Letters work. Institutions, governments and individual politicians pay
careful attention to letters, because they are seen as important markers
reflecting political tensions and trouble spots in the community at large.
It has been said that one personal letter represent the opinions of approximately
10,000 citizens. In fact, there is a formula that translates, mathematically,
how strong community sentiment registers on a particular issue as judged
by a handful of letters.
Letters of protest can be likened to political barometer readings because they tell whether or not a storm is building below the horizon that could prove destructive to the people at the top.
Here is one example:
When Ernst Zündel of Toronto, Canada was threatened with prosecution under Canada's infamous "hate laws" because he ". . . didn't believe in the Holocaust," he asked his friends and supporters to back up his stand. They did so en masse. Thousands of citizens wrote to the Toronto Chief of Police and the Ontario Attorney General asking if they now needed to fear that they would be criminally charged as well -- since they did not believe in the Holocaust either.
After the "Toronto Star" publicized the write-in campaign, all proceedings were halted because it would have been politically embarrassing and logistically cumbersome to criminally charge thousands of citizens who happened to hold a politically incorrect belief.
Letters of protest need not be long or beautifully composed. They should
be crisp and clean. They must be genuine.
Just be yourself and do your best. You don't have to demonstrate a profound grasp of the principles of a political issue involved, and you don't need a sophisticated grasp of current affairs or international law. Just speak your mind as a civilized person on clean paper in neat print.
For your letter to make an impact, all you have to do is express your sincere concern about something that troubles your soul -- and end the letter with a strong request for action.
Let's take one common concern: The worries many people feel about "The New World Order."
A great deal is embedded in this phrase, but simply put, it means that, in the eyes of many people, liberalism has been repackaged cleverly, yet is still plain old Communism in disguise. Why not say so in your own words? Just call a spade a spade.
Another example might be a protest against the incessant pro-Holocaust promotion some writers and broadcasters, politicians or clergymen indulge in, which amounts to ethnic harassment against the German people. In your letter, you might explain some of the facts and expose some of the lies. Be forceful, but don't sound fanatical.
Convey your genuine concern. Let it be known in your own words that you will not permit to let yourself be intimidated by somebody else's political slogans. Tell in your letter what you think -- and why. Tell the recipient of your letter you know that many of your friends and neighbors feel likewise. Be brief. Be clear. Be done. Put on a stamp and mail it! Don't procrastinate!
Below are some general principles to keep in mind while writing letters.
Letters are more likely to be read and answered if they are addressed to a name rather than to the government in general. Get the spelling of the name and the address right. Call your local library. Call your local representative; his or her secretary will know.
It shouldn't matter, but it does. Most people happen to be vain. Use
the appropriate salutation. Present and former prime ministers are addressed
as "The Right Honorable." Premiers and cabinet ministers are
"Honorable." Heads of States, such as presidents of other countries,
are "Your Excellency." Kings, Queens and other monarchs are "Your
Majesty." "Dear Prime Minister" works fine in Canada. Judges
are "Your Honor."
Don't start your letter with "Dear Bill" even though you are from Arkansas.
Always be respectful. Maintain the high moral ground. Don't present yourself as having come out of the gutter. There are enough graffiti people in this world already, as any bridge will tell you.
A short letter is far more effective than a long one. Limit your message
to one side of a page. Get to the point. Don't make small talk. Don't say:
"This morning, while watering my cucumbers, it suddenly occurred to
me that I have always taken free speech for granted . . . "
Say: "Is it true that it is no longer safe to travel in Germany because of certain words one might have spoken in the past?"
Use personal examples that support your case. Make references to your
background, interests, training or occupation.
Say, for example: "I am a US citizen, a teacher, and a parent. I also own a home in a respectable, conservative community. I just came back from Mexico and was outraged to find that I could pass the border without a single immigration check. No wonder our country is flooded with illegal immigrants my taxes must support."
Briefly give the background facts. Enclose relevant newspaper clippings. Be specific about your concern. Mention victims of persecution or abuse by name if possible. Separate facts from opinion.
Handwritten letters do make an impact. Type-written letters are easier to read. Don't use a page torn out of your fourth grader's notebook with ketchup stains on them. Consider having your letter typed with a sharp ribbon or on a laser printer. Show you have breeding and class.
