty of withholding these records from the public, after making a highly suspect public claim that the "majority" of some 8000 emails they received at the start of the Cheddar Revolution were "in favor" of the budget bill.  The media now has access to those emails, as it should, and can begin the process of sifting through to see what voices do emerge, what stories are being shared, whose lives and families and jobs and futures are being directly effected by these decisions.

My "toolbox" isn't full of money. It's not full of much else, either. So letter writing is one way I can take action. Because I believe our voices matter, every voice matters. But our voices are most powerful when they come together. 

Together, we can force a recall, or - who knows - maybe even a resignation (one stays hopeful). I think we can create a forum here for open letters of dissent that might make a difference.  Because my voice does matter, and so does yours, even if Scott Walker never reads a word of this. But not everyone might think being a little mean, and phrases like "moral rectitude" are funny,  so my voice is not enough. I invite you to send me your letters, other open letters you've read, or links to your own blog or page, and I'll share them with my own. By putting our letters together, we can make a statement: we are not the minority, and we will  not be silenced. We can rally together, we can write together, we can work together and make a difference. Either way, let's not stop raising our voices - together. Please don't be shy about sharing your voice, and pass on this invitation to others who might like to join us.

Resignedly yours,

cc: Scott Walker

Update (18 May 2011): Check out this new website - more open letters to Scott Walker!

There's another new venue for posting open letters to Scott Walker and I can't recommend highly enough that you check it out: Dear Governor Walker,. This page contains letters from people of all walks of life and covers a range of perspectives, tones and issues. A very worthwhile way to spend some time getting informed of the issues about which Wisconsin citizens are most passionate.

This is a blog set up by our friends at Wisconsin Public Employees Against Walker's Attack on Workers' Rights. You can RSVP to write a letter to Walker to post on this page  on facebook here.

No comments:

Post a Comment