Toastchee goes to Washington
September 21, 2008 7:10 PM   Subscribe

What is the most effective way of expressing my outrage to my government?

Never before have I been so compelled to 'provide feedback' to my elected officials. I am shocked, awed, disgusted, and amazed at the bailout process under way in DC.

What's the most effective way to do so?
posted by toastchee to Law & Government (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best way is to write your Congressman and your Senator.
posted by JayRwv at 7:14 PM on September 21, 2008

The most effective way is to vote against incumbents in the upcoming election.
posted by Class Goat at 7:16 PM on September 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

Phone calls and letters to your representatives are taken very seriously, even if it doesn't necessarily feel like it. They take their soundings of public opinion in large measure from the intensity and balance of constitutent communication, especially in quick-moving situations like the present one. They know full well that for every individual who's mad enough to actually call or write, there are hundreds if not thousands with the same opinion.
posted by shadow vector at 7:19 PM on September 21, 2008

There's the Norman Morrison way, but that's kinda one-time-only.

Seriously, anything "showy" or illegal will just make (y)our side look bad. And it's mostly just a flash in the pan.

Do something constructive. Right now, that's find a campign of someone you think is genuine and has a chance to bring change, and go volunteer for him or her until November. Whether that's a candidate for President, or Congress, or even School Board (get rid of the Creationists!).
posted by orthogonality at 7:21 PM on September 21, 2008

Encourage others not to vote for McMoreOfTheSame.
posted by SirStan at 7:23 PM on September 21, 2008

Best answer: Here's a Congressional directory.

And folks are on the right track. Being involved with your government can take any or all of these forms:

1. Writing, emailing, and/or calling your representatives in the US Congress and/or the White House. Your representatives are the better bet, since they are responsible to you and will most likely send some response. It takes very few letters or calls to register in the awareness of your representatives in Congress. Despite the clamor in the general culture, very few people actually write directly to their reps. A small handful of letters can make a difference.

2. Vote. Throw the bums out.

3. Get involved. Call the nearest campaign office and offer to volunteer in service of a candidate or candidates you think will be most likely to change the paradigm. It's fun, and they need the help.

4. Write a letter to the editor of your local dead-tree paper. They are still powerful; local/city papers have an impact on decisionmakers and the politically active.

5. Be vocal. Talk to your friends and neighbors about your outrage. Infect them with your passion; legitimize their own reservations about this direction we've taken. It just may mobilize them. Put a handwritten sign in your car or house window. E-mail your friends with a personal statement about how you view the crisis and what you want to change. Urge them to consider the seriousness of the situation and to carefully consider their vote. Recommend a candidate if you want to.

6. Donate. Is there a candidate - at any level - that you think will institute some regulation and be responsible with the financial policies of the country? Send them $10. Most of them have an online donation site. It makes a huge difference - it costs money to reach voters. Even small donations help them hire more staff, print more signs, buy more TV and radio time.

7. Be a model. Change your habits. If you carry debt, if you consume excessively yourself, cut back. Talk to people about the need to bring greed and consumption under control, and demonstrate it yourself. Start a carpool or community garden. Use less. Spend less. Stop participating in the enrichment of the shareholders who have asked for this crisis, and in the government collusion they've bought. Buy from independent, privately held businesses and support your local economy.

8. Act locally. Your state house/assembly does not have charge of this crisis; but they have their own area of responsibility, and your state is involved in this economy, as well. Pressure your city and state reps to pass policies that expand support for small local businesses. Ask them to pass regulation for responsible business practices. Vote in every election, even the little ones. Call or write your governor. Federal policies, in many ways, follow initiatives that begin in the states. Make sure your state has healthy fiscal policies.
posted by Miko at 7:31 PM on September 21, 2008 [7 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing. I know you're outraged, but whenever you communicate, try to not sound crazy-angry. Public officials, and newspaper editors, get a lot of letters from cranks. They tend to discount those a certain amount to balance out the "crazy factor." So avoid four-letter words and off-the-hook rhetoric. Certainly you can sound angry, but keep it to righteous indignation, not insult-o-rama. Otherwise you risk having your communication be a little less effective, because folks will just think it's from an angry nut. That probably goes without saying, but I thought I'd mention it to be on the safe side. I've seen a fair number of wack-job communications get laughed off. Sound angry but serious, have facts, evince concern, eschew personal hatred. The more respectable you sound, the more respect you'll get.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on September 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Be informed. Be able to go more than two questions deep in a discussion about how bad an idea you think this is.
posted by smackfu at 7:48 PM on September 21, 2008