Write about one message at a time. Spend some quality time thinking hard about just what the kernel of your message ought to be. Don't belabor the fact that your country is going downhill because of general mismanagement. Write specifically about police inertia, or suppression of free speech, or wrongful arrest, or incessant Holocaust promotion.
This is extremely important. Underline what you want the person, the
government or the institution to do. Always, always get the recipient of
your letter to do something. Ask them when you can expect a change. State
clearly you intend to follow up.
If you get a form letter, write back immediately and tell them that it is not acceptable to have your personal and deeply-felt concern be rubber-stamped.
Close your letter with polite words. Thank the person for the things
you know he or she will do right. Be sure to include your mailing address.
Send a copy of your letter to your local paper. Make sure we get a copy.
Briefly, there are three kinds of letters, each requiring a somewhat different slant:
Your local paper wants to please the community, but it is owned by individuals
or by an often absentee owner or corporation. Editors are not elected;
they keep their jobs (and they get raises) by looking as though they are
genuinely serving their readers as well as pleasing their bosses.
Therefore, each editor will be concerned about what his community thinks of his paper and of his editorial slant. Because editors receive hundreds of angry, rambling letters each week from irate citizens, not all will or can be published.
Make yours stand out by crisp, clear wording so that it will be chosen. Make your voice speak for your community.
Keep this in mind: A concerned citizen is not something you do -- it is something you are. Tell the editor of your local paper that you are proud of your community and that you expect the paper to reflect the community spirit. Tell him or her that a hidden agenda for the anonymous few won't do.
Again, be brief. Short letters have a better chance than long ones. Be clear: Tell in your opening paragraph precisely what you think. Mention the article or event that upset you or the slant the paper took you feel is wrong or harmful. Be timely and relevant. Don't talk about something that you read a year ago but never got around to commenting. Argue clearly and forcefully. Say one thing and say it well.
A letter to the editor can clarify, correct, or warn. It should reflect a credible argument. Let content, not bias, carry your case. Communicate integrity. Display competence. Write with conviction. Invite dialogue. Appeal to shared beliefs.
A government may cloak itself in democratic terms and yet be viciously
destructive to the interests of the citizens that it purports to serve.
A sample letter to an oppressive government or an abusive government official should make it clear that many people are clearly unhappy. When writing to authorities in Germany, for example, say something like the following:
Many citizens of Canada and in America are worried about a newspaper report we have read. I enclose a copy with this letter. It says that a US citizen, Hans Schmidt of Pensacola, Florida, has been arrested in Germany for stating his personal feelings in a letter sent into your country. I understand that he is being treated like a common criminal and that bail has been denied, despite the fact that what he thought, wrote and said is legal in his country.
Is this report true? If so, I want to go on record stating that this is not acceptable. Will you please tell me what actions you will take to correct this undemocratic and abusive situation?
Human rights institutions are set up around the world. Some do their
work better than others. All are concerned about the image they present.
Their funding depends on their image.
If its officials are seen as rubber stamping nefarious forces within the government or moneyed interests, they cannot be effective and serve the people properly. They know that. So do you.
Here is a sample letter to such an institution:
I understand that John Doe is being held in prison for challenging the phrase ". . . six million Jews died at the hands of the Germans in World War II."
Surely you must know that this number, once taken on faith, is now widely doubted, contested, challenged and has, in fact, been disproved by reputable researchers.
I find it unacceptable that someone born in Germany should not have the right to critically examine part of his or her own history. A letter from your office stating that you have put your weight behind the matter of free speech and unfettered inquiry will go a long way in world-wide support and respect for the goals of your organization and the country in which you operate.
All letters should be sent first-class, air mail if out of the country.
If you cannot afford to post many letters abroad, mail them in care
of that country's embassy in the country where you reside. Most US and
other embassies have staff who translate local correspondence for forwarding
to their home government(s).
As a general rule, write at least once a month on each concern. If you do not receive a reply within a reasonable time, send a polite query. Although state officials fail to acknowledge most of the appeals that are written to them, don't be discouraged. Repeated messages get noticed, processed and filed.
Every letter, whether acknowledged or not, makes an impact. It tells the offending officials that citizens are watching their actions and recording them. It tells them people will not tolerate offending governments, or lazy bureaucrats, or selfish interests, or hidden agendas harmful for the majority.
When you do receive a reply, acknowledge it immediately as a matter of courtesy. Send a copy to us. We can give you updates to include in further responses.