Friday, August 20, 2010

Double E for peace

Two steps to end the US armed presence in Afghanistan:
  • educate Americans about this issue
  • elect the new Congress, which stops all funding for Afghanistan, ending the occupation
This is doable. Each step is possible with enough unity and focus.
Education
If peace activists committed to writing two letters to the editor per week--hardly a big job, only requiring discipline--that would start the education process. Call in to one talk radio program or contact one radio show host or producer each week. Contact one television program, station, host or producer each week. Blog on some aspect of this once per week. Talk to some leadership in some organization to which you belong--community, work, religious--and discuss dialog opportunities at least once each week. Leaflet on a public sidewalk just one hour per week--an actual leaflet produced by a peace group or your own talking points or a reprint of some article. The message is always a variant of This is a bad policy; we can vote in a new Congress.
Elect
There are infinite strands in this braid, but the most important is to get one viable candidate to commit to voting against further funding for war in Afghanistan. At the beginning of your education campaign, if no viable candidate has made that pledge, note that in your educational materials and urge people to pressure the candidates. In your letters to the editor and all other outreach efforts, make some mention of the crucial nature of this election. Urge people to live as though they are in a democratic society with choices. Help them understand their choices. Notify your candidates--incumbents and challengers--that this means a great deal and that their commitment is key to their success. Assure them you are serious and that you will keep in contact with them after you help them win. Get your candidate in office and stay on the job until this war is defunded and done.
Why would we think this is impossible? People fight with violence and nonviolence alike for the simple right to participate in electing the people they want to execute the policy they prefer. Yes, there are elite interests arrayed in favor of more war. Stop them. Yes, they have purchased the temporary loyalty of some workers, including the military and the private contractors who make and wield weapons and other profitable components of running a war. Teach them that they can stay employed in a robust peace system. Teach all the underemployed and unemployed that this war and the DoD budget in general is exactly why they cannot find work.
Get unity. Get that peace movement moving. Grow it with a commitment to change and not merely as a function of emotional venting for a tiny group who currently hijack that movement and act out. Develop a peace movement that has clout with average Americans, one that is the reasonable alternative to this insane war system.
This is a question of individual and collective commitment, not capability. The capacity exists if we decide it does and then act on it. We will get the war or the peace we earn. This is not complex and it's not easy; it's democracy, if we want it.


3 comments:

Jason said...

As a newspaper editor, I can't stress Tom's exhortation to write letters to the editor enough. Most people assume publication of letters involves some arcane process known to only an elite few. In point of fact, most editors (at least in community-sized papers) are hungry for new letters on new subjects and I personally haven't seen a lot of "Get Out of Afghanistan" letters in my tenure. Argue the finer points of Online vs. Paper all you want, but the fact of the matter is, people still attach great importance to real-ink words printed in a newspaper. The printed word still holds some magic over educated society (at least for now).

What kind of letter should you write?

1. To paraphrase Thoreau: "When writing: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify." Editors love to see letters which are concise and to the point. A likely candidate for publication will be between 250-300 words. Any more than that and you will lose your audience (studies show the average newspaper subscriber reads at an eighth-grade level). Use everyday language. Your mission is to make a point so simply that Uncle Fred, sitting on his porch swing in America's Heartland, can easily understand your message. Ditch the thesaurus. Dig from the heart — but not too deep. This is a letter in the Hometown Gazette — not an essay in The New Republic.

2. Even in the iPhone Era, grammar and spelling still count. So, don't "TXT ur LTR." Sit down and thoughtfully capture your thesis. Get feedback from a friend. Spell check (with your actual brain, not MS Word). Sentence check for grammar and readability— yes, break out the old "Strunk's Style Guide" (actually newspaper editors love Associated Press style but that's just nitpicking). Ask yourself: "How would this sound if someone read it in a radio broadcast?" Is it too awkwardly worded? Does it make your point effectively? Use a literary screwdriver to gentle bore your message into a reader's mind — not a hammer.

3. Know the Nitpicks. All editors have their bugaboos — things readers write that make them want to rip out the few surviving hairs on their stressed-out little heads. Most editors hate ALL CAPS and exclamation points like Paris Hilton hates good taste. An effective letter should be powerful on its own merits without having to use crutches like ALL CAPS and exclamation points! (especially multiple exclamation points!!!)

4. Don't try to be cute. Make your point (and make sure it's only one strong point) and get out. 'Nuff said. Since you're writing to promote non-violence, make sure your words are not violent, destructive or harmful. Editors are generally on Libel Alert, 24-7 so respect the line between polite (but strong) discourse and mud-dragging.

5. Your mission is to write a letter, not a research paper. Although you should use verified facts to back up your thesis, editors are not going to print 300-character wide Web site addresses and gargantuan footnotes to show readers what a fine researcher you are. If an editor doubts your facts, she'll let you know and may ask for such verification — not as part of the letter, but privately.

6. Your words are lovely and passionate but they are not gold. Understand that most newspapers have a "right-to-edit" clause in their letters policy. Unless you truly believe an editor is deliberately changing your letter to reflect a different perspective, understand that she is probably just trying to make your letter fit in the alloted space or clarifying a murky point. A good editor will often contact you about editorial changes but there aren't as many good editors out there as there used to be.

Now, you have no excuse. Type away.

Jason said...

As a newspaper editor, I can't stress Tom's exhortation to write letters to the editor enough. Most people assume publication of letters involves some arcane process known to only an elite few. In point of fact, most editors (at least in community-sized papers) are hungry for new letters on new subjects and I personally haven't seen a lot of "Get Out of Afghanistan" letters in my tenure. Argue the finer points of Online vs. Paper all you want, but the fact of the matter is, people still attach great importance to real-ink words printed in a newspaper. The printed word still holds some magic over educated society (at least for now).

What kind of letter should you write?

1. To paraphrase Thoreau: "When writing: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify." Editors love to see letters which are concise and to the point. A likely candidate for publication will be between 250-300 words. Any more than that and you will lose your audience (studies show the average newspaper subscriber reads at an eighth-grade level). Use everyday language. Your mission is to make a point so simply that Uncle Fred, sitting on his porch swing in America's Heartland, can easily understand your message. Ditch the thesaurus. Dig from the heart — but not too deep. This is a letter in the Hometown Gazette — not an essay in The New Republic.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Jason, this is lovely and is pure gold too. The letter to the editor is to research papers as haiku is to The Iliad. Write it like Jason says and read it out loud to yourself to catch any typos or thinkos and send it in. Do it again in 3-4 days to a different paper. What a great comment!!!! (there went eight months worth of slammers).