Nthing contacting your congressman and Senator with a thoughtful yet to-the-point letter registering your dissent. Follow it up with a phone call if you'd like. Two paragraphs is all you need. Members of congress actually have staff people whose entire job is to read, log and register such letters and phone calls. You might also want to think about further action you WOULD like them to take - do you want new banking/lending regulations? Help for struggling homeowners? For the feds to get out of the financial system altogether? Let them know.

And yes, definitely get involved in a local campaign. Really, there's no better way to challenge your anger - it can help you go from feeling really impotent and outraged to feeling like you're actually empowered to make things better. But heed Miko's advice. If you do end up doorknocking or phone banking, make sure to focus on the positive (ie, what your candidate will do to help) rather than the negative (how much the people in charge are effing things up).
posted by lunasol at 8:01 PM on September 21, 2008

To ditto Miko's final point, I find a good way to frame things in direct communications with a policymaker is something like "I know the Senator will do the right thing and [continue her support for the common people]" or "I really expected better from the Senator" (if the decision is over).

The trick about expressing your outrage on this particular issue is getting your opinion there quickly. I recently read somewhere that faxing is best, because physical paper letters are weighted more than calls or emails, but snail mail will take too long to get there.

Nobody has mentioned letters to the editors. The nonprofit I work for uses them so much that they're an acronym (LTE).

Also, nobody has used the word "organize." The goal here is to activate others to act on an issue (in the short run) and to create channels for getting the word out about the next thing (in the long run). This means starting a neighborhood group, or an East Smithville Mothers For Change group or Architects for Social Responsibility group or whatever. You can also go through existing groups you belong to -- your bookclub, your church, etc.
posted by salvia at 8:03 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go to your bank, withdraw all your money, take it to the nearest Federal Buildng, and burn all the Federal Reserve Notes in front of it.

Make sure you call the local TV media before.
posted by troy at 8:29 PM on September 21, 2008

^ oops, that's apparently against the law.
posted by troy at 8:38 PM on September 21, 2008

Miko has it, of course. A few additional tips:

- email or fax your letter if you want it to be read immediately. Congressional mail gets sent to Ohio? somewhere? to be irradiated for "anthrax" before it gets to DC, so fax or email is faster. If you do send email, include your address and zip code so that they know you live in their district.

- call your local district office as well as the one in DC. Both offices log calls on hot topics, so your call will be noticed in either place.

- ask for a meeting with your Member of Congress when they are in their district office. They are most likely to be in the district on weekends and Mondays, and when Congress is in recess, so you have the best chance of getting a meeting then. If they are running for re-election (all Members of Congress and 1/3 of Senators this year) then they may also be hosting "town hall" meetings or showing up at local events. That gives you another opportunity to meet with them and express your opinion. If they offer you a meeting with a staff person instead of the Member, take it. A meeting may be easier to get if you have a group of people asking for it (see comments upthread about organizing.)

- as part of the organizing, get existing local groups to take a position on the issue and act on it. Is there a League of Pissed-off Voters near you? A Move On chapter? Local Democratic club?

- in addition to writing your Member and Senators, write to the member of the relevant committees. Senate Banking Committee, for example.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:24 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Write to your congressman. Email it. Fax it. Mail it. Do it. Period.

Vote. My god, do you know how many people don't bother? HO-LEE-Crap! They complain day after day yet they take no part in deciding who represents them in government! VOTE.

Be informed. No - really. Be informed. Beyond the soundbites, how much do you truly understand about the bailout? If you're upset about it, odds are, your frustration is misplaced because the real issue is what led to it. What brought us to the point which brought about the bailout? I know so many republicans who are against it but fail to see that deregulation lead to uncontrolled greed, which lead to financial collapse for the masses while a select few got very rich. Your downgraded 401K = someone else's golden parachute. And the liberals who blame republicans for everything aren't any better. 40% liberal plus 40% conservative means the deciding factor will be the 20% in between, which is ironic since the truth is always somewhere in between. That brings me back to you: it's your congressman, your vote and your information.

