Last fall, when the government shut down, I blogged daily and submitted my Kathy’s Musings pieces, and many more formal letters in email form, to elected officials on both sides of the aisle. These missives were respectful in nature and tone, even when I pleaded with officials to end the nightmare. While I knew that my grassroots kitchen campaign, one citizen’s efforts to halt the shutdown, was most assuredly in vain, I figured it might be worth the effort if only to demonstrate that a tone of civility, a spirit of cooperation, and a sense of decorum are all still possible.
In due course, I received the standard “form” reply emails from the officials, thanking me for my interest, and would I like to receive updates from their offices? While it would have been nice to have spoken with staff members during the shutdown, the sheer numbers of furloughed staff, and the fact that emails rarely receive responses within a day or two, made it understandable that these replies came long after the shutdown ended. But sure — Why not? I could keep up with political news, and so I clicked on the “Yes” button to receive legislators’ updates. During the shutdown, I did come by one most appreciated response. One evening I was cooking dinner, and answered the house phone. Did I want to listen-in to a live Q and A session/ townhall meeting in progress with the Representative? This was the same Rep I had written to earlier, describing a specific heart-wrenching, shutdown-related situation in her district, which neighbors mine. I wasn’t able to ask any questions, but I welcomed hearing a live voice.
When all was said and done, my letters and hard work were not the catalyst for ending the shutdown, but I had achieved my goal. I had communicated my ideas, sentiments, facts, and accounts of how the shutdown wreaked havoc on real people to readers in the U.S. and countries around the globe. In my letter-writing campaign to representatives and senators, I maintained a sense of decorum. I never engaged in name calling even though the press was having a field day describing the jabs emanating from Capitol Hill. And, I refused to give up on my quest, even though I was tempted. I urged readers to join me in my campaign to contact legislators, and many did; political involvement and activism is always a good thing. In addition, I was happy to receive email replies from the reporters I contacted, having informed them that I had quoted their information and facts in my blog pieces. I received advice from the people I connected with, and I especially enjoyed talking to folks at the Los Alamos National Bank, a fiscal organization I highlighted for coming up with a way to help furloughed citizens.
And since the shutdown, I have been receiving emails from many Congress members. I like being informed, and I don’t have to agree with all the politics to keep up with the news. However, there is fallout from my kitchen campaign, and I should have anticipated it. Every single day I receive email after email from political organizations and elected members requesting I join them in either signing a petition or contacting someone to fight a particular cause, or that I donate money, or both.
Okay. Since I’ve put myself on lists, these emails are to be expected. True, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t hit this many “Yes” buttons. I delete a lot of these missives without opening them because I’ve come to recognize the authors’ names and their respective political groups. I understand how campaigns work; I, too, asked my readers to barrage their reps’ inboxes during the shutdown. I describe these daily email campaigns this way: Hit ‘em often, Hit ‘em hard!, and Act Now! — We’re on the brink of disaster! And somehow, it seems that we are always on the brink of one kind of disaster or another.
These campaigns are successful. I know because at some point I receive emails thanking me for my contributions, even though I haven’t donated a dime. The typical requests don’t ask for a lot; usually, it’s a request for three bucks, or five, but sometimes it’s for more. When there are fiscal deadlines, I get tons of emails, and I truly wish the authors would adhere to some semblance of decorum. I bristle a bit when I receive an email from the President addressed to “Hey, Kathleen.” In the back of my head I can hear my childhood friend’s grandmother saying, all those years ago, “Do not address me as ‘Hey.’ I do not live in a barn.” And the President frequently signs these personal emails as “Barack.”
Leading up to midnight, June 30, 2014, my Inbox was filled with many, many passionate pleas for donations. Some of them were going to be triple-matched; political campaigns must have learned something from public broadcasting membership drives, with the announcer chanting, “Call in the next five minutes and your donation will be matched!” Well, these Congressional campaigns needed, demanded, implored me for contributions. The subject lines of some of these emails read: “We keep emailing,” “Another Email?! (DON’T SKIP),” and “Things are getting a little loopy around here.” (The “loopy” email shows a video of a bunny running around a person’s legs. That was a strange one.) In one series of requests, I could have won a chance to meet the President. These came along with the “We need you,” and “LAST CHANCE,” and “We’re Running Out Of Time,” plus the personal plea, “Don’t sit this one out, Kathleen.” Then there were the subject lines that were all doom and gloom: “TRAGIC Conclusion,” and “Devastating Losses.” The one that really got me was the “All Hope is Lost” email.
Tell me, if all hope is lost, why the heck would I donate a dime? The definition of a “lost cause” is, well, a lost cause! Then there’s the drama. If a campaign purportedly is being outspent by $9 million, the amount is written in the emails like this: “$9,000,000.00.” I’m guessing the author was hoping people might read this as $900 million instead of $9 million? Well, if that’s the case, would a potential donor actually think a three dollar contribution would make a difference? Hmmm, well, maybe. After all, I was hoping my miniscule kitchen campaign might make a difference.
So here’s what I’ve learned in a nutshell: 1) The President and I are good buddies; 2) I have so impressed political campaign organizers that they believe I can save the day, every day, and that I’m personally able to make contributions, large and small, multiple times a day, every day; 3) It’s okay to dump decorum, and 4) It’s also okay to barrage legislators’ inboxes with requests for everything, all the time.
Lessons learned. Got it!
July 7, 2014