Let your congressman know how you feel. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Never forget that your congressman is just some shmoe who gets rich off of your tax dollars. There's a reason why so many of them are corrupt, and that reason is the ignorance of the masses.

VOTE. Don't be fooled by the stupid negative ads. In this digital age, there's no excuse for not knowing what's real and what isn't. Britney and Paris is a lie. Barack is a muslim is a lie. The deregulator wanting to reform Wall Street is a lie. Only you can decide whether or not to reward liars with your sacred vote.

Republicans LIE!
Democrats LIE!
The truth is always somewhere in between. If you don't know that, you're screwed, which means anything posted on this page is useless. On the other hand, if you do know that, then it's up to you to share the truth as best you know it and vote accordingly.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:31 PM on September 21, 2008

You could tell you congress critter that your waiting to make campaign contributions based upon this vote. If they vote for giving money to foreign banks, then you'll contribute to their opponent. If they vote to bail out the idiots, then give money to their opponents and tell them.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:52 PM on September 21, 2008

Do you have any relatives who live in swing states? I don't think politicians who are secure in their seats are going to be worried about losing your vote; specifically targeting politicians who do need to pander for votes will make them more likely to pander to you for your vote.

I would consider writing to a swing-state politician, using a swing-state reply address. Of course, you can write to your home state representatives as well.

My other advice is: A lot of how the economy works is pretty complicated. You want to make it sound like you have a good understanding of the facts, and that's what your anger is based on, rather than being angry but not fully understanding why things are as they are. Here is a good place to start.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:31 AM on September 22, 2008

My solution just found! read up a great deal with some very sound scholarlyh books on the history of the nation and yhou will qucickly discover that what seems terrible now has been going on since the founding of the nation. that will not change things for you but it will realize that what was, is, and will likely stay so, with contemporary variations.
posted by Postroad at 2:13 AM on September 22, 2008

what seems terrible now has been going on since the founding of the nation.

This is no reason for complacency. Many of the past ills of our nation (slavery, Jim Crow, legal nonexistence for married women, forced adoption for Native children, etc...) were terrible, but were eventually opposed and changed. Our nation has always encountered fiscal problems from time to time, but thankfully did not throw its hands in the air and walk away. What has happened is that the pendulum of philosophy on the effects of regulation and oversight has swung back in the other direction, providing a corrective. I think we need that now, and it happens when the aggregate voices of the many change the electoral landscape for representatives.
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: Rally Congress.
posted by toastchee at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2008

Phone calls are really worth a lot, much more than emails. A friend of mine is a senior policy advisor for a well-known senator. We were at dinner once, talking about and how it had changed political participation in the US. She told me that they might get thousands of identically-worded emails on a particular topic, and some smaller number more of emails with a "custom" message on that topic, but not as many people make phone calls. She said that if twenty people from his state called the senate office on one day on the same topic, she said (and this is as close to a direct quote as I can recall) "he would be called out of just about any meeting he was in and told about it." So there you have it -- you and nineteen of your friends from your state/congressional district can have the ear of your representatives in congress if you just pick up the phone.
posted by tractorfeed at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2008

Speaking from a place of embarrassed ignorance, I have a serious piggyback question: What can people who are registered to vote in DC (or in other areas not represented in Congress) do that is equivalent to Writing Your Congressmen?
posted by kittyprecious at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2008

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my answer of "Pitchforks and torches" was deleted.

People did every one of the above suggestions when they objected to the Iraq War, when they objected to torture, and when they objected to the government spying on Americans. Did it work?

Neither the Democrats or Republicans are your friends. Never underestimate the power of an angry mob.
posted by angrybeaver at 12:52 PM on September 22, 2008

kittyprecious - you can contact Eleanor Holmes Norton, of course, but you probably already knew that. You can contact the Members from Northern VA and the Maryland suburbs - they often represent DC issues in Congress. The advice about contacting the members of the Banking Committee (or other appropriate committee) that I gave above is still relevant.

And support enfranchisement for DC residents, but that's not a short term situation.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:02 PM on September 22, 2008

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